Thursday, February 05, 2015

Whaa? Serena's doing what where now?

Considering the occasional theatrics of Richard Williams, I'd admit that there was a time I thought he blew the incident at Indian Wells in 2001 out of proportion. Not that he was lying, but maybe that it wasn't as bad as it seemed. There are a lot of people who might have thought that no one actually says those types of racist things "anymore." Over the years, I've realized that people do say those things, and they probably did that day at that tournament. So Serena Williams' decision to go back there makes her a lot stronger than I already thought she was.
Of course, at first, I was like, "Whatnow? Whaaa??" She said she'd never go back, right? Why go back?
Two reasons, and I'm speculating:
1. Because she'll probably win the thing, and that would really piss off the racist element. I mean, let's not forget she won the tournament that year with those dimwits in the stands.
2. So there's this part of the Lion King where Mufasa is showing Simba their kingdom, but then shows him a part that's way out and shrouded in darkness. Mufasa basically says to Simba, "Everything else is yours, except that shadowy place. You must never go there."
Yeah, I busted out the Lion King on you. But there's a point. See, maybe Indian Wells is that part of the kingdom for Serena, and maybe she's enough of a rebel to say, "Well, really, what could be there now that could hurt me?" That is basically her home tournament. If there's anyone who should feel out of place when they go there, it should be the idiots who shouted at her and her family in the stands.
If Venus never goes back, as she has also said, that's understandable, and her world, and her call. But Simba's, er, Serena's move, is pretty bad-ass.

Monday, February 02, 2015

The Armchair Line Judge's return to a normal sleep pattern

I am sorry, but it's difficult to be a tennis fan during the Aussie Open and a normally functioning adult. I mean, here's Madison Keys mixing it up with Venus Williams, and my kid needs a new diaper. Come on! Change yourself, kid! And then there's the finals happening at 3 a.m. my time. And then my boss wants me at work before 1 p.m.! Outrageous!
As it turns out, I'm still employed and my kids and spouse are still around (I think). What's left? Coupla thoughts:
1. It took this tournament for me to figure out why I root for Venus Williams. She was at the helm of women's tennis when I first became a real fan. And then when there's someone who looks like you doing something that no one who looks like you really ever did before, there's an emotional thing there. When she would lose, it was like, "How could you?" for me back in the day. Seeing her decline over the years made me over-correct the other way -- "She's got nothing." But deep down, you don't want to believe that. You still hold out hope. Not enough hope to put it down on paper. You have to be realistic. "Of course Venus isn't going to make the quarters of the Australian Open. Of course I'm not going to turn on my television at 5 a.m. in time to watch her finish off Ags Radwanska and mix it up with arguable the next big American tennis star for three sets in the next round. Of course I'm not going to see her finish that match with good tennis, not unforced errors strewn about the court, even though she lost." 
Is Venus actually back? I don't know. Who cares? That was just too much fun to watch. 
2. Well, well, well, Tomas Berdych. Lays the beat down to Rafa Nadal and then fighting Andy Murray tooth-and-nail in the semis? (Much has been said about Murray's girlfriend cursing out the Berdych camp in the stands of the match. As far as the basic rules of tennis go, I am a traditionalist, but if there's a situation where a tennis match could get all soccer on a fan or observers, that is a good thing. Let's just leave the riots out of it, but trash-talking your opponent -- that's pretty great. Sorry if that's not classy.) Anyway, Nadal crashed out early (as he expected, and for once, he was right), but Berdych finally manning up is good for men's tennis. Nadal and Roger Federer ain't gonna be around forever, people.
3. Oh, and by the way: Andreas Seppi?!? I have an old tennis friend somewhere on the West Coast who called that years ago. Whazzup, Morgan!
4. The women? Not much to say there. I wish Ekaterina Makarova believed in herself a little more. Because she would have given Serena Williams a better run for her money than Maria Sharapova did. Watching someone scrap so hard and come up short for the latest time in a decade is almost enough to make you feel bad for that person. Almost.
5. OK, the last time I saw Madison Keys play was a long time ago, I'll concede that, but does anyone else think that she all of a sudden that her game style is a lot like Lindsay Davenport? I know Davenport's her coach, and maybe it was watching Keys play against the sisters Williams, but the heavy ball, the huge forehand – it was like, it was like, when a thing has happened before that seems familiar but you can't place your finger on it? What's that called?
6. This deciding-point nonsense in mixed doubles: #fail. So now, we're going to take the best part of a tennis match out -- the constant battle. Good. Good.
7. BETHANIE MATTEK-SANDS
8. Why don't Nestor and Leander Paes play dubs together? Did I miss that experiment?

I gotta go watch the mens final. Separate post coming on what the (*&#$#^ happened to Murray.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Armchair Line Judge: Aussie thoughts so far

1. I mean, look at the ass on Rafa Nadal. If anyone should be asked to give a twirl, it should be that sexy bastard.
But this is a life lesson we can all apply to ourselves, and not just the young Genie Bouchard: If some random dude asks you to twirl for him in front of a stadium full of people, and he's using a microphone to do this, kindly direct him to the orifice that would house that microphone in the most painful way.
2. However, I will give any onsite Aussie Open reporters a dollar if they start asking the male players about their thoughts on "altered balls."
3. I freakin' knew Nenad Zimonjic and Danny Nestor were going to separate again. Dammit!
4. To anyone who disputes my contention that tennis is 99.94389237 percent mental, let me direct your attention to one Maria Sharapova, who just straight bludgeoned a serve match point down to come back in her second-round match. I mean damn.
5. So let me understand this: The Williams sisters pull out of the doubles tournament just before their first round match, and then make it clear that they read the rules about withdrawal, know they don't have to give a reason and then act all cutesy about not giving a reason? That is ... interesting.
6. Marcos Baghdatis just went five sets with Grigor Dmitrov. #throwbackthursday

Armchair Line Judge: My decimated draws before I burn them

Because why not have a good laugh over picking Donna Vekic for the quarterfinals?




Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Armchair Line Judge's guide to the Aussie Open 2015

It's mid-January, and only about eight weeks since the year-end championships, so it must be time for another major! This lengthy layover only tends to ensure erratic results, so with that in mind, let's predict what's going to happen!  
For this preview, we're gonna do the Armchair Line Judge's call for the Top 10 on both sides for players' chances to advance to the semifinals:

The Women

1. Serena Williams: In. Yeah, Hopman Cup was kind of a disaster, but she's usually most dangerous right after a bad patch. Hmm, though. Vera Zvonareva looming in round 2. Hmm.
2, Maria Sharapova: In. What a sweet draw for her. If seeds hold, she would get Genie Bouchard in the semis, which might be tough, but I'm not on the Bouchard bus yet. That might be because I'm not a teenage boy, though.
3. Simona Halep: In. Definitely for the semis, and perhaps beyond …
4. Petra Kvitova: You know what they say about Petra. There's no kvit in her. (Get it?) But she still gets the 'out' call here. Even if she were in, could she beat Venus Williams or Ags Radwanska in the semis? I'm not even sure she can beat rising star Donna Vekic in round 2. Just too inconsistent.
5. Ana Ivanovic: Out. Ekaterina Makarova is like kryptonite to top players Down Under.
6. Agnieszka Radwanska: In. Big win against Serena at Hopman Cup, which, yes, is just a warmup, but she's come close before against the big players, and that win is a big deal. Plus, I love the Navratilova hire. Not saying we're talking instant results, but this will be interesting. And I'ma live on the edge here and say that this coaching change is going to bring a major this year, but I decline comment on which one.
7. Genie Bouchard: Out. Yeah, I know, she beat Serena at Hopman, too. But still, I say next year for her, because she doesn't have a complete game and thereby doesn't have the tools to do that consistently. Radwanska? She does, except for that serve. And is it just me whose shoulder area aches every time I see her hit a forehand?
8. Caroline Wozniacki: Good job, Caroline Wozniacki! You're rebounding from a tumble from world No. 1, only to return stronger and more confident about taking on the heavy hitters on the big stages – and beating the likes of Maria Sharapova. So … ladies and gentlemen, let's see Woz's prize for a solid 2014! Drumroll … Young American Taylor Townsend in Round One and probably Victoria Azarenka in Round 2! What? Why'd everyone get so quiet? Out.
9. Angelique Kerber: Whaaa?!?? What's she still doing in the top 10? OUT!
10. Ekaterina Makarova: Out, but like just outside the line. Or could she beat Halep for a semi spot? Might need a ShotSpot for this one.

First round special: Sloane Stephens against Victoria Azarenka. Both unseeded and back on the stage where Azarenka lost a lot of respect for that “oh, my sore brain” stunt. But this one is interesting in name only. Stephens is kinda in the wind right now, and Azarenka, even returning from injury, still looks like a threat in this draw. A higher-quality match might be Dominika Cibulkova and Kristen Flipkens. Ooorrrr, Wozniacki and Townsend. Maybe.
Upset comin': Camilla Giorgi over No. 12 Flavia Pennetta in the first round.


The Men


1. Novak Djokovic: In. But that's a loaded portion of the draw. Lleyton Hewitt? Jerzy Janowicz? Juan Martin del Potro was in it, too, until he backed out with an ongoing wrist issue. And then there's Gael Monfils, whose face should accompany the dictionary definition of “wild card.” All interesting, but all those guys are a bigger potential problem for Milos Raonic.
2. Roger Federer: In. I think that's in. I'm just wondering about Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov, who has a ton of potential, but hasn't done anything yet.
3. Rafael Nadal: Oh. Here's Rafa Nadal again, like he is every year at the Australian Open. Folks ask him how he's gonna do, and he shakes his head, buries it in his hand and mumbles that he's terrible, that he has no shot. Which means that he's gonna win the whole damn thing. Ooh. Lukas Rosol as a possible third round opponent? Yeesh. If – big 'if' – Nadal can survive the first couple rounds, it could be enough for him to recover his form and then opponents like Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych won't seem like much. But if he's still that much out of sync, then, yeah, he could lose to Mikhail Youzhny right away. So, the line call? In, but right on the line. Which means that any old line judge could call it out.
4. Stan Wawrinka: Not a bad draw for Stan, the defending-champion man. Not until he would get to Kei Nishikori. Talk about a popcorn match – that Wawrinka won't win. Out.
5. Kei Nishikori: In. See above.
6. Andy Murray: Apparently, Murray just cleaned house in his camp and got rid of all the Amelie Mauresmo haters, and he's ready to go. Good, because his ranking is not Big Four-worthy, because it's six. To change that, he's gonna need to win another major. To do that, he's going to have to take down Dimitrov and Federer just to get to the semis. Sorry, but out.
7. Tomas Berdych: You know, if the wind blew the right way for him – meaning that Nadal loses early and that No. 11 Ernests Gulbis can't mount much of a challenge, this could be Berdych's chance for the semis – and beyond. But if it is just the regular wind, then no, he's not going to beat Nadal. Out. Probably.
8. Milos Raonic: I get it. He's big. He's talented. Big serve. Big forehand. Wears that koozie on his arm. Seems to be settling into his role in the top 10. Yes, he'll go far, but it will be the most boring tennis you'll ever see, especially in the early rounds. It's just hard for me to get excited about Raonic. Even if I were, it'd be difficult to get amped up about his chances against Djokovic, because he's not going to beat Djokovic, unless he's not really over the flu. A relieved 'out' call here.
9. David Ferrer: And then there's David Ferrer, who is like a Labrador retriever. He will go after every ball, and make his opponent do one more thing, and it's often enough to win a match. Now that is some tennis that I want to watch. He's entertaining, determined … and a bit long in the tooth … and hair. (Someone needs to say it – Davey. Get a haircut!!!) He's slated to run into Nishikori in the fourth round, and I don't know if that's going to go well for him. Out. Moo.
10. Grigor Dimitrov: In all likelihood, out. Whenever I see him play, though, I wonder why he hasn't yet made his move at a major. Like a real move. He's got all the tools, but he seems to be mentally inconsistent. He could be humming along in a match, and then try a drop shot when he should have hit a groundstroke up the line. But you know who also used to do that? Andy Murray. So there's hope?

First-round special: It was gonna be del Potro vs. Janowicz, but no del Potro now. Without that, I'm gonna say Nadal v. Youzhny will be a good one, assuming Youzhny doesn't brain himself before the conclusion. Nicholas Almagro vs. Nishikori – Nishikori better be ready right away for this one. Also Sam Querrey v. Vasek Pospisil.

Upset comin': Borna Coric over No. 29 Jeremy Chardy in five, methinks.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The coaching floodgates are finally open!

For as long as I've been a tennis fan, I've wondered why pro players never seem to hire female coaches. It's not like there's no shortage of legendary women players who would fit the bill. Last year, it was a male player, Andy Murray, who hired Amelie Mauresmo on, and naturally, the choice has been under scrutiny ever since, with whispers about her effectiveness. Now, I'm not gonna lie. If I were going to choose a woman coach for a tennis pro, it probably wouldn't be the person who had some moments of mental weak in big moments(coughcoughFRENCHOPENcough), especially if you have had a similar issue. But technically, Mauresmo is a good choice. She always had great form, and even if they didn't always result in winning a Slam, she did have some great results on the big stage. After years of disappointment at majors, she did finally break through -- twice.
And Madison Keys is picking up Lindsay Davenport. That's a good pick. But am I the only person who thinks that Davenport probably still had a slam in her?
No, if I were going to choose a female tennis coach, it'd be someone who has a record of success and has shown an ability to grow and change her game. Maybe someone who actually changed the trajectory of the women's game with her own training habits and by bringing an element of power (which by now is about the same "power" Chris Evert had, but still). I wish there were one or two women like that.
Apparently, so did Aggie Radwanska, because she just hired MARTINA NAVRATILOVA to her coaching team this year. Two things: Has anyone ever asked Martina to be their coach and she's just been saying no all these years? Because she is a perfect coaching candidate -- for any player.
Also, this is awesome! These two are the perfect match. Radwanska is already a very smart player with a ton of variety, but her problem is -- OK, there's no nice way to say this, so here it is -- she needs to work out. No, she's not out of shape, but you can't be a stick figure in the 2015 WTA tour. The serve has to go, and she needs to be able to mix some power with the variety. If she could do that, she'd be top 3 through her whole career. And her willingness to hire Navratilova says that she's willing to work on all of that. At least, I hope she is, because Navratilova doesn't strike me as the type of coach who would be sipping her coffee on the bench, watching her charge practicing a terrible serve. No, what I see in that scenario is Navratilova taking her coffee mug in one hand, her racquet in the other, and standing on the other side to receive that terrible serve and crushing it every time.
Pleasepleaseplease let this work out. Yeah, I get power tennis, and love it for the most part, but man, wouldn't it be great to see the likes of Radwanska tweak her game and become the Martina Hingis 2.0 in 2015?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On-court antics: Season on the brink

Sometimes, you can spend weeks, or even months, talking about something -- something that might or might not happen. But then it happens. And you are so tired of talking about it that now, you're just over it.
That's what our playoffs were like for 8.0 mixed. Once our league coordinator decided it wasn't a good idea to restart the season the day after the regular season ended, it was time to get the wheels of inevitability going. Our team made it through the first round last weekend with nary a bump, except that everyone on our court had some form of Ebola swine flu. It wasn't so bad, except the constant pressure on my chest and feeling like I couldn't breathe after some points. But we're all OK now. 
Our next opponent: Team Shenanigans. You know how some people are competitive at tennis while still recognizing that this is still really recreational, while others give people free club membership for their facility to lure them off of another team? Yeah. Team Shenanigans. So for the last two weeks, knowing that the members of this team were also largely on the 9.0 mixed team and that both of those teams were scheduled to play at the same time, we speculated about who would show up where and if that could help us. Especially because we're talking about some very dominant male players here. One of them is a former D-1 all-star and HE IS RATED A 4.0. I am rated a 4.0 and I just started playing tennis about a decade ago. About three days before the match, I checked out. I couldn't talk about it anymore. I just wanted to play. 
I'm not gonna lie -- I felt great during warm-ups. My whole team looked great. Even as one of their biggest dogs walked into our building, I thought: "Whichever one of us gets him, we can swing it. I mean, look at us!"
And then, during the match, I looked at them. By the time my court had finished warmups, that 4.0 college guy? He was up 5-0 on our teammates on line three. On line two, where the best teams from each side met, they were locked in a tight first set, but it looked like Team Shenanigan's big dog was starting to find his game. And on my court? We were down 5-1 in about four and a half minutes. And we drew the easiest team, which was still pretty effing tough. I'd played them both before and had a good record against the guy and not so good against the woman, although the one time I had beaten her was in mixed dubs. So I felt OK about our chances, even though we were down. We made a couple of adjustments, including pulling me off the net, and we got it back to 5-4. So I'm standing at the service line and I thought: "OK. All I have to do is hold serve here and we've got ourselves a set here."
Can I give you some advice? NEVER THINK THAT THOUGHT. NEVER DO IT!!!! I double-faulted three straight times. Three!!! I don't even remember being nervous. But I don't know what I was thinking, either. 
In an effort to avoid my own body after it malfunctioned on me, I looked around again, hoping for a sign. And I got one. The third line was already playing a fun set. In the next court over, Big Dog and his "3.5" partner were cruising. In fact, within minutes, our team was down 5-0 on both courts within minutes. I stood at the line again, this time, just hoping to avoid a bagel. I told my partner, "Four aces right here, and then let's get into it." He was like, "OK." He probably thought I was drinking cold medicine straight again.
It wasn't four aces, but we did get that game, but it was all over very soon after that. What a bummer. The worse part about the matches where there's a chance to win is going over all the stuff you did wrong as you're trying to fall asleep that night. 
Who double faults three times in a game, you stupid idiot? This isn't singles -- keep the ball low! Slicing? Are you nuts? You have to learn to volley. Why's my partner in no-man's land, and why am I letting him live there? This skirt is old and needs to go in the trash. 
So, it's over until next fall. There's a chance I can play another 9.0 match, and 7.0 still rages on for a few more weeks. It'll be that and a ton of net practice between now and the spring. 
So what's the takeaway here? Welp, no sectionals for us. My husband's team lost in a heartbreaker the next day, and unfortunately, it looks like all roads go through Team Shenanigans, which goes to show you that all you have to do is buy some club memberships for college players, and you can run rec tennis in your region. I have some talent I'm lining up, and I feel like the offer for the public courts and the port-o-potty next to it (free of charge and no wait for the potty) is going to draw the guys in like, well, like stink bugs to a port-o-potty in the summer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

On-court antics: How I learned to stop worrying and love 8.0 playoffs

The 8.0 mixed doubles season out here has been ... interesting. There has been a lack of urgency because all eight teams make the playoffs. At the same time, it's also a good idea to jockey for position in some way -- because if you can grab home court advantage, well, that's ideal.
That's what my team had in mind for the last regular season match. Win, and you move into the second slot and have at least two playoff matches at your house. (The final is at a neutral location.) Lose, and you drop to fourth, and what would be a very tough first-round match against a team we barely beat during the regular season.
In situations like this, then, you hate to have to play an important match with someone you've never played with before. UNLESS you ended up with my partner. I had the talk with him, you know, about me. And the net. And our complicated relationship. I ask him: "So, how do you feel at the net? If I start with the serve, you're probably better off up there than I am."
He says: "I feel OK up there. You can serve."
I often wonder if people have different meanings for words than I do. Because when someone says, "I feel OK," I think, "So not great." But this guy was not OK at the net. He was pretty great up there. For a big guy, he moved quickly at the net and intercepted stuff I figured I'd have to get for him. I actually had time to learn a lot about volley preparation back there.
So, besides for a temporary hiccup I had in the second set, during which time I had a bout with nerves that I had to literally curse myself out to shake, we won in straight sets.
That made the whole match score 1-1, with our team down a set and a break by the time we were done. We held on, though, and our team won the match, 7-5 in the third.
So yay! We secured one home-court slot on the last night of the regular season! (My husband's team had the other. I know what you're going to say. It's what everyone says. "Why aren't you playing on the same team as your husband?" If you're very good, one day I will explain it. But we have to focus.) Time to plan for being in the driver's seat during the playoffs! Right? Right! Wait, what? Not right??
Everything was awesome until around 9 a.m. the next morning, a Sunday, when our league coordinator dropped something of a bomb: A proposal to extend the season by three matches, so that we could play more and give captains an opportunity to qualify more players for sectionals, should they advance. He put it to a vote by the team captains that would be tallied in five days.
Now naturally, this would be a vote that would run something like 6-2, then, with the 'no' votes belonging to my husband and my team captain. Well, who else wouldn't jump at the chance to improve their playoff position, right? Heck, if this was proposed before the season started, or maybe two matches in, I might have supported it. But the fact that it surfaced the morning after the season had officially ended (according to our apparently archaic online schedule set back in September), smelled like shenanigans. And in league tennis in these parts, when you smell shenanigans, there's this one team captain who is usually cooking it.
He shall remain nameless here, but through some sleuthing, it was discovered that this guy had told another team captain he intended to ask the league coordinator to help him out by changing match dates so he could get his best lineups out there. Many of his players also play for the 9.0 team, and he needed some accommodations so he could send beefed-up lines to both places.
Well, once this was discovered and made known to the other captains, it got real "Dynasty" up in here. While emailed accusations of just about anything tennis-related you could think of were being hurled about, there was one person who was mysteriously absent -- the league coordinator. Finally, on Monday night, he materialized to tell us that the plan was off the table.
So, for now, until the next insane proposal, my team will play at home this weekend, as will my husband's. What's the lesson here? Twofold: 1. Look, you don't mess with USTA people and their league tennis. You just don't. 2. If you are hired to do a job, do the job. Don't put stupid ideas up for a vote. Squash them, because that is your job.
That said, here's to an all-TWA face-off for sectionals!