Thursday, February 27, 2020

Five Slams is Not the Problem Here

I haven't been on retirement watch for Maria Sharapova. I'm honestly trying to gird myself for Venus Williams'.
I wasn't that surprised, though, that Sharapova turned in her papers this week. And in the back of my head, I knew about the debate that would ensue upon her retirement and how it would mess with my blood pressure. And I knew I should have stayed off Twitter during this time, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have seen this Nike tribute ad:




Mistakes. OK. 
Let's see what the news has to say about this.


Ah, complicated? Are we gonna get honest here?


Only?!??
Five slams is not a small amount of Slams, Matt. It's actually pretty impressive especially when you consider that she has at least one of each major. She has two French Open titles. Two! Know how many Venus has? That's not what's "complicated" here.
Yeah, we're about to talk about the doping ban. Because it's a big deal. I read the whole ITF report, if you'll remember, and it was fairly damning. There's also the fact, which is only now sinking in for me, that this report revealed that she'd been taking a drug she didn't need for 10 years. That would start us, then, at 2006, the year she won her second slam. That means that most of those five Slams were won while she was taking meldonium. When she returned from her ban, she could barely crack the second week of a major.
Now that is complicated.
There is this sort of internal wrestling match that tends to ensue when we talk about Sharapova's career. I've tried to insert other names into that Washington Post headline above, another person's photo, to see if we would be so shy about discussing her drug ban in frank terms. Rafa Nadal (who's been dogged by these rumors anyway)? Serena Williams? I can't help but think this conversation would be different if we put in another athlete's name. If it were Nadal or Serena, there'd be nothing "complicated" about it -- they cheated.
Sharapova was assisted in keeping her nose above this fray by supportive sponsors, including Head, which -- I mean, if you ever rob a bank or commit some crime, please get sponsored by Head first. That way, you can get the support that Head gave Sharapova after her ban. Even this whitewashing effort by Nike in this retirement ad is ... a lot. She was taking a banned substance and got caught and ... mistakes? MISTAKES?
Of course Matt mentioned the ban in his story. Everyone does. It should be in the headline because it was significant and it might have been a major part of what made her successful as a player. This is a part of the ITF report that I can't unsee:


Did she call him as he advised? Another thought just popping into my head these years later.
I feel kind of bad writing this and I don't know why. I'm not making this report up. Maybe it's because I do want to remember Sharapova for being a badass on court. I know we can't call what she and Serena had a rivalry, but one thing they both had was this ability to clamp down mentally in a match and will their way to victory, even when it didn't look good. This thread about her shading her opponents is precious and I love it.




Isn't she back in Poland already? Oh my god. Even when she went after Serena after that Rolling Stone profile and went off on Serena dating her coach my goodness that is what we look for here at Tennis with ATTITUDE. The ATTITUDE.
But.








Thursday, February 06, 2020

We Really Having the Australian Open, Huh: Did Not Turn Out Bad.

This tournament has had more plot twists than usual, and let's face it, the Australian Open always comes out wonky.
But Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka both out early? Coco Gauff beating Osaka, then losing to Sofia Kenin?
Let's just unpack it all now, shall we?

A(nother) star is born
Congratulations to Sofia Kenin, who played one hell of a tournament. And she did it not with power, but persistence. I mean, she beat Gauff, who everyone (me included) thought could win after Serena and Osaka went out in early rounds. Then Kenin beat the No. 1 player in the world and home favorite and THEN she beat Garbine Muguruza who also beat a few strong favorites (Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, and Simona Halep) to get to the final, after having lost the first set and having nearly been broken early in the third! (Oh, watch this. This is what I'm talking about.) And with this Kenin result, and with other younger players coming out and up, like Osaka, like Andreescu -- did Muguruza miss her window for Grand Slam dominance? That might be a crazy thing to say, considering she just advanced to a Slam final again. But this result reminds me of the Andy Roddick loss to Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009 and what it meant for Roddick. He never had a sniff again at a Slam final. Then he just got crowded out of the top echelon. Who knows with Muguruza. She's still young and has a great game, but between she and Karolina Pliskova, I'm wondering.

OK, maybe this isn't fair
Congrats again to Kenin ... pending her MAGA background check.
I'm sorry, I am just gun shy because some young Americans trying to assert themselves in the game also had to scrub their social media clean because it was full of offensive comments aimed at gay people. Others openly advocated for the current president to come to see him win Wimbledon (as ifffff).
Of course, you can believe whatever you want. You can believe wind causes cancer. You can believe that you have the best words. You can even ask everyone to believe that you are innocent of bribery even though you won't provide evidence of that innocence or allow anyone else in the know to testify. I can believe that if you support that nonsense, I'll be rooting for your opponent every time. I'll also be wicked-laughing at every one of your blown match points against an injured Roger Federer and noting with interest that at the net, Roger didn't seem that impressed with you.
And as an American fan, I'm still a bit miffed with the USTA failing to address the Sandgren situation when it happened. So again, I'm gun shy.

This Olympic selection process is gonna be ... fraught, yes?
I'm guessing that one of the few reasons that Venus Williams is still on tour is to get another bite at Olympic glory. Serena Williams, although in a better position, is probably thinking the same thing. Now, Serena isn't even the No. 1 American -- it's Kenin. Then there's Gauff -- and Madison Keys. And Alison Riske. Also Sloane Stephens. Pretty sure there are only four slots and this weekend's Fed Cup tie against Latvia will feature Serena, Kenin, Riske and Gauff as singles players, and playing a Fed Cup tie is a requirement to qualify for the Olympics. This will be very interesting to watch through the summer.
Geesh, Danielle Collins, too.

There's a Thiem here
OK, I am feeling sorry for Dominic Thiem and I barely know him. OK, I don't know him at all, but let's focus, all right?
Thiem is as ready for a major as Kenin was and yet he came up empty again against Mr. Houdini Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic will go down as one of the best that ever was, and Thiem alluded to this moment in tennis, playing in a time where three of the best of all time are playing at the same time. The good thing for Thiem is that Federer, Rafa Nadal and Djokovic have to quit at some point during his career.
Of the Big Three, Djokovic does seem as if he's the least revered. I only say that because no one seems to like Djokovic much. The crowd reactions to him are, uh,  ... not what they are for Federer. (I don't endorse the clickbaity headline -- just the video.) Did anyone else hear the crowd in the last game? They were pushing *hard* for Thiem. Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter if the crowd likes him or not because he figures out how to get it done either way. But in this win, and its aftermath, I detected something a little different from Djokovic -- humility. No overt gesturing to the crowd, the kind he usually does that all but cries out, "Like me! Like meeeee!!!!"

Doubles is where it's at
Early on in the mixed doubles, there was a 10-minute "conversation" that grew in intensity involving all four players on the court: Jamie Murray, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Barbora Strycova and Marcelo Melo. Here is the condensed version. There's a lot of versions of this argument online and most of them involve Strycova being called a hothead. First, she was not the only one involved in this dispute. Second, she was right! Hi! And it took 10 minutes because Murray and Mattek-Sands decided they didn't like that their challenge call was a hindrance. All I'm saying is Strycova is always right, so why bother?
Murray and Mattek-Sands made it to the final where they lost to a woman who won this tournament last year (?) and a guy who I'll refer to now on as "almost Chris Pine":


















So close -- especially if you squint and close the one eye.
There are worse things to almost be, Nikola Mektic. Like almost Australian Open mixed doubles champs. Mektic and his partner Barbora Krejcikova ran the super tiebreaker and looked like they will probably play together again at some point.


And Bethanie and Jamie ... are gonna need a minute.









Sunday, January 19, 2020

We Really Having the Aussie Open, Huh: No, I'm Not Watching Venus v. Gauff Live

Does anyone else remember that movie, "The Day Before Tomorrow?" I remember watching it and finding it a bit unrealistic, even for a sci-fi movie. It starts with everything going sideways, right out the chute. (Also starts and ends with Jake Gyllenhaal, but that's not the point, which is rare from me.) Anyway, the thing that seemed ridiculous was that all of a sudden, the world was melting down and yet, everyone seemed off guard. I just mention this now because we're playing the Australian Open and people having trouble breathing because of these raging wildfires and we're ... just playing the Australian Open. Maybe this is what we're going to do before everything goes truly sideways.
So, yeah, switching gears. Here are the draws. 







Some notes:
1. If Coco Gauff can beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon, what will she do at the Slam where Venus routinely underperforms? I don't want to know, not right away. 
2. Philipp Kohlschreiber is still out here, fam.
3. I am fascinated by this Ernests Gulbis/ Felix Auger-Aliassime matchup in the first round. 
4. Same with Daniil Medvedev v. Frances Tiafoe. I am picking Medvedev, but barely. 
5. It was funny, filling out the men's draw. I'd gone through it, thinking Nadal has shockingly little pushback to get to the semis and wondering who was missing. Then I went to the next page, and all of a sudden, there's Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, heck, even Grigor Dimitrov. Back half loaded much?
6. Whatever happened to Daria Kasatkina?
7. I think Petra Kvitova has a nice shot at a deep run here, but her first round against Katerina Siniakova could be a rough one. 
8. Aryna Sabalenka v. Carla Suarez Navarro?! 
9. It's nice to see Serena Williams break the title drought. But yikeys, does she have a bad draw. Johanna Konta. Dayana Yastremka, old nemesis Sofia Kenin and other old nemesis Sloane Stephens? 
10. Why can you never print a normal-sized draw for the Australian Open?




Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: So Long Hastavista Sayonara Peace-Out and the Like

I'm coming in under the limbo broom -- might ... hit ... send ... before ... midnight ...

via GIPHY

So before I get into the 2019 yearbook, let's take a quick look at the 2018 yearbook, in which I, for the first time, attempted to predict the winners of the majors this year. How did I do?

Who Will Win in 2019? This is a new feature in which I will attempt to predict all the Slam champions right now! Stop laughing. This is hard! OK, here I go:

Australia: Kiki Bertens, Novak Djokovic
French Open: Sloane Stephens, Rafael Nadal
Wimbledon: Aryna Sabalenka, Roger Federer
U.S. Open: Serena Williams (unless she retired because she was pregnant), Djokovic

Hard indeed. In real life:
Australia: Naomi Osaka, Djokovic
French Open: Ash Barty, Nadal
Wimbledon: Simona Halep, Djokovic
U.S. Open: Bianca Andreescu, Nadal

Will I try this again later in this post? Absolutely!

Now, from the top:

Head of the Class: For the men, I'm going with Nadal. It was a minor miracle that he finished the season uninjured (well, for him -- just the one hip injury). But then he messed around and won two majors, the summer and Davis Cup, plus a major final and semifinal showing. I'm not just saying this because of his ass -- he had an awesome season.
The women? Not as easy to choose just one. So I won't! I will say that I look forward to another decade of watching Barty, Halep, Petra Kvitova (please?), Andreescu and Osaka duking it out on court. I'm expecting two decades from the last two. (Do y'all think Pliskova can win a slam? Because I'm thinking no these days ...)

Most Inspiring Player: I have to go with Hsieh Su-wei. For this category, I'm thinking about players who are not loaded with all the standard tools you'd expect for success, and yet. I'm thinking about a player who makes me want to go rent out the ball machine at my courts. That's Hseih for me. She is everything I wish I were as a player -- patient, strategic, able to use a full court, confident. Think I'm kidding? Watch this, then drop and give me 20:



Most Popular: Coco Gauff, and man, I wish it wasn't so. I get it. When you're good, you're good. People talk about the players who are good, the ones who beat Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon and then makes a nice run at the Open, where Osaka thrust her into the spotlight after a devastating loss. I'm not blaming Osaka, or anyone else. I just think about Jennifer Capriati and even about how Venus herself was treated when she was Coco's age ... and it makes me anxious. It makes me hope the media have actually learned something, that her family remains vigilant against, well, life. She's 15. I just worry about her. I'm glad she's popular. Really. But I'm anxious over here.

Most Likely to Succeed: I'm going to live on the edge and say Daniil Medvedev. I don't know how tennis' answer to Gumby does it, but damned if he doesn't keep doing it. I thought he was pretty close to success at the U.S. Open final but openly admit I was rooting hard against him. But in 2020? Hard for me to see him come out of it without a major title.

Most Likely to Succeed ... at Something Other than Tennis: Caroline Wozniacki, I guess. Y'all think she's coming back Down Under to wipe the smile off Halep's face again?


Nah, but still. We'll miss Wozniacki retrieving ball after ball after ball, only to win a match and you, the spectator, are sitting there asking yourself how she actually did that. (Just me? OK.)

That Student Who Snoozes Through the School Year, But Aces the Final Exam: I'm sorry, but Djokovic. Please explain how he managed to win that final against Federer at Wimbledon. He almost ended the year at No. 1, and his year overall was, well, scratchy.


Who Will Win in 2020?
I ain't scared!
Australia: Andreescu, Medvedev
Roland Garros: Halep, Nadal
Wimbledon: Serena (!), Federer (!!)
U.S. Open: Andreescu, Tsitsipas

Least Likely to Post Regularly in 2020: Yeah, that'd be me. I love tennis and everything about it. I love writing about tennis. This post was going to be short, and then I just got sucked in. But I've been thinking a lot about the goals I want to accomplish next year (tomorrow) and most of it involves getting paid to write. I, uh, do this for free. I know, shocking. But the reality is that I don't have the time or energy to do both well. I'll still post for majors and whenever I have anything else to say. But I'll always be watching. Feel free to hit me up on Facebook and Twitter between posts!





















Saturday, October 19, 2019

League Watch: On My Own

I knew that when I decided to appeal my rating from 4.0 to 3.5, I would get more opportunities to play league matches, and like Elizabeth Warren, I had a plan for that. I wanted to start playing singles again and in case you didn't know, making yourself available for singles will make you the most popular player in said league. When my appeal was granted, I made it onto a team and just like that, I was about to play my first league singles match in *checks Tennislink* FIVE YEARS.
It's like riding a bike, I told myself. You know how to do it, so just jump right on. My first opponent was someone I'd never met, but from the time we started hitting, I knew this was going to be a tough match. At least I thought so. My opponent was consistent on both sides, decent mover, okay serve while warming up, but once the match started, I was facing little resistance. I wasn't happy with my own play, though. I was hitting a lot of framed shots that stayed in and I felt uncomfortable even after winning the first set. I worried that if she raised her level and I kept framing everything, it wouldn't end well for me.
What do you call it when you're a negative psychic, when you can only predict the bad things about to happen to you? Because, yeah, she raised her level and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't raise mine. And just as quickly as I won the first set, she won the second. Unfortunately, in Florida, that means a third-set tiebreaker.
I hate third-set tiebreakers. Why have a tiebreaker in place of a set when you can have a quick round of "Rock/Paper/Scissors?" Maybe a round of "What Number am I Thinking Of?" Not only are these tiebreaks dumb, but I do not do well with them. Need I remind you of my second stint at sectionals during a rain-delayed weekend? I'm sure the fact that they're dumb and that I don't fare well in them are not related, by the way. Not. At. All.
So, anyway, we get into this tiebreaker and I'm trying to convince myself that I love third-set tiebreakers, live for 'em, even. I didn't have to worry too much -- my opponent started with a double-fault and a few quick errors. I thought she might have been nervous, so I committed to hitting low-risk topspin deep into the court. But of course, she came back to tighten the situation and by now, all our teams are standing around watching us because we were one of the last matches. Still, I hung on somehow and won the match. It felt good. It was hot and it had been a physical match and I was glad to know I was still able to do this.
I won my second match, too, and then that just about did it for me in my region. The captain didn't play me until halfway through the season and I couldn't play the last two matches. Central Florida is just not it for league junkies like me. I knew that if I wanted to keep playing, I'd have to travel. Fortunately, I'm located smack dab in the middle of Tampa and Orlando, so, at maximum, we're talking about an hour both ways. And who doesn't love podcasts?
I found a team which featured a lot of the people I've played with before and I told the captain I wanted to play singles. Oh, did I mention that this was an 18-and-over team and that I'm quite far from 18? My first opponent, though? I would have carded her if I could. She was also accompanied by her coach or dad who sat courtside and who I had to see at each changeover. Later, he was joined by a spectator who had a glass of wine. Yeah, it was that kind of club.
Anyway, I jumped out to a 2-0 lead and was serving well, I thought. I felt pretty good for about 10 minutes. Then I began spraying errors all over the court. And I can even tell you when it started -- the stinkin' drop shot. I do not have a reliable drop shot. I just can't gauge the distance well and it ends up on my side of the net or it's a lob that lands just inside the service line. And I told myself to stop hitting them, but I noticed my opponent wasn't a great mover, and when I'd pull her wide, the dropper would be the smart move IF I WERE CAPABLE OF HITTING THEM. And so that problem just threw my whole game into a tailspin. Oh, also, these courts were har-tru (that's basically everything out here) and they were the worst -- dry, dusty and almost impossible to move through. I'm not making excuses.
I lost in the longest, most-agonizing pair of 6-3 sets I have ever played, and when it was over, I was very tired, and the next day, I was quite sore.
I didn't like losing, but I thought I had better stuff in me and told myself that I just needed to get the errors down. And in my second singles match, I did -- at the beginning. I was playing another young, fit player and my groundstrokes were working well. I was hitting my shots and I thought she seemed resigned that she wouldn't be able to track everything down. I won the first set and then in the second, things got complicated. It wasn't that complicated. My opponent just stopped hitting the ball -- she began poking everything in, and instead of coming in to the net like a smart person would, I just sat at the baseline, keeping these points going. I don't have a lot of confidence at the net, although in singles, you don't need to be super-precise. Which is something I probably should have told myself in that night as I was losing the second set. In the match tiebreak, I never could get on top -- I think I threw in a double fault early, and I never really recovered. Losing that one made me think that maybe I couldn't keep up with these young'uns. Until I woke up the next morning and felt ... nothing. No pain, no creaking. That made me feel good -- I thought that the only thing that I needed to worry about was my head. Well, that's easy, I told myself.
Ha.
The next match was against the type of player I'd normally like, hard hitter, nice serve, lots of pace. I was able to run and retrieve a lot, but when the last shot of the rally came, it was always to her advantage. In both sets, she lost her service game to win the set and both times, I failed to put pressure on her with my serve. I couldn't see in the match what I was doing wrong or how to fix it, but on the drive home, I asked myself how many times she was able to monopolize on my short returns. A lot. What I needed was not just the energy to cope with these players, but also the ability to think through strategy on the court. And I used to be able to do this. At least I thought I was.
After an unsuccessful foray into doubles (although again, it felt as if my game was locking into place), I got another chance at singles. My opponent was another ball poker and I told myself, "That's it -- you're getting into the net and you're not going to stop." And yet, when the set got tight, where was I? Yup, at the baseline, hitting bad-idea drop shots. After she won the first set, I got mad and I told myself -- verbally this time, and loudly -- to press into the court and end these points. And to my own surprise, I did. I won the second set 6-2 and then came my absolute favorite tiebreaker! Yay. Something weird happened during this tiebreak, though. I could sense myself getting nervous and I tried to talk myself down, and to simply breathe. But as soon as the point started, I committed myself to the strategy, to press into the court and to not stop, even if I missed a shot and before I knew it, the tiebreak was over and I had won it.
I wasn't overly joyful about the win because I felt it should have never gotten to the tiebreak situation. But it meant something to pull out ahead in a situation like that. Maybe it's the beginning of a reversal of fortune, the beginning of me settling down into singles again. But one lesson I've definitely learned is that you can be nervous in competition. You have to recognize it and cast it aside to do what you need to do to win.
Easy, right. Yeah. OK.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Postscript: I Went to the U.S. Open!

For the last eight years or so, I'd been telling myself that next year, I was definitely going back to the U.S. Open. But then I'd think of the logistics -- travel, child rearing-related stuff, finances -- and I'd talk myself out of it. This year, I had a bonus incentive. Earlier this year, I'd found myself back in Brooklyn for an unpleasant event -- my father's funeral. It could have been the sentimentality of the moment, but I actually found that I missed my hometown, and wanted to spend more time in it. So I booked my ticket and landed back in New York, and even in the house I grew up in (my mom still lives there).
There was more than one reunion happening. I found out that one of my old co-workers from my first job in newspapers was now covering the Open for a bunch of publications wanting local content on their hometown players. He offered to buy my ticket in advance so I could avoid the long lines of the olden days. I'm old enough to remember when you had to go to Flushing Meadows at the crack of dawn to buy grounds passes. I am sorry, but that is not happening for me on a vacation, no less. So, yes, Michael, thanks for that.
I was glad to know that Michael would be there because as the day drew closer, it only then occurred to me that I would be wandering around the Open by myself. Which you can do, of course. I generally prefer fewer people around me anyway, but what if I got to see Venus Williams (which, yeah, was another good reason not to wait any longer to go to this tournament) and had no one near me to shake maniacally after she hits a winner? I had sort of assumed the answer would be "no one" until a random conversation with my mother. Not only had she never been to the Open, but she really wanted to go! So did my sister in New Jersey. So off we went!
The Billie Jean King Tennis Center is completely different from the USTA National Tennis Center. Same location, completely different experience. The old place was really homey. I still remember walking on the grounds one year and Martina Navratilova just passed me, heading to her match. In the common area! That was one thing I looked forward to every year, but that part of it is largely gone. I did see Amelie Mauresmo shuffling her babies around (I think), but that was just about it. So where were the big wigs? Well, I figured that out by accident, when we stumbled upon a fenced-off area for VIPs. You had to show a badge to get back there. I tried to tell the security guy at the entrance that I was the CFO of JP Morgan Chase, but that I had just forgotten my badge, and I think I almost had him persuaded, but ultimately, we did not gain entry. Ah, well.
I knew I'd only be in New York for a few days, so I had to choose which day I'd be going to the Open. After a lot of back and forth, I finally decided on the first Wednesday -- and I chose wrong. Kind of. (I'll explain in a moment.) Once I got to NYC, the forecast suggested perfect weather throughout my stay, except for one day. Can you guess which day?
Still, the rules have changed a bit for access to stadium courts with grounds passes, which meant that there would be some tennis for us. Armstrong Stadium, which has a roof, would have play that day, as would Ashe, which still cost extra to get into. When we got there, Kei Nishikori was working to wrap up his second-round match with American Bradley Klahn. Nishikori was a game from winning the match in the third set, but blinked (napped might be better term because he went away for a bit), before finally prevailing in the fourth set. By then a lot of us were rooting for him to win quickly because of who was next up.
This is why Wednesday wasn't a total loss.


That's right. Venus Ebony Starr Williams. (And Gael Monfils in the second row.)
The main thing I wanted when I went to the Open was to see Venus play. That's why I chose the first week -- and early. I hate to say it, but you never know. Especially because if Monfils was there, it wasn't to root for Venus -- it was to root for his girlfriend Elina Svitolina. This was not a kind draw. Venus' record against Svitolina wasn't good, either, but given the surface, I thought there was maybe a chance. Maybe.
We were way up there in the stadium during the first set, and it was still a great seat. Check these out:


This angle can also be misleading ...



Well, everyone knows by now how this one went. I was pleasantly surprised to see Venus keep it so close and not so surprised that she double-faulted under pressure at the worst times. I'm about to start a GoFundMe for a coach who can finally get her out of that.
Of course, because of the rain, we were in Armstrong most of the day. (Michael had upgraded my seat to get into Ashe for the day session, but there was more going on in Armstrong, and so I ended up eating that extra five bucks. Oh well.) We kept jockeying for closer seating and slowly, but surely, it worked. Next up was Madison Keys against Zhu Lin, which was over by the time we got comfortable in better seats.


(That's Keys' serve, in case you couldn't tell.)
Then I consumed the most expensive personal pizza I've ever eaten. It was *checks wallet* yes, 14 dollars. Well, when you have a captive audience ...
Anyway, by this time, we were approaching the night session and I wanted to stay because if I could I would just live at the BJK Tennis Center and arrange my life around it. But I had company and I was almost afraid to ask them if they'd be down to stay for just one more match. Of course, they said.
(My family is great.)
So we got to watch Ash Barty take on Lauren Davis, which looks like an overmatch on paper. In person, and even from a distance, the size difference was obvious, too.




Lauren Davis is another one of those players who just has more K-tape on her each time she shows up to a tournament. Bless her heart, which is much larger than she is. She pushed Barty in this match and it might have been the best one of the day.
Then we went home. For an abbreviated version of the Open, it was still pretty great, and plus, we get a raincheck for next year. Which, uh, means we're going back next year. Which means I need to start saving up for lunch NOW.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Last Slam on the Left: #SheoftheNorth > #ThisMama

I am relieved to be past this current Slam without trauma. I hesitate to point out how crazy last year's U.S. Open was (do y'all remember that a court umpire gave Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during a changeover last year?), because this one was the complete opposite. It was unpredictable but only on court, and both singles finals were worth the (exorbitant) price of admission.
Let's start with the women's final, which featured the two finalists from the Canadian Open -- Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu. Andreescu won that one because Serena had to quit with a back injury. But it seemed that Serena got stronger as the tournament went on, and she started pretty strong. Her footwork seemed to be back, her serve cracking. Everything was working. Meanwhile, Andreescu was on the other side of the draw, in trouble basically the entire time. I still am not sure how she beat Belinda Bencic, but even before that, she got out of two three-setters, a Wozniacki and a Flipkens (and I don't know where I was for that one, but given the variety of both players, it must have been a thing to behold). So I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't the match we got. Andreescu was dominant, but Serena wasn't exactly offering up a stiff challenge, not until the end.
So what's the takeaway? Serena has lost in four Slam finals since her return and I believe that with the exception of Naomi Osaka, is the only person in that span of time to have made it to multiple Slam finals. No one at the Slams has been more consistent in the last couple of years than Serena. It's almost undeniable that she is feeling some pressure to deliver Slam title No. 24. I can't think of another thing that would explain her performance in that final. All of the wheels came off.
If she didn't win another major, it wouldn't make her less of a dominant force in women's tennis. In paper and in fact, she doesn't need this, but it means something to her. Winning a Slam after having taken time off from having a baby might be more important to her because it would signal a full return to pre-baby form, and maybe her most significant physical endeavor. It's a lot of pressure and I wish she didn't feel it, but she does. You can't keep putting yourself in a position to win and never win. So she'll get it. Like, at some point.
Now for Andreescu, who -- I mean, it is wild to be 19 years old and have a run composed of matches like the ones she had and to bear down to win all of them, including unnerving Serena Williams from the first game on Saturday. Her game is just fun to watch. Obviously, she can slug, but she is a rare young person who uses the whole court and is comfortable changing the pace of a rally. I think she and Osaka are destined to run the tables the next few years.
The men's final also featured the same finalists from the Canadian Open -- Rafa Nadal and Daniil Medvedev. Have you ever watched a match thinking that you'd like to see more tennis due to the high quality of play and then watched in horror as the thing you wanted actually comes to pass? Yeah, that was me. First of all, who expected Nadal to be the most fit of the Big Three by the end of the summer? Any summer. Second of all, watching Medvedev play tennis is like watching a stick figure made of plastic, though, and not sticks. So I don't know how he did it, but he did it and he did it provoking almost-certainly a drunk New York crowd. Medvedev didn't start this tournament well, because mistreating ballkids and sneaking in a middle finger at the crowd is not a good look. But he finished with class and honestly showed more growth in two weeks than most players do over a whole career. (Course I'm not thinking of Krygios. Mind your tongue.) Also, if Medvedev is going to play so many tournaments in a row, he might want to eat something.
Back to Nadal. Now that he is breathing down the neck of Roger Federer's Slam record, which seemed safe just two years ago to me, questions are being asked. Novak Djokovic is still third in that race, but is the youngest and in theory, most likely to add to his total and also make a push for that record. So what does it mean for the GOAT debate? For decades the Slam titles have been the determining factor for greatness. But this time next year, there is a really good chance that race could look differently. What if they all end up with, say, 22 majors? Who's the best? Let's be real. There's only one good answer and it's whoever your favorite is, and that is Rafael Nadal in this TWA house.  I'm willing to entertain discussion because I'm nothing if not polite, but yeah.
It's Nadal.