Thursday, April 19, 2018

Therapy with TWA: When You End Up Rooting Against Americans

I've been sitting on this post for a bit, because I wasn't sure how to say what I wanted to say, or even if it needed to be said. But I just read Jon Wertheim's latest tennis column (and you should, too), and it's time to hit the therapy couch.
American Tennys Sandgren had another good run in Houston last week, and naturally, I didn't watch one second of it. I tracked the final online, hoping desperately that he would lose, and he did, in three sets. I'm sure it was a good match. I'm sure I'll never be watching a match featuring Sandgren unless he's getting his butt kicked by Rafa Nadal or something. Some people would call this "petty" or tell me it's "time to move on." We'll get to that in a second.
This all started a few months ago, when Sandgren's social media account was combed and some things came out in the wash. Pizza-gate. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Probably some light racism (or at least a helping of Serena Williams hateration). Disgusting. And when fans began calling him out on Twitter for it, there was John Isner, asking everyone what the big deal was. This is, yes, the same Isner who called out Colin Kaepernick for protesting racial injustice in America by kneeling during a song that has a racist verse in it. But. Sandgren and Isner are fine tennis players -- among the best that America has to offer right now. And social media? That's off-court. That's life. And tennis is tennis. You can pull apart the player from the person. Right? Right?!?
Right. I guess. It's not as if I live in a bubble. Heck, I'm in Florida and I play tennis with people who voted for the current Cheeto-in-Chief. (Sorry. Nah. Can't use his name here, but bigs up to Luvvie Ajaye who has allllll the nicknames.) Did I ever mention that I got invited to a post-election party by a MAGA-head and when I told him later I had to miss his party because I was at the Women's March, he told me I had wasted my time? Anyway, I've played with people who talk politics on the changeover. And because we are way past the times of politely declining to give voice to my disagreement, we disagree. Then we we get back on the court and keep playing. No problem.
So why is it so hard for the people I actually do not know? I've been wondering about this myself for a while, ever since the Sandgren affair. This weekend, I finally figured it out. It's because of what they represent -- that's what's getting under my skin. These players represent America, and I live in America. And they don't represent me. And what they believe and support is so much more than "other-side-of-the-aisle" disagreement. There is considerable circumstantial evidence that President Dolt is a racist. (And if you can use circumstantial evidence to send someone to prison for murder, than I can posit why majority-black countries are the shitholes, but not Sweden.) And these players support that. And I am supposed to support them? I am supposed to watch only what they do on court. Tennis fans -- well, we're off the court. And many of us, especially fans of color, are busy spending our off-court time being horrified by the choices that their guy makes daily.
Really, what this situation needs is a person in a leadership position in tennis who recognizes that tennis fans are more diverse than ever and that this is a situation. But the only people connected to tennis who have been firm about Sandgren's transgressions are Serena Williams and Wertheim. And Wertheim is just a columnist. That person who will step up in a leadership capacity is apparently not Katrina Adams, the black female president of the USTA. Shortly after Sandgren's run in Australia, she congratulated him on Twitter, and when Tennis Twitter said essentially, HEY YO WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, Adams professed ignorance of what he said, and did not address it when folks showed her. If you are a leader who is watching as the players coming through the USTA are more diverse than ever (as well as the fans), but feel no need to address this -- if your approach is to let it blow over until Sandgren *crosses herself* wins a Slam -- then that's not what we need now. Unless I've missed it, she hasn't even said, "Hey, look, I talked to him. I believe he's sorry and that he wants to start over with fans." Now that would go a long damn way. And yet, even with the long, diverse history of American tennis -- which includes Martina Navratilova, the Williams sisters, Sachia Vickery and other immigrants, children of immigrants, and people of color -- Adams and the USTA has nothing to say.
We need someone who will at least attempt to address this in a nuanced way, as Wertheim did. And he's right. This isn't about politics. It's about ideology that is completely unacceptable. Scrubbing your social media and angrily denouncing the media because it reported facts are ... well, first of all, a little too on the nose.
It's also not really an apology.
Having said all of that, it's not fair for the media to continue to ask Sandgren questions about this -- his answers won't change. If he was sorry, he'd be sorry -- all the way sorry. And he's not going to post about Pizzagate again. So here we are in the gray area with Sandgren, with Isner, with these players whose names appear with tiny little American flags, with fans wanting to support your full Davis Cup roster -- and rooting for Belgium instead.
I hope David Goffin, at least, is on the level.





Thursday, March 29, 2018

I Got Some Things to Say About the Miami Open

This is going to be a short post because the semifinals are about to start and nobody better bother me after 1 p.m., my time.
Seriously, this tournament has been crazy. I've said this before, but the women's tennis is just a tad bit more interesting than last year, yes?
For me, tennis is fun to watch and to try to play, but sometimes, you get little tiny reminders about how it's more than than for people. Sometimes, a tennis career ventures into dream category. As in, achieving something you thought you could do, but were almost too afraid to say it, or try it. And then the moment is there, and then you do it. Sometimes, you see how it matters in moments like this:



Did you see that? That look from Danielle Collins after she shook Venus Williams' hand? It gave me goosebumps, because that's a dream come true right there. Also, though? Her backhand is *fire emoji*

Still with the on-court coaching
The first time I heard a player get decent advice during this sexist practice was yesterday, during Elina Svitolina's match against Jelena Ostapenko (whatever happened with this Alona thing from last year? Was that some type of Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines thing?). The timing wasn't awesome -- she didn't know it, but Svitolina was about to be a couple games and a tiebreak from losing in straight sets. But what he said: "You have to be willing to play the right way" as opposed to focusing solely on winning or losing is actually a great reminder. Much easier said than done, but still, great advice.

Sloane! 
I mean, dang! I am woman enough to acknowledge that in my heart of hearts, I thought Sloane Stephens winning a Slam might have been a touch fluke-y. But I think I might have been wrong. I really liked reading this from her after her most recent beatdown of Angelique Kerber:




The wind issue
Speaking of Sloane v. Kerber, some people on the Internet had some issues with the court conditions:


Nguyen offered some decent video evidence as well. But here's my thing: playing in high winds is difficult. So is playing when it's 90 degrees. So is when you're playing in wind on clay and little sand particles get into your eyes. Also when the sun overhead is messing with your toss. Where do you draw the line? And what does it say about the winner of the match when you essentially nullify the conditions by complaining about them? Stephens also played in high winds and she was able to negotiate the conditions. Kerber wasn't. That's why she lost. There's my tennis hill, I guess. 

Now everyone go watch tennis!




Monday, March 19, 2018

Indian Wells Wrap: Because There's a Lot to Say

Yes, the tennis was excellent this tournament. The women's draw had a lot of storylines, and most of them seemed to run through Naomi Osaka, and we'll get there. On the men's side, well, I don't applaud at my laptop screen often, but when I do, it's when Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro have put on a helluva final.
First thing's first: Tommy Haas. That might not be the first thing for everyone but just hang on a second. Tommy Haas retired this week at Indian Wells and it made me sad. When I was a new tennis fan, Haas was one of those big guns coming up in the game with a smooth game and was also not difficult to look at. That sexy AF backhand. (Whew.) He was, for me, one of those figures in the game who was always on the precipice of greatness, but seemed to run into something. It was either injury, or Marat Safin, or injury, or it was Pete Sampras, or personal tragedy, or it was Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, or it was injury, or it was Roger Federer. Haas' career high ranking was No. 2. He never won a Slam, but all those guys I named? He beat them all, too. That's a hell of a span of players, and he was present for all of it -- as much as he could be with injuries in the way. As a fan, my knee-jerk is to say that his career was unfinished, but I think that's an insult in a way. Tommy Haas did what he could with what he had. He didn't waste one bit of his talent and he has nothing to be sorry about. His isn't a career to ask "What if?" about. It's just one that you're glad you got to see. Also, by the way, one of the last big wins he had was in 2017, against Roger Federer. So. And most importantly, Haas isn't riding that sexy ass into the sunset just yet -- we'll get to see him as a regular presence in tennis as the Indian Wells tournament organizer.
Now, on to the tournament itself. I don't know where to start. OK, fine, let's start with Osaka if you insist. I haven't written about her yet, mostly because of her spotty results. But the first time I honestly took notice of her was this year at Hopman Cup. Yeah, an exo, but an exo in which she got to square off against Federer in mixed doubles. The thing I noticed about her was that she went for Federer a couple times. This chick was trading groundstrokes with him instead of going to Belinda Bencic, which I definitely would have done. The thing about Osaka is that she wants to be weighed and measured, and if she's found wanting, she wants to fix it. She looked like a machine this tournament. I normally don't put a lot of stock about how players act, but she beat Maria Sharapova in the first round, and her expression was not of a stunned young upstart. She expected that result, and that was the same face she had throughout the tournament. She won the tournament and she smiled as if to say, "Oh, well, this is nice. I'm looking for No. 1., but this will do in a pinch." I'm legit wondering if she's gonna end the year with the U.S. Open title. Oh, but back to that poker face for a second: I wonder how it will hold up if she wins her first-round match in Miami next week. Her opponent is Serena Williams.



I haven't said a lot about Daria Kasatkina, either, but talk about players who are going to be a problem. Watching the emergence of she and Osaka is almost like the total opposite of what we saw in women's tennis last year, where the usual suspects couldn't quite bring themselves to dominate with a window in the leadership. These 20-year-olds seem to not have that type of concern at all. Kasatkina's match against Venus Williams was, so far, the match of the year to me. They both played some remarkable tennis and you can say that match was won by Kasatkina, not surrendered by Williams. And once again, Venus is out here as a message to all of you. You know who you are. You've had that crappy volley for years, and you figure you'll never be able to fix it. She's 37, y'all. Fix the volley.

Finally. That Federer/delP match. Hoo buddy. I don't know what to say about it. It just needs to be viewed. The turning points, the general saltiness of the players, the match point won turned double fault, I mean. Gracious. All I can say is that I feel like del Potro needed this win and I'm glad he got it. And if you don't have a soft spot for del Potro, you need to check your pulse. Verdict!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Attitudimeter: Indian Wells edition

We are only halfway through Indian Wells and has it been a time! Right now, Karolina Pliskova is whupping up on another fledgling American, Amanda Anisimova, and unknown Americans have been popping up in weird places. That is to say, they're advancing past the first rounds. But let's talk more about that later.

On the Up Swing

Doubles

The tournament announced a $1 million bonus for the player who wins in singles and doubles, and look! It's Victoria Azarenka! John Isner! Grigor friggin' Dimitrov! It might have been a cheap trick, but that Azarenka/Aryna Sabalenka v. Sloane Stephens/Genie Bouchard match was still great to watch. The best part of this bonus is that it brings out the big names in the game, but people who show up get to see the Barbora Strycovas and Marc Lopezes -- the real doubles specialists, and they get the attention they deserve, too. Everyone wins. Except the singles players. Everyone else, though.

American Women You've Never Heard Of

Danielle Collins? Caroline Dolehide? (was anyone else having a hard time not thinking of Silence of the Lambs during her match against Simona Halep?) Sachia Vickery? It appears that the wild cards decided they were going to make this visit count.

Williams v. Williams rivalry

It's unbelievable that we are almost on our second decade of watching Venus and Serena square off and that (a) people still care and (b) the matches actually get better with time. I'm old enough to remember when watching the sisters play was painful and awkward for all involved. Now? I feel like their match-up last night -- their 29th time playing each other -- was one of their better matches. I mean, they were going after each other! Look a' dis:



Shooken.
Also, small postscript: I can't imagine that any member of the Top 10 last night (including the one on court opposite Serena) watched that match without a wee bit of concern that Serena was coming for them personally.

Down Swing

Madison Keys

I feel like a broken record, but here we go anyway. This reliance on on-court coaching isn't even helpful. Keys is on the ropes against fellow American Danielle Collins in the first round, and she can't figure out what she should do, so she calls Lindsay Davenport over, who tells her, in a nutshell, "You're doing amazing, sweetie. Hang in there." Keys goes out there and stands idly while Collins whips shots all over the court. This isn't even Davenport's fault. I'm just saying that Keys obviously has a problem with nerves (see: 2017 U.S. Open final) and running to the coach isn't going to fix it.

Men's tennis

I don't know. Maybe it's because so many of the big guns are MIA, but it is hard to get with these early rounds so far. Even Novak Djokovic losing in his first match wasn't that dramatic -- or unexpected. These injuries are beginning to make a big dent in this big tournaments. As it is now, we'll have to wait until the end of the week (hopefully) to see some firework matches.

Some of these coaches

I know. I'm gonna stop. But first. I believe this was late in Simona Halep's scrappy win over Dolehide when Dolehide calls the coach over. Coach tells her she has to be the first one to change direction. OK, why? What exactly is the strategy here? Of course it didn't work. These players need to check where their money is going is all I'm saying.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Therapy with TWA: The Davis Cup Breakdown

So here's how news breaks on Twitter:

1. *news breaks*
2. Twitter at 30 seconds: this is the worst
3. Twitter at 60 seconds: ugh so depressing. 2018 ruined
4. Twitter at 120 seconds: hey, guys, so read the story
5. Twitter at 10 minutes: wow, this is what I've always wanted

That's how it went in a nutshell with the announcement that Davis Cup was planning to change up some things. Right now, the plan on the table (which still needs to be approved this August) is to play the event at one place over one week. The matches would be best-of-three, with three matches per tie -- two singles, one doubles. Also, an investment firm run by a soccer player (!) would be at the helm.

This is, in case you are new here, what I've been talking about for about 10 years on this blog (not the soccer guy part). Here's the first time I complained about the DC format. (I actually called for playoffs for a spot on your team, which is a great damn idea!) Here's another time. Sometimes, I've even wondered if the coaches want to be there. However, I realize I am but one person. There are other tennis fans (and players!), and some of them were not happy about this change to Davis Cup. Oh, actually, it's, uh, now going to be called the World Cup of Tennis. Normally, I'm the tradition junkie who rejects tennis changes at all times, but this needs to happen. Or something like it. Why? So that people will care about this event!

There is reason to think the ITF doesn't even care much about Davis Cup. This year's first round of Davis Cup was during Super Bowl weekend. If you want to generate excitement for a sport, why would you set it for the same weekend as one of the largest North American sporting events at all? Now, most of those matches, if not all, were over by the start time of the game, but the point remains. Super Bowl weekend is Super Bowl weekend. It doesn't leave a lot of oxygen in the room for anything else. And in general, it's hard to generate excitement for a tournament that is tucked into the calendar four times a year.

Now, one complaint about this idea is that part of the appeal of Davis Cup was that players had more opportunities to play in their home country, no matter how small. These are people who will never be able to attend the Australian Open. That will be a loss for those places in ways that are financial and ways that can grow the sport there. I don't know what to say about that, because that sucks. Last year, I drove a little over an hour from the middle of Florida to watch a Fed Cup tie and that was a good experience, and one I'm not likely to have again if this plan takes hold.

But big-name players cared so little about Davis Cup that they eventually had to be compelled to participate when the ITF linked DC appearances to Olympic eligibility. Which is interesting. Because here are these players, who are clearly willing and proud to represent their country in sport. They do it for the Olympics and they'll even travel to alleged hole-in-the-ground Rio de Janiero to do this, but not to ... their home country? Why?

Because Davis Cup is broken. And these proposed changes will fix that, I think. Let's face it: A lot had changed about tennis in the years since the Cup began. It started in 1900, so, for one thing, there were wooden racquets. Tennis was also a bit more popular than it is now, at least in the States, and back then, there weren't three tournaments a week. All of that has changed, and the Davis Cup has not. It has not looked at the success of the Ryder Cup in golf.

I don't agree with all these changes. I wish they could play more matches, keep it at reverse singles and the doubles match. They could do that if they made it a two-week event. I would even be in support of making it a biannual event.

But the main thing that needs to happen here is that Davis Cup, er, World Cup, is finally treated as an EVENT. When you have an EVENT, it fills stadiums every day for two weeks. I think tennis should be more popular than it is. Tennis players like to compete for their countries. They do it in every context except Davis Cup. It's Davis Cup that's broken, and hopefully in August, the ITF will fix it.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Attitudimeter: Yes, Roger is on this List

Lot of big news in the pro tennis world in the last week or so. Time to crank up the 'meter!

Who's Got Attitude

Roger Federer

He's not so much "up" as he is No. 1 in the world again. I, personally, was pretty happy with the previous No. 1, but whatever. This is fine, too. If you want to talk about longevity, let's talk about something I wrote about Fed some 11 years ago this month:


Some things never change. He's still the best and he still talks as if he could actually lose to people. So adorable.

Petra Kvitova

You might say there's no kvit in her. You might if you liked cheesy wordplay. If you like a player returning from a long and scary layoff only to come back and win two fairly big tournaments back-to-back, you'd probably like Kvitova's recent history. She's looking dominant against most players and grinding out tough wins against the better players. It can't be easy to return from a lot of time off, and not everyone has rebounded as well as she has (we'll talk more about that in a second), but she is looking like an early Wimbledon contender. Again.


Simona Halep

I'm not sure how you're a top five player and can't get a clothing deal, but that problem is finally solved for Halep. She's a Nike girl now, but wondering if she's going to be one of those Nike girls wearing the same set as the other Nike girls during tournaments. Bad news is that she's now sidelined with injury after playing well post-Australian Open, but I have a question. Why are major finalists and winners not taking time off after a Slam anymore? Caroline Wozniacki was playing the very next tournament after Australia. But why?


Who Needs an Attitude Adjustment

Maria Sharapova

You're probably thinking: "So, who now? Where has she been?" She has been in tournaments. She was in Qatar. She lost in the first round to Monica Niculescu. Sharapova has not had a great go of it since she's been back. Sure, she beat Halep at the Open last fall, but she's not even advancing far enough in tournaments to get a sniff at the top players right now. And I wonder if this would be happening if she hadn't been banned. She's been back on the tour about the same time as Kvitova, but they are obviously on different tracks right now. It's not just that she's not winning. She hasn't beaten a top-10 player since Halep, who has since returned the favor in dominant form. She's getting destroyed by top players. Angelique Kerber beat the crap out of Sharapova in the third round in Australia. She made the final of the Australian before her suspension. I just wonder what's going on in the alternate universe, where she didn't feel the need to hide from most of her team that she was taking a medication that would later be banned.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

LEAGUE WATCH: It's All in Your Head (OK, My Head)

It's that time again -- USTA league play is finally underway here in Florida. And for me, that means ... uh-oh. It means I hadn't played any tennis in at least three weeks, but yet I'm mad I'm not in the week one lineup.
And see, this isn't all my fault. What had happened was that my home courts -- located a comfortable seven minutes from my house -- is now under construction. In the meantime, the best place to pick up matches is a half-hour away. So it's been either drive across the county after work or try to coax others to come find a court closer to me. Naturally, neither has happened. Thus the spider webs on my racquets.
But this time, I had a plan to brush up on my game, despite not having played in three weeks and just one day before my first league match. I would play for hours with a fun group the day before. I'd work out all the kinks with my serve and backhand. The muscle memory would kick in, and I would be all set for the following day. Brilliant!
I didn't play well on Saturday. I couldn't get my toss in the right place and if the ball wasn't hit to my forehand, it was not likely to go over the net. But, I thought, now I know what I need to work on!
But a very surprising development unfolded on Sunday during my match. I continued my poor play from the day before and actually played worse than ever at times. The first league of the year out here is the 7.0 mixed, so I was playing with a 3.0. That means that, as the higher-rated player, it doesn't mean necessarily that you need to take over a match, but you do need to be the steadier player, the one making things happen. That would have been really helpful, especially considering what we had across the net -- a very experienced and physically strong 4.0 guy. That's the time when you need to really target the opposition's weakness while shoring up your own issues.
Unfortunately, however, that isn't what happened. Sure, I had a plan. I've played this 4.0 guy before. He was good, but I had beaten him in doubles before. I knew hitting to his partner was the best thing we could do. But here's the problem: It is very difficult to focus on how to pick apart the opposition when you are busy trying to remember how you hit a tennis ball in the first place.


Like, I had no rhythm, was rendered completely unable to move my feet. I re-tossed the ball for my serve about four times, per serve, on average. Not kidding. Even still, I double-faulted at least once per game. I'm one of those nervous laughers you've met and are annoyed by, so I'd miss badly and turn to my partner and laugh out an apology. He smiled, but I bet inside he was screaming for mercy. I know I was. It's really hard to focus on strategy when you are a bit distracted by your own game.
They say that behind every cloud is a silver lining and I believe ours that day was that we managed to win that one game in the first set.
So this was bad. Immediately after the match, I endeavored to play again as soon as possible and get to the bottom of this terrible play. On Tuesday, I was back at the courts and I didn't have to wait long to get into a foursome to play a set. My serve was still a hot mess, but strangely, I felt free to move and swing however I wanted. I was thinking strategically, seeing the gaps I had in the court, even hitting drop shots and volleys. I felt great.
"What's different about today and two days ago?" I asked myself about a half-hour into the set.
Forgive me -- I'm a little slow. The answer is obvious. One is a practice situation and the other is a match situation. It's pressure. You get used to dealing with it when you play regularly. That's why the practice is important, too. If you don't have to worry about yourself, you have time to focus on the mental part of tennis -- strategy and picking apart the opposition. Otherwise, you're just out there like