Tuesday, March 21, 2017

That's an Indian Wells wrap

So my last post was a little heated. I had to unload a bit about on-court coaching, and because I am often overtaken by my mini-rages, I lose sight of the good things. I mentioned a few of them early in my last post. Let us hit the way-back button to revisit Indian Wells, shall we? OK!

1. Roger Freakin' Federer. You might recall Federer taking some time off before, needing to rest his creaky back. It was at that moment that the Rolex-sponsored Retirement Watch began ticking in the minds of many. He sat on the sideline watching Rafa Nadal do damage at the Rio Olympics, Andy Murray become knighted and Novak Djokovic assert himself (kinda) as the world No. 1. Ol' Grandpa Roger must have really been motivated by what he was seeing. Even after the man won the Australian Open with his fishing buddy Rafa, commentators said, "Well, this is it for these guys. This might be the last time ..." And then Roger played Rafa in the fourth round here and beat him so bad I was wincing. Now I'm a big fan of Rafa and his sexy ass. So it was a tough one to watch:

Still, Federer looks unbeatable right now. He's running around tagging backhands like a teenager while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are pulling out of Miami. And let's give Stan Wawrinka a good amount of props, too. He made the final entertaining and had a couple key points gone his way, it might have gone to three. He also gave possibly the most memorable runner-up speech. So memorable that Mirka is probably gonna find him and wallop him upside the head with her purse.

2. I just don't even know what to say about Elena Vesnina.

3. Do you know what Maria Sharapova has done since she was ordered to serve an 15-month drug ban from tennis? She has:

a. gone to HARVARD UNIVERSITY for a specialized business program (that has a no-drug policy but whatever am I right?)
b. written and secured a publisher for her memoir
c. retained many of her sponsors, including Head, which congratulated her for getting time taken off her ban
d. appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine
e. received a wildcard into the Stuttgard tournament, which begins before her ban ends, but barely. That means organizers held a spot for her and set it up so she can start as soon as her ban is over, two days after the starting bell.
This should be obvious.
If you're someone, like me, who thinks she violated the rules and did it with some intention, then you're wondering how a drug cheat like Maria Sharapova ends up with the world on a string. Cheaters aren't supposed to win. But here Maria is, running the tables. Like big time. Even the WTA is embracing her with open arms. Well, at least the WTA's social media manager is. Er, was:

Good thing the WTA deleted this tweet. Wise move. Heck, Dominika Cibulkova probably hadn't even seen that yet.
I don't say this every day, but Alize is so many of us right now.

4. The secret plot to make Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios love tennis and stop being babies: I'm gonna start with acknowledging that this is some real conspiracy-theory stuff I'm about to drop. That's not me usually, but I want this to be true so badly. So you know how Rafa Nadal usually plays doubles (when he plays doubles) with fellow Spaniard and gold-medal champ Marc Lopez? So this time, he took on Tomic. And then Nenad Zimonjic who usually plays with someone who will help him win a title, played with Kyrgios. And frankly, I have never either sourpuss happier on a tennis court. Also, if you're a sourpuss, you're less likely to be one while playing against legit Grand Slam winners. You will be on your best behavior. But still, this is odd for major champions to choose such unlikely partners. Even Nadal's countrymen had no idea why he was playing with Tomic. Now Nadal says it was because they were supposed to play together in Australia, but couldn't. OK, fine. But I think Nadal and Zimonjic did this for the good of the game. They might have even hatched this plot together. They know that Tomic and Kyrgios have the potential to be the future of the game, and because they're thinking big-picture, they're taking them under their more-experienced wing to show them that instead of murdering your racquet, you might consider taking a deep breath instead. So that's my theory. Rafa and Zimonij are geniuses, and not the evil variety, either,

OK, I finally figured out something to say about Vesnina. You know how people say, "Youth is wasted on the young?" It's meant to say that young people squander their physical assets or their time and when they're older they have less time and limited physical abilities. Vesnina is 30. She and her fellow Russian Indian Wells finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova (31) have been around for a long time. It's probably easy to think, even to yourself, that you have the ability to go through a murderer's row to earn your first tier 1 WTA singles title, especially when you see folks like Garbine Muguruza blow by and win a major before she's 20. But look at how Muguruza struggles to be consistent now. I think Vesnina, Kuznetsova, the Williams sisters, Nadal and Federer are living in tennis' sweet spot right now. They have age, but they also have experience, and as Eminem would probably say, their feet aren't failing them now. Youth is nice. Thinking young is impressive, too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The rage edition: Indian Wells Can't Be the 5th Slam for This One Reason

Let's not talk about how Stevie Wonder must have pulled together the men's draw, with three of the traditional Big Four on one side of the draw. Let's also not point out that the one guy who had a whole half of a draw to himself lost in the first round, while the other guys are still playing. (COME ON RAFA.) Let's not even go there about how Venus Williams is playing the smartest, and by extension, the best tennis of her career. The other thing we've got to hold off on is that all the big boys are playing doubles and drawing crowds, and veterans are playing with hotheads and if it's a strategy, it's a beautiful one and it just might work to loosen the dour temperaments of the young Aussies.
And of course, we can't talk about the big controversy of whether a player serving a drug ban should be getting wild cards into tournaments. (no. Not her and not for a tournament that starts while she's still banned and hold a spot for her that someone who presumably hasn't been banned for drugs now can't have. But we're not talking about that now. Just ... just focus, OK?) We can't talk about all the great things about Indian Wells because of the one thing that's really got me freaking pissed right now. It's not a topic that's gone uncovered here at TWA, and we are gonna talk about it again now. This friggin' on-court coaching that only the women have access to. Instead of me just going on about this, let's just talk about all the "good" that's come of it here at the "Fifth Slam."
Kayla Day. Day is a 17-year-old American who I just saw for the first time this week, and she has got some serious lefty GAME. Last week, she was beating the tar out of Garbine Muguruza. Day really had her on the ropes, too -- up a set and a break in the second. But then it seemed as though Muguruza woke up and realized that she did indeed have a match this day and that in fact it was happening at that point in time. So she stepped up her game, which threw the teenager for a bit of a loop.

Day: "She's hitting great first serves now. I can't even touch them!"
Coach: "Yeah, you have to give her that. but focus on the serves you can hit and do what you can."

I'm paraphrasing. But isn't this information that Day, if pressed, could have told herself? Yeah, sure, Naf, but the real question is did it work?

Later in the third set, as Day finds herself in the process of getting wiped off the court, she summons her coach again.

Coach: "It's never over until it's over."
Day: ... (looking dejected. she's pretty sure it's over)
Coach: "blah blah blah blah"

Oh, wait, sorry. That's just what Day heard just before she went and double-faulted the match away.
So, no, it didn't help. It's also not his fault. But what's burning me up is that these women are getting advice that they should already know.

Speaking of "blah blah blah," let's move on to Madison Keys, who called Lindsay Davenport out when she was having trouble closing out her first-round match. Later, Keys acknowledged that she couldn't remember what it was Davenport had said. "I just needed to calm down."
OK. So we have a pro player who can't settle herself down during a match, even at the risk of choking at least the set, and maybe the match away? Funny, if she were a dude, Madison would just have to go ahead and lose that match ... or figure it out on her own. What. A. Concept.
This alone should disqualify Indian Wells from any premier status as a tournament. Allowing on-court coaching a) gives one half of the tournament's participants an advantage based on gender b) advances the idea that women are mentally weak and c) does absolutely nothing to make Kayla Day a better tennis player. If tennis is really 99.9207 percent mental, why offer a crutch? The ability to deal with stress and pressure is literally at the heart of the game of tennis.
In fact, if you're a coach, you should not support this concept or participate in it, unless your endgame is feeding mental enablement. (That's probably not a word. It is today.) Let's just put this in the most basic of terms. Let's say I'm 4 years old. My mom really would like me to clean up the table after dinner. But she really only makes me do it about half the time. Am I going to clean up after myself every time, knowing that there's a decent chance I can get away with her doing it for me? See what I'm saying? If you're a coach, don't you want to get to the point where you don't have to tell your charge what to do? Like, say, at the French Open, where you can't call Mommy or Daddy down for a quick talk?
Fifth Slam my

Sunday, February 26, 2017

LEAGUE WATCH: Rounding into form

Last summer, I went out and watched one of my husband's doubles matches and watched as his partner sliced and diced their opponents into frustration and defeat. I said to myself, "Man, I'd never want to play against that tricky bastard."
So guess who's standing across the net from me on my first league match of the season earlier this month? That guy. Along with his partner, who probably beat me in my first league match in Florida. I looked at my partner and said, "This is gonna be a lot like work, isn't it?"
At least he was honest with me. "Yeah. We'll just do our best."
PLOT TWIST: We beat them. It wasn't easy and it seemed as though each game went to deuce, but we won. How? I thought you'd never ask.
This was a morning match, so I wasn't expecting much of my brain, but it delivered in a couple key ways. First, as I warmed up with the slicer-and-dicer, I realized that the best way to deal with his game was to be aggressive at the net. Once those balls bounced, who the hell knew where it was going to land? This sounds easy and like a good solid idea -- until I reminded myself that I'm actually a pretty poor net player. My partner, on the other hand, liked returning those funky shots with some junk of his own, so he stayed back. It worked out, I think, because we both played different styles and it probably shook things up. I also poached successfully early on, which is usually a good time to get your opponent nervous.
Our dual approach shook them up enough that we built up a pretty good lead in the first set. The only thing that could derail us was me making bad shot choices, which can always happen. I don't know. I get this thing sometimes when I start trying drop shots. I hit about 1 in 100 of them. Five of 100 actually make it to the other side of the court. But I am persistent. Well, during the match, I hit another failed dropper, and I told myself out loud: "Stop doing that!" And I did! This might not sound like much, but I actually listened to myself. This was a huge mental step for me.
Anyway, we won, which was a huge confidence boost and one that we'd need going into our next match.
The following weekend, we played the third line of doubles against the top team in our division. And they didn't come to play games. To ensure at least one win, they flipped their lineup, meaning we got their best team and line 1 got their worst. So we had our hands full. I knew the woman -- one of the best doubles players in the league. I didn't know her partner, who, during the first game of the match, hit a forehand so hard that I had no idea if it was in or out and I watching the baseline specifically for that purpose.
So it was a handful, but we built a 4-1 lead early. A lot of that was due in part to our ability to isolate the woman, who was having an off day so far. But then her partner, aware that this was about to go sideways for them, got really active at the net and just crushed nearly everything he touched and we lost that lead and set pretty quickly.
We fought hard, but in the end, it wasn't to be. Still, I enjoyed the whole match -- more than the one we won, even. The quality of the opponent was better and even though we lost, I felt like I didn't wither to the challenge, as I had done last year in league play. I missed some key shots toward the end, but overall, I felt pretty good out there.
How good? Good enough maybe to mark the return of my inner Scrappy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The U.S. Fed Cup team showed us that yes, you can win and be a loser

I already have fundamental issues about the way Fed Cup is handled. It's squeezed between other major tennis events across the world. Why not a Ryder Cup approach -- every other year in one location?
Well, this year's Fed Cup tie in Maui was threat-level 3 disaster. And if I were the German team captain, I'd default every time in the future I had to face the U.S. team. I'm talking about Williams sisters v. Indian Wells. Overreacting? Well, I don't know. Let's recap:
1. The Anthem situation:
The U.S. had its singer perform the wrong anthem before the opening of the tie. At first, I was like, "Well, that's a big whoopsy!" But then Twitter started losing it, and I realized: "Oh. Germany." It was the national anthem under Nazi Germany." And this guy is belting it like he's Pavarotti! The Germans in the crowd -- including the players -- were trying over sing over this dude singing an anthem that is essentially a humiliating slap in the face. Plus, given the events happening in the U.S. right now with ICE agents dragging immigrants out of their homes -- well, it just seems like worse timing than usual. Especially when there are currently some pretty powerful parallels being drawn between Nazi Germany and the current regime, er, administration here in America.
So, yeah, a disaster. Pretty bad on its face. It was compounded by the USTA's weak-ass apology and failure to explain how this fresh hell happened.

To the fans, too, geniuses.

2. Julia Goerges gets injured:
Like everything else about this weekend, this was completely avoidable. It had been raining most of the first day and during Goerges' match against Coco Vandeweghe, it had started to drizzle lightly again (AS HAD BEEN FORECAST, by the way). The German was down a set and was trying to fight off a 1-3 deficit when she slipped on the damp baseline and crumbled down in pain. After the rain stopped, officials brought the players back onto the court, but rightfully, the German team was like, "Hell no, wethinks." The next day, Goerges can't play. Knee injury. See, this is why we don't just roll the dice when it comes to court conditions.

3. Coco Vandeweghe is a petulant child who is so long overdue for a time-out that she has wet her diaper:
There is a fine line between Tennis With Attitude and just Attitude with nothing to back up said attitude. Vandeweghe is a Grand Slam semifinalist one time over. One (1). On top of this anthem and injury issue, Vandeweghe showed no semblance of sportsmanship, especially not in the pivotal third match of the tie against Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic was up a set and a break when Vandeweghe decides she's got a cramp.
She takes a long timeout for treatment and in so doing appears to completely rattle Petkovic. That's a mental thing, and a thing a veteran should not have fallen for, so that's on Petkovic, because she had a huge advantage in the match. Was Vandeweghe really sick? Well, she came back from this timeout and began crushing balls and flying all over the court. Every time she missed a ball, she pulled up lame. You know, the injury is why she missed.
Even if you subscribe to the idea that Vandeweghe was really struggling out there, you would think that when she came all the way back to win the match, she would be a little more humble in her celebration. No. Nope. NO.
Instead, she crumpled to the court, sobbing, and the rest of the team mobbed her. Petkovic actually decided to walk over to this ridiculous celebration to shake Vandeweghe's hand, but sorry, Andrea. THEY'RE. NOT. DONE. YET. They're busy celebrating their teammate overcoming a cramp. A crAMP.
It's like everything about this weekend in Maui was tone-deaf. (Pun not really intended, but it's appropriate, right??) Because when Riske sent out a congratulatory tweet, well, people had some things to say:

Every second, Alison? Sigh.
Congrats, new Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi. You've got some class on your hands.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What's Up Down Under?: What Lies Beneath

Have you ever seen a high-performing athlete suffer a drought and thought to yourself, "Man, he should retire?" I have. But this year's Australian Open has given me pause.
You could argue that it all had to align perfectly to get the Australian Open finals that we did. What if Venus Williams had to play Simona Halep, or Svetlana Kuznetsova? What if Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had advanced to play Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal? What if the Open were played in February? Or if it were always roof-down? You could do this all day.
But it remains that the reason that Serena Williams and Federer won the 2017 Australian Open against their career-long rivals is because they showed up to compete. If you never try, you never win. If you never try, you never fail. Sometimes failure is not a bad thing, either. The last time Venus failed this big, it was 2009. Nadal last failed big in 2014. To do it again on such a stage, at such an age is a loss, sure, but for them, it could be fuel.
The wins will be fuel for Serena and Roger, too. At some point, they will need to cede the stage to the next big challenger. But why now, when you can still win so big, or fail so big? This weekend gave me a new perspective on the question of when to quit. Some pros quit when they can't win anymore. Which is fine -- it's their call. But what about this new breed of veterans, who happen to believe it's worth the big failures for the (rare?) big win? Is that crazy? Or could they do this all day? If you know that you can, even if it's sometimes only, is it still worth the ride?
I'm asking. I really don't know. But I'm happy to sit back and watch these greats figure out the answer that best suits them.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What's Up Down Under: Aussie Anomaly?

I gotta go to sleep soon so I can watch the women's final in the middle of the night, my time. But. Let us discuss the time warp we find ourselves in, and let us just appreciate it.
First, the Williams sisters. Sorry, I meant The Williams Sisters. Serena Williams will likely go down as one of the best tennis players in history, and certainly the best woman to ever play the game to date. She's ranked No. 2 in the world, and that's seriously underachieving to her. You could see her getting this far. Her draw was full of potential minefields and she navigated the ones she faced. Her opponent, though? Well, it's been a rough few years. Venus Williams has had to cope with a chronic disease that leads to fatigue and once she figured that out, well, the women's game had come up a bit. She was seeded 13th, and that seemed about right. Except if you were paying attention to Venus toward the end of 2016. Karolina Pliskova almost won the U.S. Open, but she barely managed to get past Venus to do it, which was plenty surprising enough. Also, Venus is 36 years old.
Oh, and is Roger Federer isn't far behind. Venus has been building up toward a result like this. Federer took the last quarter of the season off because of injury. With the exception of a warm-up tournament, he came into this tournament cold. He is seeded 17th (same number of the Slams he's won ...) and handled business, meaning Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka.
And Rafa Nadal. Nadal showed at the Olympics that yes, he still has it. But will the body cooperate? I guess so. I don't know if you saw the semifinal with Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov (who picked a heckuva time to live up to his potential), but Nadal got outhit at times. The ball didn't bounce his way. But when he did at 3-4, 30-love down, was a life lesson. You go for it. You could be tentative -- play not to lose. Or you could step inside the baseline and hit a perfect backhand and leave your opponent flailing.
What does this mean? Is it an anomaly? Who knows. What it is -- to me -- as the real world slowly drifts off its axis, it means that there is one constant, one thing that is true. It means that if you want something, and put yourself in the position to get it, you can get it. You can only control you. The draws fall where they may and the people left standing put themselves in that position. This time, it true. It's the beauty of sport. I'm gonna let Venus take it from here:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What's Up Down Under? Seriously. What Is Going On Down There?

Truth time: I have been out of commission for the better part of this week with a doozy of a cold. ASIDE (I don't like to align ailments with current events, but I felt really bad on Friday, but better on Saturday, when I had to go exercise my First Amendment rights. By the way, if you're reading this in another part of the world and did the same thing, thank you. Also, just to let you know, most of us had nothing to do with this. Honestly.) END OF ASIDE. The only thing that's kept me from coughing are cold meds and cold meds have me in la-la-land before 11 p.m. This is really not ideal if you're watching the Australian Open in the U.S.
I'm feeling better. Thank you for asking! But I thought for a second that the meds were messing with me. So I thought I'd run these draws by you to see if I'm crazy or not:

OK. It's 2017 and Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have a legitimate chance of playing in the Australian Open final. The same is true of Venus and Serena Williams.
There is so much here that I don't know where to start. Like I said, I haven't seen a good chunk of these matches, so I literally have no earthly idea how most of this happened, but I will be catching up! Let's start with what I woke up with this morning. Angelique Kerber lost to Coco Vandeweghe. THE SCORE WAS 6-2, 6-3. I just want to point out that Coco barely beat Genie Bouchard in the second round. So can someone explain this to me. It's almost as if young Americans are trying to be a presence in pro tennis again!
OK! Moving on. We got Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. I picked her to go that far. But barely, because of Simona Halep, who did not make it out of the first round. I'm not even going there right now, because if she had come that far, it wouldn't have made a difference. I have seen a couple of Venus' matches, and she is lighting it up! She is playing the best tennis she has ever played. That's up for debate, but you'd have to bring me some indisputable evidence.
Let's move to the red-stained bottom half of the women's draw, populated by unknowns (American Jennifer Brady), up-and-comers (Johanna Konta) and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Yes. The same Mirjana Lucic who upset Monica Seles at Wimbledon. SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. This is like Back to the Future XIII, or whichever one they're up to now. Here, in 2017, she's beating Agz Radwanska, the third-best player in the world.
And then there's Serena Williams, who had a nasty-looking draw ahead of her. Had. Because she's in the quarterfinals against Barbora Strycova now, who holds a doctorate at the University of Tennis With Attitude. She is definitely not intimidated by Serena. I'm not saying she won't get her butt kicked. I'm just saying she's doesn't really care who Serena is.
I got to see the tail end of Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova and I had to chuckle at the idea that two people who usually mess with top seeds in early rounds had to play each other. And of course, the lower seed won. Maybe it's just me who finds that funny.
Now the men. Like what the actual hell. This is what I wrote last week about the most probable final:

Novak Djokovic? Lost to Denis Istomin. See what I'm saying about Back to the Future?
Andy Murray lost to the lesser-regarded Zverev brother, Mischa in the fourth round. (Oh. We'll get to the higher-regarded one in a minute.) So yeah. Not so destined to rumble all the time.
Meanwhile, Federer is gliding through the draw like it's five years ago, beating the fifth- and tenth-seeded players with relative ease. People have been asking Federer about retiring the last year or so. Roger, your thoughts?


Now that we've gotten that straight, let's move on Federer's good friend, Nadal. He has recently begun receiving AARP mailers as well. But then I woke up yesterday with this match still looking at me, a few hours after I had dozed off watching Nadal getting his butt kicked. Because Nadal is also not really ready for retirement. He's got some schooling of Zverev boys to do. It hurt me last week to pick Alexandr Zverev over him when I was filling out my draw, but I just didn't see how Nadal, riddled with injury, could mount a real challenge to anyone in form right now. Guess it's time to get the crystal ball back into the shop.
And then there's Gael Monfils and Jo-Jo Tsonga, who are apparently still not receiving the memos that their time as Grand Slam threats are over. Also Andreas Seppi. Like, what is happening here? Have I taken too many meds? Am I actually in the 2007 Australian Open? Next, you'll be telling me that Grigor Dimitrov has advanced further into this tournament than Djokovic and beat a wily veteran to do it.

OK. I am going to sleep now.