Tuesday, November 01, 2016

This Week with TWA: Top 5 moments from the WTA Finals

Well, the WTA Tour Finals went down exactly the way I expected it.
Said no one. Like, no one.
Dominika Cibulkova won the WTA Tour Finals on Sunday. OK? You got it? No? Me neither! This one's gonna take a while.
This year-end tournament was Threat Level Insanity. It was like the U.S. presidential election 2016 shenani-aster. Except in all good ways. Let us count those ways:

Dominika Freakin' Cibulkova: First of all, there can't be too many other players at this tournament who lose twice, yet still advance to the sudden-death stage only to win the whole thing. Let's just get that hat-tip out of the way. Now, I called Cibulkova a Minion-sized player on Twitter, but she has always been one of my favorite players because she gives tiny tennis players like myself a lot of hope. Except she has to work really hard, which is kind of a bummer. Not only does she have to be fit, she has to have impeccable timing to get the drop on almost anyone else on the court. It is not easy to hit the ball at the top of the bounce every. single. time, or at least every time she successfully executes a shot. A big part of her game is taking time away, and it's just a second or two, but it's part of what had Kerber (and the rest of her opponents this week) scrambling all over the place. It's maddening.

Anddd, the loser, but still champion ...: I know a lot of people like Angelique Kerber. I like her. She's got grit, she works hard and she is the legit World No. 1 right now. But even as she earned that title, I always considered her a stopgap No. 1 at best. This tournament proved that, and the final match really shined a spotlight on this. Cibulkova played great defense and served well, too, but she offered up enough short balls that Kerber should have been able to step in and apply pressure. Instead, she's the one being pulled around the court. In her 20-minute offseason, she needs to develop the kill shot.

Svetlana Kuznetsova goes full Alize Cornet: Kuznetsova has always been my favorite Russian from that first post-Kournikova batch. She's not flashy, no drama, just a meat-and-potatoes tennis player. She's had periods of wild inconsistency, but at her best, she is a threat. She was a real threat to Johanna Konta last week and took her spot in the finals at the last minute. I thought she'd have nothing left to make a real run, but that was, to put it mildly, not accurate. She made a semifinal run to the tour finals, but not without a little sacrifice.

There are a couple of things to love about this. First, the theories bandied about by the female commentator. "She's feeling heavy on the court?" Pardon? Like, what?!!
It turned out that Kuznetsova's explanation about this moment was that her hair kept getting in her face and distracted her. OK. Makes sense. I guess my first inclination would have been to ... I don't know, ... tuck the problematic hair into my ponytail holder? But that's just me. There are about four other ways to solve the problem, and Sveta goes to the most time-consuming and permanent one. Oh-kay!
On the next changeover, Kuznetsova was sobbing like Vera Zvonareva. This is really all the evidence you need that the season is too long. We've got players having mini-episodes and losing critical thinking skills during matches, guys!

The return of Santina: Even though Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza did not defend their championship, they are still a very entertaining team to watch. The reason they ended their partnership in the first place was because they weren't getting the wins they were used to, and I guess losing here is just confirmation. But big-ups to Mirza, who was not really much of a doubles player when she started out, but has developed pretty well, learning a lot from Hingis and is now the best doubles player in the world. And she's getting the cream of the crop for partners so far, too. Barbora Strycova is not the friendiest person on tour, but she doesn't come for friends. She comes to clean up on the court. Hingis? Hingis is drawing Coco Vandeveghe. I would just submit she is not exactly battle-tested.
Anyway, the rest of the doubles tournament was also great to watch. Elena Vesnina is another one of those "clean up on aisle D" types and she and Ekaterina Makarova came away with the title, which again, was a bit of a surprise. Which fits in perfectly with the rest of the tournament.

What the Halep?: I have this feeling that the Simona Halep/Darren Cahill breakup is coming soon. Sure, I could be wrong, but perhaps the person most poised to pose a real challenge in this post-Serena season was the one behind her in the rankings most of the season -- Halep. And yet? Lackluster Slam appearances, barely registers a blip in Singapore. I'm far from an insider, but Cahill is a high-quality coach. People under his tutelage tend to get consistently better, or poof! Done! Has Halep maxxed out her potential? Maybe it's just that the long season took its toll. But she clearly needs to assess how badly she wants to challenge for No. 1, because right now? Yeah, this is the time.

Singapore: You know, since I've gotten the Tennis Channel back, I've been watching a lot more tennis. Duh. I know, but one other thing I've noticed is that I might be the only one watching the tennis. The stands at these late-season tournaments have been almost completely empty. That's questionable to me. Everyone's sitting around debating what we should do about the long season. Should we shorten matches? Replace tiebreakers with riveting rounds of rock-paper-scissors? Maybe we just have fewer tournaments. I have to think some of these events are operating at a loss. The money they pay in electricity just to get the party started must be exorbitant compared to the spectators. They might just consider having people bring candles to the matches if they're going to keep having tournaments that 10 people attend in person.
OK, with that off my chest, man, that crowd in Singapore loves themselves some tennis! Every match had enthusiastic fans. They didn't appear to be sellout numbers, but there was some life in the place. You want to fix tennis, Steve Simon? Maybe just give tennis to the people who want it?

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