Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Andrees-who?

Strangely, I have not dedicated too many key strokes to Bianca Andreescu before, but I will rectify that now. And I'll just start with WOW.
So I watched that Indian Wells final and it was one of the most entertaining finals I've seen recently. This final, Andreescu v. Angelique Kerber, was what happens when two players showcase their strengths ... and when, mercifully, one of those strengths is not a serve. They have good serves, yes, but no one was acing their way out of trouble. Lucky for us, they had to slug their way through the trouble.
I've written before about Kerber's unconventional game, and I still have trouble understanding how she does this all the time -- advance to big-time finals, and usually win them. For a minute, it seemed as if that was going to happen again.
OK, so Andreescu. I am impressed. It's not just that she's 18 and had a great run through this tournament. Think about the players you know who have the variety that Andreescu displayed the other day. Seriously. Off the top of my head, I have Roberta Vinci, Conchita Martinez, Fabrice Santoro. Santoro's too far maybe. But anyway, what do those players have in common? At the height of their careers, when they were masterfully displaying that variety, they were in their late-20s and early 30s. This chick is 18. Unfortunately, I had the volume on during the match, so I could hear the commentators saying that she was going to the drop shot too much. Never stop, Bianca! Because guess what? It worked and if you are fortunate enough to have powerful groundstrokes that can keep someone pinned to the baseline, then yes, the drop shot is an intelligent play. Just because a player starts running in doesn't make it less effective. Kerber's returns on that shot (except for that one lucky slice up the line on a dead run) did not leave Kerber in a winning position. Plus, no one drop shots anymore, and it's annoying. Andreescu is 18 and is already learning how to use the entire court.
Yes, she has room for improvement. She fairly limped over the finish line on Sunday, so the fitness maybe could use some work.



But as far as I can tell, when it comes to the brainy part of tennis, she's already ahead of any of the young women I've seen coming up so far.
Not much to say about Roger Federer going down to Dominic Thiem in the men's final. It was entertaining, and Thiem is about to mess around and bring back the one-handed backhand. His backhand is definitely better than Fed's right? That's what I saw.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hot Takes About Indian Wells

Shame to see that Sloane Stephens didn't play Indian Wells this year. I was wondering about her form, especially considering her rough start to the year. Maybe she took some time ... what? Did you say she did play this tournament and won just three games against Stephanie Vogele, a player who has made nary a peep on the tour for some time? Ah, OK. I want to say something snarky, but Stephens is streaky and could just as easily pull off the French Open before another severe swing in the opposite direction.

BREAKING: Phillip Kohlschreiber has a nickname on tour that's easier to spell than Phillip Kohlschreiber! That was my biggest takeaway from the response from this tweet from yesterday:


Kholi! I love it. It's mine now.
Oh, and so, Nick. There's not a nice way to say this, but there's a difference between an inconsistent player producing inconsistent results versus a consistent No. 1 player losing to an unseeded opponent. Kyrgios has a ways to go before he can call out comments like these.

One day, I am going to do a longer post about the Venus Williams of the early aughts and the player she is today. She's having a good run at IW -- that win over Petra Kvitova was peak vintage Venus, only in the grit she showed. But to suggest that we're seeing a vintage Venus in regards to her game? No. She was never this good in her "heyday." Her court awareness, her willingness to take the net IN SINGLES and the way she uses her backhand is all present-day. She has been working on her game. It didn't leave her in 2008, only to return in 2017. She is better now than she ever was, regardless of her age. Full stinkin' stop.

I honestly don't know how Elina Svitolina does it. I probably would if I took a bit more time to watch her play, but, man. Her game is boring. I don't know. Is it just me?

Here is my current salvo in the war I am waging against on-court coaching for women only:


That's it. That's the whole salvo.

Alright, gotta go to work. Or ... do I? ...


This is quite the slate for today and I definitely feel like I have the sniffles all of a sudden. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Therapy with TWA: The First Person I Ever Converted to Tennis

I haven't been posting much lately, and that's because I've been dealing with family issues. I thought, even against all the evidence I had to the contrary, that at some point, the weight of the responsibility of caring for my sick father would be alleviated once he got better. That actually didn't end up happening.
My father died a couple of weeks ago and since then, I've not been in the mood for much, least of all tennis. So here I am, back on the therapy couch.
Did I ever tell you guys about how my dad became a tennis fan?
So about 16 years ago, I was becoming obsessed with the sport. I was playing it, was dating a guy I met because of it, was actually getting good at it. I loved watching it on television. Whenever I talked to my dad, he would talk to me about boxing and I would talk to him about tennis. I never really liked boxing. My dad loved boxing. I hadn't watched boxing since I was under his roof because we had one television and I had no choice. We're talking Mike Tyson's heyday here. And honestly, growing up in Brooklyn with Tyson knocking out everyone lined up against him? It would have been sacrilege not to follow that. But that was the depth of my boxing expertise.
Now, despite my possibly obvious disinterest in the sport, it didn't change my dad's determination to narrate each blow of the recent match he watched. I listened. He was super jacked about it. But still, no dice. No boxing fandom for me.
My dad eventually moved to a housing development with a pool and tennis court. When we went to visit one time, he wanted to have a hit. One thing you should know about my dad is that he was very meticulous about his appearance. And yet, he came out with my then-boyfriend and I to his tennis courts and allowed photographical evidence of his completely wack tennis game to be recorded. Now, I would never actually share those tiny images of him completely mishandling his racquet and looking decidedly uncoordinated that I took on a Motorola Razr nearly 13 years ago.








Bah, he wouldn't have minded.
But here's the thing. So it never occurred to me that I should start watching boxing because my dad liked it. For me, it was like, "No, I didn't see that fight. Let's talk about something else!" And we could. There was no shortage of things to talk about with him. There was life, movies, books, current events, and the like. But my dad knew that I had this new passion and did not resolve, as I did, to talk about something else, or to allow the other person to ramble on just because. No. My dude became a tennis fan. And I'm not talking about folks who are Serena/Maria/Fed stans. He watched all the matches. He trended towards the young Americans and women's tennis, especially the rivalries. It never ceased to surprise me just how much he got entrenched. He knew all the player names, and when we turned on tennis at his house, he could go on about Marion Bartoli's game, or that of Simona Halep. I know he still loved boxing.
It's not like I feel guilt for not becoming a boxing fan, because to expect someone to pick up a sport because someone they care about cares about it is a lot. But he did it.
What does that say about him?
Things I didn't fully understand until now.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

AO'19: Some Things that Surprised Me at the Australian Open

Some things about the Australian Open were fairly easy to guess: Novak Djokovic bringing home the men's title, the flaming-out of all the Australian men at their home tournament, very hot weather. Others were not, and it's a good time to re-examine those things now:

1. The sudden confrontation with the end of Andy Murray's career: Before he took the court for his first-round match, Murray had a hit with Djokovic that ended with him in physical and emotional pain. At a press conference, Murray said the Aussie Open might be his last tournament, although he was hoping to end it all at Wimbledon. Now, at this moment, Murray is recovering from a last-ditch surgery that hopefully can help his hip heal so he can play without pain. But just in case it doesn't, we should let the record show that, yes, he finally brought the Wimbledon crown to the home crowd. Back in the day, Murray hired Amelie Mauresmo to be his coach and everyone clutched the pearls. Since then, there has not been a more vocal pro-woman male player than Murray. Women appreciate this. Men claim to appreciate this, and then make the claim that because men attract larger ratings, they should be paid more than women. (Hi, Rafa. Still loving that sexy ass, but that's foul.) These days, Mauresmo is working another male pro, Lucas Pouille, and she will have her work cut out for her. After a recent win, Pouille was asked about the decision to have a (gasp) female coach. His response -- that Mauresmo's gender shouldn't matter -- is the mark of Andy Murray, whether he returns to court or not.

2. Serena Williams: Now, I didn't have her advancing past Simona Halep -- her footwork has been shoddy since she returned to the tour. But her footwork has improved quite a bit and she was able to advance to the brink of the semifinals. But what happened when she was up 5-1 in the third set is basically unheard of when it comes to Serena. True confession time: I was watching the match on mute, so I didn't hear the chatter about her injury until the next day. Sure, they showed close-ups of her stumble, but it didn't register at that point that it hampered her play. And frankly, it never looked as though it did. She had plenty of opportunities to close that match and she didn't. Whether it was tentativeness or injury or whatever, she didn't finish it out. A lot has been made of the fact that she didn't call for a trainer. Maybe she didn't need one? Now her coach is out in the world saying that she didn't call for a trainer because she knew the tournament was over for her. He got that out of his own head, having acknowledged that he never spoke to her. Look, I've said since the breastfeeding thing that she needed to cut bait on Patrick Mouratoglou. He is clearly a great tennis mind, but the man is really mostly interested in himself. And then there's the business of the foot fault on match point. Was it a foot fault? I have no idea. But it was one point of a match with many points (and three other match points ...) and to blame her loss on that call, even if it was wrong, is crazy. But yet, there was that groundswell. I'll just never get over the crowd that wants to paint Serena Williams as a perpetual victim, even when Serena isn't doing that.

3. How ineffective Nadal's game can be: Watching Nadal get picked apart by Djokovic, it became clear to me why Nadal's best results come at the French Open. He is a grinder, a physical player who works points until he can seize an advantage. Unfortunately for him, Djokovic is not a patient man. Djokovic is able to cut points short in his favor and the whole cat-and-mouse approach isn't going to work on him at his current level. Nadal's game can grind down most of the field -- he advanced to the final, after all. But against Djokovic, it didn't work. If Nadal wants to truly challenge Djokovic in his current form, he's going to need a first-strike sort of approach himself.

4. Maria Sharapova's results: Double bagel in the first round, beating Caroline Wozniacki, taking Ash Barty to three sets? What has happened here?

5. Ana Pavlyuchenkova's results: Every time I fill out a draw with Pavly in it, I hover over her match and think the same thing every time: "She could win that. But will she?" And again she showed flashes of what she can do. Taking down Sloane Stephens is a big deal and normally I'd have something to say for her bowing out to Danielle Collins, but Angelique Kerber also lost to Collins which is still blowing my mind.

6. Naomi Osaka winning the Australian Open: She's a kid. She's not supposed to win two Slams in a row, both under extreme duress against wily veterans who are Slam champs themselves. I don't know what keeps Osaka calm in closing out these matches, but I need some of it just so I can get through most days without chucking items at people.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

AO'19: Random Thoughts

It's been a while. Still with the personal stuff, but that doesn't mean I haven't been watching tennis. I have thoughts. Here they are:

Frances Tiafoe: I come from a long line of West Indians who believe that working hard would lead to great success. Because of this, there is this steady line of progression through my family line as far as I can trace it. My grandfather would leave his country of origin to come work citrus fields in Florida, paying steadily for the entry of each of his children, then his wife. His children came, saw, got a job and showed their children how to make something of nothing. It really is the ultimate Houdini trick. When you grow up seeing each generation pushing for the coming crop and it's your turn, what do you do? You go above and beyond. Someone's got to set the bar for whoever is next. So when I read about Frances Tiafoe beating Kevin Anderson, then advancing into the quarterfinals of a Slam and making comments like this: "It means the world. I worked my ass off, man. I told my parents 10 years ago I was going to be a pro and change their life and my life," well, you get it. It makes sense. All he saw growing up was pushing boundaries. Why not keep pushing boundaries?

Serena v. Pliskova: It really is an insult to make excuses for Serena at this point. So let's not do it. If she sprained her ankle and never tried to get it checked, that's a decision she made. The foot fault call was important, and perhaps unwise and incorrect, but let's not forget she was up 5-1. When you are leading like that, you can create as many opportunities than you need. One foot fault does not make a match. Having said all of that, I was stunned watching the second half of the third set play itself out. Serena had hit the gas towards the end of the second set and all the way up to 5-1, so it was crazy! Even at the end, there was no one clear reason for the plot twist, well, besides Serena having an injury.

Federer losing to Tsitsipas: I haven't written about Stephanos Tsitsipas before. I will rectify this now. He's pretty good. I haven't seen what happened against Nadal yet, but in his match against Roger Federer, he showed a maturity that suggests to me that he will win a Slam, and probably before Alexander Zverev. One thing I personally look for when I see up-and-comers playing straight legends is how they react to victory. Usually, if they're all excited they hit an ace, or won one set, it doesn't bode well. But Tsitsipas kept his head down against Federer for the most part. He's almost ready.

People Coming Out of Nowhere: Danielle Collins had a nice stretch of success last summer, then went away. As I write, she's playing Petra Kvitova in the semifinals. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has been flirting with success for a long time now. Beats Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens and makes the quarters. Amanda Anisimova taking out a title favorite in Aryna Sabalenka. My point is to make your draw with your gut, not your brain. Also that we are in for a heckuva ride this year, and the newbies are at the wheel.

Rafael Nadal: and his sexy ass hopefully will win the Australian Open, glistering in sweat.


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.

via GIPHY

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 ...