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.
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.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Last Slam on the Left: Whatta Week!

OK, let's start with what's top-of-mind: Boy, that Goffin upset was a bad call, was it not! Yikes.
So yes, of course, I watched the marquee matchup of the tournament so far: Coco Gauff v. Naomi Osaka. I actually did expect it to be close. But clearly Osaka came prepared. It's not as if Gauff had been playing hacks in previous rounds, but I really noticed her lack of patience last night. Which makes sense -- she's young, and has been well-served by her athleticism so far. But she would win points off Osaka and then fail to reproduce a similar point.
But who cares about the X's and O's, right? After the match, Osaka did something that is essentially unheard of -- she asked Gauff to do the on-court interview with her -- she shared the stage. And I'm not gonna lie -- it made me cry. It was endearing. These two grew up together and it was a moment to lend a nod to the sacrifices Gauff's parents made and the journey she's on. I mean, I get it.
I want to say that I think Gauff has the potential to be amazing. She's not like the Williams sisters in that she has had proper coaching her whole life, so she won't have to unlearn some of the mechanical issues they did when turning pro. She has a great foundation. This is really why I'd like people to leave her alone. Like, everyone. The fans who want her picture. The media who want a minute with her. And Naomi Osaka, who thought it'd be a good idea to share the spotlight with another up-and-comer, perhaps considering that she was another woman of color on the biggest stage in tennis. I get it. I honestly do. She's a great story. They both are, together.
So Coco Gauff is 15 years old. And no one wants to say this right now because we're in a touchy-feely moment, but in sports, we eat our athletes and idols alive. The black ones especially, and especially in tennis. If you need further evidence of this, just look a bit further down the draw to Taylor Townsend, who, along with Donald Young, were touted as the future of American tennis. Then she didn't live up to everyone's expectations and when a young athlete does this, the encouragement decreases in volume and in enthusiasm. Now she has materialized again with a great run here, and it has been in spite of the lack of support. Let's not even get into what happened to Jennifer Capriati. Does anyone else remember the crap that Venus Williams had to take -- from her own countrypeople, too -- about how cocky she was? Venus was 17 and everyone had something to say when she expressed her belief that she could beat anyone. Most of it wasn't good. Because certain attitudes aren't acceptable from certain people. You know.
Unfortunately, I don't doubt this also will happen soon enough to Gauff, but I would like for people to begin treating her like the 15-year-old that she is. I would like for people, especially grown-ass adults, to recognize that pulling on a kid's shoulder bag and begging her for a selfie is draining. I'd like the post-match ESPN interviews to last for three minutes and that's it. And I would like for other players to quit dragging her into the spotlight in Arthur Ashe stadium right after she's taken a worse loss than she probably expected she would. I think I understand what Osaka was doing and it was a beautiful gesture that I would have had no problem with, had the recipient been maybe 19 or 20. Coco Gauff is 15 years old and we are about to wear her out before she even gets going.
So, with that public service announcement out of the way, wow, what a tournament! Basically, as usual, my draw began falling to pieces. For example, picking Aryna Sabalenka to go deep in a tournament bit me in the ass once again. I thought for sure after watching her beat Victoria Azarenka that she'd run the tables, because that was a tough match. Nope. One round later, she's out.
Angelique Kerber. Ashleigh Barty. Simona Halep. Kiki Bertens. Sloane Stephens. Petra Kvitova. All gone before week 2. And of course, this is great for tennis.
But I am ready for tonight (Sun. Sept. 1). Novak Djokovic, he of the sore shoulder and everlasting grudge against randos in the stands, is playing Stan Wawrinka, and when the draw came out, I picked Djokovic for this matchup. But with Djokovic getting all sensitive during practice and cutting short his match prep last round, I don't know. Wawrinka is looking good right now. I think we're looking at four sets ... to Stan?
And then there's Elina Svitolina v. Madison Keys. I had the opportunity to watch Svitolina in person as she beat Venus Williams on Wednesday at the Open. (Oh heck yes, I went back to the U.S. Open and have a post upcoming about that experience!) I also saw Keys that same day and both of them looked really strong and consistent. I would give a slight edge to Keys because of her serve.

Yeah, not a great shot, but had to find some type of way to brag about having been there in person. But let me go get some popcorn and geek out on tennis all night.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Last Slam on the Left: U.S. Open 2019 -- The Women

Well, looks like another boring women's draw, with nothing to look out for until the quarters. Ho hum.
OK, you know I'm just playing. Before we continue, I am declaring this blog a Serena 2018-free zone for the next two weeks after this paragraph. ESPN made a documentary about last year's women's final. Like, last week. Guys. All of us had something to say about it in the moment (including me), but that was last year. And now, everyone's crying "rigged draw," presumably some sort of payback for last year? The last thing I'll say is the other reporting out of this situation suggested that Carlos Ramos will no longer be allowed to chair Serena's matches. This bothered me for a moment -- he called a code violation that later was on the up-and-up, so why is he being penalized? But then, it occurred to me that perhaps the person most excited about the prospect of never having to call a Serena Williams match again might be ... Carlos Ramos.
OK! Let's get into it!

Early Rounds to Watch

Serena Williams v. Maria Sharapova: OK, Serena stans who think this draw is rigged. Who here thinks Maria Sharapova can beat Serena Williams? I wanna see hands. No hands. Exactly. I will be watching this of course because there's history here, and off-court drama but this will be a straightforward match and there's no previous recent history to suggest otherwise. If Serena's back is still a problem, y'all do know she'd quit before she went out and had to lose or retire to Sharapova, right?

Aryna Sabalenka v. Victoria Azarenka: Now here is a match that is a tough call. I like Sabalenka, but Azarenka is starting to play some good early-round tennis in recent tournaments. I think this will be the second-most entertaining first-round match we'll see, close behind

Garbine Muguruza v. Alison Riske: See, Serena stans? It could have been a LOT worse. Like, how the heck is Muguruza, in her current form, supposed to beat Alison Riske, who had a way better Wimbledon than most would have expected, and is probably feeling pretty good about herself?

Angelique Kerber v. Kristina Mladenovic: Kerber has also been shaky this summer. Good thing Mladenovic has been shaky for about a year and a half.

Who Are Our Quarterfinalists?

Why is Sabalenka in red? I kinda like this draw for her, even with Osaka in her quarter. I kinda think she could win the whole tournament. But it's crazy to think that because she does not have an easy draw. My spidey sense says that Sabalenka is waiting for people to stop tipping her for winning tournaments so she can play with less pressure again. But I could be wrong, so why not highlight a horrendous calculation for the world to see?
Man, Serena has a tough quarter down there at the bottom. There's Kerber, who has no problem beating Serena at a major and Ash Barty. Let's not forget Su-Wei Hseih -- that's a three-hour match right there.

Who's Going to Win?

The more I think about this Sabalenka pick, the more I wonder if there's loose glue around here I might have been sniffing. But it could happen. Maybe? I think I might need a backup pick

Last Slam on the Left: U.S. Open 2019 -- The Men

Before we go on, I stand by this draw. Maybe it's crazy. I'm going with my heart!
The hardcourt season on the men's side feels different. It's been fairly unpredictable and mostly, that's because of a guy named Daniil Medvedev, who has collected some impressive wins this summer, including Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Cincinnati Open, Dominic Thiem (who, I guess doesn't do tennis except clay?) and Karen Khachanov. It's August and Rafael Nadal is still healthy and Roger Federer has played one U.S. Open warmup -- and it didn't go well. So it's weird. And then this draw has a fairly loaded top half and a bottom half that is very friendly for Nadal. I'm not buying that John Millman will be an early problem. But there are a few fun early matchups worth checking out:

Early Rounds to Watch

Denis Shapovalov v. Felix Auger-Aliassime: This is almost as bonkers as that other first-round matchup everyone is talking about. Actually, it's worse. This matchup this early is not really fair and I am not sure who will win. Unlike the other matchup. Patience, kiddies. We'll get there.

Vasek Pospisil v. Karen Khachanov: I'm picking Khachanov, but that's a pretty stiff first-round challenge.

Djokovic v. Sam Querrey: ... if they both win their first round. Hmm.

Frances Tiafoe v. Alexander Zverev: Hear that, Frankie? That's opportunity calling if you can beat Ivo Karlovic in the first round.

Who Are Our Quarterfinalists?

Right, right. Sacrilege. I know. But hear me out.
Besides Tiafoe/Zverev, there is some space in this draw for weird things to happen. Like Federer/David Goffin. We haven't seen much of him this summer, but Federer does not seem to be at his sharpest and this could be a chance for someone who is a bit more in-form, such as Goffin. And with Medvedev in Djokovic's quarter? Djokovic has lost twice to him this year, including already this month.
In the bottom half, I know it's not popular, but I think that even for someone struggling like Stefanos Tsitsipas, there are worse draws. Nick Kyrgios' head is halfway into the next NBA season. Thiem? I don't know. What time do you have? Is the moon in retrograde? Did I really pick him for the quarters? Ay dios mio.

Who's Going to Win?

It's not just because of his sexy ass, but I'm tipping Rafa. The draw's looking good for him, he's healthy (for now) and no Djokovic before the final. I think the biggest potential issue in his half could be Khachanov, who's playing well right now and kinda reminds me of Marat Safin's game, except clearly much less sexy.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

So You Say There's a Hard Court Season Going On

Lots to catch up on over from the last few weeks. Let's stream-of-conscience right in:

1. Things Sofia Kenin Thinks About As She Avoids Eye Contact With the Ball She is About to Strike:
  • Did I turn off the coffee maker this morning?
  • Was the ending of Interstellar literal?
  • How will I know if my toss is bad?
  • How did Black Widow and Hawkeye, despite all the research that went into the Avengers' plan, not realize that one of them was going to have to be sacrificed for the Soul Stone before they got to Vormir?
  • I definitely forgot to turn off the coffee maker. Let me call the fire department real quick before I hit this serve

2. Venus Williams calling her coach down so he could fetch her a coffee is truly the best use of on-court coaching I have ever seen.

Venus made the quarters at Cincinnati, losing in the quarters to Madison Keys. Despite the scoreline (3 and 4), it was pretty tight. Still, Venus is not really herself anymore.
It will always remain an injustice that she had the season she had in 2017 -- had an edge on Muguruza in the Wimbledon final -- and didn't get one Slam title out of it. On days like these, I feel like that was her last, best chance. Some have speculated that she's still playing for the 2020 Olympics, to which I would say, "why?" (If she were trying to get on the team, she'd have a hard time qualifying, especially because there are three women who right now would be named to the team over her, no question. You almost have to choose Bethanie Mattek-Sands for doubles, and that leaves two spots. Would either Williams sister get one?) I really try to never be that person to second-guess someone's career and how long it should last, but I don't know why she's still doing this, especially playing singles. She obviously isn't moving the way she used to, and you can still set a clock to her double faulting in tight moments, such as last night late in the second set. If I saw some improvement in her game, I'd feel differently, because it would be a sign of her working to tweak it, even if it didn't always work. Maybe this doesn't feel like the right time for this conversation -- she did just have the best run of her season. But that run was winning three matches in a row. Against a couple of quality opponents, but still. I hope I'm wrong. I hope she's got another 2017-like run in her.

3. Am I the only one who can't spell Cincinnati correctly the first time?

4. I got a question over on Facebook about Nick Kyrgios. I was running around like crazy this week, and didn't get to see his latest antics until after his match. Here you go!

I don't understand Nick Kyrgios. I think he tries. He's even playing doubles with the only guy on tour with rainbows coming out his ass and I thought he was trying to have more fun, be more positive. Then this type of nasty display comes and I think about that New York Times profile about him in 2016, in which his lack of passion for tennis was on display. It would be a shame to lose one of the most naturally talented and entertaining tennis players of this latest crop, but I don't think tennis makes him happy, so why is he doing it?
If you want to get to the nuts and bolts of what started this -- a serve-clock violation -- I'll say this: You can be right in an argument and still be wronged, but being wronged does not give you free reign to do whatever it is you want in response. Things you don't deserve happen to you more than they should, which is never, as you don't deserve them. But they happen. Your response is directly tied to your level of maturity. If you've watched enough tennis, you've seen a player get a penalty they didn't (or think they didn't) deserve. It's not as likely that you saw that player drag this injustice around with them for the remainder of the match like a soaking wet rag doll. I mean, at the end there, it looked like he spat in Fergus Murphy's direction. That is, um, yeah ... extra.
(Why did he give away a busted racquet?)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Coffee at Wimbledon: We're Gonna Need More Coffee

My favorite form of delusionary thinking is believing that I will simply do housework while I am watching tennis. I can play Pokemon (?) with the kids, work on a writing project. Every year, four times a year, I say this to myself. And every year, the Monday after a Slam, I wake up with sore knees and I can't figure out why. Oh, I realize. It's because I've spent the last three days on them willing somebody to do something, be it Serena, or Roger, or Rafa, or Barbora.
Whoo-whee, where to start. Of course with

Serena Williams
I don't want to harp at the lackluster performance from Serena in the final. I do want to point out that Simona Halep earned that like a mofo.


She ran down everything and did not give up, did not make mistakes, did not blink. Obviously, Halep knew what she needed to do to win, and it's not often your plan goes ... well, according to plan.
Having said all of that, one thing that seemed obvious from that final was that Serena did not really expect someone to fetch every ball she hit. She wasn't match-tough, and the women she played before Halep did not have the speed, accuracy or quick recognition of an attack opportunity. Serena's played long, grinding matches before and won them. She just didn't have it at this time and she got outplayed at every turn.
Two takeaways from this for me: I really hope she gets a different coach and I am still hoping that Amelie Mauresmo gets the call. She needs more women on her team. Yes, Patrick Mouratoglou did a great job with her, but they can't be on the same page with some of the stuff he says. It's a new season for her, and to take that extra step, maybe it's time for a change. Now seems good!
Second takeway: This doom-and-gloom nonsense about how motherhood has permanently limited Serena. She might never win again! OK, slow down. She had a baby and then came back to advance to Slam finals almost immediately. That's a big deal and there aren't a lot of people showing that kind of consistency right now.
Should she play more? I guess that's a good question, but when I can advance to a Grand Slam final with no warmup, I would feel more comfortable asking that question of a Serena Williams.

The Men's Final
Bahmahgawd was that a match. I don't know what to say beyond that. Well, there's one thing. Novak Djokovic is a fine player. Very good. On Sunday, he won his 16th major, his fifth Wimbledon title. He won it playing the guy who will maybe go down as the greatest men's tennis player of all time (Djokovic is still young) in Roger Federer, who has eight Wimbledon titles. And yet that crowd was pretty firmly pro-Roger. And I was pretty pro-Roger, and I had literally no skin in this game (Dammit, Rafa). My kids were watching with me and they were rooting for Djokovic. Their reasons were better than mine: his name sounds cool and they've seen funny clips of him on YouTube. My reason is just like, I just don't know. When he won, my first thought was, "Crap." I'm sorry! It was. And hearing Djokovic present himself as a potential inspiration, like Federer, made me wince on his behalf. He knows he doesn't get the love of a Rafa and Roger, and that might be a misfortune of timing. If he had a solid decade to himself with his backstory, heck, he would be on every cereal box -- not just Wheaties. But he is not, and he is painfully aware of this and I'm sad that he is. That reaction from the crowd when he said that was also weak.
Also, I think it's safe to say that Djokovic was a lot more fun to like when he had some personality, as he did in those YouTube videos my kids have seen. But he wasn't winning majors then, not at this clip. Is there a correlation? If you clown around too much, does it cause a lack of focus? Roger and Rafa don't imitate other players, but they win slams and they have the love of a crowd. Novak doesn't. I think he needs a foil. A previously unengaged foil. Someone young and able to meet him toe-to-toe. I'm thinking of an Alexander Zverev. Maybe Milos Raonic. Someone who the crowd can feel comfortable about getting behind Djokovic. Yeah, so Novak's problem is coming up with legends. That's what I'm getting at. It's not the worst problem to have, but you don't unlock beloved status like that, either.
Also, less groveling. That would be a better look, too.

Barbora Strycova

I know I've shared this before, but no one deserved this fine Wimbledon run like she did. She's just automatic in doubles and watching her play is an exercise in grit and court intelligence I loved in Kim Clijsters and Li Na. I just -- man. Because of Strycova, I watched Wimbledon to the very end of the tournament today. Have you ever done that? They like, make an announcement and everything. Very dignified. But back to Strycova. She's just great. OK, that's it.
(Also Su-wei Hsieh is great.)

Is Jelena Ostapenko Going to Have to Paralyze a Bitch?

Yes, she and Robert Lindstedt made the mixed doubles final but I've got five bucks saying he never plays with her again.

The Men's Doubles Final

How do you get hit by an overhead on a bounce in the face while you're at the baseline and have it cause injury? How are you then the same person and get hit later in the neck by the same person? And then how do you, again, the same person -- Nicolas Mahut -- then get a ball straight in the business sack in the very same game? And then how do you then lose a match in five sets? Everyone feels bad about the Mahut/John Isner match, but you know what they say about adding insult to injury? This feels like a very illustrative version of that.

Plus also
And I had missed this previously: Johanna Konta being the first Brit to stand up to British press for trash behavior:

This is why they can't have nice things. Exactly why.
New rule for tennis pressers at Wimbledon: I want a camera on the person asking stupid questions because they need to be known and I personally would like to know if they have even ever held a tennis racquet before.