Sunday, January 14, 2018

AO '18: We Got the Men Down Unduh!

Well, I have to admit that we have a better men's draw than expected. Yeah, we're still missing some heavy hitters (Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori), but I, frankly, was surprised to see that Novak Djokovic was going to play. Same with Stan Wawrinka. We will see what happens, but the buzz on-court hasn't been about them. It's been about the guys who have been playing.
Like Roger Federer, who himself said this weekend that he has no right being the favorite at a major. He would be wrong. Just this one time. First, he's seeded second (and we'll get to Nadal, of course). Second, he is playing some ridiculous tennis. Third, he has a fairly friendly draw. Milos Raonic could be a problem, but he's just back from injury, which might make an upset there less likely. In the quarters, he could see Juan Martin del Potro or David Goffin, who, despite their size difference are equal obstacles for old man Fed. The top half of the draw is a question for him. It's likely that either Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev will be the man to emerge from that quarter. Both have beaten Federer already and both are young and ready to step up. Oh, yeah, and Djokovic is in Zverev's quarter. And oh yeah, Wawrinka is in Thiem's quarter. 
You noticed all the big-time name dropping there, right? This leads to the question: Who is in the top half with our friend Rafa Nadal? He's got it mostly to himself. Not to dismiss the John Isners and Marin Cilics and Grigor Dimitrovs of the world, but he's got to feel pretty good about this draw if he's healthy. The main concern about Nadal, for me, is his apparent inability to handle hard, flat hitters, such as Borna Coric (potential second round), Nick Kyrgios, who is in the bottom half of the draw, along with Lucas Pouille, who presents the same problems (and probably is walking around with a confidence boost after winning the Davis Cup for the French team last month). But man, this is a pretty sweet draw. There is one seeded player in Nadal's half who has a winning record against him, and that's because he didn't finish a match against Damir Dzumhur. And, to be fair, it looks like he's never played No. 30 Andrey Rublev. I guess I'm saying things are looking good. 
Novak Djokovic. According to news reports, he still has that elbow problem, but he's here, so he probably thinks he's good to play. His first round is against Donald Young. And then probably Gael Monfils. And then seeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas possibly. All to get to Zverev. Well, I would say that Novak will have many opportunities to get some rigorous match play in this coming week. 

First round matches to watch:
Djokovic v. Young
Pablo Cuevas v. Mikhail Youzhny: Because Youzhny could always try to brain himself with his racquet
Juan Martin del Potro v. Frances Tiafoe
Sam Querrey v. Feliciano Lopez

AO '18: We Got the Ladies Down Unduh!

This ladies draw was so difficult for me to fill out that I literally had to sleep on it. I know Simona Halep is playing well in the early goings this year. But I don't know how all the tennis commentators are so easily handing her the crown when Petra Kvitova looms in Halep's quar-ter. They could meet in the third round. Karolina Pliskova is also in that quarter. In the same half of her draw are Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber (to be discussed further in one moment here). Caroline Garcia. I mean, that's some new math, these pundits almost unanimously crowning Halep with the draw she has and the lack of previous Slam wins.
Now. That said, she has been playing some good tennis this year. She started out the year winning a title and clinching top seed for this tournament. But here's where I can't go 100 percent in on Halep in a major. She relies so heavily on on-court coaching that I don't know if she can just win a Grand Slam tournament without constant feedback. She hasn't done it yet. And she should be able to by now.
But you know who has done it before, a couple of times in fact (*whispers* and against better players than Halep)? Kerber. Now, at the end of 2016, I offered a rather sober analysis of Kerber's No. 1 status at that point. I argued that her game wouldn't endure at that level. And 2017 knocked her back a peg -- to the 23rd seed here in Australia. But man has she been killing it on the court this year. She's serving well and tagging the hell out of her backhand. She's also won a tournament this year already and beat a lot of good players in the process -- Venus Williams, Camila Giorgi, Dominika Cibulkova, etc. So I could see Kerber advancing through the top half, too. Not that her half doesn't have its own potential land mines -- there's Maria Sharapova as a possible third-round opponent and Garbine Muguruza in the following round.
So that's why I needed to sleep on this. Not that I'll be right or anything.
Bottom half: I mean, why does Australia hate Venus Williams so much? Her results here are far from consistent, and even though she was one match from winning it last year, she draws Belinda Bencic in the first round this year? Wait, didn't Serena Williams face Bencic in the first round last year? Wonder what I had to say about that?
I am really bad at this predicting thing and I somehow refuse to stop ...

Anyway. Moving on, Ekaterina Makarova is back, and in a draw with a Williams sister. I just think Venus has a really tough hand here. She dug herself out of some holes to be the only woman to advance to three of four Slam finals last year. She ended the year with some really winnable losses. I am still scratching my head over that Sloane Stephens match at the U.S. Open. So I don't know. I want to believe, but my pen does not follow.
Speaking of Sloane, it sure looks like she's in the middle of another Muguruza-esq post-Slam drought. You know the thing about Sloane that kind of makes me wonder about her ability to remain a force? Stuff like this interview. She says, "You guys are tweeting about me more." It shows that she's reading her own press, maybe even thumbing through her mentions on Twitter. Which also means she's already read Chris Evert's comments about her. (I wonder if Evert has ever had anything to say about the quite obvious immaturity of Coco Vandeweghe.) But Sloane shouldn't be reading what people are saying about her. If she gets sucked into that, it could take a while for her to get out of this slide. Besides, she's got bigger problems on her hands, like her draw. Her quarter contains Daria Kasatkina (who Serena mentioned as one of the better young players in a recent interview), Elina Svitolina, and maybe Venus again, or Makarova.
I've still got the men to write about, so let's go to the matches to watch in the first round:
Obviously Venus v. Bencic
Kvitova v. Andrea Petkovic: DING! Upset alert
Kristina Mladenovic v. Ana Bogdan: Thoughts and prayers for Mladenovic, who is somehow ranked No. 11, despite the fact that she hasn't won a match since last July. Yes, she has been playing.
Jelena Ostapenko v. Francesca Schiavone: You go ahead Schiavone! I just mean in general, not specifically in this match she is not likely to win.
Sam Stosur v. Monica Puig: I'm afraid Stosur may never win her home slam.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Official 2017 TWA Yearbook

And here I was, thinking I could wait until after Christmas and still get my last entry of the year in before the start of the 2018 season. But as I write, the first matches of the season have already been contested. So yeah. I'm thinking someone should do something about the lack of an offseason, especially considering we're coming off a season where half of the best men in the world didn't make it through the whole season.
But hey. What do I know. Actually, I know that the pro tennis season was one of the best things about 2017. So let's try and squeeze in a conversation about that before Serena Williams (!) plays her first match since January 2017, when she won the Australian Open while pregnant. Let's go!

Head of the Class: So, this season, the ATP and WTA had to deal with the same quandary -- the sudden loss of their top talent. But the players remaining handled it completely differently, I think. Serena Williams took the rest of the year off to have a baby and the other women spent the rest of the year playing hot potato. "No, you take the top ranking and all the Slams!" "Gah! No, you! Don't touch me!"
But most of these players didn't have anything in terms of experience on Mssrs. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. So when Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were felled by injury this season, Federer and Nadal knew what to do. But they were nice about it -- they split the four Slams evenly among them. So, for the second year in a row, there will be co-heads of the class. But this time, neither are women. Don't @ me.

Most Inspiring Player: This is a toss-up, because there is one guy who claimed wins against Fed and Nadal this season, but came up short in the Slams and in Davis Cup. He also has beaten Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios. Regardless, David Goffin might look like a bag of bones in oversized tennis shorts, but his game said much more. (His player page says he's 5-foot-11. Nah, right?) Next time you feel like you're outsized, out-powered and out-talented, well, you probably are. But before you take the bagel, consider that this year, Goffin shored up his weaknesses to prevail against some of the biggest names in the game. Except Grigor Dimitrov, of all people.
There is also one woman who has shown up quietly to all the Slams this year and made the final of three of them. Due to recent underwhelming results, no one really expected Venus Williams to be a force this season. But there she was, on one half of the court during some the best matches of the year. She did this being older by her opponents by often a decade at least, and sometimes without her best tennis. She never did it with a coach in her ear at every timeout. She's old-school in every way -- except she's not quite ready for the senior tour. And when Venus is on a roll, it's best to let that roll go. Am I right, Jennifer?

Most Popular: Maria Sharapova, of course. She really was the belle of the ball. Never has anyone returned from a drug ban to such pomp, including a tournament holding a spot for her after it had already started until the end of her suspension. I might have noted once or twice how unimpressed I was with how her suspension went down, but fans didn't care. When tournament organizers thought that she might qualify to get into Wimbledon, they sold tickets to those rounds -- and people bought them! (Remember when Sharapova said she'd play anywhere, even a New York City street? Turned out that enthusiasm didn't extend to, like, qualifiers.) So there you go. The people (who aren't me) have spoken. 

Most Likely to Succeed: Garbine Muguruza, like the other women on the WTA Tour, has been unsteady this year, but her run to the Wimbledon title, including her utter domination of the second half of the final match, makes me think she's got a shot at hitting the ground running next year. Whatever her obstacles, they seem to be between the ears. 

Most Likely to Succeed ... at Something Other than Tennis: Martina Hingis, who probably should consider another profession because it would appear she has done just about everything possible in tennis. I'm sure that if she took up MMA boxing, it'd go okay. I guess. She might be slight, but Hingis will cut you.

That Student Who Skates Through the School Year, But Aces the Final Exam: Looking at you, Caroline Wozniacki. She had a solid season, although she came up short in most of the final matches she played. Until September, when she won her first final out of seven tries. And then. She goes to the WTA Finals and beats Venus, who she had never beaten before. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Attitudimeter: Davis Cup Finals and Shuttin' Down the Machine

Welp, this is the last installment of the Attitudimeter because there's no more pro tennis. Just tennis gossip, baby-mama drama, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the Aussie Open's Serena-watch. Don't worry -- there will be more at this spot. I've been seeing some straight JACKED-UP year-end tennis compilations and we will be setting the record straight. But first:

High Attitude

The French Davis Cup team

First of all, there is really only one acceptable circumstance in my mind for grown men crying, and it is when they have won the Davis Cup and come through for their captain, Yannick Noah. Nick Mahut looked like he wasn't gonna make it off the court. It's winning moments like this that make you realize how great the Davis Cup could be if only they tried to do it the right way. (Next year, the tournament is going to try a few changes, such as a two-day format for ties and best-of-three matches, and other stupid things. Of course they could consider Judy Murray's idea to make Davis and Fed cups happen every other year, but sure, let's do some ticky-tack changes first. Sigh.) But back to the French. Their win was the first in 16 years at Davis Cup, which is crazy because of their consistent depth. I mean, you can pull Mahut to put in Richard Gasquet in the doubles. Anyway, they played some high-quality tennis and it's hard to believe it'll take them another 16 years to win again.

The Belgian Davis Cup team

It's tempting to make this all about David Goffin, who did all he could to get his team to that trophy, but it wasn't enough in the end. At the same time, this was essentially the team that got this far -- Steve Darcis, Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore -- that got the Belgians here in the first place. They did some of that without Goffin, and against some tough customers -- Germany, Italy, Australia. So, they probably feel like crap this week, thinking they just needed one more match to get over the hump, but overall, it was a pretty good season for these guys.

Low Attitude

French tennis fans

I have never been to France. But I have always heard that it's such a great place -- the City of Light, etc. So you would not expect to see such trash tennis fans there, and yet, they are worse than the New York crowds liquored up at night at the U.S. Open. They really highlighted this during the Davis Cup match between David Goffin and Jo-Jo Tsonga. In sum, Tsonga quit playing a point after he assumed that an "out" call was made, mostly because the ball was most definitely out. But also because the crowd was yelling and booing constantly. So Tsonga complained to the ump, specifically saying it was too loud to hear, but she basically told him he was outta luck. And what does the crowd do in response? Yell and boo constantly. Good. Good.
They roll like this every French Open. You wonder why French tennis players have trouble winning in France? They probably have scarred poor Mary Pierce for life.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Attitudimeter: Jack Sock is here?!??

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a special holiday edition of The Attitudimeter. Despite all the craziness in the world right now, there is still plenty to be thankful for, especially where tennis is concerned. Tennis is really the only thing that didn't completely suck this year, when you think about it. So let's dig in!

High Attitude

These Shoes Right Here

I think it's great Serena Williams got married this weekend with everyone who is cool in attendance. Her baby is very adorable. Her husband appears to be well-trained to worship her regularly. But these dancing shoes for the reception

were really just the best things I've ever seen. Hands down.

Grigor Dimitrov

He won the ATP Finals. OK. Whatevs. We're gonna talk about how on earth something like this could even happen, but imagine a world where some of the strongest players on tour weren't injured right now. Where would Dimitrov have been during the finals? Shuffleboard? Playing Old Maid, maybe? But, yeah, congratulations ...

David Goffin

... to the guy who was really the star pupil at the finals. Let us consider that Goffin of Mordor was having a pretty great season to begin with when he suffered a gruesome on-court injury at the French Open. He came back and was still able to earn a spot in the finals. And then he beat Nadal and Roger Federer, ending both their seasons. He did the heavy lifting so that Dimitrov didn't have to. Also, he's a good four feet shorter than everyone else on tour. All hail our favorite tennis Hobbit.

Low Attitude

The ATP Tour

You really have to assess the choices you make as a tour when you've got Jack Sock at the year-end championships. This isn't Sock shade, honestly. He played well at the finals, advancing to the semis, and beating Alexander Zverev. But look who's on the sidelines. Andy Murray. Novak Djokovic. Milos Raonic. Kei Nishikori. Rafa Nadal as a late addition. These finals were never supposed to be a "best of the rest" wrap-up. I guess this is my way of saying that this is a good time to take a look at that tournament schedule, and if not that, then looking at what you're requiring of players.

The Tennis World

One of my first tennis fan memories was watching Jana Novotna cry on the shoulder of royalty when she lost Wimbledon. Yes, that was a terrible moment for her, but a great humanizing moment for the sport. I think that maybe when you also play tennis yourself (not always on a pro level), that sort of moment makes you realize it's OK for tennis to mean something to you. So it sucks to lose someone like Novotna so young to cancer. She was just 49. Hopefully, she understood that her moment of sadness on the court spoke to many of us in many ways. RIP, Jana.
Same goes to Pancho Segura, who at least was able to live a full and successful life. He died at 96 this week as well. He had a record-breaking career ... and also gave us Jimmy Connors. But you can't be perfect.

The Australian Open in 2018

Look at this. I mean

I can see wanting to address player withdrawals. That makes sense. But it's a pretty hard line to say that if you retire from a first-round match, then you'll probably get fined. (Tanking, yes, should always be fined, Nick Kyrgios.) But ... what if you do it during the second round?
Also, I am old enough to remember why the Slams went to the 32-player draw -- to prevent, say, Grigor Dimitrov from playing Nadal in the second round. I was resistant, but it made sense, especially as tennis developed depth, and it's turned out well. So why change this? I can even see the argument for three-set matches for men before I see the logic of this nonsense. The shot clock in matches? What?!?? Why is tennis so insecure? Why are they trying to appeal to people who don't like tennis? Other sports aren't willing to change its bones to please non-fans. Am I missing something? I think, actually, that I'll miss tennis when it's gone.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Attitudimeter: It's All Uphill From Here

It looks like the Attitudimeter is malfunctioning this week, because it seems that nothing good happened in pro tennis, except Roger Federer playing tennis in a kilt. Alas, the ATP Finals are this week, so it can only go uphill from here. Unless their draw ceremony also included some light sexism. Anyway, let's do this thing:

Who's down

Victoria Azarenka's ex

Normally, I wouldn't delve into tennis players' personal lives unless it involved winning a Grand Slam while pregnant, but here is exception No. 2. This guy. I mean, fine. It didn't work out. That happens. You both love your child and both of you want custody. What are the levels of petty required to refuse to allow the mother of your child to travel for work because you want custody? You could figure this out in the offseason. You could let your baby mama work so she can afford to support little Leo (and let's be honest, buddy, you too, ex), but no.

The ATP Next Gen Finals

It's a good idea, I guess. Pit the young talent against each other, ATP Real Finals-style. They're good, but not ready for prime time. Sounds good. But what doesn't sound good, given the social climate these days, is doing your draw presentation with female models who have to remove their clothes to reveal the (male) player's group:

That was just how it started. This tournament was supposed to be an experiment in making tennis a little less tennis-y. For example, a shot clock between points, no-let, no-ad scoring and four-game sets. Yeah, I'm been here before, so I'm not going to get my blood pressure up ranting about this anymore. I will just simply say that if you don't like tennis, then go watch another sport and let the rest of us who like tennis enjoy tennis. How's that?

The Belarus Fed Cup team

I could only find the Fed Cup final online and they were not speaking English, but I would really like to know what those girls were sniffing on changeovers and if it's legal.

Because that doesn't look legal.
I guess you have to give it up for this team, because they managed to make it to the finals, despite the absence of Victoria Azarenka all year. This is how you know it wasn't an Olympic qualifying year. This one girl, whose name is Aryna Sabalenka, strongly resembles Andy Roddick both in appearance

and in horrific net game. I mean, watch this:

and then this

Having said all of that, they took it the distance and if this girl wasn't such a terrible volleyer, they probably would have won Fed Cup.

The U.S. Fed Cup team

The U.S. Fed Cup team really did go the distance against a team of no-name players from Belarus, even though they brought a Grand Slam champ and a semifinalist. They brought guns to a knife fight and the Americans somehow nearly bled out. I watched the final match in its entirety because I could barely believe how bad it was. The Belarusian girls played their ranking throughout, while Sloane Stephens, who just won the U.S. Open, basically donated her singles matches. Coco Vandeweghe, who is normally one of the cockiest players I've ever seen, looked like she couldn't handle life in the doubles rubber. And then there was Shelby Rogers celebrating an opponent error like she just won the Publisher's Clearinghouse. It was something to behold.
Actually, it wasn't.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Attitudimeter: WTA Finals edition

Live from ... my home office ... a special Attitudimeter, WTA Finals edition! Just the ladies this week:

Who's Up

Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki spent this season flirting with greatness. She made eight finals and lost the first six of them. So it shouldn't be a surprise that she was the last one sitting on the top of the heap in Singapore this year. She had it coming. In some ways, she maybe should have been part of the Player of the Year conversation a bit more. But the reason she wasn't was her inability to do anything significant at big tournaments this year. So maybe this is the set-up stage for 2018 for her.

Venus Williams

So there's Venus, down 4-6, 0-5 in the WTA Finals, when she receives a push alert on her phone that she, in fact, is in the middle of a tennis match. Alas, it was soon to late to remedy the situation because she lost the second set 6-4. As any longtime reader of TWA knows, I have something of a soft spot for Venus and part of the reason why is in regards to the way she played the WTA Finals -- in her usual OG style. I watched as every single other player in the draw consulted their coach every possible time. Venus spent the tournament figuring it out by herself. That's why she'll almost always be up on the old 'meter. Unless she throws away another final like Wimbledon. I mean, for Pete's sake, Venus ...

Who's Down

WTA Finals

I take it I'm alone on this, but I'm going in anyway. Why on earth is on-court coaching allowed at a major tournament like Singapore? Incidentally, why are so many women running to their coaches, their daddies, their spiritual mentor -- instead of figuring it out themselves. Half of the on-court coaching I heard was, admittedly, Darren Cahill, who's great. Don't get me wrong. But my god, if he is so great, why can't Halep retain what he has been teaching him? Most of what he said seemed to be aimed at managing her feelings, not her game. I'll say it again. This concept, and the fact that only women are allowed to have it, is an insult.

Elina Svitolina

Yeah, she had a rough tournament, but a bad translation of an interview she did led to a severe raking over of the coals. Svitolina's observation that many people were now in contention for being No. 1 somehow became her saying that Serena Williams used to dominate, but that they were now in a different era, which triggered Serena fans, which led to her taking some online hateration until the website issued a correction. Sadly, it was too late for Svitolina's Twitter mentions.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Attitudimeter: There's No Crying in Tennis

High Attitude

Julia Goerges
The thing I love about writing about sports is that there's no crying in tennis. No emotion, no muss, no fuss, just sports.
Oh, what? You want me to watch this video of Goerges winning her first title in more than six years? Fine! No biggie:

Garbine Muguruza
I'm OK now. Whew. I need some snark in my life, stat:
Picking a WTA Player of the Year this year is a little like picking the worst Donald Trump tweet of 2017. Like, where do you start? They're all terrible! I'm not saying the WTA has been terrible, but no one has stood out. Sure, after a Slam, they stand out. No one has been consistent. No one. Muguruza's spotty season (slam, Cincy, World No. 1 for 10 minutes) is among many spotty seasons among the POY candidates. So spotty that folks were writing in Serena Williams as POY despite her playing, literally, two tournaments this year. One of them was the Australian Open and she happened to be pregnant at the time. I don't know. She's got a case, too. They all do.

Juan Martin del Potro
Listen. Juan Martin del Potro could lose in the first round of Star Search and make this list. Who doesn't love this guy? Sure, he got smoked by Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer recently, but he just won the Stockholm Open, his first tournament win since ... the same tournament the previous year. Glad to see that tumble he took in Shanghai wasn't too much of a problem. I mean, dude deserves a break.
Not that kind of break. The other break.

Low Attitude

Half of the ATP tour
Not literally, but in this past week alone, Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych said "nah" to the rest of the season. Off the top of my head, I believe we are now at Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka as major contenders who started 2017 on a court and ended it on a stretcher. We

Barbora Strycova
We all know that you won't like Strycova when she's angry.

And now, have mercy, she is angry at her fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, who apparently stole Strycova's coach behind her back.
"Our relationship is zero. We do not go for coffee," she told the press.
No coffee.
This is serious.
Strycova said she'll still play Fed Cup if Pliskova is on the team, and if I were Pliskova, I would not play doubles with her again. That's right -- with her. Strycova knows just how to set up a point to get her partner blasted out of her shoes. Would she actually do that? I'm gonna refer you to the video above.

The WTA Rankings System
How are you going to lose 10 matches in a row and then still manage to end up moving up the rankings into the top 10? That's a question best asked of Kristina Mladenovic and the WTA rankings system. Maybe let's throw in the rest of the players, too. Yo, these guys had almost a year to wreak some havoc while Serena Williams was out and instead of people taking their shots, we have folks moving up the ranking having done nothing at all. I'm done with this topic, I think.

Maria Sharapova
Fresh from winning her first post-ban tournament, Maria Sharapova rolled up at the Kremlin Cup, probably popping the collar, feeling pretty good about herself.
She didn't stay long, losing in some erratic tennis to Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets.
I admit that I'm tempted right now to make a joke at Sharapova's expense. But I think I may have been a bit rough on Sharapova. Maybe, I thought, I might try a bit harder to understand her, so I decided to go out and buy her book. I guess the first run sold out, because all I could find was this updated version:

Should I buy it?