Saturday, July 30, 2016

Team No-Olympics checks out!

Well, the hits keep coming for the Rio Olympics, don't they. Has there ever been a Games in history in which people were falling all over each other to miss the plane?
Even though tennis is fairly new to the Olympics, it seemed to start taking more of a priority among the game's stars. "Seemed" is the operative word here. Because this time, it's taking a back seat to the likes of the Zika virus, a smattering of injuries and the U.S. Open. That's right, a tournament they have every year is taking priority over THE OLYMPICS.
Quick disclaimer: There is every chance the Rio Olympics are going to be a giant disaster. We've got a mosquito-borne illness that leads to birth defects in babies. We've got the threat of terrorism. We've got reports that athletes are staying in the Motel 6 instead of the Olympic village because the place has plumbing that is leaking like a sieve.
Having said all of that, there are still enough athletes willing to take the chance because it is THE OLYMPICS. But some of the people who are missing it might surprise you. Let's discuss them now:

1. Roger Federer: Federer announced this week that he just can't, guys. He's actually sitting out the rest of the year because of this nagging knee injury. I just read a Rolling Stone story about how Federer is in the twilight of his career and I can't help but be amused by this talk. Mark me: Federer is still a legit threat in men's tennis -- when he's healthy. And he is usually healthy. But, anyway.
2. Belinda Bencic: She would have joined Federer on the Swiss team, but she has decided to focus on the U.S. Open. Yes, the U.S. Open begins, like, two weeks after the tennis event in Rio. That's a tight turnaround. But here's what's blowing my mind here. Bencic's doubles partner would have been Martina Hingis. MAR. TINA. HINGIS. You would basically be guaranteed a medal, and probably the gold, assuming Hingis doesn't have the same lackluster results she did at Wimbledon. With a huge advantage like that, you walk away?
3. Nick Krygios and Bernard Tomic: Of course. Of course. Rebels gonna rebel.
4. Dominic Thiem: How about this for a fun fact: The country of Austria is essentially begging Thiem to go to the Olympics. The editor of one of the country's largest newspapers wrote an open letter asking Theim to change his mind, but the kid won't do it. Theim says his priority is also winning a major. Kids today. No respect for the Olympics.
5. John Isner: I'm not sure if you knew this -- I'm not quite sure I realized it -- but John Isner is the highest-ranked American male in the world right now. He's saying he won't play the Olympics because it doesn't offer ranking points, so he's focusing on events in the U.S. leading up to the last Slam of the year. Right hand: 100 points. Left hand: Gold, silver or bronze medal. Ohhhhhkay, then.
OK, fine. Yes, players should get ranking points for playing in the Olympics. But to choose to play some average warm-up events instead of attending the most anticipated athletic events in the world is questionable. Ranking points are great, but where exactly do you keep those on your mantle when your career is over?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

LEAGUE WATCH: Crisis of confidence

There was a time when high-pressure mixed-doubles matches geeked me out. I used to get on the court in 9.0-level matches knowing I was the worst player on the court AND I LOVED THAT FEELING. I knew I'd get the most shots and I was ready for it. I was like Scrappy Doo. Remember him?

That was me. And most of the time, I did well enough to pull out the win. It was usually quite close, but yeah, we'd win.
Last weekend was a different story. I played my second 8.0 match of the season, and unlike most of the recent lopsided losses I've taken, I actually ended up in a close match. My partner and I jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first set, only to have our opponents pull even at 4-4. There was a minor development that happened at 4-1, though. When I say minor, I mean that my son, who had decided to go hit some tennis balls on the wall on a 98-degree afternoon in Florida, developed a case of heat sickness. My husband, who was playing on the other court tended to him, and I checked on him in the bathroom at the first changeover chance I got. He had a serious case of diarrhea, but otherwise was more coherent than he apparently was a few minutes earlier. He told me to come check on him in 5 or 10 minutes. That boy. What a sweetie.
Anyway, if I'm honest, the biggest problem wasn't my son getting sick. I knew he was OK. But remember what I said about knowing I was the worst player on the court and loving that pressure? I literally did not want to hit a ball for fear of messing up. I have never had that feeling while playing tennis. Have you? I doubted every swing of my racquet, and kept hoping for double faults, or for my partner to jump in front of me to hit a ball coming right at me.
We lost, of course. That'll happen when your inconsistent opponent gives you an easy sitter midcourt that the old Naf would have hit right at the net person, but that this Naf returns the favor with a spinny forehand that lands about four feet long.
What's happened to me? Good question. Sure, I haven't been playing much. My work schedule has limited my tennis considerably. And if my husband and kids aren't at the courts, then I don't want to be, either. That's how strapped for time I am these days. So maybe I just need to play more. What I do know is that I've lost all belief in my game. I don't know how to get it back. I guess I'll keep hitting the courts, waiting for my swagger to return.
Any ideas from anybody? I am open to the idea of hypnosis at this point.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vika and the nine-month virus

I have to admit that my first impression of the news that Victoria Azarenka is not competing for the rest of the year because she's having a baby instead sort of blew my mind.

However, upon further reflection, I have to induct Mama Vika into the Tennis With Attitude Hall of Fame. But this required research. Honestly, my first thought was: "Please tell me she's not still dating that Redfoo dude." I don't think she is, so this kid should be all right. Phew.
But anyway, before we get into her TWAHOF qualifications, let's talk about her announcement. This line right here: "While recovering from the knee injury that I sustained at Roland Garros, I received news from my doctor that my boyfriend and I are going to become parents at the end of this year." This line is hilarious to me, because it suggests a certain level of detachment, probably due to shock. Bringing the doctor into this shows she hasn't fully wrapped her head around this yet. But she will. Fer sure.
The rest of her announcement, though, is pretty kick-ass and although she's a rich tennis player, she's right: There are lots of women who have families and successful careers. Being an athlete, of course, adds a bit of a twist. A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about the equal pay issue. I'd found a quote from Svetlana Kuznetsova, saying in essence that it's not as easy for women to choose to have a career and a family. It's true. But it's not impossible. 
Did you know that Kim Clijsters won the U.S. Open after having a baby? She beat both Williams sisters to do this. Not exactly luck of the draw, you see. The last time a mother won a Grand Slam before that was in 1980. So it's definitely difficult. It's so hard that even Clijsters didn't think she could do it. At first, she announced her retirement from the sport to start her family.
So Azarenka deciding right away that she can do both is a big deal. It's not a slight to women who choose to put all their eggs in either a career or a family basket. Believe it or not, there's no right way to do this life thing. Azarenka's choice to have a baby and stay in the game requires boldness, confidence and thumbing her nose at convention. 
Welcome to the club, Vika. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

It's a Wimbledon wrap

The men's draw of Wimbledon didn't go anywhere near as expected. Probably not even for Andy Murray, who won the thing. You have to think that given the current form of Novak Djokovic, most of the top men probably think they'd be lucky to snag a Slam anytime soon. Still, it turned out well for fans that it didn't go as planned. We got to see Milos Raonic. I have to say, his game is starting to grow on me. I will concede that it's not fair to judge a book by its cover. But the Koozie? The too-perfect hair? It's been hard. Having said all of that, Raonic's game is coming along well. He followed his big serve beautifully for most of the tournament and executed with efficiency at the net. He is becoming a player who is more than his serve, and it's entertaining to watch. He should be able to do the same at the U.S. Open. Which young gun will follow him toward the top of the game?

Other things I had noticed:
1. I can just hear the Williams sisters now: Serena: "Man, we really should try to play a warmup tournament before the Olympics. That's pretty soon, you know." Venus: "Wimbledon, maybe?" As a warmup. For most, no. For them, they made it look pretty easy in winning the women's doubles title, a few hours after Serena won in singles. But where was Martina Hingis in all of this? She was nowhere to be found in any doubles final, having lost early in the women's draw (to eventual finalists Yaroslava Shvedova and Timea Babos). Bummer. 
b. NICOLAS MAHUT, Y'ALL! Look, that guy deserved a trophy at Wimbledon, and dang it, he finally did it in the men's doubles. Big ups to he and Pierre-Hugues Herbert for playing an entertaining final.
a1. Some people had some things to say about the idea that it's not generally a great idea to be a coach and do commentary on your player this weekend (ahemJohnMcEnroeandMilosRaonic). I've discussed this before regarding the way the women's game kicks that nonsense up a notch.
Gotta go play hooky from work to work on my volleys. Later! 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

How to make history

Here is a picture of Serena Williams the first time she won a major tournament:

You can't possibly know, can you? You're 19, and you've spent your whole young life saying you want to win a Grand Slam, that you want to be No. 1, this and that. And you win one, and you still don't know what happens next. You still struggle against the likes of Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin,, your sister. And then before you know it, you've done everything you said you would when you were a kid. Your rivals fade and new ones crop up. You plateau and people question your commitment. You struggle with illness and injury. All along, you keep winning, although your consistency is not there. You leave your emotions on the court, which gets you in trouble sometimes. You keep winning, and it's not always pretty. People stop questioning your commitment and someone notes that you could make history. And you? You just keep doing what you're doing. To the casual observer, event to the most fervent fan, you are extraordinary. It's easy to overlook the path to history and remember the highlights. But if you're the one doing it, you're still just doing what you've always done -- you keep playing.
Here's a picture of Serena yesterday, after winning a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam at Wimbledon:


Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Top down! Gentleman's quarterfinals at Wimbledon

Yeah, we'll do that. But how about those ladies quarterfinals? There's still that thing we'll speak not of. But you know what I mean. We'll discuss that thing we'll speak not of on Friday. Or not.
So, without Novak Djokovic in the draw, there is some potential for some things to happen. Let's consider those things:

1. Sam Querrey could win Wimbledon. Yeah. If he can be Milos Raonic, yeah. They face off in the quarters tomorrow. The temptation is to pick the guy who beat Djokovic, but, Raonic came down from two sets down against David "Pocket Rocket" Goffin to advance in the previous round. There are things about Raonic that make me not want to take him seriously -- his hair, that Koozie -- but his game is starting to emerge as multidimensional, which makes me think that Kooz, er, Raonic, is more likely to win that match.
2. Roger Federer could win Wimbledon. He can! Right?! Right!?? Then why is everyone talking about Andy Murray? Oh, right. Because Murray's a Brit. But Federer could totally take down Marin Cilic and advance. Yes, Cilic has had some major success against Federer, but there's no one left in the draw who has won Wimbledon more than anyone else remaining in the draw. Now, we start pooling coach trophies (McEnroe, Becker, etc.) and then we can start catching up.
3. Tomas Berdych v. this French guy: named Lucas Pouille. Because I am not currently on the grounds at Wimbledon, I am not familiar with Pouille because I rely on American television. I probably blinked and missed the two-shot highlight of Pouille beating Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Stan Wawrinka. You maybe heard of some of one of those guys. He also beat Bernard Tomic, who has skills, despite, well, everything else. I guess I say all of that to say that this match right here could be fun.
4. Murray v. Jo-Willie Tsonga!: This has the feeling of a heavyweight fight. It's not Tsonga Murray will be fighting here. It's the expectations of his country (which he has overcome before) as they expect him to step up in Djokovic's stead. But Tsonga's playing well here so far. He played some gritty tennis against John Isner, who is perfectly willing to play on grass 23/7 (time for potty and nap) at Wimbledon, serving up ace after ace. Plus, he played six games to advance to the quarters, due to Kei Nishikori's injury. Advantage: Tsonga? I think maybe. Sorry, Britain!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

A quarter for your Wimbledon thoughts?

Before we speak of the thing we should speak not of, let's address Dominika Cibulkova. If she should happen to end her career without one Slam title, that would be bad. If she were another foot taller, she might have at least one Slam title, because what she doesn't have in stature, she makes up for in stature. If her dust-up with Agz Radwanska doesn't tell you that, then nothing will. And if she weren't in the same half as the machine otherwise known as Serena Williams, I'd give her a real shot at the final at Wimbledon.
But she is. And watching Serena take on Svetlana Kuznetsova, you remember: "Oh, yeah, the girl with more Slams than just about anyone in history? Oh, yeah. Her." Kuznetsova is no slouch. And it's not like she played badly. It's just that Serena leveled her in the second set after a tight first set, as though she went on automatic or something.
You wouldn't say the same about Venus Williams. She's not the 'automatic' type. She's the winner/double-fault/winner/winner/bad backhand/winner type. But her flashes of awesome at Wimbledon so far are showing up at the right times, when she's down and out. For the oldest woman in the draw, she is showing some indications that she might be the very same Venus Williams who has won this thing once or twice before. Or five. Whichever.
Which brings us to the thing we should speak not of, because Venus and Serena are in different halves of the draw. Both of them are two matches from the final. Should they both make the final, it will be the oldest woman in the draw up against the woman trying to tie Steffi Graf's Grand Slam tournament win. But we're not going to talk about it, because it's too good to be true and the stuff they make bad tennis movies out of, so we'll look at the quarterfinals and just that for now:

Serena Williams v. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Serena.
Cibulkova v. Elena Vesnina: Another sneaky one, that Vesnina. She beat the other other sneaky one, Ekaterina Makarova in another seesaw three-setter. I think you have to give the edge to the person who took Radwanska out, because Radwanska was playing pretty well here, and looked ready for another final run. I don't know how with that serve, but there it is. Or was.
Simona Halep v. Angelique Kerber: I don't know how Kerber wins matches, nay Slams without weapons, but she does. Halep has weapons, but no Slams. No earthly idea how this one's going to go, but guessing it will be the best of the four matches of the day.
Venus v. Yaroslava Shvedova: I just think that doubles players on grass tend to be a nuisance for doubles players. Venus will probably take it, but it will take a while, as her matches here have.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Scenes from Heathrow Airport

Garbine Muguruza sulks through Heathrow Airport, head down. It feels as though everyone was staring at her. They're always staring. They stare at the airport. They stare at Wimbledon while she gets outgunned by some kid no one ever heard of. Why are they staring at her? Don't they have smartphones or something?
She approaches the desk. "I'd like the first flight out of here, please."
The kindly woman smiles and rolls her eyes. "Wouldn't we all?" she says, and chuckles.
Mugu looks back at her blankly.
"Oh, it's a Brexit thing -- you wouldn't understand," the airline ticket agent says. "Never mind. Well, anyway, the next flight out is booked."
"OK," Mugu says. "I normally don't like pulling this, but do you know who I am? I won the French Open last month."
"Oh, I do!" the woman says. "It's just that the flight is booked." She gestures with a little head tilt and Mugu looks behind her. An ocean of tennis players stare back. Everyone with the staring.
"Don't expect me to give up my flight out of here," Petra Kvitova says. She's sitting in a chair. Next to her, there's a tennis bag in the trash can. "I don't even know why I come to this place every year. It's always raining!"
"Probably because you win it," Genie Bouchard says. "Lemme ask you guys: Does Cibulkova play a full schedule or does she just go to Slams to screw with the seeded players?"
"Oh. Do not even get me started," Kvitova says. "I coulda told you when the draws came out that Makarova was gonna be a problem. But everyone's all like, "Upset, upset! Whatever."
"Boy, you women. Always whining, whining," Stan Wawrinka pipes in from the other set of seats.
"The heck are you doing here already?" says Mugu.
"I just think it's illegal to play on grass, and if you have to play on grass, then you can't be allowed to ace everywhere," Wawrinka answers, gesturing wildly with his hands. "It's outrageous. And all that crowing from del Potro about wrist injuries. Yeah, right!"
"Dude," says David Ferrer. "Seriously?" Everyone mumbles agreement and Wawrinka begins absently reading his tattoo.
Muguruza settles into the second row of chairs and they fall silent. For a second.
"You know what I don't get," Grigor Dmitrov says. "Every year, they play this tournament at the rainiest time of the year, and are always surprised when we have delays. And instead of pushing it back, they just make us play more without rest. What do they expect? Don't the Americans have a saying about people doing the same thing and expecting different results?"
"They do," Ferrer says. "But are you referring to the organizers putting it on or the players who come?"
The ticket agent clears her throat. "Kvitova? Kvitova?"
"Yeah," she answers.
"Sorry, I need to put you on the next flight."
"What?" She shoots up from her chair.
The ticket agent shrugs. "We have another priority customer." The man in front of her turns around. It's Novak Djokovic.
The whole section of tennis players recoil.
"I don't want to talk about it!" he shouts.
The agent interrupts again. "I'm sorry -- I just heard that the flight has been delayed due to weather."
"Of course," Djokovic mutters. "Of course."