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


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:

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

Friday, February 09, 2018

There's Bad Timing and Then There's Davis and Fed Cups

Bad timing is when you meet the perfect guy, but he just got married. It's someone bringing you a free meal, but you just ate. It's when you accept a job offer -- they day before you get an offer from the job you really wanted. Bad timing is when you miss a phone call from someone you really wanted to touch base with before they left for Japan for a month. That's bad timing.
I don't know what to call it when you schedule the first round of Davis Cup on Super Bowl weekend. Like, what do you call it? Nick Kyrgios has another breakdown and Australia is upset in the first round. If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone watch it on TV during the Super Bowl?!? U.S. team is back, winning the first round. Sure would be nice to have some good publicity after that Tennys S -- so wait, this Eagles quarterback,  he was a backup?!
I don't know what you call it when you schedule the first round of Fed Cup on opening weekend of THE WINTER OLYMPICS. What is that exactly? Oh, nothing. It's Serena Williams in all likelihood returning to the court for the first time in more than a ... huh? Curling? *#*(@* yeah, I'm watching some curling! Tara Lipinsky and Johnny Weir doing commentary on figure skating? Oh, yeah, son! Because this is only on ONCE EVERY FOUR YEARS. And Fed Cup is ... like, whenever during the year. Many times in the year. Yeah. The Czech Republic team is looking deep as ever, with Petra Kvitova and Karolina Plisk-- ... ohmygosh Lindsay Vonn. What a story. Wait, there's another Jamaican bobsled team. I am all in for that!
What was I saying? I can't remember. Yoooooooo, that Tongan guy is back and There's. More. Oil.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

AO 2018 Attitudimeter: No One's Playing Down Unduh Anymoor!

There were a lot of questions going into the Australian Open. What will the women do without Serena? Will someone finally challenge Roger and Rafa? How much sleep do I really need to function daily?
It turns out that, as with every other Australian Open, you are left with even more questions: Kyle Edmund? We're still insisting on playing this tournament in conditions that eggs cannot survive? Why does it seem as though all the majority of young white American tennis players seem to like a little MAGA in their coffee?
Welp, it's time to ramp up the ol' Attitudimeter! First reading of 2018!

Who's Up

Simona Halep: Now, I never thought there would come a day when I would be sitting up in my bed at 4 a.m. (maybe it was 5?) staring wide-eyed at my laptop screen watching a women's final between Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep and kinda be sorta wouldn't-mind-too-bad-if-she-won rooting for ... Halep? Any regular readers know that I beat on Halep regularly over the on-court coaching crutch. I thought it might make her unable to stand on her own when she needed to. And look, I will build, maintain regularly and die on the hill that this policy is sexist AF and a mental crutch for a game that is 99.8794532 percent mental. But Halep showed in this tournament that she can figure it out and even produce great tennis under pressure -- because she had to do it many times against many comers. And even though she lost in the end, it wasn't like she gave it away, or choked. She played her best down to the last ball, and it's hard to believe she's going to make it out of 2018 without a Slam. She ready, yall:

Literally just wiped the smile off her own face.
Caroline Wozniacki: Well, we saw this coming, didn't we? Wozniacki has been threatening to come get her Slam for a solid year at this point, and between the stronger serve and transitioning out of a purely defensive game to become one of the better ball strikers the tour has right now -- well, it's a lot.

Roger Federer: Or, as he's known on the tour, Gramps. Federer, you'll recall, said at the beginning of the tournament that he's 36, and therefore too old to be a Slam favorite. Right. It was hard to catch a Fed match this tournament because he was always playing in the middle of the night (East Coast time) and was also done with his matches as though his daily calendar was packed. He didn't lose any sets until the final. (Which, OK. It's suspect that they closed the roof for the men's match while the women's final was played in sweltering heat. Like all of a sudden it just got hot out there. What?!?)

Angelique Kerber: It looks like the WTA Tour in 2018 is about to be lit is all I have to say about that.

Marin Cilic: Listen, it was a big deal to pick up two sets off of Federer in his current state.

Who's Down:

Venus Williams: This 2017 finalist lost in the first round this year, meaning she's now down in the rankings by about 75 million points. (Fact check: She only dropped from fifth to eighth because no one else above did anything at the Australian in 2017. )

Venus = still OG

Rafael Nadal: The Aussie Open draw gods gave Rafa some extra love this tournament, with scarcely a real challenge until Marin Cilic, and it was a combo of his opponent and an injury that kept him from finishing. The good news is that the injury is short term, which means the next question is: Will Fed sit for the French or challenge Nadal for No. once?

The USTA: I got some problems with the way it handled this Tennys Sandren situation, but we gonna need a whole new post for that one.