Monday, August 31, 2015

U.S. Open preview: The women

Really, the only thing left here to discuss is Serena and predicting if she can pull off a true-life calendar Slam. Obviously, no one can say with any certainty. Who knows? Maybe at this very moment, she and Drake have decided to elope and get married. (Although it is probably not a good idea to marry anyone who was on "Degrassi." Hello, drama!) Or she could get injured, or she could fall at the first hurdle this year, some woman named Vitala Diatchenko. Or even Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Or she could have another end-of-year meltdown (which does always seem to happen at the U.S. Open for her ...)
So, let's take a page out Sarah Koenig's book, and consider the "most logical" conclusion. At the French Open, Serena was far from her best and won. One of her "main rivals," Maria Sharapova, is out of the tournament. Another one, Victoria Azarenka, is still ranked 20. There really isn't anyone who has posed a stiff-enough and consistent challenge to Serena. She's seen their best, and she knows she can beat it. She's had pressure all year, and she's dealt with it. So the real question is how she deals with this pressure, because no one outside of Serena can decide this. She's answered the question already. I would just say that as long as she's not called for a phantom foot fault, she should be good to go.

But on the other side of the draw, I have drawn myself into a corner. I still can't decide who advances to the semis on that side. Obviously, I don't think it matters a ton. But any thoughts?

U.S. Open preview: The fellas

How do I think the U.S. Open's men's draw will play out this year? Well, take a look:

A lot of this speaks for itself, but a few things to note:
1. Kei Nishikori over Novak Djokovic in the semis? Yeah. I think Nishikori is special. Last year, he made it to the final, and surprisingly did not bring home the title. That stumble might be enough to trigger disbelief for many others, but I think he'll be back. He's got the game to take down Federer in the final. He got Djokovic last year, right? Also, I hope Nishikori v. Monfils is a night match. Pleasepleaseplease
4. Hewitt v. Tomic. Now that should be fun. Sometimes Hewitt got on my nerves when he was a kid, but now it's really fun to watch him still scrapping away.
5. No, Nadal is in no condition to beat the top few players right now, but he is also not in the place where he's losing to Borna Coria.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pre-U.S. Open rant: Telling women what to do

My big takeway from the Serena Williams/Simona Halep Cincinnati final wasn't necessarily Williams' dominance and her continued ability to pull victory from inconsistent play. We already knew about that.
More than anything, the match made me realize just how ridiculous on-court coaching is -- on at least three levels. Let's review them now:

Level One
So Darren Cahill is the Adidas player development couch, and he was available to Halep during changeovers for on-court coaching. Cahill is also a commentator for ESPN at times, along with Brad Gilbert and Mary Jo Fernandez. Gilbert says something about how surprised he is that Serena's opponents never change where they stand to receive, which is a valid point. But he and Fernandez discuss this for about a minute. Set ends (to Serena), at which time Halep calls Cahill down for a chat. Among the advice he gives her? Vary your return position during the Williams serve.
OK, so that's not conspiracy level or anything like that. And it could be a coincidence -- that's a good piece of advice I've heard before. But it illustrates one problem with this on-court coaching. In theory, Cahill can use his years of expertise, and tap Gilbert, and maybe throw in a McEnroe. He could even have complete access to instant stats online OF THE VERY MATCH THEY'RE PLAYING. One of the things that's special about tennis is that it's like a mental puzzle that the player has to figure out. Obviously, on-court coaching takes away from this and even allows a coach to walk a player through the match using all kinds of tools. You can't call it cheating, because now it's part of the rules, but it does beg another level of questions such as

Level Two
'Why just women?' And why not the majors? Here's why. It's not really a part of tennis, and shouldn't be a part of tennis. And the fact that it's only done for women is insulting. It says, "Oh, lord, look at these poor girls out there. How can anyone expect these girls to figure any of this out by themselves?" (insert sad-face emoji)
If the answer is that it's to draw fans to tennis, that's nonsense. In sports, watching someone being coached is usually not the memorable part. Unless you're Alison Riske and your boyfriend/coach tells you to STFU. (Quick aside: That's why that dynamic almost never works.) Otherwise, not entertaining at all. So the only reason left to limit this to women players is the idea that they need it the most. Nice. Nice.

Level Three
On-court coaching illegal in your average league play. Some kid's mother yelled at me one day when I was playing against her daughter because I was using my phone during a changeover. I was calling my job to tell them I was running late (because tennis, you guys), but she said, and I quote, based on my memory from probably six to eight years ago, "You could be calling your coach."
That was laughable on some other sublevels, but the fact is that I can't get coached, or phone a friend, or get any other lifelines outside of my own head during a match in my league tennis. And rec players need help more than anyone else! Some real talk: The only things rec players know for sure is how to blow $200 on a racquet because it's Roger Federer's stick.
Look, if Maria Sharapova, a professional who has been playing her whole life, has more need of a coach on court than us hacks, we got a problem. Oh, what? The stakes are higher for her? True. The stakes are also higher for professional male players, but they don't get to flag their coaches. Heck, Boris Becker makes a gesture in Novak Djokovic's general direction, and everyone loses their damn mind. I bust out my cell phone, and my opponent's mother is ready to brain me with the backup racquet. Halep calls Cahill over, and everyone's like, "Good call. Solid advice."
Yah. Totally makes sense.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

So, Wimbledon has been a little entertaining ...

First, ESPN, thank you for derailing my "workout routine." Now I wake up in the morning and watch every tennis match I want online. If you actually have things to do, this is not as good as it sounds. Who am I kidding. This is awesome!
Before I fang some tennis players by picking them to win matches, how about (1) Serena v. Vika, (2) Agz v. Madison and (3) all the doubles anyone could possibly want!! Even though Serena has come back from a set down a lot lately, it is still just jaw-dropping to watch her as she reasserts herself mid-match. It's not a rope-a-dope, it's a tennis player completely comfortable with her tools, and who doesn't panic because she knows she's going to work it out. It's nuts -- and I've never seen anyone do this before. She goes from zero to making you feel sorry for her opponent in eight seconds. I'm just done picking against Serena was the point of all of that. And although I think Maria Sharapova might be exercising some type of mind control to get out of some of the situations she gets into, but it will not be enough on Thursday. Pray for rain, lady. If it pours through Friday, you can say you made it to the final weekend.
The men:
1. Vasek Pospisil v. Andy Murray: Much has been made of Pospisil playing 10 sets on Monday. Congratulations, buddy! You won only half of them! Man up, would you?
I think Murray's over the hometown pressure nonsense, but he is still susceptible to listing during matches. But even if the Canadian could mount a challenge, he has more miles on the legs in this tournament, and Murray's looking fairly spry out there, so he gets it in three, I think.
2. Novak Djokovic v. Marin Cilic: I don't know, man. I'm worried about Novak right now. He's got more of the same that he got from Kevin Anderson coming up from Cilic, except Cilic is better. At this point, I'll just say this has five-set potential, man.
3. Gilles Simon v. Roger Federer: I really really really really really really want Simon to win. But Federer.
4. Stan Wawrinka v. Richard Gasquet: This is gonna be Shotmaker Central tomorrow. Wawrinka, yeah, but some beautiful tennis coming our way. Too bad I won't be able to watch it -- I'll be working out.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A testosterone-infused Ladies Day

Kevin Anderson. That would be the guy I gave zero props to in advance of his match with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Right -- the same guy who is tied at two sets apiece with Djokovic. Anyone know any good crystal-ball repairmen?
Anyway, tomorrow is ladies' quarterfinal day at Wimby. Let's run 'em down:

1. Maria Sharapova v. Coco Vandeweghe: Coco's another one who got no props from me yesterday. She'd get them today if she were playing almost anyone else. Although I am intrigued by the idea of Sharapova getting outhit by someone who in her press conference makes reference to "making her feel my presence." That just scared me, and she wasn't even talking about me. I mean damn. But Sharapova in three, in case anyone still cares what I think for the purpose of making fun of what I think.

2. Serena Williams v. Victoria Azarenka: HO LEE CRAP. Azarenka's had Serena on the ropes the last couple times they played, and I'm not saying Azarenka's gonna win, because probably not, but this is gonna be so good.

3. Garbine Muguruza v. Timea Bacsinszky: I didn't have to cut-and-paste any of those names. Go me.
This is gonna be interesting. I'ma give an edge to Timea, here, though. Although both of these women have big games, I think Bacsinszky's head is in a better place right now. She really had to figure her way out of that Monica Niculescu match, and she did it. Muguruza's still young, and this will be one of those matches that teaches her about mental toughness -- and how far she still might have to go to stay consistent through a match.

4. Madison Keys v. Agz Radwanska: Considering Keys' form of late, it's gonna be hard to pick against her, but ... I will do just that now. Nothing personal -- it just seems like Radwanska's finding her groove this year finally, and it's on grass. She's crafty and Keys is young. You always want to go with smarts in a pick like this. Although Radwanska ditched Martina Navratilova as a coach, so, maybe not so smarts?

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Just another Manic Monday ... at Wimbledon

Let's just run down the Wimbledon schedule tomorrow by way of a preview:

1. Serena Williams v. Venus Williams: OK, like almost everyone else, I want Venus to win. Here are the cold hard facts that kinda refute that outcome:
     a. They are not playing dubs together. Some might consider this a sign that Serena is not in top shape, which is not hard to sell after her French form. But it makes more sense that it's Venus trying to save her energy. She's looked OK during her matches so far, but one thing she has never shaken is this idea that she has to swing for the fences no matter what. I've never seen anyone go for more crazy shots with an open court except Gael Monfils. Can she stay consistent during a match with the best player possibly ever? Even at Wimbledon? Like I said, I wish she could.
     b. Serena is basically not going to lose until she passes out on the court. Look, she really should have lost to Heather Watson. Aaaand she should have lost to that Friedlander chick at the French. Also Bacsinszky. Yet, here she is, walking into Wimbledon with allll the Grand Slam swag. Someone on Twitter shared this today and it really says why I don't see Serena getting all sentimental tomorrow:
From Wimbledon 2008 final press conference (Serena lost to Venus, 7-5, 6-4)
Q. Have you talked at all?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I saw her. I mean, we weren't involved in a big conversation. 

Q. You don't look happy at all. 
SERENA WILLIAMS: I don't? I wonder why. 

2. Ivo Karlovic v. Andy Murray: I know rants aren't very ladylike. And I know this is Wimbledon. So let's just commence with the rant. I don't think you should be allowed to play tennis if your primary (read:only) weapon/shot is your serve. Nothing against Karlovic (OK, that's not true), but damn if Jo-Jo Tsonga shouldn't be playing this match instead. I mean damn. Tsonga played great, and he loses to the serving machine. NOT FAIR
Andy in three. Also, Amelie Mauresmo's "Make Your Own Luck" shirt makes her the most bad-ass pregnant lady EVer.

3. Roberto Bautista Agut v. Roger Federer: Fun fact: Roger Federer doesn't appear to have a middle name. Any ideas out there for a good middle name for Federer? It's the only thing he's lacking. He's got looks. He's got game. He's got two sets of twins. He's got Nadal out of the tournament. Let's get Roger a middle name by the time he wins his match tomorrow, 'k?

4. Maria Sharapova v. Zarina Diyas: Haven't really had opportunity to see/hear Sharapova play yet this tournament. Don't know much about her opponent either, but she has beaten Andrea Petkovic AND Flavia Pennetta already. The Pennetta win is particularly troubling if you're a Sharapova fan. Pennetta is basically a backboard, and if you beat her, it probably means you can run down shots for diyas, er, days. On the other hand, there almost isn't anyone else who wills herself to victory the way Sharapova does. So I guess I'm gonna go with her in three.

5. Stan Wawrinka v. David Goffin: I'll eat this terrible dinner I made for myself if Goffin even wins a set.

6. Novak Djokovic v. Kev: NEXT.

7. Richard Gasquet v. Nick Kyrgios: So someone needs to educate me here. Is there a reason Kyrgios is wearing the koozie on his nondominant arm? At first, I thought he was wearing it to mock Milos Raonic, but then he wore it in doubles, too. Like, whaaa?
Boy, I have no idea how this match is going to shake out. Kyrgios is definitely a shotmaker, moreso than the aforementioned Monfils, but he is not terribly disciplined on when to go for these shots. If you have problems picking your moments to go for shots, Gasquet is not the guy you really want to mix with. Their last encounter went five with Kyrgios coming back from behind. My thought, though, is that Gasquet actually would have been the one to come away from that match having learned something. We'll see.

8. Caroline Wozniacki v. Garbine Mugaruza: Wozniacki can beat almost anybody, but she can also lose to anybody because she has no other real weapons other than her fitness. It's crazy, but it's true. I'm actually thinking an upset here -- Muguruza's young, a big hitter, and seems real comfortable so far on the grass. Mugu in three.

9. Tomas Berdych v. Gilles Simon: I hope Simon wins because I love watching that guy play. He looks like a werewolf with that facial hair, but whatever. I would just say the closer to the evening they play, the better for Simon. Kidding. Kinda. I really think he's going to win, but not because he's really a werewolf, but because his retrieval skills will probably irritate the crap out of Berdych. It's easy to hit through that in set one. Set two? Set four??

10. Coco Vandeweghe v. Lucie Safarova: I'm not buying Vandeweghe. She hasn't really had a challenge yet. Sam Stosur played terribly, so that doesn't count. Safarova, on the other hand, is pretty much killin' it right now unless she's playing Serena Williams. She'll keep that up here, too.

11. Agz Radwanska v. Jelena Jankovic: I can't say at all where this one is going, but I'll be setting the alarm clock for this sucker. This is just gonna be pure tennis, people. No big serving, no crushing forehands. Just four and three-quarter hours of straight shotmaking, everybody

12. Marin Cilic v. Denis Kudla: As long as Cilic plays the way he finished against Isner, not seeing any real problems for him here.

13. Vasek Pospisil v. Victor Troicki: Who wins the battle of the 'I-can't say-that-name-can-you? players'? I have to give the edge to the Serb (that's Troicki). I mean, James Ward isn't bad (and I'm only saying that because it's Wimbledon and he's British), but why did Pospisil have such a hard time with him? So maybe a more seasoned player will expose that wishy-washiness. Troicki in four.

14. Victoria Azarenka v. Belinda Bencic: I'ma go with Azarenka here. Since returning from injury, her game has been on the slow track to the upswing. Sure, she's seeded 23, but how many women ranked above her can at least approach controlling her own destiny against Serena like she can? Like, two or three, that's how many. Vika in two.

15. Olga Govortsova v. Madison Keys: Just the slightest of edges to Govortsova. Beating Alize "Rope A Dope" Cornet in three sets is a big deal to me.

16.  Timea Bacsinszky v. Monica Niculescu: It's a little surprising to see Niculescu this far in a major, although someone who relies so heavily upon slice probably should do well at a place such as this. It probably is enough to annoy some players, but I don't know if Bacsinszky is one of them. She's big and strong, and smart and will cruise here. Also, incidentally, helluva backstory:

Shaking off a bad Attitude

I'm not gonna lie – part of the reason my husband and I decided to uproot our family southbound was so that the kids could be outside more (that's code for “we could be outside more playing tennis!”). We're considerate parents like that.
None of us envisioned that when the chance to move finally came, it would be piecemeal. We wouldn't be together, not right away. But even then, I thought it'd be a couple weeks only, not that long. Long enough for a working mom to take a breather from the family that always needed something, am I right?
Haha. No. Of course not. Nearly two months ago now, I packed up my car, interviewed a real estate agent with my husband, said goodbye to my distracted children as they watched Chuggington (and then again during Octonauts), surrendered my house keys to my very best friend in life, told him I'd see him soon, and drove to Florida. I would say half of that drive on the first day was done pretty artfully, considering my eyes were just randomly filling with tears. I think my husband and I always figured that when we finally made it to perpetually sunny skies, we would do it together. It just wasn't the same to get there without him, or them.
Regardless, as soon after I arrived here, life went on for everyone else. The French Open came and went, and watching on TV as Serena won it from her knees was craaaazy fun and even before nude Stan Wawrinka came along, watching him play solidly throughout the tournament was kind of a tennis turn-on. (I can't be the only one who thought Nadal's injury in last year's Australian Open final was the ONLY reason he won. Well, I sit corrected.) But still, something was missing. Naturally, it was my tennis spirit-twin who knew it.
“Why don't you go out to the courts and play some tennis?” my husband nagged me over the phone (because that's how men roll).
“OK, maybe after work one day.”
Which I of course didn't do. In retrospect, a lot can be said for my frame of mind when you realize that I preferred leaving my new job and going back to my dark room at the local Travelodge and watching Penny freakin' Dreadful on three Showtime channels throughout the night rather to going to the nearby tennis courts. (Also watched 'Boyhood' at least three different time. Do you understand now?)
An even better commentary on my relationship with my racquets at this time, which had now been untouched for two months – the day I finally went over to the tennis courts, I got out of my car and walked over to the office to find out about the leagues in the area. A man yells over at me, “We need a fourth!” And I say – wait for it – “Oh, I can't right now!”
Yes, of course I could have. It was Saturday for heaven's sake. In theory, the reason I went to those courts was to play tennis. Someone offered to play tennis, and I said no.
Yeah. Exactly.
The only thing that broke me of whatever the hell this was was my spirit-twin, as usual. He told me he was signing up for a tournament for one last go-round with his partner. And finally, it hit me: If he can still want tennis, even with two small children hanging around his neck at all hours and the stresses of moving and selling a house constantly clawing at his sanity, then what the what was my problem?

And if you wanna hear something hilarious, it was that guy I turned down for tennis who still got me back into it. I've been playing with his Saturday morning group (horribly, but that's what you get for not playing for two months – there ARE NO SHORTCUTS) and doing my backboard penance for about three weeks now. Maybe I thought I would punish myself for not having what I really want right now by depriving myself of the other constant in my life for nearly 14 years. Or of the other habit of mine that's been with me forever – writing. Well, I guess my punishment's over. It's about time for some Attitude to start flowing around here again. The good-bad kind. Not the bad-bad kind. You understand. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Yessssss!! Finally. Some Tennis With Attitude!

OK, it's been pretty hectic over here lately. Been busy quitting a job, acquiring another job and moving my personal tennis team across (several) state lines. So the blog's been on hold, and although there has been a lot to blog about (Nadal, Davis Cup, Azarenka stealing Serena's hitting partner, Indian Wells, Miami, and how Serena pulled out injured from one and then won the other and does anyone else think that's weird at allll, and NADAL, etc.), there just hasn't been time. BUT. I just saw something that made me realize why I started this blog. And for that, I have to thank Genie Bouchard, she of the decent forehand, but perhaps even the better backhand(ed aside) for this:

(Yeah, I coulda picked the English one, but attitude sounds so much classier in a foreign language. It also needs no interpretation.)
Couple thoughts on this. First, while I believe that Genie Bouchard is not all of that, it is also about time that someone challenged this "tennis is polite" norm nonsense. Because as all of us who actually play tennis know, there is not a whole lot polite about the grind of the game. When you shake hands with your opponent and you say "good match," do you not mentally add "for ME!" Why is tennis the only sport where you have to be quiet and polite to your opponent when you certainly don't want to be? Bouchard's refusal to bow to the polite quo (just made that up, thanks) hopefully will open the door to tennis being like other sports, where you're allowed to want to win. Now, if we could just get rid of players walking into a big match hand-in-hand with a little kid, that would be good.
I said couple thoughts. The other one is that if you're going to create a maelstrom by not shaking an opponent's hand, it would be helpful to go ahead and also win the match. Otherwise, this happens:


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Whaa? Serena's doing what where now?

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