Sunday, January 15, 2017

What's Up Down Under with the Gentlemen?

Sometimes, you see something happening for a long time. Like, you see it, but you don't see it. I'm referring, of course, to the evolution of the men's tennis landscape. It has changed. Did you know that? Let's take a look at the men's draw:

Some things worth noting:
1. Roger Federer is ranked 17th in the world. Right, right. I know he's been out with injury and while he's been gone, other men have climbed the ladder, the one he used to occupy alone (with occasional company by Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic). But there is a 17 next to Federer's name at this tournament. Like, what. What does this mean, in relatable terms? It means that Federer's quarter is not really his. It's Kei Nishikori's. It means that Federer's third round opponent is Tomas Berdych, not some tomato can who's wandered in off the street. It means that if Federer wants to get into the semis here, he has to possibly beat Berdych, Niskikori and the world No. 1, Andy Murray. So. The landscape is changing.
2. Have you ever seen "The Dark Knight?" You know that part where the Joker is talking about how he and Batman are destined to lock horns forever?

Damn, that is a good movie.
Anyway, after watching Murray and Djokovic face off in that Brisbane final, I think that they are destined (this season, anyway) to rumble for a lot of titles. Murray lost their most recent match, but not other recent matches. I used to get the sense that Murray didn't really believe he could beat Djokovic before, and now he absolutely believes it. Djokovic acknowledged how important it was for him to win that match, because if anyone is wanting to blink here, it would be Djokovic. This is like watching Federer/Nadal all over again -- one proven dominant player, one dogged aggressive challenger who says really nice things once the match is over, but is not nearly as deferential on the court. I don't know how everything before the final will pan out, but I do believe Murray and Djokovic will be the last ones standing. And there are plenty of obstacles for both men, but it's safe to say they're watching each other closely.

3. There are a couple other players that could bring some ruckus to this party. One of them is Milos Raonic. I still cannot believe he has shed himself of Carlos Moya after the best season of his career. (And it's not like Moya hasn't found himself some other work.) Raonic is now working with Richard Krajicek, who could probably help young Milos take it another step this year at Wimbledon. Raonic has a pretty tender draw. Sort of. There's Nadal, who is an unknown quantity at this point. Gael Monfils? Really, who knows with that guy? Alexander Zverev has promise, too. But this looks like Raonic's table to run. I'd really be interested to see him face off with Djokovic.

4. The other ruckus person is Nick Kyrgios. I have a crazy theory about Little Nicky. Now his season didn't end in the best way last year, and he's not exactly what you would call a fan favorite. If I were going to characterize his status in the eyes of tennis fans, I would say he is basically the opposite of fan favorite. But this is why I think he could pull something off here. It seems to me that he is fueled by haters. There are no more passionate haters of Nick Kyrgios than Australian tennis fans. They think he's a rude punk -- he's no Pat Rafter, and he shows no signs of mellowing into what Lleyton Hewitt has become. And Australians are almost as delusional and desperate as Americans these days for their next big hope. Bernard Tomic ... er, no. Sam Stosur? Hm. Sam Groth? Thumbs way down. Kyrgios is the next big hope and they hate him. So how to really get under haters' skin? Win the home slam and make sure they never forget you. Kyrgios can beat anyone in his quarter and maybe the top half. The operative word is "can." But will he? Is he interested enough? These are things we don't know.

First-round matches to watch:
1. Ryan Harrison v. Nicholas Mahut: Mahut versus a big-serving American? What could go wrong?
2. Mikhail Youzhny v. Marcos Baghdatis: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the 2008 Australian Open!
3. Tommy Haas v. Benoit Paire: TOMMY M&@^(*@(F(#***# HAAS.
4. Dmitry Tursunov v. Radek Stepanek: Hello everyone! Welcome to the 2006 Australian Open!
5. Novak Djokovic v. Fernando Verdasco: Well. This is a nice, easy match to start.

What's Up Down Under with the Ladies?

The 2017 pro tennis season is underway and fraught with dramatic story lines, in both the men's and women's games. Can Angelique Kerber defend her title and her status as the world No. 1? What about Serena Williams? What about the upstarts? And what value can we place on warm-up tournaments?
Let's get right into it.

A few things worth noting:
1. If Serena Williams is going to win the Australian Open, it might have to be one of the most legendary performances she has ever orchestrated at a major. And she just started her season with a loss to Madison Brengle. This Madison Brengle.

So. Serena's first round opponent is definitely Belinda Bencic, who has already beaten Serena before and has a really good game. She struggled with back injuries last year, and if she's feeling better, well, yeah. I don't know. But let's say Serena gets out of the first round. She's likely to face the tricky Lucie Safarova, and up-and-comer Timea Babos. Looming in just her quarter: young gun Naomi Osaka, Dominika Cibulkova (who's always down to ruin someone's run at a major), Caroline Wozniacki and, well, Ekaterina Makarova, who has beaten Serena at the Australian Open before. Now, to be fair, Serena has a dominant head-to-head with Makarova, but, again, Madison Brengle. Should Serena navigate her way through that quarter, I think she's likely to face Agz Radwanska. But there's also Karolina Pliskova up there, and Sam Stosur. Obviously, in the final, she'd be seeded to face Kerber, but it could be Svetlana Kuznetsova, or Elina Svitolina, or Venus Williams or Simona Halep or even Garbine Muguruza, if she's finally recovered from the biggest win of her career, the 2016 French Open. Actually, if she could get out of the first week, you could say Serena's chances are pretty good in the second. But Madison Brengle. I just don't know.

2. A lot of people are really big lately on Johanna Konta, even going as far as saying she could win this tournament. Well, her draw's not real friendly, either. She gets Kirsten Flipkens in the first round. Now, if you are trying to ease into a tournament, work your way into it, getting better incrementally as you play, Flipkens is not really someone you want to see in the first round, as Venus Williams can attest from their match in Rio. Konta's second-round match would likely be against Osaka, who has a ton of firepower. Even if you think Konta could win that, she's in Serena's quarter. She has the same problems! But someone has to navigate them. Maybe it will be Konta. I don't know if I'm buying her yet, though.

3. Ms. Kerber. Sometimes, I watch her play and ask myself, "Does someone actually practice hitting like that?" Sigh. You know what they say, though -- there's more than one way to skin a tennis ball. Wait -- that's not right. Anyway. So Kerber is the obvious pick to advance to the semis here. There are dangerous opponents, but no one that should give her issues before the quarters. (Unless you count Genie Bouchard. I do not. Yes, I know she just beat Cibulkova.) It really does depend on where Muguruza's head is these days. If it's on right, then I'd choose her to win the whole tournament. But Kerber's head appears to be on just fine. She lost her first match in the warm-up event in Sydney, but her thoughts about the result (a straight-set loss to Daria Kasatkina, who is in Kerber's quarter in Australia, by the way), showed some pretty good perspective.

That's light-hearted and cold-blooded kind of all at the same time.

4. There is a lot of talent in the bottom quarter of the top half of the draw. I was buying Halep stock about a year-and-a-half ago. I'm selling now. She's No. 4 in the world, which is good. It's very good. Here's my question about Halep: Would she be top 4 if you couldn't get on-court coaching in WTA events? I'm not going to go on and on again about how much I hate on-court coaching again, but Halep does a lot better when Darren Cahill is talking her through a match. But what about Grand Slam events? Last year, she failed to get past the quarters in any major event, losing in the first round in Australia. But she won three tournaments, including Madrid. So it's a thought -- a thought that if you use a crutch long enough, it becomes hard to remember how to stand on your own feet. Like I say, a thought.
I have thoughts about Venus Williams, too, and they're a bit more upbeat. It looked like Venus really began to build points and consistency last year. Some of her losses last year were spectacular -- not in a "wow, that was a trainwreck" sense, but more in a match quality sense. She started her career as a wrecking ball, hitting through everything and then she seemed to falter when people began to handle it. But in her fourth-round loss to Pliskova, she showed some real balance in her power and strategical skills. Just enough balance that she deserves mention here. She doesn't tend to do well here, but I'd love to see what happens if she and Halep play in the fourth round. And then there's the barber Svetlana Kuznetsova. Her kind-of comeback (she's always sort of been around) has been great to watch. She's a great player and pretty entertaining in case you hadn't heard.

OK. So some first-round matches to watch:
1. Laura Siegemund v. Jelena Jankovic: Just because it's Jankovic. It's the same reason you watch any Alize Cornet match -- for the drama.
2. Kristina Mladenovic v. Ana Konjuh: Konjuh is the one who crashed onto the scene last year at the U.S. Open. Mladenovic has been playing great doubles and not so bad at singles, pushing Serena hard at the French Open last year. Should be good tennis.
3. Sam Stosur v. Heather Watson: Who knows which Sam Stosur will show up? Who knows which Heather Watson will show up?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

This Week with TWA: Retirement and rumination

We'll keep this last entry of the year short. I mean, there's not much to see anyway, and 2016 has in general been the type of year you want to drop-kick into oblivion. So have a great New Year, and ... what? Oh, I just checked my Twitter! We got some things to discuss!

Petra Kvitova: Apparently, 2016 decided to truly unload in the month of December. With it came reports that Kvitova was attacked by a thief who got into her apartment, and her left hand had been cut as she tried to defend herself. That is the terrible news. The very good news is that she's had a successful first surgery on the hand and she's recovering nicely. For once, tennis is not the most important thing here. What Kvitova went through must have been emotionally traumatized and all we can really do is hope she recovers both physically and mentally from this. And also that the bastard who did this to her is apprehended eventually.

Ana Ivanovic retires: Before we get to this, let's give a shout-out to one trend perfected in 2016: the coy social media announcement. Lots of pro players took to it this year, for varying reasons. Most of them used Twitter and Facebook to announce coaching changes (Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic, who used it a lot for this), Maria Sharapova (to preview a press conference about a failed drug test and suspension, but NBD you guys! See you next year!!) Bethanie Mattek-Sands (for a Facebook Live chat about nothing at all), Victoria Azarenka (pregnancy announcement) and now this.
Ana Ivanovic unfortunately might go down as one of the game's underachievers. She never really seemed to recover from the biggest win of her career -- the French Open in 2008. If it wasn't injury, it was unexpectedly dropping early-round matches in majors. But her talent, especially where her forehand was concerned, cannot be denied. She came into the game as one prong of the Serbian attack on tennis (with Jelena Jankovic and some dude named Novak Djokovic) and can boast wins over many top-tier players. It might appear to be an unfinished career of sorts, but best of luck to Ivanovic. Please don't join the Tennis Channel as a commentator.

Serena Williams is engaged: Look, I'd never heard of this Alexis Ohanian before yesterday, either, but this is almost certainly better than Drake. No offense against Drake, but ... he needs to find himself. Seriously, though, back to Serena, who also announced her engagement on her fiance's baby, Reddit. Can anyone doubt that any children produced by this pairing might create the world's first superhero nerds? Crushing calculus and crime in one fell swoop! Good luck, Serena!

Fast Four: I guess I was hoping I could end this year without a rant directed at the tennis powers-that-be who are trying to destroy tennis. But then I read this story about the Hopman Cup trying out this Fast 4 match format. This is barely even tennis. You have to win four points to win a game. No-ad scoring. Four games to win a set. Play a tiebreaker at 3-all. This is just an exhibition, so this isn't the end of the world. But they're only doing it in doubles, and that's crap. Once again, everyone wants to get doubles off the court. There's going to be an exhibition in Sydney with the same format, and it just figures that there's one participant talking about how great it is:

Yeah. The tennis purist.
You know, if you're going to give me half a match, I'm gonna want half my money back.
*wallet drop*

Thursday, December 22, 2016

LEAGUE WATCH: The Law of Average

When last we left ... well, me during "League Watch," I was hoping to salvage an erratic season by winning the remainder of my matches and dragging my record for the year to at least .500. At the time, I was off of the mid-mark by a match, with four matches left in the season. I figured it would help if I could play all of those matches, because clearly I needed all the help I could get.
Shortly after my post, it became impossible to play them all because, due to work obligations, I had to ditch a match I had been scheduled to play. So that sucked a little bit. Still, though, there were three matches remaining, and if I could win two of them, I still had a shot. But if I could finish the season knowing I at least played well at some point, then it wouldn't be a total wash. Just a partial wash. 
So. Onward to the next match on the schedule, against the second-placed team in the league. (There are three. We are the third-place team.) So the way this particular league works, there are three doubles matches and in lieu of a third set, a third-set tiebreaker is played to determine the winner if needed. Our team had lost each match played this season 1-2, and all the deciding matches were done in a tiebreaker. It's fair to say, then, that we've had some unlucky bounces as it were. It's been that kind of season for me, too. I've felt so close to regaining form, and mostly confidence, only to stumble at the end. 
Back to the match. For once, I knew both of my opponents. One of them was a decent 4.0 and looks exactly like Tracy Austin. That has nothing to do with anything, but seriously. Just like her. I also knew that she had a tendency to double fault under pressure. The other woman is this short lady with excellent form and is probably the most consistent 3.5 I have ever played. I felt confident head-to-head against her, though, and her partner. 
Here's the thing. Doubles doesn't really work like that. And even if it did, "feeling" a way is different from "performing" in a way. My partner and I actually were down in the first set 1-4 and pushed it back to 4-all before giving up the set. That really frustrated the hell out of me, which doesn't happen. I usually have a short memory on the court, which is super helpful if you're playing poorly. Not that night, though. I think all the close calls I'd been having finally caught up and I started the second set colder than a polar bear in Alaska eating an ice-cream cone. And that locked me up. My poor partner. She must have been swearing me off by then. She'd probably already rehearsed the speech she was going to give my captain about how she couldn't ever play with me again "because she ... was allergic to Prince racquets! Yeah, it's not that she sucks!" 
Then we got down 5-2, and I started connecting with shots again. I stopped hitting my returns into the net and started hitting decent groundstrokes and strategic lobs. Why? How? No idea. None at all. And then we were receiving at 6-5 with Tracy Austin serving and giving us all the double faults we could want in a game and somehow we lost the game. And then we lost the tiebreaker after being ahead in that as well. 
I was pretty frustrated with myself. We had all the ingredients -- a good partner, two opponents who were melting down, and if it were a boxing match, we would have had them on the ropes. All we needed was one more thing -- me. I didn't need to do anything special. I just needed to make the shots I was supposed to make and I did it about 50 percent of the time.
Yes, we have a theme here.  
The next match was on our "home" courts and I had played with my partner before. But she greeted me tonight with interesting news: She hadn't played in three weeks, and she left her racquets at home. Nope. Don't know how you can do that. But it was a good thing our home court has a pro shop. 
Our opponents, were, ... So have you ever warmed up with someone to start a match, and they're tagging the ball, hitting these great strokes and you have to start thinking strategy sooner than you'd like because you have to figure out how you're even going to get the ball back? And then when the match starts, they play nothing like they warmed up? Yeah, that. But still they were good enough to keep the ball in play. 
But the first set went easier than we thought and we won it pretty easily. But then the second set was not as kind. We started slowly, which was a bad thing, because my partner began struggling with an injury and it was obvious to our opponents, unfortunately. It became clear to me that winning the match was going to be a challenge given the situation, and maybe that's why I felt great playing for once all season. I was serving well and I was relaxed but focused. This. This was the feeling I'd been hoping to capture all season. Yeah, it showed up in a match I wasn't going to win, but YAS! 
And yas, we lost. BUT. Our team, once again, pushed to all three courts going to a tiebreak, finally won two of them! We won a match! Could we win another? No, because we couldn't field enough players for our last match.

Oh, well.
So,  to summarize, I ended the season with the worst record I think I've ever had, and I ended it playing one of the best matches I had played. What does that mean? Do I need to convince myself before every match that I'm going to lose in order to play the way I know I can? That sounds dumb and I hope it's not the answer because I know I don't have the mental fortitude to play those types of head games with myself. So, in the offseason, I guess I'll hit the courts to try and figure it out. 
Which, it should never be forgotten, is the fun part.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Official 2016 TWA Yearbook

I know what you're thinking. You read that post title and think: "Why on earth would I want to remember anything about 2016?"
I'm with you, sister. (Or brother.) Still, 2016 actually was pretty good to the sport of tennis and to some of its stars. Let's take a look back at the best and worst of the year that we shall speak not of after this post.

Head of the Class: Inspired by Serena Williams' recent essay, I am not going to pick a male or female head of the class. But we have male and female co-winners for this category because both of these athletes achieved Sisyphean feats. I'm speaking, of course, about Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray. Kerber started out the year by winning the Australian Open. She won the Australian Open by beating Serena Williams. Despite a slight nosedive in results after that, she rebounded nicely to make the Wimbledon final and then win the U.S. Open. The other interesting thing she did this year was to start the season ranked No. 10 and end it ranked No. 1. Not bad, not bad.
Murray has spent the last several years as the runt of the Big 4 litter. "Is he at the top of game?" "Where at the top of the game?" "Is he ever going to be the Big 3?" "Is he going to get soft after having a kid?" These sorts of questions. Some people don't really dig questions about the value of their successes and they tank under pressure. Andy Murray won Wimbledon, a gold medal at the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the year-end championships. After losing to Novak Djokovic in Australia and France, he came back to exorcise that demon in London last month and became the world No. 1 in the process. Not really how runts act, right?

Most Inspiring Player: Juan Martin del Potro. His is the ultimate rise, fall, and rise again story they make sports movies about. If they made a movie about del Potro's career, non-tennis fans would roll their eyes and say, "Come on, now. Really?" Yes, really. del Potro really shook the tennis world in 2011 when he beat Roger Federer in the final to win the U.S. Open and had been sidelined with injuries ever since. He really did emerge again at the Olympics, beating Novak Djokovic in the first round, and Rafael Nadal to advance to the gold-medal round. Then he just won the Davis Cup for Argentina by winning an epic match, coming back from a 2-set deficit against Marin Cilic. And that was just 2016. So really the only question left is: "Who's gonna play del Potro?"

Most Popular: Maria Sharapova. Very popular these days. She's been all over my Twitter feed lately because SHE'S BACK! WOO!! Despite a drug ban that sidelined her for a year, everyone is so excited for her return. I am not that excited because I think she caught a break for gaming the system, but, hey. That's not a very popular opinion. 

Most Likely to Succeed: I am still putting my paper on Garbine Muguruza, who won the French Open this year, and then sort of lost her way. Like, she left the map. Should she find her way back, though, I think she's a more likely candidate than Karolina Pliskova because she can mix up her game a little better. In June, I might have added Lucas Pouille to this list, but talk about leaving the map. It's harder to make a dent in the men's game with inconsistency, a lesson young Milos Raonic has learned. He managed to clean up his game this season and almost snagged Wimbledon. Even though he lost, he showed that he is capable of kicking up much chaos. The only question I'd have is about his coaching situation. He retains John McEnroe, kicks him to the curb. He retains Carlos Moya, kicks him to the curb. After his best season ever. OK ...

Most Likely to Succeed ... at Something Other than Tennis: We're lookin' at you, Little Nicky Kyrgios. After receiving some behavioral warnings throughout 2016, the ATP placed Krygios on the sideline, but not before giving an interview declaring that he's prefer basketball. Kyrgios is a special talent, no doubt, but it's clear he's not happy on a tennis court. It's pretty unlikely he took the ATP's suggestion of therapy, so that begs the question: How long would you do a job that made you miserable?

Fifth-Year Seniors: One of the biggest questions of 2016 will undoubtedly be "What about Roger and Rafa?" Both are a bit long in the letterman jacket if you understand my meaning, and both are struggling with injuries. Maybe a better question is: "Will the Big 4 involve both of these men in 2017?" I think the answer is no. Top 10 maybe. And maybe just Federer. He's always had the most economical style and even though he's older than Nadal, he's physically the fresher of the two. Now, Nadal's own run at the Olympics shows that he can still be a serious threat. Plus, I feel that his loss of dominance against Murray and especially Djokovic, has messed with his confidence. 

That Student Who Skates Through the School Year, But Aces the Final Exam: Dominika Cibulkova. Yes, I made a category just for her, but come on -- you all know/knew that student. It's almost not fair, is it. Some people put in the hard yards, gain a reputation, come to expect certain things of themselves. And then they play Cibulkova in the year-end championships and she beats you.
Seriously, I hope Cibulkova can win a major next year. It's going to be a lot harder now, though. I mean, she's short, but everyone sees her now.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Therapy with TWA: Gender equality, Serena Williams, equal pay and the WTA

This week, I read Serena Williams' open letter to women, published in The Guardian. It resonates particularly now because of Hillary Clinton's loss in the U.S. presidential election, I think, although she doesn't address the race. In it, she does encourage women to "dream big" and wonders why she is considered one of the greatest "female" athletes of all time, while Roger Federer, say, isn't identified by gender. She also raises the fact that women are paid less for doing the same work that men do -- even her.
Her letter is an important one, and she does raise a strong point: Why can't we throw gender out of the window when discussing achievement? It's a good question, and the answer is the same when you replace the word "gender" with "race." It's because we're not there yet. We are not equal, and there is actually importance now, still, in using those distinguishing identification factors. What Serena Williams has done in her career is still so unusual, so deep into uncharted territory that it needs to be noted that her accomplishments were done by a woman. Not as a way to minimize her work, but more as a way to inspire. I think one day, Williams' accomplishments will stand alone with no gender asterisks necessary. Right now, in a world where a woman who was far more qualified to lead lost an election to a man who, it could be argued, was the least qualified to lead, we need to remember who Williams is, because the same girls who saw the way the election went down are bearing witness to the unprecedented career of Serena Williams. So, for now, I'm OK with her accomplishments being linked to her gender. For now.

This week, I also took the time to do something I had been meaning to do for some time. I watched the annual State of the Tour "fireside chat" (no fireside present) with Steve Simon and some of the other leaders of the WTA to discuss their plans for the year. A lot of it is exciting stuff -- expanding its reach throughout Asia and Europe, raising its digital game, announcing an agreement to stream tour matches starting in 2017 (although this part is apparently on hold) and a dramatic rebranding of the WTA, along with a commitment to quality in the tour's content. Simon also spoke in vague terms of easing the tournament schedule. All of this sounds great, and really should have been happening some years ago.
The room was full of journalists, and they asked a lot of questions. Some of them were kind of ridiculous, such as the idea that focusing on going digital would leave print readers behind. It was sort of like listening to someone ask, "Well, Steve, I've been a caveman all my life. I don't really want to use electricity ..." But when pressed about the schedule situation, Simon kept his language vague and hinted that there were many moving parts involved in shortening the calendar.
That was going to be the closest anyone got to pushing Simon on comments he's made previously regarding his ideas on keeping players healthy, including this idea of going to no-ad scoring in matches, to make them go faster.
Steve Simon, meet Serena Williams. Serena, Simon. Because what Simon has suggested is not equality at all. It is the very acceptance of inferiority. Well, that is, until I hear the ATP Tour CEO start talking about men shortening matches. Or, when men start getting on-court coaching. I've discussed my disgust with both of these ideas already. But with this open letter she's written, I wonder if Serena's taken it to Simon. I wonder if, when considering gender inequality, if she weighs this on-court coaching idea that's available to women only for reasons that have never been clarified. Would she really play a no-ad match on one court in the Miami Open while Rafael Nadal is playing a standard three-setter one court over?
Serena's speaking to a larger point, I know, when it comes to gender. And I know that women in the workplace literally go pound-for-pound in duties and workload and are paid less for it. Is that happening in women's tennis? No. When you bring no-ad scoring and coaching rules that are different for men and women, that is the essence of inequality. It's giving in to the idea that no, we're not the same. Is that what Steve Simon means to imply? Is Serena Williams OK with that?
Serena, meet Simon. Simon, Serena.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This week with TWA: Some falls and a rise

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (at least here in the U.S.), it's a great time to express gratefulness -- and a bit of shock -- about how well men's tennis has stood up despite the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Not to say they are not missed. But the ATP Tour finals really showed me something. Not just that Milos Raonic is likely the real deal, despite the occasional presence of that Koozie. Even without Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, there's still plenty of promise in the likes of Dominic Thiem and other young guns who are cutting their teeth against the best in the world. 
But they're not quite ready yet. So let's go back to Murray and Djokovic. When the tour finals began, I didn't expect much out of Djokovic. Given his recent results and struggles with injury, you just got the sense that he was here because this tournament was a big deal, not because he was ready to win it. Then he showed up and handled Raonic and demolished the rest of the round-robin field. (Which, sorry, wasn't that hard. I mean, look at Murray's draw!) It was starting to look like the old routine, where Djokovic assumes the role of buzzsaw. And even though Murray dominated the second half of the season, he had found himself lacking when it came that one opponent -- the same guy he had to play for the year-end world No. 1 title.
Not this time. Murray handled business against Djokovic and that's great for tennis. Because now, anything can happen when they face off. And when you bring back the experience of Federer and Nadal, it will bring back some of the weight and consistency missing from the Top 4 this year. 

One thing I love about the ATP finals is how much love doubles has always gotten. This might be the first year, incidentally, that the winners of the doubles tournament are completely unheard of to me. If you want to talk about changing tides, then I guess it's time to concede that the likes of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor are no more. They were nowhere near this tournament. The Bryan Brothers were, though. It could be me, though, but in their semifinal match against Henri Kontinen and John Peers, it looked like doubles tennis is starting to take the same turn that singles has taken, especially in the men's game. I'm talking about the rise of the power game. Maybe I missed it, but even men's doubles used to involve some guile and strategy and maybe that's what the Bryans came to do, but more often, the points ended up with a massive overhead or a crushing down-the-line return off of a meh serve. 
Of course, if I'm not completely delusional, that would be terrible for doubles. I guess there's always mixed?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Therapy with TWA: The rage edition, featuring the United States and he We Speak Not of in This House.

I don't have time for this, OK?
I decided this year, of all years, to do NaNoWriMo again because of this project I'm working on. I want to see if it's got legs, if I can develop it. I have a full-time job. Kids. Husband. I got a tennis blog. I have to play tennis. I have things to do.
But I find I can't write anything else right now, and I know why. It's because I have to Get This Off My Chest.
Last Tuesday, the U.S. held its presidential election. You probably haven't heard about it. It's a very small affair. Anyway, this guy won. Usually, it's the guys who win, so that's expected. But this guy. This guy ran a campaign on hate and fear -- and he won. This guy. This guy thinks that women can have abortions the day before their due dates. I've had babies. They will basically walk out at that point. Crawl. Roll. Whatever. This guy. This guy wants Muslims to sign up to a national registry. You know who else wanted an entire religious group to register? Hitler. This guy. This guy is facing trial for starting a fake school. This guy thinks it's OK to get out of paying taxes. (Can I not pay taxes?) He's an advocate of grabbing a woman by her genitalia. This guy. This guy's wife says he was peer-pressured into saying things about grabbing women by their genitalia by a dude who got fired from his job for standing next to This Guy. This guy. THIS GUY.
This guy beat a woman with an email scandal. This woman. Her name is Hillary Clinton. (Her name can be uttered here. I don't know if she plays tennis, but she is in the TWA Hall of Fame. She lost and came out in the fiercest pantsuit I've ever seen.) This woman has seen more humiliation than someone at her status might ever have witnessed, and a good amount of it at the consequence of her husband's actions, who was president. This woman was the first First Lady in recent memory to take on a major initiative. She got shot down, but she tried. This woman. This woman was a senator. I met this woman the first time she mounted a presidential run. She went to the bathroom and when she came out, there were a bunch of fangirls waiting for her outside, and she took pictures with all of us. This woman was secretary of state when America finally nabbed Osama bin Laden. This woman got blamed for an international incident. It was all this woman's fault. This woman. You want to talk about qualified? This woman was the most qualified person to run for the office of president. Experience. When you apply for a job, they want to know: Are you experienced? Do you know what it takes to do this job? That's true if you apply to Taco Bell. If she applied for Taco Bell, they would tell her she could run everything at Taco Bell.
But this woman? She lost to the cashier at Taco Bell. The racist one who spits in your Taco Supreme.
This is all very distressing, I know. Or maybe it's not. It depends on your perspective. For me? Very distressing.
I've been trying to find solace on the tennis court. I played last week after the election and it was OK. It was 1.5 hours I didn't think about the effect on This Guy on my life. It was two days removed from the day I went from feeling like a citizen to feeling like a target. Have you ever walked down a street, wondering if the pedestrians you passed didn't really want you there, could legitimately swing on you? No? Oh, how nice for you.
I follow a lot of tennis writers and publications. One of them has been particularly jarring lately. Her name is Courtney Nguyen. I want her job. She covers the WTA and she kicks ass at it. I wanted to believe in tennis as my refuge from This Guy, but then Courtney began tweeting, both before and after the election:

I was with Ben. It's gonna be fine, Court! But then it wasn't.

I don't want Courtney Nguyen's job. She gets to interview U.S. citizens who thought it was OK to elect this guy as president because of their BOTTOM LINE! What. Like, honestly, what. If you're reading this, please follow Courtney's work on social media. Follow her and tell her you have her back. You'd better not do anything other than that. If you see something, say something. On the courts and off. If you see something, SAY SOMETHING. Also Grace Min and Jamie Hampton and all the tennis players who are bold enough to say something because they see something.
If I ever find out about a tennis player who voted for This Guy, I would just ask why. Because Your Guy? Your guy thinks I live in the inner city and that my life is terrible because I'm dodging bullets on the way home. Here's how my kids are growing up:

All right, well those two always make me feel better. 
It's not my intention to bitch about this for four years. I'd rather do something to ensure this guy doesn't hurt too many people and that this never happens again. A lot of people right now are pleading for some Understanding. I think that's a good point. We all need to understand the consequences of our action -- and our inaction.