View from the Fans

by The Spin Team

Ever since I started this blog, I have had many opinions.  I have given my views on how to market the sport.  How the No. 1 ranking should be viewed. What the WTA needs to do in order to have more visibility.  How the players should be presented etc. I am not the only one.  There are a thousand blogs, podcasts, tennis journalists and even some players who have weighed in on the sport.  Sometimes I wonder in all the noise, what do the fans think?  What do the Administrators of tennis think?  Do most folks believe that tennis is reaching across the aisle and gaining new fans or has it remained stagnant?  If it is not moving across the aisle, what is preventing it from doing so?

These questions came to me as the ratings for this year’s French Open and Wimbledon finals have shown a sharp decline in viewership, down from last year.  This morning, there were a great many articles in major newspapers all over the world covering Roger Federer’s win, but barely a peep about the women’s champion.  The same applied at the French Open where Rafael Nadal’s 10th French Open title, was met with La Decima, but Ostapenko only seemed to get glowing tributes in her home country.  To make matters even worse, Ostapenko, the reigning French Open champion never saw Centre Court until her match against Venus Williams in the quarter finals.

So, on that note,  I am going to turn it over to tennis fans to give me their views on what needs to improve in tennis.  I have inserted a poll  and I would be very interested to see the responses of tennis fans.

Have at it folks

This post will be updated with views from our readers. On the question of how would you improve tennis, the answers are so similar in nature it is eerie.

  • Make it so viewers could actually watch it
  • Need more WTA coverage on regular cable TV ie Tennis Channel
  • More tv viewership
  • Since most fans’ first introduction is through TV, make viewing more accessible. WTA’s lack of streaming is digraceful and it is a shame that the Grand Slam tournaments are no longer featured on basic broadcast TV. This is why the ratings have gone down. Tennis Channel and ATP TV ain’t gonna cut it! WTA should consider a streaming deal with You Tube or something! Exos and special events like Arthur Ashe Kids Day could be streamed on Twitter or on the USTA’s website, etc. Tennis doesn’t utilize the platforms available well enough. It’s weird that when I was a kid in the ’80s and growing up in the ’90s that tennis seemed way more accessible than it is today.
  • Give the WTA equal pay on all levels and an equal platform to play and showcase their immense talent. After all, the WTA has the GOAT.
  • Improve tennis reporting and commentating, make them more informative. Stop putting the tours against each other. Try to recognize they are separate.
  • the problem with the WTA is coverage and their stupid CEO!! There are so many compelling stories to be told and heard. But the regular people not really watching tennis are not being reached!
  • Get rid of the McEnroe brothers
  • In general, make it easier to follow & consume (simpler tour structure/naming, cheaper & easier streaming services, TV availability etc). In specific, make slams Bo3 first week for both genders, Bo5 second week for both genders (or similar).
  • 3 sets; 3rd set tiebreaker
  • I like it warts and all

 

Venus Williams – #LifeGoals

by Karen

Venus Williams

I thought long and hard about writing about the phenomenal year of Venus Williams.  If anyone had told me when the year began that Venus Williams, at age 37 would win 2 Grand Slam titles, hell if anyone had told me that Venus would actually make it to a Grand Slam final again, I would have run them out of town.  For her to actually reach the final and beat not only her sister, Serena to win her first Australian Open title, but then venture to the lawns of her beloved Wimbledon and raise once again the Venus Rosewater Dish, as a fan I could not ask for more*.

At a time when people in the tennis world are celebrating consistency, I want to celebrate the resilience of a player who many, including myself, from time to time had thought was dead and buried.

A few years ago, Venus had to withdraw from a match at the US Open after she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, Sjorgen’s Syndrome.  As someone who suffers from arthritis, and who had to stop playing tennis as a result of it, knowing what Venus has to endure as a professional athlete made me appreciate what she has been doing more and more every day.

Many of us did not think that Venus had a chance against Serena.  After all, Serena was only going for a record 23rd Grand Slam title.  This was Venus’ first Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2009. 8 long years. In tennis terms that is the whole career of some players.  For her to not only win that event, but follow it up on Saturday by defeating Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in a thrilling straight set victory should let people know that at no point should you call for the retirement of players who are struggling either with injuries, motivation or just out of form.

In this day and age of social media, there is a hashtag that goes around that is called #LifeGoals.  To watch Venus raising trophies at the age of 37, after battling for years and having to listen and read articles about the death of her career, I think we can now say, after watching her overcome so many obstacles that this hashtag sums up her life.

As a fan these are now my #LifeGoals

  • never complain when I wake up in the morning with my knee hurting and I don’t want to go for my morning walk #LifeGoals
  • never complain when I have to work late into the night because I am tired and really ready to go home #LifeGoals
  • if it means never eating sweet potato pudding again in order to live a healthier cleaner life, I will do it #LifeGoals
  • I will never complain that life is too hard or that I should give up because others think that my best days are behind me #LifeGoals
  • believe in myself even more (and that goes for everyone) because no one knows what is waiting around the corner #LifeGoals
  • age is just a number.  You can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (and you) #LifeGoals
  • block out the noise of the naysayers, they are who they are and who they will always be.  Don’t be a naysayer, be like Venus #LifeGoals

In an age when we are living with mediocrity at the highest levels of government, let us look to Venus Ebony Starr Williams, who at age 37, played 2 of the best matches of her life and showed that despite what everyone else says, she is once again a Grand Slam champion.

Congratulations Venus

 

Children and Tennis

by Karen

I am not old but I have lived a long life.  I recall a time in the not too distant past where you were counselled not to put that you had young children on your CVs (when putting that on your CV was a thing) and if you were a young married woman that was something that was seen as a negative, as it was assumed that you would want to start a family and therefore would not be a 100% effective employee.  This was not the 1950s.  This was the 1980s and it happened worldwide.

I recall as a young woman just starting out with a young child how hard it was to prove to folks that I could do the job that I was hired to do notwithstanding that I had a young child at home.  After all, the same mindset that led me to believe that I could have a career and a family, was the same one that made me put things in place to ensure that I not only spent quality time with my young child, but that I also had the ability to do 10 hours of tough legal work on a daily basis.

My son is now a millenial (30 something) with his own life and I am still in the legal field and now known as an elder.  I am once again faced with the same questions when I have to deal with young lawyers.  I am coveted for my experience, but I am also battered because I won’t stand for foolishness.

You may be asking yourself, why am I writing about myself on a tennis blog?  Its because  it would seem as if most commentators and tennis journalists don’t seem to think that women can walk and chew gum at the same time.  Women are capable of being mothers, wives and working women.  We do, as a matter of course, know how to compartmentalise and we don’t need to look to someone else for inspiration when we decide to embark on certain aspects of our lives.

There is a piece written by Christopher Clarey about Azarenka that speaks about her time off court and watching her mother battle breast cancer.  During all this time Azarenka had to show up for work, then find out she is pregnant and then realise that not only does she have to put her career on pause, but she also has to try and be there for her family.  This is what women do.  We compartmentalise.  We put things in order of priority and we do what needs to be done.

It is become tiresome, tedious and downright ridiculous listening to the commentators during this year’s Wimbledon marvel at Azarenka’s play.  If Azarenka was television commentator would we be wondering if she can speak after having a child?  Would we be wondering whether she became inspired after watching Brad Gilbert return from having surgery?  We would not be asking these ridiculous questions.  It is also going to get even worse when Serena Williams returns to the Tour after giving birth.

Maybe the time has come to remove men from the commentary box, especially when it comes to women’s matches.  I for one have become bored with this whole conversation about Azarenka and her child.  Women have been dropping children and going back to work since time began.  It is what what we do.  Many of us do not have the privilege of  Azarenka (and I am not ragging on her) to have a nanny, a fitness trainer, a dietician or just very good genes, but we make do.  Stop making it seem as if women are doing the impossible by having a child and returning to work.  It may seem impossible to men but it is what we do every single day of our lives.

 

Narratives and Storylines

Tennis loves its narratives.  It also loves storylines.  There are the tried and true versions.  Comeback from illness, injury, race to be No.1., race to win a Grand Slam for the first time.  Youngest/oldest to ever do something extraordinary since aeons before we had television.  It is how sport sells itself and it is how tennis in particular sells its product.

This year, on the WTA side the storyline has been the Race to No.1. Since the start of the clay season with Serena announcing her pregnancy, the story has been about the No. 1 ranking.  I think tennis needs to start talking about players coming back when all is done and dusted.

I know most people will say well what about Kvitova?  Well what about Kvitova?  She suffered a terrible injury and the narrative about her return has been about her overcoming the attack to return to tennis.  A very good storyline, in and of itself, but let us talk about some players that most folks have never heard of and who have had some horrific injuries in the past.

One of these is Petra Martic, a favourite of mine in years gone by.  Martic suffered back injury after back injury.  Today, for the first time in a long while, Martic made her way to the third round of Wimbledon with a straight set victory over Denisa Allertova.  It was a very good win against a very good player with lots of upward momentum.  I for one am glad to see Petra doing so well.

On the flip side, most folks will be talking about Magdalina Rybarikova, the Slovak who today on Centre Court played truly exceptional tennis to take out the No. 3 seed and firm favourite to not only win the title but also to ascend to the WTA Penthouse, Karolina Pliskova.  Rybarikova showed us why she was considered one of the Slovak Republic’s best chances to win big titles a long time ago.  Her game filled with slices, and big hitting had Pliskova flustered.  Her net game, which has always been an untouchable part of her game was on show today for the Centre Court crowd.  There were points that had the fans in the stands oohing and aahing in amazement as she pulled off tough volleys against an opponent who first came to the attention of tennis fans via her doubles play with her twin sister.

Another player who I have always loved watch play and who has suffered from injuries is Zarina Diyas.  Today she struggled in her match but in the end came out on top against a very game Arina Rodionova.

There is also Lesia Tsurenko.  I don’t think I have ever seen Tsurenko and some part of her body is not wearing tape.  It is as if she is patched up together by her team prior to taking the court.  A hard worker Tsurenko is also beset by injuries.  Shoulder, back, legs, thighs, stomach.  Frankly every part of her body has worn tape at some point or another.  Today she struggled in the heat but came out the winner.  Finally, and not to be outdone there is Sorana Cirstea. Mostly known as Ana Ivanovic’s best friend, Cirstea was the Romanian who many thought would either be a Slam champion or be ranked in the top 10.  Unfortunately for her injuries and a lack of mental belief got in the way.  In addition, an experiment with muscles torpedoed her career, but it is great to see her back and playing tennis again.  Sorana you have been missed.

From the women above Rybarikova, Tsurenko, Martic and Diyas will be a quarterfinalist at this year’s Wimbledon tournament.  This is one of the reasons why I absolutely love this sport.  It takes a certain amount of belief in an athlete to believe that they can return to active competition after suffering in some cases career ending injuries.

I write this in the hope that folks out there who read this blog and who are fans of women’s tennis will take heart in Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ horrific knee injury today during her match against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.  It would seem as if Ms. Mattek-Sands’ knee has been displaced.  If that is the case, then there is no doubt that she is going to require extensive surgery and rehab in order to return to playing tennis.  I pray that she will indeed recover and return to the sport that she loves and which loves her.

I have found that doing recaps during Wimbledon is a complete non-starter especially on the women’s side.  The matches are flying so fast and furious and there have been so many wonderful outcomes that it is hard to catch one’s breath let alone write about matches.  Suffice it to say that today, Magdalena Rybarikova took to Centre Court and played one of the most beautiful matches I have ever witnessed against the No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova.  It was throwback grass court tennis, mixed with a lot of power and flair.  Both women had the Centre Court crowd on its feet during numerous points and the standing ovation after the match said it all.

All of this outpouring brings me to a very sore topic.  The lack of WTA TV during Tour events.  The women have  been doing their part in generating maximum interest in their sport.  At the Majors we have had storyline after storyline that has piqued the interests of fans who only tune in during the Majors.  If fans and drive bys are inspired by someone like Jelena Ostapenko winning the French Open hitting winner after winner or perhaps seeing someone new (at least new to them) like Rybarikova playing such amazing tennis, surely these folks will want to see these players again and again.  The WTA really  needs to sort itself out.  If not, Steve Simon will have to go.

 

The Championships … Wimbledon

by Karen

Day 1 has come and gone. I was home all day yesterday so I got an opportunity to see first to last ball.  It was glorious.  I loved every ground stroke, every volley, every serve and every argument about whether a ball was in or out.  I loved hearing the umpire saying ready … play.  As you can no doubt imagine, The Championships, Wimbledon is my absolute favourite tennis tournament.

However, there was one dark mark on Day One and it concerned Venus Williams.  I have seen Venus cry before, but they were happy tears.  It was 2005 and she had won Wimbledon that year.  She was at the Essence Awards where she was being awarded the Woman in Courage Award.  In her acceptance speech she broke down in tears when she talked about losing all the time.  She was laughing through her tears but you could feel that this moment and that award meant so much to her.  From time to time I will go back and watch that video on YouTube and renew once again my love for this absolutely extraordinary woman.

A few days before the start of Wimbledon, I happened upon a TMZ article which mentioned that Venus had been involved in a motor vehicle accident.  I shared it with a friend hoping that the news was mere rumour (as in someone driving Venus’ car), rather than Venus herself being involved.  Turns out the article was true.  I was devastated for not only Venus, but also the family who had lost a loved one in the accident.  I do not know who was at fault. That is something for a court hearing arguments from both sides are yet to determine.  Suffice it to say that there will be no winners whatever the outcome.

After her hard fought first round win against a very game Elise Mertens, Venus broke down in her press conference.  It was heartbreaking to watch this wonderful woman break down at the thought that she was involved, through inadvertence or otherwise, through the taking of a life.  I don’t believe that Venus was crying for herself.  I believe more than anything her emotional breakdown had more to do with the fact that someone had lost their life.

There were many folks on Twitter, myself included, who felt that journalists who covered the sport should possibly have not asked that question.  I disagree.  Journalists are there to do their jobs.  As we know they don’t always do that, but in this case, they did have a responsibility to at least ask the question.  I suspect no one realised that Venus’ reaction would have been so emotional.  Here’s hoping that as the Championships continue, Venus will be able to regain her composure and try in some way shape or form to put this whole incident, not behind her, but to not keep it at the forefront of her thoughts.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time.

Day One Recap

Maria Sharapova is not absent due to injury.  She is absent because she is not qualified to play in the Championships.  It is not as if she was eligible to play in the first place.

I love Jelena Ostapenko’s game.  I love her fight and I love that all aspects of her emotion is on display for all to see.  After taking the first set 6-0 in her opening round match, her game went off the boil in the second set, but she recovered and took the match in 3.  Tennis has a way of selling everything via narratives.  During Ostapenko’s match yesterday, Chris Evert kept telling everyone that after winning the French Open, all the players will now be doing the same thing that Ostapenko did. That is the same false narrative that was being touted when Muguruza won the French, and when Kerber won the Australian and US Open, when Vinci beat Serena at the US Open and when Pennetta won the US Open.  It is a false narrative.  Each player on the WTA Tour makes their own destiny.  There is no Muguruza, Ostapenko or Kerber effect.

Victoria Azarenka had an incredibly tough opening round match against young up and comer, Cici  Bellis.  It took her 3 sets to see off the young American, but boy was it good to see her back.  She struggled in the first set but once she had found her game, it was like seeing the Azarenka of old.  I have zero expectations for her at this tournament, but a round one victory is a great victory.

Simona Halep and Madison Keys made quick work of their opponents, taking them out in straight sets.  Eugenie Bouchard did not. Carla Suarez-Navarro has never been a grass court player, but she has been playing very well on the surface this season.  Bouchard, a finalist at Wimbledon a few years ago, started strong, but seemed to either run out of gas, or run out of ideas down the stretch.  There is no doubt that there is either a mental or physical reset on the cards for Bouchard.  Surely, she can’t keep blaming the US Open fall for her dismal results?

Better writers than myself have written about Kvitova’s return.  I will not.  I will however say that I am glad that she has recovered from the injuries that she suffered as a result of the invasion of her home.  However, tennis needs to stop with folks wearing t-shirts promoting courage and fight etc.  It is demeaning to what Kvitova went through.  Not every moment deserves a social media hashtag or a t-shirt emblazoned with someone’s face on it or words of inspiration.  The fact that Kvitova is able to once again play tennis and not live in constant fear is a victory in and of itself.

Day Two Preview

Sloane Stephens makes her return to tennis today.  She plays Alison Riske.   This is a tough match for both women.  Stephens is a former semifinalist here and Riske has been having some really good results.  It is a bummer of a draw.

Also playing today is Garbine Muguruza going up against Alexandrova.  Also playing today is Angelique Kerber, Aga Radwanska who has a tough first round against Jelena Jankovic.  That match is no doubt going to be my match of the day.  Also playing today is Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Kristina Mladenovic and Kiki Bertens (who has already lost to Sorana Cirstea).

Dear WTA Players

by Karen

Dear WTA Players.

What an absolutely wonderful event you staged at Roland Garros over the past two weeks.  You ladies kept me glued to my computer screen and you actually made me late for work a few mornings.  On many occassions while I was at work, I was unable to watch matches, and so, for the first time in a long while, I actually had to go home and watch matches that had already been concluded during the course of the day’s event.

Your tournament was so good that I actually had to subscribe to additional channels because I just did not want to miss one ball during this 2 week event.  And I don’t even like clay season all that much.

However, and this where I am a little bit annoyed at you ladies.  I know your champion is an outlier.  I know that she is not very popular amongst her peers (hello, Judy Murray cheered on Naomi Broady when she went after her). I know she has a temper, but come on, did no one watch the final?  Did none of you get up out of your beds, no matter where you were in the world, and watch the match?  OK, so maybe it isn’t about Ostapenko.  Maybe it is about Halep, her opponent?  Maybe you were disgusted at Halep’s comments about equal pay?  If so, I can understand.  There were 2 of your colleagues playing that you don’t really like and so, you never even bothered to tune in … but … and here is where there is a big but … you ladies don’t even seem to do the same thing for Serena Williams either.

What is about the WTA athletes where congratulating an athlete on an accomplishment seems to go against some competitiveness etc. I know you ladies congratulate people and I know you ladies watch tennis matches.  The proof was the next day when you were all out in your numbers congratulating Rafael Nadal on winning 10 Roland Garros titles. See, this is where I sometimes don’t get the thought process behind who you ladies choose to watch and for whom you choose to show your support.

I have read interviews where some of you say that you don’t watch women’s tennis.  Where you say that you can’t think of having a female coach.  Where you think having a coach coming down court side to provide guidance is a good thing.  I get the mind set, but again, how does that benefit your sport?  There are men on the ATP who don’t agree that women should get paid the same as the men.  I can’t imagine why you would care to support someone whose thought processes are still stuck in the dark ages.  I don’t get it.  Help me out here.

Anyway, your Roland Garros champion is a joy.  She is young, athletic, disarming and very engaging.  Hopefully, you ladies can see fit to show her some love via social media (even if she isn’t on Twitter).

Thoughts

  • how great was it to see Jelena Ostapenko introduce herself to the tennis world.  54 winners, most of them from that huge forehand (and don’t forget her backhand) in the final and 289 winners overall.  She showed more than anything what belief really is.  Congratulations Jelena.
  • Simona Halep needs to rethink her life and her life choices.  Get rid of Darren Cahill.  He is a terrible coach.  There is nothing wrong with you getting emotional.  If it helps you in your every day life, I say go for it.  If smashing a racquet and cursing in Romanian get you through a match, then do it.  You are not a child and your coach is not your parent.
  • Caroline Wozniacki, please take a leaf out of Ostapenko’s book and ditch your dad as a coach.  You are back in the top 10 but you have done so by playing careful tennis. If you want to win that Major, you are going to have to change your mind set when it comes to your game and just go for it.  You did it earlier in the year but you have regressed.  Sort it out.
  • Angelique Kerber  (no words)
  • Elina Svitolina – not my pick to win but you don’t have match points, lose a tight tiebreak and then disappear in the third set.  Not for a place in the French Open.  You don’t do that.

I am sure that many have already put forward their thoughts on Ostapenko being coached by a woman.  What I loved about this is the story behind it.  Ostapenko is/was coached by her mother, also named Jelena.  The team decided that it might be a good thing to get another voice to work with the younger Jelena during the clay season.  The older Jelena took a backseat and allowed the coach that had been employed to work her magic.  The fact that the coach in question, Anabel Medina had no prior coaching history (at least none of which I am aware), and was only available because she has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, is a testament to both Jelenas having the wisdom to actually know their limitations and putting a plan in place to ensure that they brought in someone wiser and smarter than they were (Wozniacki, please take note of this).

All in all I enjoyed this year’s French Open.  My faves never got near the title but I am quite ecstatic at this new generation.  They are hitting fearlessly and cleanly and I for one am loving it.

 

Jelena Ostapenko – Coming Of Age

by Karen

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Jelena Ostapenko (photo credit FFT)

The first time I heard or read about Ostapenko was in relation to a match she was playing against Naomi Broady who was arguing (unsuccessfully) that Ostapenko should be disqualified from her match because she either threw or her racquet slipped out of her hand and connected with an official at a tournament.  Most of what I read about this young Latvian was negative.  Folks on Twitter who had been exposed to the young Latvian had nothing positive to say about her.  I decided a long time ago that whenever there is negativity surrounding a  player I need to first of all see for myself why the outrage and secondly try and see for myself whether there were any redeeming qualities about said player.  I am so happy that I did.

 

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I watched Ostapenko in Doha last year when she got to the final.  She lost but I was impressed by her backhand as well as her on court demeanour.  That little glimmer of a smile when things don’t go according to plan.  The forehand that breaks down under pressure and the on court coaching sessions with her mother, who for want of a better word is a one woman cheering team for her daughter.

During this clay season I watched the young Latvian as she rolled through her opponents, hitting backhand winner after backhand winner.  During Charleston, I posted that she is my dark horse pick to make the second week of the French Open, despite knowing later that she prefers the faster surfaces.

Am I glad that I stuck around.

Ostapenko is talented.  She is fiery.  She is a superb tennis player and athlete.  She is not going to make many friends on Tour because of what they consider to be her volatile personality, but as far as I am concerned, she is exactly what women’s tennis needs right now.  A young player who is confident, who struts between points, who is not afraid to show how joyful she is when winning or the look of dismay on her face when things don’t go according to plan.

Coming from a set down in her last 2 matches against opponents more experienced on these big stages than she is, Ostapenko fought through nerves (if they ever existed) and hit her backhand like only she can.  She next faces Timea Baczinsky who took out French hopeful Kristina Mladenovic in a rain affected 3 setter today.  It will be the battle of the backhands and I am hoping that my young Latvian will make her way to the finals of the French Open on Saturday.  Grab your popcorn.  It is going to be spectacular

 

Tennis … The Unequal Sport

By the Spin Team

Tennis has a way of blowing its own horn or in this case swinging its racquet.  It has a tendency to push Billie Jean King forward (and for better or worse, Billie Jean usually steps forward) to promote itself as an equal opportunity employer.  It talks about equality, equal pay and treating men and women the same. It often says it’s at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.

Despite its proclamations, tennis often reveals its true self through the individuals it reveres or celebrates. First, the men who cover the sport focus on how the women look, what they wear, and how they scream/grunt or moan. They often speak of the emotional instability or lack of mental toughness of the women and point out the deficiencies of the women’s game rather than its strengths. As someone who watches quite a lot of tennis I can tell you that this particular blog was born out of a frustration of having to listen to male commentators consistently term grown women, some married with children as girls.

Second, the icons of the sport also reveal what concerns tennis. When they speak of the women’s game, it is with pettiness and envy. There is no one who does this better than Margaret Court.  I will not spend time talking about Court and her accomplishments and whether they are justified or not.  For what it is worth, she played in an era where there was competition (perhaps not as strong as today’s) and she won her Majors fair and square.  For that she gets credit.  For everything else that comes out of her mouth, she needs to take a step back and evaluate her life.

Recently, Ms. Court made some disparaging remarks in an Australian newspaper. She stated that she would no longer fly Qantas, the national airline of Australia.  Her reason:  the airline supports the LGBTQ community.  She took it even farther and commented on Australian player Casey Dellacqua and her partner who are currently raising 2 children by stating that they are going against God’s wishes in not having a father for their children.

When these comments broke I took the view that Ms. Court’s views have been around since time began.  There is no doubt that she has held these views for a long time. The only reason why there is so much outrage is because news now travels a lot faster and folks are more aware of what is being said and done by persons who should supposedly know better.  Today, because nothing that is done in the dark stays hidden, an article appearing in The Guardian newspaper of 1970 quotes Ms. Court as saying that the South Africans had got the whole race thing right.  Ms. Court made these comments in relation to Arthur Ashe being denied a visa to play in South Africa during the height of apartheid.

Martin Niemoller is quoted as saying

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I would add to this … when they came for the Negroes, I did not speak out because I was not a Negro.

I have done a search of Google to see if there are any articles, other than the article being circulated via social media, defending Arthur Ashe or condemning Margaret Court for her comments,  but as of the time of writing there doesn’t seem to be any.  I am trying to find a journalist who doesn’t owe his soul to someone else,  and who actually took up the baton and condemned Ms. Court for her comments on racial segregation, which she seems to deem a good thing.

Tennis protects its own.  It always has and it always will.  A few years ago a player who was a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame was accused of rape.  Once the allegations had been proven, many then claimed that they had known this man was raping young girls in his care. More recently, Ilie Nastase subjected Serena Williams to racist comments about her unborn child.  The condemnation from folks far and wide apparently made Pam Shriver recall when he tried to “grab her by the pussy” (or in other words find out if she was a virgin).

Tennis is littered with men (and woman) who have behaved abominably and nothing is done.  Jelena Dokic, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and who can forget that most infamous of coaches, Zelkko Krajan, who spoke to former World No. 1 Dinara Safina as if she was an imbecile. While we are on the Safin bunch, never forget Marat Safin’s comments towards and about women.  Right now we have someone sitting in the commentator’s booth on Tennis Channel who has made remarks about women that in every other situation he would be cast out and left for dead but in tennis that guarantees you a contract and a job for life.

Will tennis ever lead with action instead of pretty speeches about gender equality and equal rights for all? If tennis wants us to believe what it says about itself, it will have to start making smarter choices about who it allows to represent the sport in public.

The French Open

We are into Day 3 of the French Open and we have seen some seeds fall like ninepins.  Angelique Kerber went out to Ekaterina Makarova.  For a player who is slumping in the way that Kerber is slumping, meeting giant killer Makarova, who usually plays inspired tennis against top opponents, this was a hard match.  No doubt Kerber needs to fix what ails her game right now.  It is hard to be the hunted when you are so accustomed to being the hunter.

Kiki Mladenovic, many folks’ pick to win this tournament after her stellar play so far this year had to struggle mightily against American Jennifer Brady.  She suffered from a lower back injury for most of the match and one wonders what effect this effort will have on her for the rest of the tournament.

I won’t be doing much of a recap during this French Open as work is getting in the way of the tennis.  However my surprise picks are still in the tournament and I am hoping that they improve with each match.

If you are just watching women’s tennis for the first time, try and pull up a chair and watch this year’s French Open.  I am convinced that someone will be having a break out tournament this year and I am looking for a real surprise winner at this year’s event.

 

How to write about the WTA

by The Spin Team

Covering women’s tennis should be the easiest thing in the world.  Take a thousand women professional tennis players. Write about what they do.  Voila, you are done.  It is not that difficult.  However, those who are in tennis media seem to find it challenging. Writings on professional women athletes should not be riddled with sexism, stupidity or racist undertones. Yet, tennis journalists struggle to find the right words to express themselves when it comes to writing or talking about professional women tennis players.  Because I love the women’s game and appreciate what journalists have to go through, here are some tips to help you avoid the common pitfalls when covering women’s tennis.

Leave the Outfits Alone

We all see what the women are wearing.  We don’t need a blow by blow commentary on what colour or what went into the making of the outfit.  That is for the tennis sponsors to deal with.  I can tell you that apart from perhaps criticizing the colour and possibly the fit of an outfit, most tennis fans don’t really care what women athletes are wearing.  They are not going out on a date with you.  They are not your wives, girlfriends, or daughters.  Their outfits should not matter.

To Grunt, Shriek or Moan what is the question

Again, tennis fans have zero interest in this issue.  That is for the mute button at home.  Fans know the players who shriek, grunt and moan.  They are there in the stands and watching from home.  They don’t care.  No one tunes in to watch a women’s match in order to find out if Player A is still shrieking, grunting or moaning when hitting her forehands.  We don’t care.  We watch because we want to see Player A win (or in the case of the haters, lose a match).

Know My name

“If I tell you once I tell you a thousand times, don’t call me Kuzzy.  My name is Sveta”.  She has said it on numerous occasions and yet commentators insist on calling her Kuzzy.  Stop it.  I know it is hard to get that pronunciation just right, especially when a name is spelled with pure consonants.  Even spell check has issues with it, but come on, commentators, leave the really bad (and in some cases cringe worthy) nicknames alone.  My name is Svetlana Kuznetsova and I am a tennis player.  I don’t need a nickname.

Know Your Stats

 I won Wimbledon by beating Player Y.  It was my second Major title.  I am ranked No. 6 in the WTA rankings.  I have held that position since 2016.  I lost my top ranking because I have been out injured for a number of months.  Tell the story.  Let fans know what makes me so good or so bad.  Talk about my extreme Western grip which prevents me from hitting my forehand on the run.  Talk about my serve stats, my return stats, my poor (or excellent movement).  Talk about me the way you talk about the men.  Talk about my game.

Don’t be Shocked When a Player YOU Have Never Heard of Does Well

Fans of the women’s game know their players.  We are never shocked when a player YOU have never heard of either takes down a player you have heard of, but we are always surprised that it took that player YOU have never heard of to do well.  Unlike you, we are never just aware of Niculescu and her formidable sliced forehand.  It has caused us sleepless nights when she plays against our faves.  We were aware of the Pliskova serve long before she got to the top 10.  We also know that she moves very poorly but seeing as she can stand and deliver we ignored your talking points.  Sara Errani is so much more than a weak serve.  She is one of the most versatile players on tour and before Elena Vesnina won the BNP Paribas Open she was an accomplished doubles player in her own right.   Please tennis journos and commentators, do your homework and avoid the embarrassment.

Scheduling

There is a general feeling amongst tennis folks that women’s matches do not garner the same amount of support as the men’s game.  Folks use the empty stands at women’s matches to prove their point that no one watches the women’s game.  My thought process is this, perhaps if tournament directors stopped scheduling women’s matches early in the day when most folks have not made plans to watch matches maybe that would help.  I have seen lots of empty stands at men’s matches but for some reason that is never a talking point.  At the majority of the combined tournaments, most of the women’s matches are scheduled for early in the day.  At the Majors, the same rule seems to apply, unless you are a big draw like Serena Williams and even then, if Serena is playing on the day when some so called big name player or players from the host country are playing, she either gets scheduled late in the day when most folks are on their way home (see French Open), or early in the day when folks are still at work (see Wimbledon).  The only tournament that seems to get it right every single time is Rome.  You need only look at the stands to see that the women’s matches are always well supported compared to the men’s matches.

Women Must Help Themselves

In 2015, after playing what was undoubtedly one of the best matches of the 2015 Wimbledon tournament, Victoria Azarenka was asked in her press conference about the shrieking, grunting, and moaning that went on during her match.  Azarenka, never one to mince words, reminded the journalists present that both she and Serena had played one helluva match and the journalists present should probably focus on that, rather than the grunting, and shrieking.

In the same way that Venus Williams refused to move her match during the Australian Open and schooled those attending the trophy presentation in Dubai a few years ago about discrimination, so should players refuse to play early if it is against their best interests.  The women need to realise that without them there is no WTA and there is no diversity in sports coverage.  They need to learn their value to the sport and until they do that they will always be considered second best to the men.

THE WTA IS ITS OWN WORST ENEMY

 From abandoning the tv deal with TennisTV, to giving players talking points on Sharapova’s doping ban, to issuing a release about tennis needing Sharapova, the WTA has not endeared itself to fans these days.  They have taken a position of defense, rather than offence when it comes to dealing with the issues facing women’s tennis.  They should adopt a more proactive approach to managing the women’s game. Perhaps the time has come for a woman to again be in charge of the WTA.

 

 

I HAVE A SADZ

It has been sometime since I wrote about tennis.  I have tried writing a few times but there seems to be a bit of a writer’s block  that is happening to me.  I think this has to do with the fact that I am disgusted by the sport and the efforts that seem to be at play  in making women’s tennis seem like a second class citizen to the men’s game.
The Australian Open women’s final gained its highest viewership in quite some time with the final featuring Venus and Serena Williams.  While I was giddy at Venus making the final, I did become a bit disappointed that she was not able to cross the finish line ahead of her sister, but as some of my tennis buddies have said, a Williams won, so that is all that matters.
The WTA should have been riding that euphoric high all throughout the season, but then we recalled the news that the online streaming platform TennisTV would no longer be broadcasting women’s tennis.  There began a fight amongst tennis watchers to figure out how to watch the women’s game.  Some of us have figured it out but it has been like seeking for gold in them there mountains.
As I am writing this we are in the midst of the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells) and while I have barely watched any of the women’s matches, from my social media timeline I can see that folks both in the US and outside the US are experiencing problems in watching the women’s portion of this event.  I live outside the US and I have ESPN Play.  While that platform does have Indian Wells on, there are no women’s matches being shown.  As part of my Dish Network package, I do have Tennis Channel, but as the only women’s matches they are showing are American women, I have decided to not tune in (except for Venus from time to time).
When someone is unable to view your sport, it decreases interest.  I was out of the office on Monday and Tuesday of this week and rather than sit at a computer screen watching tennis, I chose to sit in front of my 55” Samsung Smart TV and binge watch Bones on Netflix.  I am a diehard supporter of the women’s game, if I prefer to watch Netflix rather than find a livestream which may be dodgy at best to watch women’s tennis, then I can’t imagine  how those fans who only have a passing interest in the women’s game are faring. Why are we still struggling to watch the women’s game in 2017?
The other issue that has left me repeatedly angry and depressed is the return of Maria Sharapova to professional tennis.  For those who have been living under a rock, Ms. Sharapova will be coming off a 15 month ban for a doping offence.  As a result of this doping ban she will not have a ranking when she returns next month.  The issue that has stirred up quite a bit of controversy is Stuttgart granting Sharapova a wild card while she is banned for a doping offence. In order to facilitate the wildcard, the event has scheduled her first match at the tournament a day after her doping ban ends.   As we say in the legal field, the Stuttgart organisers have endured the letter of the law, if not the spirit.

Angelique Kerber, the current No. 1 has taken the view that awarding Sharapova a wild card has taken away the opportunity from a German who could perhaps use that wild card to advance her career.  I agree.  Following Stuttgart’s lead, both Madrid and Rome announced that they have awarded Ms. Sharapova a wild card into their events.  In addition, the French Tennis Federation has announced that Ms. Sharapova has reached out to them and has met with that organisation to secure a wildcard into the French Open this year.  Both the FFT and the AELTC have adopted a wait and see approach regarding requests for a wild card from the Sharapova camp.

Many may have forgotten that at the ITF hearing, Ms. Sharapova’s team stated that:

“It is argued that any period of ineligibility would disproportionately affect Ms Sharapova in causing her a very substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics, and irreparable damage to her reputation. There is nothing unfair in the rules being fairly and equitably applied to this player as to any other athlete subject to the WADA Code, whether professional or amateur. The rules are clear in stating:  “ … the fact that a Player would lose the opportunity to earn large sums of money during a period of Ineligibility, or the fact that the Player only has a short time left in his or her career, or the timing of the sporting calendar, would not be relevant factors to be considered in reducing the period of Ineligibility under Article 10.5.1 or 10.5.2.” The rules cannot be circumvented by invoking the principle of proportionality. It would be contrary to the principles underlying the code, in particular respect for the rules which must apply equally to all, to allow an unprincipled exception to or waiver from the rules on the grounds of proportionality of sanction as it affects the particular circumstances of this player.”

I know that many people have taken exception to the ITF’s ruling and it would seem as if Ms. Sharapova and her team are more determined to pick up where they left off in terms of the money that can be made by Ms. Sharapova.

For years we have heard about Ms. Sharapova’s fighting spirit.  We have heard about her capacity for hard work and her mental toughness.  We have also heard about her ability to come back from adversity and how important it is for her to play tennis.  I therefore have a few thoughts on a comeback that would be so much better for her image (which seems to be everything) and would be a guaranteed path to Hall of Fame glory.

·         Play the ITF Challenger/Futures circuit – how fitting would it be for an icon of the sport to highlight the plight of players who play the Challenger/Futures circuit? I recall watching Challenger tennis when Nicole Vaidisova was staging her comeback to tennis.

·         Play qualifying events.  It would show Ms. Sharapova’s capacity for hard work.  If she fails to make it through qualifying, try and go in as a lucky loser.  With her skill set she would be able to vanquish her opponents.  Recall 2007 when Serena Williams who was ranked 81 when won the Australian Open

·         Recently, Francesca Schiavone, a decorated athlete who has made her mark on the sport in more ways than one played qualifying at the Australian Open.  Schiavone has represented herself and her country and has been at the forefront of one of the most dynamic Fed Cup teams in history.  She will probably need a wild card to play in her home tournament in Rome later this year.  Why not take a page from that book?

I, like many tennis fans, love to hear and see a comeback story.  One of the reasons why  most people hate on court coaching is that it seems to give an unfair advantage to the player who calls their coach down mid match.  This is how I and I know many others view this wild card situation with Ms. Sharapova.  We view it as her being given an unfair advantage, in much the same way that her use of meldonium gave her an unfair advantage.

It is a smack in the face of other players who have played fairly for all their careers, to now be tasked with competing against a player who is being given a leg up because of who she is or who she used to be.  How Sharapova returns to the sport she claims to love can either elevate or damage its reputation. It would do the tennis a world of good if they helped Sharapova do the former rather than the latter. However, I suspect that like Sharapova, they will let money rather than integrity guide their decisions.