Sunday, January 13, 2019

AO'19: The Women

My biggest takeaway is that the Serena/Halep quarter is loaded. But at least Serena can be grateful for the fact that Ekaterina Makarova isn't in her half.


Anyway, the draw:

Yeah, so I blindly chose Kiki Bertens to win the Australian before the draws came out. Then I filled out the draw and ... I can't see her getting through her half? Sloane Stephens is there. Aliaksandra Sasnovich is there. Angelique Kerber. So we'll see. But clearly I went with Sloane Stephens.
First-round matches:
Simona Halep v. Kaia Kanepi: This seems unfair. What's the point of being the top seed when Kaia "Walking Dead-bandages" Kanepi is the first face you see when you get on court?
Laura Siegemund v. Victoria Azarenka: This should be a good one. I think Azarenka will win, but I wonder if even she believes she's Slam-run ready.
Belinda Bencic v. Denise Siniakova: Ah, Belinda. I'm concerned.
Monica Niculescu v. Amanda Anisimova: Just mentioning because I think this will be fun to watch. Niculescu is fun to watch, but if you played anyone with that skill set in your league, you'd basically accuse her of cheating.
Maria Sakkari v. Jelena Ostapenko: Man. Who knows.
Kirsten Flipkens v. Sasnovitch: Good test for Sasnovich, because Flipkens also has an annoying game.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

AO'19: The Men

So, it looks like my goal for each Slam is to ensure that my preview is last. I honestly am not trying to, I swear. Let's take a look!

So, I picked Novak Djokovic to win the tournament and a lot of it has to do with the uneven weight of the draws. Sure, Kei Nishikori could come in and show that U.S. Open run-skills from a couple years ago. Meanwhile, Roger Feder has a LOT in his draw. Technically that half belongs to Rafael Nadal, but, as usual, Nadal is recovering from a late-season injury. (Last season was like, three weeks ago. Just for perspective.) Nadal could come out shooting, but man, I see his potential match against Diego Schwartzman and I get some very traumatic flashbacks from the French Open last year. We will see.

Matches to watch:
Ernests Gulbis v. Stan Wawrinka: The Birds of Prey forehand v. that damn backhand
Milos Raonic v. Nick Kyrgios: The first round. OK. Got it.
Benoit Paire v. Dominic Thiem: Thiem, yeah, but still should be fun.
Roberto Bautista-Agut v. Andy Murray: Given what we now about Murray's condition, I just can't bring myself to write on paper that Murray could get topped in the first round. So I wrote "Murray." I'll take the hit.
Janko Tipsarevic v. Grigor Dimitrov: This seems like a good upset pick.

See y'all in the morning! Or the middle of the night. Whatever they do in Australia ...

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Official 2018 Yearbook

This post has been in the cards for some time now. But real life intervened and I had to handle some things. Still handling it. No, I don't want to talk about it. But it is time to re-enter that tennis life. Because tennis has always been therapy for me, like writing. Also, I just realized the Australian Open is about to begin, so, uh, time to say goodbye to 2018. It might have been a trash year in every other way, but I gotta say that tennis had a solid year. So what are we waiting for? Let's do the thing!

Head of the Class: Who had the most impressive year in 2018? This is a tough one, but I'm going with Novak Djokovic. It would have been pretty easy to sulk after the start that Djokovic had. I mean, you just know that his French Open loss to Marco Cecchinato is destined to be a Jeopardy! answer one day. He went back to his original coaching team and I guess started the donkey milk again? Whatever it was, he then won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- the only person, man or woman, to win more than one major this year. He wasn't beating tin cans either -- his match against Rafa Nadal in the Wimbledon semis was an instant classic. And he also outplayed his other major rival, Roger Federer, this year on a couple different occasions.

Most Inspiring Player: Gonna go with Simona Halep. Last year, at the Australian Open, she was denied a major title once again after being right there on the verge. For that to happen once is probably tough to take. For it to happen twice (and to perennial whiner Caroline Wozniacki to boot) has to be crushing. And when she finally did win the French Open, it was in another battle, where it would have been easy to determine this wasn't her time. Honestly, I don't even know how she did it, because Sloane Stephens was actually playing a hell of a match. But she did it.

Most Popular: Serena Williams, naturally. I'd love to see her win in Australia, but then I would just assume she was pregnant, which would make me selfishly unhappy.

Most Likely to Succeed: I actually thought Aryna Sabalenka was about to win the U.S. Open this year, and if she doesn't somehow win at least one slam this year, I'll be stunned. When she's on, there are a lot of players who have trouble dealing with her power. She's even learned how to volley. In a way. I'm going to throw Alexander Zverev in here, too. I feel like the only thing missing with him is his head. His focus seems all over the place sometimes. Ooh, and Kiki Bertens. 

Most Likely to Succeed ... at Something Other than Tennis: I want to say Agz Radwanska, but I really want her to come back to tennis and win her major, dammit. Same with Lucie Safarova. I definitely see a future in MMA for Mikhail Youzhny, who also retired this year. One player who I have determined will never succeed at anything other than tennis is Philipp Kohlschreiber. That's because he'll never stop. Nev-URRRR 

That Student Who Skates Through the School Year, But Aces the Final Exam: Naomi Osaka. She had a very, very, very uneven year and then showed the poise of someone twice her age (most people twice her age) in winning her first major in, uh, a dicey situation. If she can do that, she can have a more stable season in 2019.

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Justin Gimelstob and the Fine Art of Failing Up

When I read the first story about Justin Gimelstob being accused of viciously beating someone on Halloween night, the thing that surprised me the most is that he was being groomed for ATP leadership.
Because Gimelstob has been trash for some time. He was an entertaining player to watch in his day, but I never really stopped what I was doing to watch his matches. I tried to remember the first time I heard something about Gimelstob that made me realize he was not a cool person and that took me all the way back to disparaging comments he had made about women's tennis right around the time that Lindsay Davenport was world No. 1. How long ago was that, ESPN?

Yeah. At least.
But it turns out I had been paying such little attention to Gimelstob that I missed most of the terrible things he has been saying over the years. This story has a good rundown of his many issues. Before his arrest, Gimelstob was safely on the ATP board of directors (which, again, WOW), an ATP player's coach AND a Tennis Channel talking head. I do not know how no one before had raised some conflicts-of-interest problems here along with his trash-ness, but OK!
The ATP thing in particular is just mind-blowing. These are people who get to make important decisions about the direction of the men's game. So why -- why -- would anyone groom him for anything leadership-related?
I like to call this phenomenon "failing up." And no one is better at failing up than bro-dudes. In fact, they are the only ones capable of failing up, with a few exceptions. Still, it's not easy. If you want to fail up, you need a few things.
Obviously money.
But at a close second, you need to be uniquely unqualified to do the job you're trying to get. When I saw that Gimelstob was already part of ATP leadership, I wondered if he had some qualifications I didn't know about that would offset his terrible demonstrated human skills. Maybe he had an MBA? Nah. He never even finished college as far as I can find. So what is it about Gimelstob that makes him leadership material? That's right, nothing! That's the point. It has to be obvious that the only reason you're at the table is money and friends. And hey, to be fair, it isn't just him. I mean, in case you hadn't noticed, the current president of the United States had no qualifications to run an entire country and he did just fine. It's kind of disturbing how many of these fail-uppers end up on a tennis court.

Anyway, this guy has money (maybe ...?) and friends.
The friends thing is important. You can't do failing-up without well-placed people who can help you when your appalling lack of qualifications becomes clear, which will happen. For Gimelstob, it appears that those friends will include John Isner (I know, right? Shocked!), who is a member of the ATP players' council and who will vote on whether Gimelstob, HIS COACH, should be off the ATP board of directors. Just as I was about to press play on this post, this story featuring Isner being a friend to his bro-dude popped up! (This story is a trip. It includes Isner pretending that this is a case of he-said/he-said and throwing shade at Lleyton Hewitt for saying something racist. Isner is getting so good at deflection that he might run for office one day!) It's helpful if these friends are in good standing themselves, so that their words for you carries the extra weight you most definitely need when everyone else understands how bad you are for the position of power you are seeking. Again, this is a pattern that can't be limited to ol' Justin. I mean, every fail-upper

needs friends in high places

Without friends, you never get an entire country mocking your country's president because he thinks that cleaning the forest floors will eliminate the problem of wildfires. See, it's really harmless!
All of these guys are really harmless! It is totally fine to have men like Gimelstob ascend up a leadership ladder when he has been rude to women, black presidents and gay people his entire public life. As soon as he gets real power and authority, he'll suddenly mature into the position. Ri-ight.
Listen. Maybe you're reading this and thinking it isn't fair that a guy like Justin Gimelstob gets to do and say whatever he wants and still advance to the higher rungs of tennis leadership. At least, it shouldn't be easy, right? But this is what failing up is all about! Where would Justin, and Brett, and Donny be without failing up? We can't as a society have everyone having to *gasp* face the consequences of their actions! I mean, be serious!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Season Is Slowing Down, They Said. Take the Week off Blogging, They Said.

Here are some things that happened this month so far that I haven't had a chance to discuss yet. We're doing it live!


1. Agz Radwanska retiring: I don't want to say I saw it coming, because I didn't. I noticed the decline in the ranking and the marriage and the increasing number of K-tape with each match. And some things are just not fair. It's not fair that she never got to snag at least one Slam. Over her career, Radwanska has flummoxed the best of the WTA stars on the big stage. Serena Williams. Garbine Muguruza. Victoria Azarenka. Caroline Wozniacki. But she never did it at a major. That stinks, but that also suggests that there is one way to measure tennis greatness. That's not true. There hasn't been a player as creative as Radwanska since Martina Hingis. And people are going to fight me here, but she was more creative! She was able to pull her opponents all over the court, varying depth and width with what seemed to be sleight-of-hand. Oh, so you're a power player? She had speed to chase it down and then use your power against you. Counter-puncher? Yeah, well, her too. Until she pulled the trigger and you likely stood there wondering why you just went through that 27-shot rally.
The problem with this style, of course, is that it takes a toll on your body. Relying on guile means you're not relying on one or two weapons to slide you out of trouble. And so, for the sake of all her sore muscles and tendons, I'm relieved for her. But there aren't a lot of others waiting in the wings to entertain us the way Agnieszka Radwanska has for the last decade. I know Ana Sevastova will be one, but with Radwanska's retirement, we have the end of a fun era.

2. Now that Alexander Zverev's acceptance speech from the ATP Finals is finished, we can talk about his performance. I have to say, I didn't really see Alexander Zverev winning this. It seems like the second he announced his premature arrival to the ascendency of tennis

it turned out it wasn't his time.
(Incidentally, do you have any idea how hard it is to find the actual video of this moment on the Internet? Every clip of it has been disabled. Kinda weird.)
I think it goes without saying that Zverev's masterful performances against Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic speaks for themselves. (Mini-rant: Can we have a little class control, crowds whose favorite player loses to a young, insurgent force on the tour? First there's Naomi Osaka, looking miserable after beating Serena, in some part due to a booing crowd. Now we have Zverev explaining how he stopped a point because he was following the rules of tennis, and a clearly uneducated crowd raining down jeers on him. Now, I should note that I posted this video on Facebook and someone couldn't even see why Zverev stopped play. But from where Zverev was hitting, he clearly would have. No need to blame the ballkid either. Let's just ... like not boo people unless they deserve it?) I'd say the thing I noticed most about Zverev was his control. He was willing to rally, especially with Djokovic, which seems dangerous. But he handled it well. I actually think that next year will be his time. But I have to think about that some more.

3. The Davis Cup just ended. Like, forever. You know, as we knew it. Now, when the changes to this tournament were announced this year, folks weren't happy, for a lot of fair reasons. There aren't going to be a lot of stops like the one I made for Fed Cup in Sarasota, so less access for fans. It might limit player availability. (Another mini-rant: This is actually the part of the criticism that cracks me up the most. Players were not generally interested in Davis Cup to begin with! Because if they were, we wouldn't be changing Davis Cup. If Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal were making this part of their schedule, guess who would also be doing that? Yes. Fans. Just saying.) There's the question of who came up with the plan -- a soccer player coming up with a tennis format? (Well, actually, soccer is way more popular than tennis worldwide, so maybe ... yeah?)  But here's one thing that we have known for a long time about Davis Cup. It needed to change. No one cared about it. The fans never knew when it was happening, not even when their country was in it. It seemed like an afterthought. These changes, in brief, make it more of a tournament, and that's as it should have been. You have a dedicated spot on the calendar and sustained fan interest.
So these changes seem promising for the Davis Cup. The same changes have not been introduced for Fed Cup yet. One change that has been announced: The addition of an additional team player (so, five now) and third-set tiebreakers. Got it. So the men's tournament gets a new format that could boost its popularity and the women ... get ushered off the court faster. Sweet!

4. Speaking of Fed Cup, Barbora Strycova is retiring from the event and managed to get it done with a win for her team. I'm not sure if I've said it before, but Strycova is about as bad-ass a doubles player as I've ever seen and I'll miss her when she presumably soon retires altogether. Now, much has been made of Lucie Safarova's retirement, because she was very nice. I will miss Strycova because she was a straight-up bi-yotch on court. I mean who can forget

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Fed Treatment

Some people choose to retire, and they retreat to their home on the hills, read a lot of books, take up bingo and studio dancing. And some people scorch some earth on the way out.
Julien Benneteau chose the latter and his target? Roger Federer. Yeah. He did this interview on French radio that kinda lit up tennis Twitter this week. You should read it.
What Benneteau is talking about isn't necessarily breaking news. Federer is a top-ranked player and top players get all types of perks -- above and below board. And some of this, to be honest, amounts to not much more than spilled tea. Complaining about Fed not wanting to get involved in Davis Cup changes until a decision had been made about the scheduling? Quibbling over Federer's Laver Cup exhibition tournament disrupting the calendar year? Meh.
But Federer apparently paying Nick Kyrgios three-quarters of a million dollars to play the Laver Cup? That is a chunk of change. Still, though. Tea. And the exorbitant fees that Federer nabs? That doesn't bother me so much, either.
Where Benneteau's commentary gets interesting is when he talks about Craig Tiley's involvement in Laver Cup -- and how that can benefit Federer. Tiley is the head of Tennis Australia and the chief organizer of the Australian Open.

The Australian Open, in terms of outdoor conditions, is easily the most brutal among Slams. If Federer is using his relationship with Tiley to get night matches while others are subject to the luck of the draw, that's not cool. And it almost has to be that he's using their relationship, because there isn't another player in any other tournament that I can think of who enjoys such consistently comfortable match conditions and placement. Not Serena or Venus Williams at Wimbledon. Not even Rafa in France. Either Tiley shouldn't be involved in Laver Cup or Federer should quit his involvement in Laver Cup until he retires.
The Frenchman also alleges that Federer's agent, Tony Godsick (and also Mary Jo Fernandez' husband, I believe) put his foot down on Fed playing on Louis Armstrong court at the U.S. Open -- and they listened. I'm pretty sure agents aren't supposed to go around ensuring his player's complete comfort at the expense of everything else. I thought it was to make sure he got paid. 
It's also alleged that the main reason the ATP doesn't do on-court coaching is because of Federer. That one sounds a bit fishy -- I'm pretty sure I've heard Rafael Nadal and others reject the idea, too. Was it because of Federer's influence? Good question. 
So, yes, some of these revelations are troublesome. But here's the thing about tennis. Even if you get the best court and the best time slot and more money under the table than everyone else, the individual player still has to deliver results. Federer hasn't done much of that this year, apart from Australia. Still, the preference-for-treatment issue with Tiley is, to say the least, a problem they might want to fix. 
Of course, Federer is pretty nonchalant about all of this. He was asked about it during the ATP Finals, and basically was like, meh: "I don't really feel in the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest."
Guessing that mood won't change anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

It's Election Day in the U.S. and I Need to Think About Something Else

Yeah, so I've been on Twitter all day trying to figure out what's going to happen tonight. I've flipped off a tweet featuring that *@#*(##@)(#* stinkin' New York Times needle (seriously, eff that guy) and watched videos of hundreds of people waiting to vote because one station has only three functioning voting booths. We've literally been talking about this election for nearly two years, and it seems that the entire country's boards of elections just somehow didn't know about it? We're teetering on the edge of real Handmaid's Tale-level crap shower here. Right now, we're like in Betty Draper in season one of Mad Men territory.
It's time to think about something else. It's time for you to read about something else. We are going to talk about something else.
Like, honestly, what happened to Novak Djokovic? One second, he's losing to Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarters, and the next, we're giving Roger Federer the old "college try" applause for taking one set off of Djokovic. He's No. 1 in the world again, just like that. I gotta say, I'm not happy about it. Maybe it's my mood. Maybe it's because I miss Rafa Nadal. I'm not saying he's not deserving. I don't have to like it, do I? Sheesh.
Speaking of things I don't have to like, let's talk about this Coman tiebreaker that you have to do now in USTA matches. Because that's what I want to rant about next, that's why. I have enough trouble switching in an old-school tiebreaker on every six points. Math is just not my thing and I'll apologize to no one for that. But anyway, so this Coman tiebreaker was created so that everyone can keep serving on the side you had been serving on for the whole match. So the first server serves once, then after every four points you switch again. And I just have to say we need to (wo)man up here. Is it worth it, really? To see the same sky for the whole set while you serve? If you've ever played a league match, you know that your biggest fear isn't losing. It's playing doubles with three other people who want to taLK ABOUT THE WEATHER AND GRANDSONS ON EVERY CHANGEOVER. Now, we are giving Nancy more changeover chatter time. And god forbid that you're the person who breaks it up because you want to ... oh, I don't know, play tennis, which is the whole reason we are there to begin with. The rest of them give each other that look, that "we'll talk about her later" look. I don't know who this Coman woman is, but I sure hope she's happy.
Because I am not happy. I haven't seen Venus Williams on a tennis court in about four years now. What the hell, Venus.
And we're gonna put Serena Williams in the WWE now?! Tennis is a real sport and wrestling is fake. Que?!
Why can't Garbine Muguruza ever have a whole entire good season? I need a manager.
Karen Khachanov's forehand looks like a bird in flight and he's one of the best young players out there anyway. Honestly. He played such a smart match against Djokovic in Paris. Why does Paris need two big tennis events? Whatever.
What exactly is the point of Daylight Savings Time, if not to throw off everyone's biological clock? I'm waking up at 4 a.m. now for no earthly reason. And I'm supposed to then function? WTF? Florida voted down Daylight Savings Time LAST YEAR and here we are. It's 5:30 p.m. and I can barely see outside. Whose day is really being saved here?
Why won't Rafa marry his girlfriend?
Why does Wim Fissette keep getting fired?
The more I think about this Coman situation, the angrier it makes me. More than on-court coaching for women. But only women. This is actually making me more anxious than Election Day. I have to go.