Sunday, September 16, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: The Definitive Wrap

Fourteen years ago, on Aug. 26, 2018, I tweeted the following:


I didn't mean to be prophetic. (but I did ask it for a reason ...)
Man, I've never been so glad to bear witness to the end of a tournament as I was with this year's U.S. Open. It was full of great tennis moments, but also some of the most insane moments -- and that was before the Williams/Osaka final. Questionable umpire conduct took a front seat quite a few times. There were stories that emerged from this tournament that might change the structure of tennis forever. I wrote about some of those possibilities for the, er, WASHINGTON POST. Like I said, crazy two weeks.
That piece, its fallout and other things I had going on caused me to step back a little from the pro tennis scene and although I watched the rest of the tournament, I was mentally fried. I don't have much to say, but here is the last definitive wrap of the U.S. Open you will find:

1. I don't know what happened to Novak Djokovic between Marco Cecchinato and now, but it happened fast. When he came back from injury this year, it was hard to see anything technically wrong with his game -- same dependable groundstrokes, especially on the backhand. But obviously, the confidence wasn't there, and now it is. Maybe it's just as simple as him returning to his original coach. But what we do know for sure now is that Djokovic has as many Slams as Pete Sampras (and I'm old enough to remember when that was the unattainable benchmark) and that just when we thought the order of things was set, Djokovic looks ready to make an all-out assault on both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer's records.
(Addendum: What happened to that forehand, Juan Martin del Potro? So tentative! Gah!!)

2. The doubles at this tournament was great. Coco Vandeweghe is not my cup of tea. Having said that the women's doubles final was a nice palate-cleanser on Sunday afternoon. Along with most recreational players, I end up playing more doubles and I wish I better at it. So these doubles matches are always so informative, but this one? I am seriously wondering if Kiki Mladenovich ever plays with Timea Babos again. Yes, they had Slam success this year, but this loss is gonna leave a mark. They held match points in the second and third sets and choked each time, especially Babos, whose level took a severe drop right around the time they should have closed out the match the first time. If you've played tennis, it's happened to you and even as you observe it happening to other people, you alternate between "Timea, how are you letting this happen to you?" and "Well, that dumped forehand looks familiar." You never want to see good players choke a match away, and you definitely don't want to see it them do it against Vandeweghe. 

3. I know that mixed doubles is sort of an exhibition event at Slams, but once again, can we NOT do tiebreakers in lieu of a third set? Especially at a major? Especially in the final match? Please?? Please???? 
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray defeated a team I had never heard of, Alicja Rosolska and Nicola Mektic, but will always remember now for (1) Mektic getting blasted out of his shoes at net by Mattek-Sands and (2) Rosolska's really scrappy play. I shall cheer for you, Pole and Croatian. 
So let's get back into the swing of things here at TWA with Mattek-Sands' acceptance speech (after a bad knee injury at Wimbledon last year):


Saturday, September 08, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: Serena, Osaka and the Fact that Many Things Can Be True at Once

So here I sit, a few hours removed from the U.S. Open women's final, and I am not going to be able to sleep unless I write this, so here we are. I want to say that there are many things that can be true at once without canceling each other out. Let us talk about those things now, please:

1. Naomi Osaka played some typa match: Six aces -- five more than her opponent, who has won 23 Grand Slam titles. Fourteen unforced errors, seven fewer than her opponent. Seventy-three percent of points won on her first serve. That's a full ten percent more than her opponent. When Serena Williams unleashed her first (only) "KAMANNNNN!" Osaka kept her head down and kept making her shots. When the histrionics started, and continued, she was able to keep her head and remain unbowed by the sideshow. She closed the match on her serve without blinking. She's 20. Naomi Osaka's first grand slam win got sidetracked by another incident, as did Amelie Mauresmo's against Justine Henin (Also bs nonsense, but strictly by Henin) Mauresmo won another, and was able to celebrate -- take in her moment. Osaka will, too, one day. She's 20. Here's hoping we get her for another 16-18 years, and that they are as successful as Williams'.

2. This isn't about women's rights: When an umpire says, "Code violation -- [ insert violation here], that is a code violation. Carlos Ramos doesn't call a coaching violation and then just say, "Oh, my bad!" unless of course, he was wrong. He was not wrong. Patrick Mouratoglou made hand signals to his player, which is known as coaching. It's just as possible that Serena only saw his thumbs, and not his indication to move into the court, or to move Osaka into the court. But he did it, Ramos saw, and it was a violation on her. This might be a thing she talks about with her coach. At any rate, she knew that because he said, "CODE VIOLATION, WILLIAMS." Good god, woman. Ramos did not compel her to smash her racquet. He also was sitting there minding her business when she decided to call him a thief and demand an apology multiple times. Had Serena kept her head down and focused on the task at hand (she was down a set and break), nothing else would have happened. Maybe she loses. Maybe she comes back to win the second set. But if Serena had said nothing, it is clear that Ramos would have been a non-factor in this match. To suggest, as Serena did, that this "struggle" for equal standing in the quest to say whatever she wants to an umpire, and that it will work out for others although it didn't for her? S-T-R-E-T-T-T-T-T-T-T-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H

3. This is about fair play: We've seen this for years. Some umps are rule sticklers, others aren't. Some give a code violation for racquet abuse, and others don't. Some will give a code violation for backtalk from players (see: Federer v. del Potro at the U.S. Open in 2009) and others let it slide. Others still get down from their chairs and give the trailing player a pep talk. You see what I'm saying, yes? It's like boxing or figure skating. One judge's point-docking would cause another to say nothing. Umpires in tennis need to follow uniform rules. Even the serve clock this year (and indeed, in this match) was observed case-by-case. You shouldn't do that. It's either a rule or it isn't.

4. This is Serena Williams' fault: Listen, when you get a code violation, you don't then smash the living crap out of your racquet in plain view. You don't go ahead to call the ump names and give him a chance to call you out. No one would know this better than Serena Williams because THIS EXACT THING HAPPENED TO HER BEFORE. If anyone knows about violation penalties and poor timing, all she would need to do is take ONE LOOK at Mrs. Kim Clijsters. I mean, damn ... For Serena to suggest that it just seems to always happens to her here is completely neglecting the fact that she has been at fault at almost all those times. Clijsters. Stosur. Osaka. Dammit, woman

5. The fallout from the debacle is the USTA's fault: What the hell, Katrina Adams?! You've got a contentious ending to a match and a first-time Slam winner who is a kid and is already not enjoying the moment on account of the soap opera that unfolded en route, and what does Katrina Adams do? The first thing out of her mouth is, essentially, "You are a GOAT, Serena!" Which is true, but this is not the best time to point this out. After all, she did NOT win the match. Adams is tone-deaf AF on many things, and she should have done better here. This is why Serena Williams, who created this disaster, had to then calm the crowd before it turned into the background of the "This is America" music video. Because Adams, and post-match interviewer Tom Rinaldi, were not the adults in the room and by dint of their inability to read the moment could have led to Osaka having a breakdown after the biggest moment of her tennis life. (Rinaldi to Serena and Osaka during the postmatch, in essence: "So ... how about all of that?" God, man. Good god.)

6. This is not a time when Serena gets to change the game of tennis: I love me some Chris McKendry, but if she, Mary Joe Fernandez and Chrissie Evert didn't just fall in line with Serena's "women's rights" trope ... Now, Serena has had a history at the U.S. Open. Maybe you remember the time when she got screwed over during her match against Jennifer Capriati (you remember. This was the denim and boots outfit, which was as badass as one has gotten at any major. HANDS DOWN DON'T @ME. Definitely better than that tutu.) The horrible line calls against Serena in that match were ... wow, they were bad. Anyway, a few obviously bad line calls went against Serena and really did cost her in that 2004 quarterfinal match. Many people point to this as the birth of the challenge system. This turned out to be good for the game. Now, the ESPN cast is calling for on-court coaching because it happens anyway. What?! Even Serena doesn't want on-court coaching. In what world are we now attributing this disaster to a flaw in the rules as opposed to a flaw in Serena? She needs to cool out when she comes to play in Flushing. FULL DAMN STOP. Plenty of players get code violations, then move on in their lives. We're going to allow on-court coaching at Slams now for everyone (which, by the way, will probably just mean the women which is another injustice unto itself) because Serena lost her temper? What?!

7. Naomi Osaka. I just want to end on her. My god. Keeping your head through Nos. 2-6 to serve your way to a final? What maturity and poise. Most of us can't even stay that calm during a USTA league match. I hope they replay this match without the tantrums, so they can see what I saw early on -- that Osaka was ready. She came ready to play and snatched that title. Also, she's half-West Indian, so you're fam, sis, on these tennis streets. 😉

Sunday, September 02, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: A Sea of Red

I had a lot of fun filling out the women's draw. Was feeling pretty good about my choices. And then the tournament started.




Anyway, this year's U.S. Open has had a lot going on, which is something of an understatement. On the first day, Simona Halep lost and it turned out that there wasn't a heat rule for men, which is ... something. On the second day, Alize Cornet changed her shirt on court and an umpire, upon viewing a sports bra, was more offended by that than the bare-chested men he no-doubt sees at least twice a week.
We all know about Mo Lahyani's free coaching session by now. This whole episode, which -- don't get me wrong -- is wild, still illustrates something I've been trying to point out for a while. For much of the tennis calendar, women are encouraged to get coaching -- it's actually a feature that is apparently a fan pleaser. (?) But if a man gets a whiff of coaching (also this week, Andy Murray reported to his match ump that his opponent that day, Fernando Verdasco, had been getting advice during the 10-minute break due to heat), this is viewed as very bad.
Yes, I understand that the coaching they were receiving was against the rules, while the women being coached during the year is a rule. But the existence of this rule suggests this notion that women somehow need it, which sort of flies in the face of the idea of equality in the sport. I think on-court coaching is a crutch, but if both men and women were allowed access to it, it would be just another thing I didn't like about tennis, and you wouldn't have Twitter exchanges like this between a male and female pro


where I would be in the unenviable position of agreeing with Nick Kyrgios. (Yes, this is that Donna Vekic. Yikeys.)

Predictions. I hate to embarrass myself and keep making very wrong picks, but I also cannot resist offering thoughts. First, Maria Sharapova's advancement through this draw has been behind some of the ugliest tennis I've ever seen. But maybe also behind some of the luckiest. Sure, when she beat Jelena Ostapenko yesterday, her winners/unforced errors ratio was 11/18, which isn't great. But Ostapenko's was 10/41. Also not great.
Second, I am still unsure of what to make of Serena Williams. But the way she took down her own sister the other day was savage and if she's willing to do that to her own sister, the other players in the draw should be at least aware of that. Now pardon me while I go make some popcorn to watch Williams/Kanepi.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: The Women

The draw gods were very kind to tennis fans. I am not sure if the actual players feel the same way, but here we go!




Seeds
1. Simona Halep: The one to beat. And it won't be easy. So good luck, ladies listed below. Here stands one of the most mentally tough players the tour has seen since Serena and Maria. I know a lot has been made of the logjam in her quarter, but what she did this summer turned me into a convert. Her match against Sloane Stephens, and even Kiki Bertens, were just awesome displays of tenacious tennis. When you consider that she was doing two-a-days in her last two tournaments. And all of that extra tennis played could come back and bite her in the form of exhaustion. But I don't think she gets tired, y'all.
2. Caroline Wozniacki: Ever since she won Australia, she's been all over the place. Her first round is against Sam Stosur, and if/when she comes up against Bertens, she's probably going to go to the low end of that "place."
3. Sloane Stephens: I have to admit that I thought that her title here last year was a blip, a lucky bounce here and there. That semi against Venus literally hung on a couple of tough rallies. But Sloane has backed it up with a French Open final appearance and a couple of really strong showings against Halep. I wish she had a real weapon, something that could end a point in under 15 minutes, but here we are.
4. Angelique Kerber: Hey, when's she's not No. 1, she's killing the competition. Her Wimbledon final performance was just stellar. She's got a good draw and I can see her making the semis, easy.
5. Petra Kvitova: She's had a strong summer, but there are some floaters in this draw she needs to look out for -- Aryna Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka.  
6. Caroline Garcia: Garcia has had an up-and-down season, not a lot of consistency. And her first round is against a resurgent Johanna Konta, so that's not great. Then possibly Monica Puig, who beat her last week in Connecticut, and as someone who watched that match, I have no idea how Garcia managed to lose. So not much hope for her here.
7. Elina Svitolina: If this were a tournament that wasn't a major, I'd say, sure. Let's go with Svitolina. But it's a major, so Agz Radwanska will likely be the first and last person Svitolina sees on a tennis court in New York. 
8. Karolina Pliskova: I have concerns. She's got some coaching changes going on -- she just snagged Conchita Martinez, so maybe she can help Pliskova figure out how to win this summer. She's had losses to Sabalenka and Bertens, and even Ekaterina Makarova the last few tournaments, so we will see.
9. Julia Goerges: It's great to see Goerges having great results again and she's in Svitolina's quarter, so maybe things will work out for a run to the quarters? 
10. Jelena Ostapenko: Given her high-risk game, you just have to wait until the match with her. Andrea Petkovic is going to be a tough first round because Petkovic can handle the power, so should be fun!
11. Daria Kasatkina: Gonna have to do a hard pass here.
12. Garbine Muguruza: We just gotta see what kind of mood Muguruza is in right now. If she's in a good mood, this draw is here for her. If she's in a bad mood, Maria Sakkari or Pliskova will be waiting to see her out of Queens.
13. Kiki Bertens: It has a heckuva year for Bertens. I really love her game. The thing that had been missing until this year was the mental toughness. She'd have players in a corner and then she'd blink. Not this year. The way she handled that Halep match in the Rogers Cup final was really impressive. Quarters at the least for her.
14. Madison Keys: On the whole, it's been a pretty meh year for Keys. So I'm not expecting another run to the final from her. 
15. Elise Mertens: Nah.
16: Venus Williams: It's not been a great year for Venus, and if she wants to replicate her semifinal run from last year, she'd have to bypass her sister, Simona Halep, and probably Muguruza and Pliskova. That's just her quarter. I don't know is all I'm saying.

The Stragglers
Serena Williams: Yes, it is completely possible she wins the whole thing. What's more likely, though, is that her lackluster court movement will be exposed early on by some quality opponents -- there are many in her quarter alone -- including her own sister.
Aryna Sabalenka: I still want to know if what she was sniffing during the Fed Cup last year was legal. Whatever it is might have taught her how to volley, because her game is locked and loaded right now. I just watched her win the Connecticut Open and her game is BIG. It's also INCONSISTENT. She is also as MOODY as the average teenager.
Magdalena Rybarikova: She's in Svitolina's quarter and I see her as the main beneficiary when Svitolina flames out for some ridiculous reason.

First Round Matches to Watch
These first round matches could be very consequential to the way this tournament shakes out. Not even hyperbol-ing right now.
Patty Schnyder v. Maria Sharapova: I don't give her more than six games, but you gotta love Patty Schnyder out here talking trash on the Tennis Twitter streets like she never left the game. 



Simona Halep v. Kaia Kanepi: Picking Halep, but should be entertaining at least.
Venus v. Svetlana Kuznetsova: The sad part is that if Venus gets out of this match, it just gets worse for her.
Sachia Vickery v. Svitolina: Many opportunities for Svitolina flame-outs. This will be just the first.
Johanna Konta v. Caroline Garcia: Konta needs to get her ranking up. Because this is cruel.
Jelena Ostapenko v. Andrea Petkovic: Petkovic has retired that dance by now, right?
Sabalenka v. Danielle Collins: Collins has cooled a bit since the spring, but this still could be entertaining. 
Laura Siegemund v. Naomi Osaka: Fully expecting Osaka to make it through this one, but should be a good match. 
Wozniacki v. Stosur: Sam Stosur won the U.S. Open once. Let that one marinate.

HOMELAND SLAM: The Men

I did a U.S. Open preview 10 years ago. Which makes this blog the thing I've been most committed to in my whole life. Which, yes, is a little depressing. But the point was to mention that here is that this is how my preview began 10 YEARS AGO:


Nadal and Federer are astounding tennis specimens is what I'm getting at. OK, let's get back to the future:








1. Rafael Nadal: So far, Nadal has had a strong year, and stayed fairly free from serious injuries. His draw here is better than most, although Karen Khachanov could end up being a situation. But his hardcourt warm-up was judicious and sharp, and when he's fit, as it appears he is now, you gotta tag him for at least the semis.
2. Roger Federer: Federer's looked good too, this summer. No hardware like Nadal, but pretty sharp until he came across Novak Djokovic. His quarter here is full of minefields. Nick Kyrgios in the third round, which ... well, you know. It depends on which Kyrgios shows up, if he's in a good mood, if he brought his tennis kicks instead of his basketball shoes. Djokovic is also in his quarter, so he's going to have to get a bit sharper than he was in Cincinnati.
3. Juan Martin del Potro: Any major with del Potro in form is better for it. He'd face a group of tough competitors on the way to the semis -- Andy Murray, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and maybe John Isner or Wawrinka. But as long as his wrist is feeling good and he's able to spank forehands all over the place, it could be a good tournament for him.
4. Alexander Zverev: If Zverev should again determine that this is his time, it's actually a decent time! He could run the table up to the semis if he wanted. His main obstacles could be Kei Nishikori, who is pretty steady and Marin Cilic.
5. Kevin Anderson: I tell you what, I thought Anderson was pretty lucky to get to the U.S. Open final a couple years ago, but it would appear it wasn't luck. If he hadn't been screwed over at Wimbledon with the schedule and the twelve-week match against Isner, he might have won the tournament.
6. Novak Djokovic: The way he's been playing the last couple of months, it's hard not to imagine him in the final. Of course, this is also the same person who lost to Taro Daniel, Marco Cecchinato and Bernard Paire this year.
7. Marin Cilic: Is it me, or does Cilic look like he plays with a chip on his shoulder these days? He's just been fired up lately. I'm picking him for the semis, too.
8. Grigor Dmitrov: I wonder if there's ever been a player -- any player, no one specifically -- who wouldl ever show up to a tournament feeling good and then looking at the draw and then just feels like packing up his gear and going home. Just a random thought I had. Oh, and by the way, Dmitrov's opening round opponent is Stan Wawrinka.
9. Dominic Thiem: Who even knows. Dude basically fell off the map after the French.
10. David Goffin: Kind of surprised he's in the draw. He's apparently struggling with a shoulder injury, so not expecting too much.
11. John Isner: He's in the Wawrinka quarter (sorry Dimitrov), so he's got a chance for a good run.
12. Pablo Carreno Busta: I'm not trying to be a jerk, but how is Carreno Busta seeded this high?! I'm really not, but ...
13. Diego Schwartzman: I really like his game, but he's stuck in Zverev quarter and there's a lot of talent in there. I don't know about this year, buddy.
14. Fabio Fognini: See. No. 12.
15. Stefanos Tsitsipas: This kid is crushing it lately. This summer, he's beaten Djokovic, Thiem, Zverev and Goffin. He's obviously having a lot of fun doing it, too. Do yourself a favor and follow him on Twitter. He's living that life right now. As for this tournament? If he touches a hair on del Potro's head, he's dead to me.
16. Kyle Edmund: He's got a pretty meat-and-potatoes type game, not real flashy, but effective. Not sure he'll be able to get past Nadal in the fourth round, though. Side-note: If I told you Edmund was only 23, would you believe me? I wouldn't have pegged him for a day under 40. Just saying.

First round matches to watch:
Wawrinka v. Dimitrov: As noted, I'd be stunned if Dimitrov got out of this match.
Nadal v. Ferrer: So long, David!
Shapavalov v. Felix Auger-Aliassime: I've not seen this Felix guy yet, so I'm excited to see what the hype is about.
Fernando Verdasco v. Feliciano Lopez: One of the great disappointments of this blog will be that my nickname for Verdasco, Hot Truth, never really took off.
Adrian Mannarino v. Frances Tiafoe: UPSET WATCH
Marcos Baghdatis v. Mikhail Youzhny: I hear they're giving out free walkers after this match. To the players! (rim shot)
Isner v. Bradley Klahn: I was going to make some tasteless joke about Isner playing his first round against someone whose last name is Klahn, but then I decided not to.







Monday, August 20, 2018

Coach Swap: Serena Williams and .. the French Davis Cup team?!

It's been a long time since my last "Coach Swap." It's been so long that it involved Venus Williams and another player whose whereabouts are now unknown to me.

But this one's important because Serena Williams needs some help, STAT.

Now, unlike most tennis fans, I do have a memory and I do recall that Serena advanced to the Wimbledon last month. But I've been reading her interviews lately, and the Time magazine piece confirmed the thing I've been thinking.

Serena Williams needs Amelie Mauresmo to join her team -- temporarily. I'd say through the end of 2018. This isn't to suggest that Patrick Mouratoglou (one day, I will spell this name correctly without consulting the Google) is flawed in some way. But he's been bugging me a little bit. When he tells Serena she needed to stop nursing, my knee-jerk was to ask why, because he's a man. It bothered Serena and we know that at least another mom who was a pro had some questions, too.



Yeah, so I didn't like that.
As someone who changed her diet to keep up nursing my kids, I didn't understand the health-related concerns Mouratoglou might have had. The foods you consume to keep your body producing breast milk (such as oats and barley) doesn't fly in the face of healthy foods. And I also know that many women haven't had the pounds drop off from breastfeeding. It happened with my first child. The second one, not so much. But there are no health reasons that I can think of that would make nursing a problem for an athlete. Unless you're worried about the time investment, and it is that. You do need to change your schedule.
Now, Serena has said that she decided to stop nursing on her own because she wasn't losing weight fast enough. But it is clear she struggles with this because she talks about it ALL THE TIME. If I'm a coach, I'd prefer to deal with a player who is mentally free to focus on tennis when she's at practice, but maybe that's just me.
The main thing Mouratoglou can't understand with any depth is that the body of any woman who has delivered a child has changed. Literally, parts of you that were in one place have settled into another. The way Serena moves on the court now, it occurs to me that perhaps it wouldn't hurt to have someone on the team who plays tennis -- and who has given birth and is fully aware of what that means, which is where Mauresmo comes in.
Mauresmo is obviously a good coach -- she worked with Andy Murray. She's the coach of the Davis Cup team for France and helmed the Fed Cup team for a time. The last guy who did that was, yeah, a guy. She's also a mom. As a player, she struggled mentally, and overcame it. Sounds like insight Serena might need right now.
Before her pregnancy, Serena's movement was catlike. Her flexibility? I don't know too many women in their mid-thirties who could do a full split. And sometimes, watching her play now, it seems as though she's trying to do the same things. And it's not to say that she'll never be a good mover on court. It is just to say that her body has changed and it might be necessary to move in a different way. I am not a pro (obviously), but I'll use myself as an example. After my first child was born, my hips felt weird. They felt like they were still shifting whenever I laid down to go to sleep.
One time, I became convinced that my hips were dislocated. They didn't hurt, but they weren't the same and every time I woke up, I'd take my first steps and they didn't feel reliable. It's hard to explain. I still sleep with a pillow between my legs for this reason.
I can't wear the jeans I used to wear, because my hips are wider apart now. After I had two babies, suddenly, I had boobs. I needed a solid sports bra to keep them out of the way.
I played league tennis throughout my first pregnancy with no problem (and the approval of my ob-gyn), all the way up to what I thought was my final month of pregnancy. (The kid was a little early ...) My second pregnancy, I had to stop at five months. I reached for a ball during one match and felt a sharp pain in my lower abdomen. It turned out to be nothing involving my daughter, but I stopped anyway. But by that time, I understood that this baby was carrying differently and I had to move differently because my natural movements weren't as ... well, natural, anymore.
Is Serena's coach aware of these types of changes? Like, really aware? And can he make Serena really aware of these changes, and watch her movement with this in mind? Like, say, perhaps a woman who has been pregnant?
No, Mauresmo didn't play on the tour while she was pregnant. She was pregnant while she was coaching Andy Murray and it's hard to believe she never played while she was expecting. Even if she didn't pick up a racquet during that time, Mauresmo is not only a fine coach, captain and motivator, she understands what has happened to Serena's body and that is what Serena needs right now.
She needs someone to tell her it's OK and that she's not a crappy mom because she wants other things. She needs (needed) someone to tell her, "You want to keep nursing. OK. When do you feed your baby? When do you need to pump? We will practice during those free times." She needs someone to tell her that she doesn't have her old body and it's not coming back and it's totally fine. It's a different body and it's going to have more weight for a while, and we (Serena and Mauresmo, because in my head, this has already happened) are going to get you moving in a more efficient way for your new body. It occurs to me that Serena thinks that if she can't do the same things she used to, that she can't be great any more. But there are many ways to achieve greatness.
Mouratoglou knows a lot about tennis. Something tells me he doesn't know much about the female body and how it recovers after giving birth. Having someone on the team who can understand what Serena's body is dealing with right now would probably help.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

LEAGUE WATCH: To Appeal or Not to Appeal?

If you had told me that moving to Florida would hamper my league play instead of opening all kinds of doors, I would have been like

via GIPHY

and kept packing my bags.
But it's been true, for a couple of reasons. First, my rating is a problem. I'm a 4.0 and for the first year or so of living in Florida, I definitely did not play like one. In Pittsburgh, being a 4.0 woman meant a world of league-play activity -- a 4.0 team and the ability to play 7.0, 8.0 and 9.0 tennis. And I played it all! I've only lost one 9.0 mixed match. Did I ever tell you that? What? You said that's because I played with 5.0 men?
Hm.
Maybe.
But here in central Florida, being a 4.0 woman of a certain (working) age means I can't play women's league matches at this level because they're all on weekdays at 9 a.m. And as far as mixed doubles, well, I'm not exactly an asset here. Why? Well, my results have been terrible. And now that I'm actually playing more tennis and playing better tennis, it still doesn't matter because there's no 9.0 league here. The 8.0 league had two teams this year. Two. The captain of one of the teams was like, oh yeah, I'll send you the team number and then never did. This leaves the 7.0 team, which really underscores, I think, my weaknesses. It's easy to win matches when you have a partner who can take over a match and reduce the pressure on you. It's difficult to win matches when you have to be that partner and you are nowhere near as aggressive as that requires.
I've been working on that, though. And instead of lopsided losses, my partner and I are now able to lose in a third-set tiebreaker, which is not what I want, but it's progress.
The only way to get better at league tennis is to play more league tennis. You know, get familiar with the pressure and learn to perform while the rest of your team is waiting for you to seal a group win. But if there aren't a lot of league options available to me, what am I supposed to do?
I actually know the answer. The problem is that I don't like it. I could appeal my rating. If I dropped back to 3.5, I would be able to play in a weekend or evening women's league and I'd be (maybe I think) a good pick for mixed doubles. My partners would be stronger so it wouldn't fall so much on me. There's no 9.0 teams out here, so I won't miss out on that.
But my pride.
When I started playing tennis, I was a 3.0 in North Carolina, trying to figure out how to keep the rules straight in doubles. I took my lumps as I advanced to 3.5 and my goal was 4.0. I knew I was good enough for that -- if I could get my backhand under control, could figure out how to volley, could stop getting impatient during rallies and make a high-percentage play. (Some things never change.) I had a 3.5 season where I lost one match and I was sure that was the year I'd get bumped. But I didn't. The next season, I won only half my matches, but when I checked the TennisLink site the day ratings were updated (otherwise known as the tennis player's Christmas Day), I was so proud I had gotten there.
I've never in my life worked hard for something, got it, and then tried to get rid of that thing. So this is perhaps harder than it should be. It's probably the correct and sensible thing to do if I want to play more league tennis. But I'm better than 3.5!
Am I though?
You can see I'm struggling here. My plan is to wait until the end of this current league (about two matches away) and then officially appeal my rating. This has quote been my plan unquote for about a year now. It seems like a good plan. I should do it.
I should set in motion the train that's going to take me to the land of waking up one morning and finding the number 3.5 next to my name when I check TennisLink. Do you know how long it took for me to get to 4.0?!!!???!?!!!
Do I appeal my USTA rating so I can play more tennis? Definitely ... not ...?
...
Someone send help.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Wimbledon for Breakfast: This One We Can't Blame on Isner

Things were going well at Wimbledon throughout the tournament. Their website was *chef's kiss* beautiful. Their app worked. The matches (especially in the women's draw) were competitive. And then came Friday.
When Kevin Anderson began his semifinal match with John Isner that day, I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for work. When it ended, I was picking up a late lunch and missed it. I actually had to concede about four hours in that the only reason I was watching it was to root against Isner, whose MAGA-headedness is a non-starter in this TWA house. I legit had to ask myself: Do you actually care about this match or just the result? I had to move on with my life.
But this marathon match kept things others from continuing on with their lives, namely Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. They started their match on Centre Court after Anderson/Isner (problem No. 1) and were only able to play three sets which they split (problem No. 2) and therefore had to finish the following day (problem No. 3), the same day as the women's final, traditionally played on Centre Court as the showpiece match of the day (problem No. 4).
This led to the Nadal/Djokovic semi taking precedence over the women's final (in which Serena Williams was competing for a record-breaking Slam title, but no big). At first, this irked myself and a lot of other fans, but in the end, letting the men go first was the best thing to do in a situation that is far from optimal. One of them would still have a match the next day. But this proved to be a train wreck situation. It really could have been solved with two tweaks:

Tweak 1
Nadal/Djokovic on Centre Court while Anderson/Isner play Court 1, or Court 13 or wherever else. There's no reason not to play both of these at the same time. Wimbledon is literally full of tennis courts. If Roger Federer was a factor here, this might be a tougher call, but still the call to make. People make plans, buy their tickets (travel and match) based on the schedule. Try to stick to it.

Tweak 2
A fifth-set tiebreaker. The U.S. Open has one, and I've actually been to the U.S. Open and felt the excitement in the air over a tiebreaker. It doesn't hurt anything. It actually amps up the excitement. Watching two guys ace each other for nearly seven hours is maybe not the thrill the other three Slams think it is.
Having said all of that, I have seen some truly ridiculous takes on this. Yes, I mean Ben Rothenberg, who said





I know. I got a headache reading that again just now. All I'll say at this point is that if he really believes this, the New York Times should just run the last 3/5th of his stories. What the hell do you need the beginning for? I get that this is just another way for him to make his best-of-three case. Still dumb.
And then this 12-12 tiebreak idea? It's a five-set match, not six! That's the equivalent of a sixth set! No, a regular tiebreak is just fine here. Yeesh, guys.
Anyway. Huge damn disaster that probably led to a lackluster men's final. What will Wimbledon do? LOL the same thing they did this year!

Quick hits

Back to Serena. She came up short in the final against Angelique Kerber in a win some consider an upset. OK, it's huge that Serena was able to reach the final, and it would have been amazing if she had won. But Kerber is No. 9 in the world, and had previously won Slams! Anyway, movement was Serena's biggest hurdle this tournament and her groundstrokes and serve had been enough to bail her out, but Kerber is basically a ball machine, so yeah. I honestly would have been more surprised if Serena had won.

The hell happened to Nadal in that last game?!?? Like, what? Seriously, that was a semifinal where I didn't miss a point. He and Djokovic played some truly spectacular points, and I'm really sorry to say this, but it was the de facto Wimbledon final. I don't want to minimize Anderson's achievements here (he beat the one guy I couldn't bear to see win Wimbledon), but the quality of Nadal/Djokovic was pretty high. Heck, Nadal/delP was of better quality than the final. In the semis, though, Nadal made some uncharacteristic mistakes when he had an open chance to win the point. And those misses were really the difference. Djokovic showed some shakiness at the end, and Nadal didn't take advantage. Of course, Djokovic was also really good at opening the door, and then closing it back with a strong serve or groundies. I know a popular question now will be whether Djokovic can pass Nadal or Federer in Slam wins. He's got age on his side, but as long as Nadal has two legs, he'll secure at least one Slam a year. Fed probably, too. Also, by the way, Nadal is a great grass court player, so we can stop acting like he only excels on one surface now.