Saturday, May 13, 2017

Therapy with TWA: Maria Sharapova

After careful consideration of Genie Bouchard's application for membership to The Official Tennis with Attitude Commission, I have decided to advance it to the second stage. Her first attempt last year was blocked for having all the talk and not the action to back it up. This time, she straight-up called Maria Sharapova a drug cheat who should be banned for life. Just before meeting her in the second round at the Madrid Open.
I couldn't watch the match, but kept a watchful eye on Twitter all day at work, and when I saw that Bouchard had pulled out the win, 6-4 in the third -- all I can say is that I have never been so gleeful at someone's defeat. Especially when I saw what I was waiting for (h/t to @hypotemuse on Twitter):



The cold-fish handshake, accompanied by the dismissive scold-stare by Bouchard. Oh, I tell you, I was gleeful. And that's when I realized I needed help.
I am not at all happy that Maria Sharapova is back in tennis.
I am trying to be a grown-up and be reasonable about this. Yes, it's good for tennis, especially for that green bottom line. She attracts people and attention. The more attention tennis gets, the better. Right. I know. And I get that she served her time for taking a banned substance and that when you do something wrong, you should be allowed to do the time and move on. She's done that.
She's also -- ever since this happened -- been walking around acting as though she hasn't done anything wrong, that this is Someone Else's fault and that she was simply caught in the middle. She has threatened legal action and essentially demanded that people like Bouchard not say bad things about her. She accepted a wild card into an event that had already started before she was cleared to play again. And this is really where I struggle. Wild cards are for people who are not banned for drugs or other illegal activities. She was ranked #262 in the world BECAUSE OF THE BAN, NOT AN INJURY. !!!!!!
Whew. Had to take a minute. I'm back.
But here's the problem I have: Sharapova is not going anywhere any time soon. She's not going to walk into a press conference one day this week and express any real regret for the situation she put herself into, and apologize on behalf of her ignorant agent who chose to defend her by insulting the careers of two pretty good players. So what do I do?
Nothing, basically. Sometime around last November 8, I learned that not everyone plays by the rules, and they still get to play and they still win. Sometimes, you can get banned by your sport,, and go to Harvard, write a book, and get welcomed back to your sport with a wild card that you don't deserve. Sharapova might even win another Slam, and maybe even this year. And she will feel vindicated and everyone will say that this is why she's great for tennis and we'll forget she took a "heart medication" and apparently never told most of her team about this, which is probably why no one told her it was banned for 2017 -- no one knew she was taking it. That woulda helped.
There I go again. I was hoping this therapy session would end with me finding a way to make peace with the way Sharapova has returned to tennis, but nope. Still mad. Except when I watch this;



Heh. Small victories.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Servin' and Volleyin' 'em Up

Where to start? Maria Sharapova? Not today, Satan.
How about Rafael Nadal Parera instead? A fellow tennis fan friend of mine forwarded me a story from Deadspin with the headline: "The King of Clay is Looking a Little Wobbly." This after a tight first-round match in Monte Carlo and with Alexander Zverev on the horizon, this guy figured Rafa was done for. I told my friend then that the story was basically pablum and was utterly useless in a respectful way:



And then Rafael Nadal Parera kilt the rest of the field, even winning Monte Carlo. No, I haven't gotten my apology yet.
Nadal beat Zverev along the way. And then he went ahead the next week and won Barcelona, beating Kevin Anderson and Dominic Thiem in that process. And that three-set match against Kyle Edmund that prompted Deadspin to put on their genie hat? It's the only three-setter he's played since. I mean, damn, who consistently makes it to finals this year, losing mostly to Roger Federer for most of this year and still has to have folks questioning his career?
Hell, he's having a better year right now than three out of the four players ranked above him right now!
Speaking of, so Novak Djokovic! Djokovic has had some issues lately. He beat Andy Murray in a tournament final in January -- and hasn't sniffed the latter stages of a tournament since. The Australian Open didn't go well. He's taken a couple Ls to Nick Kyrgios, which are not bad losses. But Denis Istomin? David Goffin? So yeah, it's been tough. How tough? Welp, Novak answered that for us this week by DITCHING HIS ENTIRE TEAM. All. Of. Them. He revealed the news on his website and one line



kinda made me wonder if he wouldn't have wanted to quote that a little differently.
Seriously, this is a pretty dramatic move and of course, you wonder how amiable this is. You also wonder how long Djokovic will stay on his own. Especially with the French Open coming, and as Nadal and Federer are becoming more of a threat. So this will be interesting ...

By the way, the current average age of  the ATP's top 5 is 31. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

My First Fed Cup Tie, in Pictures (Some of Which are Moving)

After playing a lackluster league match to start my Saturday, I wasn't really jacked about driving an hour up the highway and shelling out $50 to watch a Fed Cup tie. But honestly, in the middle of Florida, it's not likely we're getting pro tennis much closer than this, so I got my sweaty self in the car and drove to Saddlebrook Resort to watch the U.S. face off against the Czech Republic.
Verdict: I wish the ITF would figure out how to pimp out the Davis and Fed cups properly because even stateside, there was a lot of energy and excitement that I thought only existed in Spain and Argentina. So, without further adue, a photo tour of my first Fed Cup tie:

I was pretty perturbed about paying $15 for parking until someone handed me a free ticket to the matches. Still, $15 to leave my car somewhere? It's not running or anything ...


  
I showed up at the beginning of the second set. I had to wait to go to my seat until the first changeover at 2-1. Not bad, but the kid next to me was starting to annoy me a little. We all want to get to our seats, Johnny!




In case you couldn't see that, Coco Vandeweghe, who was playing against Marketa Vondrousova, lost the point. I was sitting in the American section, where everyone was rooting for the Americans. Except one guy ...


This one. He was loudly rooting for the Czechs, cheering in a different language. Whenever he did that and someone would look at him, he would return the stare as if to say, "You got a problem, kid? I'll solve it!" I thought this guy really won the section.


My panoramic game is weak.



I'm still not the biggest Coco fan, but still wouldn't want to encounter that game late at night on a street corner.



Apparently, I had missed the part when Coco busted her racquet and hit herself with the flying pieces. But, hey, no fine! Also, that's Martina Navratilova.



Here's on thing I couldn't quite figure out. We got a four-piece band out here making noise and piped in music from the speakers? Why not let the crowd music create some energy? By itself?? This is an American thing, isn't it. Oh, and ALSO. These musicians think they're slick. Several times, while the Czech players were about to hit second serves, one of them would "accidentally" hit their drum, producing just enough sound for everyone to hear. Once, the umpire looked directly at them and told them to stop. Come on, dudes. That's lame.


This American camouflage vomit design has got to stop. Just no


Didn't take too many pix of poor Shelby Rogers, who lost so quickly and with so little pushback that I ended up taking more photos and videos of what was happening in the stands while she was playing. Next time, Shelb. Next time.








Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quick hits

OK, tennis news was a bit heavy this weekend and there's some things that didn't quite get addressed that we should probably discuss at least briefly:

1. You have got to be kidding me with this Maria Sharapova offensive. I mean, what. WHAT. I have never seen a person take a drug ban and demonstrably deserving of this ban, and yet be so defensive about criticism. I'm talking about Sharapova's agent coming out and insulting the careers of Caroline Wozniacki and Agz Radwanska because they had the nerve to suggest that wild cards should not be reserved for drug ban recipients. WHICH IS A FAIR POINT, by the way. I didn't mean to shout. But between Sharapova saying stupid stuff like this:



... and Max Eisenbud following up with petty nonsense like this:


... and then when you consider that the original ITF report on the ban had suspicious passages such as this:



you wonder what the strategy is here. It's already pretty clear that not everyone on tour is not that stoked about her coming back and ... then you go scorched earth? I sure hope Sharapova's game is going to back up all of this talk. Her comeback is this week at Stuttgart and her first round match is against Roberta Vinci.
(Quick aside regarding Eisenbud's comment about paragraphs 100 and 101, which are:

Here's paragraph 97b, which is also kind of interesting and one that Eisenbud should address as well perhaps:

So I don't understand how both these segments are in the same decision to grant Sharapova a reduced ban time. But hey, whatever, right?)

Anyway, I do believe Sharapova's return is good for women's tennis in terms of visibility, but I really wish she hadn't jumped the line this way by taking a wild card in a tournament that's started before her ban is completed. It's going to rightfully leave a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans.

2. While I was at the U.S. Fed Cup over the weekend, I noted some comments about Rafael Nadal, David Goffin and poor sportsmanship accusations about my man Rafa. I have investigated these charges, which are based on this point:



Obviously, umpire Cedric Mourier made a really bad mistake. It's these types of mistakes that make you think it might actually be time to bring the Shot Spot to clay courts, too, because now we can see that a mark can lie. But it's kind of hard to put this one on Nadal's shoulders. Sure, he looked like he was OK with the 'out' call, but is it on Nadal, from the other side of the court, to reverse a call? If the umpire has come down to inspect a mark, you'd think he knows how to do his job. I know there have been times I've hit a shot and thought it was long, only for my opponents to say it was right on the line. It happens. With the type of spin Nadal hits, it probably happens to him more than most. It would be one thing if Nadal was at the net and could see the shot a bit better. Otherwise, let's leave this one square at the feet of Mourier. Which, by the way, was exactly what Goffin did.

3. Ilie Nastase is a mentally depraved old man and even before this weekend's Fed Cup tie, this should have been noted and handled before. He warmed up on his weekend path of suckitude by speculating on the color Serena Williams' baby might have. (I wish I could see the way this question was posed to him, because I would almost bet the questioner knew he'd say something crazy.)
I don't want to waste too much more time on him. But let's just leave it here: He's very bad for tennis. Well, OK. Let me allow Great Britain coach Anne Keothavong to respond to Nastase's weak attempt at an apology by giving flowers to the entire team (God, did really have to go the full 1960s-stereotypical route?):


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Two Months Pregnant Is a Lot Pregnant, OK?

Well, I had to do an extra post this week because Serena Williams won the Australian Open while she was pregnant. I still remember where I was (a couple days ago) when my sister texted me to say that the new World No. 1 (again) was pregnant. I'm not a math person, but when I realized this was April and she was 20 weeks in, I couldn't get much further in my brain. Fortunately, neither could the Internet.


I'm old enough to remember when we thought Serena was on shaky ground because she lost to Madison Brendle before the Open started. Remember that?


OK, that looks like my blog font. I guess just "me." But, OK, I was right! In a way. Kinda.
After I got over my shock, some people noted that Serena was only a couple months in when she won Australia. "Only." OK. When I was eight-ish weeks pregnant, things were not going well. I literally hid a bottle of my husband's foot lotion because the smell was killing me. Same with cigarette smoke. I subsisted on crackers and antacids. Also water. In case anyone wants to act like being first-trimester pregnant is no big deal, let's talk about what that means. This is about the time your body realizes there is an alien in it and it begins to rebel. I was scheduled to play a league match in my first trimester once. I don't bail out of league matches. I had a small problem, though. I couldn't get out of bed because my body wasn't handling its new friend very well and I bailed out of it. Then I stayed in bed from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. There were days I couldn't even go to work -- and all I was doing at work was sitting in a chair!
I'm just saying that Serena Williams having two weeks where she could go play pro-level tennis while she was pregnant is extraordinary. But we got think pieces about how pregnancy will affect her.



These are some of the dumbest sentences I've ever read, and I say that with the full recognition that Donald Trump is the president of the United States.
Couple quick tips for handling Serena being pregnant:
1. If you are a man, put your damned pen down. Just stop. Women, stop asking men to be your source:

This story's main source -- man. Of course.


2. Serena Williams won the Australian Open pregnant and we're talking about what motherhood is going to do to her competitive drive. I'm gonna go ahead and wager it's (a) none of your business and (b) BREAKING: Many women have babies and then go back to slay on the job. Many women decide to dedicate their time and energy to their new families. So just stop.
3. Can we stop talking about Serena like she's Tiger Woods, and her career got derailed by her man beating her down on the street because she had several hundred girlfriends?
OK, Naf, you're trimming the reactions everyone can have, right? Right. Here's the angle we want to pursue. Serena Williams won a Grand Slam when all type of chaos was going on in her body and that is awesome. Now just think of an appropriate shower gift. (Diapers are always good.)


Sometimes, I think Jim Courier doesn't want to be Davis Cup captain.

Yes, Davis Cup was a bit ago, but I refuse to address it in a timely manner on account of that I hate the format. So there.
But I was a bit curious about how it is that the U.S. took such a lopsided loss, so I started watching the matches I had recorded. I though I could try to figure out how some guy ranked 79th in the world beat Jack Sock, who has been playing well as of late. Is Thompson the new hot Aussie talent?
I'm not going to say all of that. But I did notice something about the weekend that made me wonder if Jim Courier had to be compelled by force to take this Davis Cup captain job.
I'm just going to say the following, and then offer video evidence to support my thoughts: OK. You're in Australia and it's Davis Cup. You're not in America for Davis Cup, so the crowd is jacked. Their faces are painted. They're screaming at the top of their lungs. And, you, as the opposition captain, is like:



This isn't a random snapshot. Here is the thing. Davis Cup is the one event where it's OK for the captain to coach the player, and it's the only time I'm cool with that, because it happens for Fed Cup, too. But the really fun thing about it is that the captain isn't really coaching per se. He (or she, Conchita) is a cheerleader. When you're on the road, you're that friendly face that isn't painted yellow and green for your player. You're the energy! You're



Did you know that Jim Courier once just started reading a book during changeovers during a match he was playing? Doesn't that seem like something someone would do if they weren't really into the match? Speaking of not being into a match, here's Courier and Isner during a changeover on day one of the tie:


I deliberately muted the volume because really you don't need it.
I'm not really saying Courier is a poor coach. It might just be that he's not a team coach guy. He probably could drop some serious knowledge on a player one-on-one. Kind of like a Lindsay Davenport. And maybe the only reason this yoga-styled coaching stands out is because of who he was coaching against: Lleyton "C'mon Rock!" Hewitt, who probably pumps himself up just to go to sleep at night. Here he is coaching young Thompson, who has just placed match favorite Sock onto the ropes:





Here is Courier after Sock pulls to 5-5 in the third set against Thompson:


He looks like someone has issued a dire threat against his family pet! What is up with this reaction?!! Here is Hewitt coaching Kyrgios.


After Kyrios won the first set on a drop shot winner, and in the presence of Hewitt, he did this:



He's ... smiling. This guy just gave an interview last fall saying he'd rather be playing basketball and Pokemon Go.
And we got a coach with this going on:



I gotta say, he sets the phrase "hands-off" into a whole new stratosphere in terms of definition.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Federer v. Nadal ... and Nicky Kyrgios

So I was watching the Roger Federer/Rafa Nadal Miami Open final and was struck by two details:

1. Damned if Federer's new backhand doesn't look just like Ivan Ljubicic's old one.
2. Federer is the best sports story of 2017 so far.

Yeah, I know the NCAA final was just played. Nothing really new with Cheatin' North Carolina walking away with all the glory again. OK, I'd throw the UConn women's basketball team upset in there as a contender, but here's what the Federer story has right now that makes it unlike no other -- Nadal.

via GIPHY

We're talking about two legends of the game who came up together and were both overtaken at the same time and are now meeting again in big-money finals, despite their lower seeding. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the ones struggling with injury and the veterans are doing the heavy lifting, despite Roger's poor back.
Their matchups now don't seem to carry the same tension, because Federer is just thumping Nadal right now. With his new backhand, he's taken away the linchpin of Nadal's strategy against him, and although Nadal presented a much tougher challenge than he did in the Australian Open final, it wasn't enough. Well, Federer's changed a component of his game. Perhaps it's time Nadal did the same thing. What is that thing he needs to do? He's gotta stop playing from the first row of the spectator seats. Yes, he's fast and can do ridiculous things on defense, but now that he can't depend on Fed's backhand to attack, he needs to focus on taking time away from Federer by playing closer to the baseline. With the clay season coming up, yeah, he'll be fine so far back, but if he's really going to push to stay with Federer, he's going to need to lean in. Like, a lot.
Having said all of that, it's time to also give it up for Nick Kyrgios. He is just going to be the John McEnroe of our time. It's going to be hard to watch his antics sometimes and he's going to have to pay some fines, maybe even get suspended again. Kyrgios likes to say he'd rather be playing basketball, but one of two things his semifinal against Federer showed us is that's not altogether true. He cared about winning that particular match. And I get the vitriol against him, but the crowd, if nothing else, should have been able to appreciate the tennis they saw -- it might have been the best men's match of the year. Yes, it's April.

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 bad knee. 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.