Friday, December 29, 2017

The Official 2017 TWA Yearbook

And here I was, thinking I could wait until after Christmas and still get my last entry of the year in before the start of the 2018 season. But as I write, the first matches of the season have already been contested. So yeah. I'm thinking someone should do something about the lack of an offseason, especially considering we're coming off a season where half of the best men in the world didn't make it through the whole season.
But hey. What do I know. Actually, I know that the pro tennis season was one of the best things about 2017. So let's try and squeeze in a conversation about that before Serena Williams (!) plays her first match since January 2017, when she won the Australian Open while pregnant. Let's go!

Head of the Class: So, this season, the ATP and WTA had to deal with the same quandary -- the sudden loss of their top talent. But the players remaining handled it completely differently, I think. Serena Williams took the rest of the year off to have a baby and the other women spent the rest of the year playing hot potato. "No, you take the top ranking and all the Slams!" "Gah! No, you! Don't touch me!"
But most of these players didn't have anything in terms of experience on Mssrs. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. So when Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were felled by injury this season, Federer and Nadal knew what to do. But they were nice about it -- they split the four Slams evenly among them. So, for the second year in a row, there will be co-heads of the class. But this time, neither are women. Don't @ me.

Most Inspiring Player: This is a toss-up, because there is one guy who claimed wins against Fed and Nadal this season, but came up short in the Slams and in Davis Cup. He also has beaten Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios. Regardless, David Goffin might look like a bag of bones in oversized tennis shorts, but his game said much more. (His player page says he's 5-foot-11. Nah, right?) Next time you feel like you're outsized, out-powered and out-talented, well, you probably are. But before you take the bagel, consider that this year, Goffin shored up his weaknesses to prevail against some of the biggest names in the game. Except Grigor Dimitrov, of all people.
There is also one woman who has shown up quietly to all the Slams this year and made the final of three of them. Due to recent underwhelming results, no one really expected Venus Williams to be a force this season. But there she was, on one half of the court during some the best matches of the year. She did this being older by her opponents by often a decade at least, and sometimes without her best tennis. She never did it with a coach in her ear at every timeout. She's old-school in every way -- except she's not quite ready for the senior tour. And when Venus is on a roll, it's best to let that roll go. Am I right, Jennifer?

Most Popular: Maria Sharapova, of course. She really was the belle of the ball. Never has anyone returned from a drug ban to such pomp, including a tournament holding a spot for her after it had already started until the end of her suspension. I might have noted once or twice how unimpressed I was with how her suspension went down, but fans didn't care. When tournament organizers thought that she might qualify to get into Wimbledon, they sold tickets to those rounds -- and people bought them! (Remember when Sharapova said she'd play anywhere, even a New York City street? Turned out that enthusiasm didn't extend to, like, qualifiers.) So there you go. The people (who aren't me) have spoken. 

Most Likely to Succeed: Garbine Muguruza, like the other women on the WTA Tour, has been unsteady this year, but her run to the Wimbledon title, including her utter domination of the second half of the final match, makes me think she's got a shot at hitting the ground running next year. Whatever her obstacles, they seem to be between the ears. 

Most Likely to Succeed ... at Something Other than Tennis: Martina Hingis, who probably should consider another profession because it would appear she has done just about everything possible in tennis. I'm sure that if she took up MMA boxing, it'd go okay. I guess. She might be slight, but Hingis will cut you.

That Student Who Skates Through the School Year, But Aces the Final Exam: Looking at you, Caroline Wozniacki. She had a solid season, although she came up short in most of the final matches she played. Until September, when she won her first final out of seven tries. And then. She goes to the WTA Finals and beats Venus, who she had never beaten before. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Attitudimeter: Davis Cup Finals and Shuttin' Down the Machine

Welp, this is the last installment of the Attitudimeter because there's no more pro tennis. Just tennis gossip, baby-mama drama, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the Aussie Open's Serena-watch. Don't worry -- there will be more at this spot. I've been seeing some straight JACKED-UP year-end tennis compilations and we will be setting the record straight. But first:

High Attitude

The French Davis Cup team

First of all, there is really only one acceptable circumstance in my mind for grown men crying, and it is when they have won the Davis Cup and come through for their captain, Yannick Noah. Nick Mahut looked like he wasn't gonna make it off the court. It's winning moments like this that make you realize how great the Davis Cup could be if only they tried to do it the right way. (Next year, the tournament is going to try a few changes, such as a two-day format for ties and best-of-three matches, and other stupid things. Of course they could consider Judy Murray's idea to make Davis and Fed cups happen every other year, but sure, let's do some ticky-tack changes first. Sigh.) But back to the French. Their win was the first in 16 years at Davis Cup, which is crazy because of their consistent depth. I mean, you can pull Mahut to put in Richard Gasquet in the doubles. Anyway, they played some high-quality tennis and it's hard to believe it'll take them another 16 years to win again.

The Belgian Davis Cup team

It's tempting to make this all about David Goffin, who did all he could to get his team to that trophy, but it wasn't enough in the end. At the same time, this was essentially the team that got this far -- Steve Darcis, Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore -- that got the Belgians here in the first place. They did some of that without Goffin, and against some tough customers -- Germany, Italy, Australia. So, they probably feel like crap this week, thinking they just needed one more match to get over the hump, but overall, it was a pretty good season for these guys.

Low Attitude

French tennis fans

I have never been to France. But I have always heard that it's such a great place -- the City of Light, etc. So you would not expect to see such trash tennis fans there, and yet, they are worse than the New York crowds liquored up at night at the U.S. Open. They really highlighted this during the Davis Cup match between David Goffin and Jo-Jo Tsonga. In sum, Tsonga quit playing a point after he assumed that an "out" call was made, mostly because the ball was most definitely out. But also because the crowd was yelling and booing constantly. So Tsonga complained to the ump, specifically saying it was too loud to hear, but she basically told him he was outta luck. And what does the crowd do in response? Yell and boo constantly. Good. Good.
They roll like this every French Open. You wonder why French tennis players have trouble winning in France? They probably have scarred poor Mary Pierce for life.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Attitudimeter: Jack Sock is here?!??

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a special holiday edition of The Attitudimeter. Despite all the craziness in the world right now, there is still plenty to be thankful for, especially where tennis is concerned. Tennis is really the only thing that didn't completely suck this year, when you think about it. So let's dig in!

High Attitude

These Shoes Right Here

I think it's great Serena Williams got married this weekend with everyone who is cool in attendance. Her baby is very adorable. Her husband appears to be well-trained to worship her regularly. But these dancing shoes for the reception

were really just the best things I've ever seen. Hands down.

Grigor Dimitrov

He won the ATP Finals. OK. Whatevs. We're gonna talk about how on earth something like this could even happen, but imagine a world where some of the strongest players on tour weren't injured right now. Where would Dimitrov have been during the finals? Shuffleboard? Playing Old Maid, maybe? But, yeah, congratulations ...

David Goffin

... to the guy who was really the star pupil at the finals. Let us consider that Goffin of Mordor was having a pretty great season to begin with when he suffered a gruesome on-court injury at the French Open. He came back and was still able to earn a spot in the finals. And then he beat Nadal and Roger Federer, ending both their seasons. He did the heavy lifting so that Dimitrov didn't have to. Also, he's a good four feet shorter than everyone else on tour. All hail our favorite tennis Hobbit.

Low Attitude

The ATP Tour

You really have to assess the choices you make as a tour when you've got Jack Sock at the year-end championships. This isn't Sock shade, honestly. He played well at the finals, advancing to the semis, and beating Alexander Zverev. But look who's on the sidelines. Andy Murray. Novak Djokovic. Milos Raonic. Kei Nishikori. Rafa Nadal as a late addition. These finals were never supposed to be a "best of the rest" wrap-up. I guess this is my way of saying that this is a good time to take a look at that tournament schedule, and if not that, then looking at what you're requiring of players.

The Tennis World

One of my first tennis fan memories was watching Jana Novotna cry on the shoulder of royalty when she lost Wimbledon. Yes, that was a terrible moment for her, but a great humanizing moment for the sport. I think that maybe when you also play tennis yourself (not always on a pro level), that sort of moment makes you realize it's OK for tennis to mean something to you. So it sucks to lose someone like Novotna so young to cancer. She was just 49. Hopefully, she understood that her moment of sadness on the court spoke to many of us in many ways. RIP, Jana.
Same goes to Pancho Segura, who at least was able to live a full and successful life. He died at 96 this week as well. He had a record-breaking career ... and also gave us Jimmy Connors. But you can't be perfect.

The Australian Open in 2018

Look at this. I mean

I can see wanting to address player withdrawals. That makes sense. But it's a pretty hard line to say that if you retire from a first-round match, then you'll probably get fined. (Tanking, yes, should always be fined, Nick Kyrgios.) But ... what if you do it during the second round?
Also, I am old enough to remember why the Slams went to the 32-player draw -- to prevent, say, Grigor Dimitrov from playing Nadal in the second round. I was resistant, but it made sense, especially as tennis developed depth, and it's turned out well. So why change this? I can even see the argument for three-set matches for men before I see the logic of this nonsense. The shot clock in matches? What?!?? Why is tennis so insecure? Why are they trying to appeal to people who don't like tennis? Other sports aren't willing to change its bones to please non-fans. Am I missing something? I think, actually, that I'll miss tennis when it's gone.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Attitudimeter: It's All Uphill From Here

It looks like the Attitudimeter is malfunctioning this week, because it seems that nothing good happened in pro tennis, except Roger Federer playing tennis in a kilt. Alas, the ATP Finals are this week, so it can only go uphill from here. Unless their draw ceremony also included some light sexism. Anyway, let's do this thing:

Who's down

Victoria Azarenka's ex

Normally, I wouldn't delve into tennis players' personal lives unless it involved winning a Grand Slam while pregnant, but here is exception No. 2. This guy. I mean, fine. It didn't work out. That happens. You both love your child and both of you want custody. What are the levels of petty required to refuse to allow the mother of your child to travel for work because you want custody? You could figure this out in the offseason. You could let your baby mama work so she can afford to support little Leo (and let's be honest, buddy, you too, ex), but no.

The ATP Next Gen Finals

It's a good idea, I guess. Pit the young talent against each other, ATP Real Finals-style. They're good, but not ready for prime time. Sounds good. But what doesn't sound good, given the social climate these days, is doing your draw presentation with female models who have to remove their clothes to reveal the (male) player's group:

That was just how it started. This tournament was supposed to be an experiment in making tennis a little less tennis-y. For example, a shot clock between points, no-let, no-ad scoring and four-game sets. Yeah, I'm been here before, so I'm not going to get my blood pressure up ranting about this anymore. I will just simply say that if you don't like tennis, then go watch another sport and let the rest of us who like tennis enjoy tennis. How's that?

The Belarus Fed Cup team

I could only find the Fed Cup final online and they were not speaking English, but I would really like to know what those girls were sniffing on changeovers and if it's legal.

Because that doesn't look legal.
I guess you have to give it up for this team, because they managed to make it to the finals, despite the absence of Victoria Azarenka all year. This is how you know it wasn't an Olympic qualifying year. This one girl, whose name is Aryna Sabalenka, strongly resembles Andy Roddick both in appearance

and in horrific net game. I mean, watch this:

and then this

Having said all of that, they took it the distance and if this girl wasn't such a terrible volleyer, they probably would have won Fed Cup.

The U.S. Fed Cup team

The U.S. Fed Cup team really did go the distance against a team of no-name players from Belarus, even though they brought a Grand Slam champ and a semifinalist. They brought guns to a knife fight and the Americans somehow nearly bled out. I watched the final match in its entirety because I could barely believe how bad it was. The Belarusian girls played their ranking throughout, while Sloane Stephens, who just won the U.S. Open, basically donated her singles matches. Coco Vandeweghe, who is normally one of the cockiest players I've ever seen, looked like she couldn't handle life in the doubles rubber. And then there was Shelby Rogers celebrating an opponent error like she just won the Publisher's Clearinghouse. It was something to behold.
Actually, it wasn't.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Attitudimeter: WTA Finals edition

Live from ... my home office ... a special Attitudimeter, WTA Finals edition! Just the ladies this week:

Who's Up

Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki spent this season flirting with greatness. She made eight finals and lost the first six of them. So it shouldn't be a surprise that she was the last one sitting on the top of the heap in Singapore this year. She had it coming. In some ways, she maybe should have been part of the Player of the Year conversation a bit more. But the reason she wasn't was her inability to do anything significant at big tournaments this year. So maybe this is the set-up stage for 2018 for her.

Venus Williams

So there's Venus, down 4-6, 0-5 in the WTA Finals, when she receives a push alert on her phone that she, in fact, is in the middle of a tennis match. Alas, it was soon to late to remedy the situation because she lost the second set 6-4. As any longtime reader of TWA knows, I have something of a soft spot for Venus and part of the reason why is in regards to the way she played the WTA Finals -- in her usual OG style. I watched as every single other player in the draw consulted their coach every possible time. Venus spent the tournament figuring it out by herself. That's why she'll almost always be up on the old 'meter. Unless she throws away another final like Wimbledon. I mean, for Pete's sake, Venus ...

Who's Down

WTA Finals

I take it I'm alone on this, but I'm going in anyway. Why on earth is on-court coaching allowed at a major tournament like Singapore? Incidentally, why are so many women running to their coaches, their daddies, their spiritual mentor -- instead of figuring it out themselves. Half of the on-court coaching I heard was, admittedly, Darren Cahill, who's great. Don't get me wrong. But my god, if he is so great, why can't Halep retain what he has been teaching him? Most of what he said seemed to be aimed at managing her feelings, not her game. I'll say it again. This concept, and the fact that only women are allowed to have it, is an insult.

Elina Svitolina

Yeah, she had a rough tournament, but a bad translation of an interview she did led to a severe raking over of the coals. Svitolina's observation that many people were now in contention for being No. 1 somehow became her saying that Serena Williams used to dominate, but that they were now in a different era, which triggered Serena fans, which led to her taking some online hateration until the website issued a correction. Sadly, it was too late for Svitolina's Twitter mentions.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Attitudimeter: There's No Crying in Tennis

High Attitude

Julia Goerges
The thing I love about writing about sports is that there's no crying in tennis. No emotion, no muss, no fuss, just sports.
Oh, what? You want me to watch this video of Goerges winning her first title in more than six years? Fine! No biggie:

Garbine Muguruza
I'm OK now. Whew. I need some snark in my life, stat:
Picking a WTA Player of the Year this year is a little like picking the worst Donald Trump tweet of 2017. Like, where do you start? They're all terrible! I'm not saying the WTA has been terrible, but no one has stood out. Sure, after a Slam, they stand out. No one has been consistent. No one. Muguruza's spotty season (slam, Cincy, World No. 1 for 10 minutes) is among many spotty seasons among the POY candidates. So spotty that folks were writing in Serena Williams as POY despite her playing, literally, two tournaments this year. One of them was the Australian Open and she happened to be pregnant at the time. I don't know. She's got a case, too. They all do.

Juan Martin del Potro
Listen. Juan Martin del Potro could lose in the first round of Star Search and make this list. Who doesn't love this guy? Sure, he got smoked by Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer recently, but he just won the Stockholm Open, his first tournament win since ... the same tournament the previous year. Glad to see that tumble he took in Shanghai wasn't too much of a problem. I mean, dude deserves a break.
Not that kind of break. The other break.

Low Attitude

Half of the ATP tour
Not literally, but in this past week alone, Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych said "nah" to the rest of the season. Off the top of my head, I believe we are now at Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka as major contenders who started 2017 on a court and ended it on a stretcher. We

Barbora Strycova
We all know that you won't like Strycova when she's angry.

And now, have mercy, she is angry at her fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, who apparently stole Strycova's coach behind her back.
"Our relationship is zero. We do not go for coffee," she told the press.
No coffee.
This is serious.
Strycova said she'll still play Fed Cup if Pliskova is on the team, and if I were Pliskova, I would not play doubles with her again. That's right -- with her. Strycova knows just how to set up a point to get her partner blasted out of her shoes. Would she actually do that? I'm gonna refer you to the video above.

The WTA Rankings System
How are you going to lose 10 matches in a row and then still manage to end up moving up the rankings into the top 10? That's a question best asked of Kristina Mladenovic and the WTA rankings system. Maybe let's throw in the rest of the players, too. Yo, these guys had almost a year to wreak some havoc while Serena Williams was out and instead of people taking their shots, we have folks moving up the ranking having done nothing at all. I'm done with this topic, I think.

Maria Sharapova
Fresh from winning her first post-ban tournament, Maria Sharapova rolled up at the Kremlin Cup, probably popping the collar, feeling pretty good about herself.
She didn't stay long, losing in some erratic tennis to Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets.
I admit that I'm tempted right now to make a joke at Sharapova's expense. But I think I may have been a bit rough on Sharapova. Maybe, I thought, I might try a bit harder to understand her, so I decided to go out and buy her book. I guess the first run sold out, because all I could find was this updated version:

Should I buy it?

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Attitudimeter: Who's Up, Who's Down This Week

And now for a new feature here at TWA: The Attitudimeter -- a weekly look at who's on top in the pro game ... and who could use an attitude adjustment. (Note: Attitudimeter is copyright protected, so don't even try it.)

Who's Got Attitude

Roger Federer
He doesn't just get the top spot for winning Shanghai this week, beating his longtime rival Rafael Nadal in the process, but I suspect that Fed is playing the least pressure-free tennis of his life. I only say this because my dude showed up to this tournament looking like a homeless dude and he's cool with that.

Maria Sharapova
Well, Sharapova finally made good use of a wild card, winning the Tianjin Open this weekend. She didn't lose one set, although there weren't any real threats in the draw, either (at least none who advanced very far, ahem Petra Kvitova). Here's the draw.

I'm not usually in the "wild-card-for-drug-ban-returnees," but this tournament really needed some help.

Serena Williams
The women's tennis season has been so inconsistent that folks are talking about Serena Williams for player of the year because she won a slam while pregnant. I agree that this is remarkable, but it's also remarkable that the women who have been jockeying for the No. 1 position have left virtually no impression on the voters. Also, here's another thought -- if we're going to suggest that Serena should win for her Australian Open performance (and apparently not for losing to Madison Brengle in a warmup tournament), can't we throw Venus Williams' name in the mix? She played in two Slam finals and a semi ...

Who Needs an Attitude Adjustment

Rafael Nadal
Nadal's had a good summer and two major titles to his season, but when it comes to beating Federer, he's stuck on the backhand strategy, I think, and it's ... not working anymore. I'm not sure how he did it, or even if it's legal, but Federer has somehow had his backhand surgically replaced with that of Ivan Ljubicic's. Plot twist, Rafa! But he's going to need to go back to the drawing board for a new strategy on his old rival.

Nick Kyrgios
It feels like October must be some type of triggering time of year for Nick. Last year, he got himself thrown off the tour before season's end for not trying during matches. This year, one call going against him in a final against Nadal caused him to hand over the entire match. And then, he threatened to quit a match if he didn't win the first set -- and then he quit the match.

Off-topic: Steve Johnson and that mustache, though. Anyway, Kyrgios needs to take Octobers off or something.

Fabio Fognini
I don't think I covered this knucklehead in the blog during the U.S. Open, but he called an umpire a whore during his first-round loss and he is currently playing tennis. This week, officials decided to suspend him and fine him ... kind of. He has to miss two slams next year -- one the U.S. Open and one, apparently, of his choosing. If he behaves himself in the next two years, his fine will be halved from the current $96,000. Fognini isn't challenging this, and why should he? He gets to choose some of his punishment!

Simona Halep
I remember when I thought Angelique Kerber was a placeholder No. 1, and compared to Halep, I really regret that take. I am sorry, Angelique. Like, Halep has had many chances to take the top spot this year, and then she backs into it and follows it up with a loss in the final. She is so unremarkable as a No. 1 that I don't have anything left to say.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

League Watch: The Best Advice I've Ever Gotten on a Tennis Court

If you play USTA matches, you probably have played combo leagues as well. It's when you team up with a player who isn't your rating. So if I'm a 4.0 and I'm playing 7.5 combo, I'm playing with a 3.5. Up north, it was somewhat similar to playing 9.0 mixed doubles, where you're playing with a 5 and a 4. Anyway.
So that's the main tennis out here in the fall and I signed up this year with a fairly solid team, so strong I thought we would have no problem with the other teams in our division. So I rolled up to my first match with my partner, a decent 3.5 who forgot her racquet at home the last time I played with her. She had it this time. Our opponents were a pair of what appeared to be nice older ladies who were somewhat slow.
They weren't that slow. Nice? Here's an anecdote and you can decide. So I'm serving. First serve's out. It rolls to the fence. Bouncing maybe six inches off the net -- far from our opponents. The returner stops everything to retreat this ball that is nowhere near any of us. About 30 seconds between first and second serves for this. We win the point. But I'm not pleased. Starting to think it was done on purpose. Happens again. OK. OK.
Now it's the first set tiebreak, one of them is serving and the first serve is out, but my partner swats it back the way you do when you are in mid-swing anyway. Ball bounces behind these women and actually comes off the fence a good distance. The server goes, "It's fine," and serves!
I literally laughed out loud when the point was over and may or may not have mockingly said, "It's fine?"
Anyway, we lost the set. But I always lose the first set (probably not a good thing), so I'm feeling great and we get out to a 4-1 jump in the second set. But small problem: I'm feeling great and my partner, who's a little older, was slowing down and it was obvious. Our opponents started running her all over creation for lobs and then short balls and I didn't know what to do. It was clear that she was going away, and slowly, our opponents came back and won the match.
People get really excited about 7.5 tennis out here and I am not sure why. Just last night, I watched a men's match where the one team was "C'mon!"ing so loudly it distracted the team serving on the next court. Fist pumps. I mean, it's 7.5 tennis. As far as I know, it doesn't count for ratings and there is no prize money.
But my goodness, did these women celebrate when they beat us. They hugged each other and high-fived like they had won the Olympics.
For me, I came away from the match wondering how I could have better protected my partner. The second half of the match, they were running her all over with lobs and crosscourt shots that I couldn't get involved with. I'm not a confident volleyer or poacher, and I knew that if I poached and didn't hit a winning volley, any reply would go to the other side of the court -- and my partner didn't move well enough to switch. So I began to think about what I could have done to help out more. You know, in case we ever played them again.
Which I did not think would happen. After all, I had told my captain that that partner and I didn't make a good team because of our styles and she agreed to switch things up and give me a new partner. That had all changed by the next week and I was back with my original partner again for reasons you honestly could care less about.
Well, OK. I promised my partner that I would try harder to help her. How? First, instead of easing into matches as I like to do, I endeavored to have a sharp start while my partner was at her freshest. I also planned to be more aggressive at net and to stand back a bit on serve returns to help handle the lobs we would get. Besides, I thought to myself as our opponents walked over, what are the chances we were going to play the same women again?
Those chances are 100 percent.
So here we are again with Rose and Blanche (not their real names). This time, we get out to a good start and despite the fact that I hit three double faults in a service game, we win the first set. In the second set, they decided to go to the Australian formation. I always enjoy when people do this because they're usually not doing it right and after one or two failed returns, they go back to normal. Well, this time, they kept it going and for the life of me, I could not get an advantage. Even though our opponent is standing in the middle of the stinkin' service box. It was very annoying and they won the second set pretty easily, as both myself and my partner were entirely flummoxed by these women standing in a different place.
So now we have to play a third-set tiebreak. My partner was tired again and wanted to take a 10-minute break. I mean, it was a good match, but I wanted to go home. But I tried to keep it loose and give her a bit of a break. I told her, "If you need a break, it's no big deal. We beat them now, or we beat them in 10 minutes." We laughed, but I also made a point of not sitting down. She laughed and got up off the bench. I'd like to think it was my inspirational line, but like, it was 8:15 p.m. at this point.
Anyway, we start the match and get an early, but slight lead. I get into position to take the serve and worried about my partner being able to finish the match, and all of a sudden, I see it. This big Mac truck-sized hole up the line and that's where my return went and it was a winner. Then my partner did the same thing when it was her turn. And then we won most of the rest of the points and won the match. When it was over, I told my partner, "That return was there the entire second set! This could've been over a half-hour ago!"
My exhausted partner looked at me, shaking her head. "Sometimes we try too hard, you know?"
And this is seriously the best advice that anyone has ever given me about tennis. I'm not kidding. The easy way isn't always flashy or -- let's be honest -- satisfying. We like winning points with style, right? We want to hit the shot that makes the crowd go "ooh."
But simplicity will get you home a half-hour earlier. Think about that.

Friday, October 06, 2017

IDEA: The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme *Might* Need a New Name

See, if you understand the purpose of the International Tennis Federation's drug panel, it makes more sense.
See, I thought -- and maybe you did, too -- that their purpose is to set definitive rules regarding drug use and to crack down when they spot abuse. I'm not sure where I got such a ridiculous thought, but I'll own it. It was dumb and I'm sorry.
But the actual purpose of the tribunal is to undercut its own authority, protect the players and their ever-fragile reputations and, where possible, aid and abet a drug problem, not fix it in any way. I mean, they're not miracle workers.
How does this role work? Well, you write a lovely letter to a player and you say, "Hey, Dan Evans. Hope you are well. It appears you failed a drug test a few months back -- says you had cocaine in your system? Weird. Anyway, we're gonna need an explanation on this. Can you come see us in a few weeks? No pressure. Thanks. xoxo"
And then Evans gets to come up with a scenario that makes sense. Kind of. "OK, well, yeah, I had a bit of cocaine once. ONE time. And I was NOT competing. And maybe some of the residue got into my toiletries and maybe got into my system when I was competing. And I am VERY sorry. What do you guys think of that one?"
The ITF drug Justice League huddles, comes back to face Evans, looking all clever-like. "OK. OK. Cocaine is a pretty dangerous drug that people have died from using, but we're going to believe that you don't have an ... addiction problem here, and we can see where you might not be at your best cleaning up when you're high. But, Danny -- Danny. We've got to do something here, you understand. We're going to suspend you for a year, but it's backdated to when you failed the test, so it's really just seven months and you have to give back some of your money ... (whispers) assuming you still have it.
"So! I think we're good here. Hey, keep your nose clean, kid! We're here for you."

You know what I have learned about tennis players through the ITF? They are the unluckiest athletes in the world. I mean, consider the odd coincidences that have conspired to damn them in the last couple years when it comes to banned substances entering their bodies without their knowledge or permission:

1. Maria Sharapova missed the email that said her "heart medication" was now banned, and although her team probably got the email, no one on her team really knew she was taking this "heart medication" -- the same "heart medication" that Russian athletes were banned from various sports from taking because it had been found to be performance-enhancing. Huh.
2. Sara Errani accidentally ingested a banned substance that happened to be an ingredient in her mother's cancer medication. Errani's mom, a pharmacist by trade, apparently took this drug -- and then fixed the family dinner at the same spot, which is how Errani ended up taking this drug. Wow!
3. Back to Evans. I just want you to read this, please:

Oh. OK. He just ... threw out the leftover cocaine. OK.

That is burden of proof? I wish this panel was my mom when I was a kid.

"On the other hand."

Friday, September 29, 2017

OK, so the Laver Cup.

I have to admit that the Laver Cup barely registered as a blip over the last few weeks. Whoo-hoo, I thought. Another exhibition on a packed tennis calendar. I was aware that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would be on the same team and I was also aware that the other team -- Team World -- despite the name, had a remarkably lower talent reservoir than Team Europe. What's the hook? Who cares?
Turns out that I do. What drew me in were the photos of the bonding between Fed and Rafa:

Exhibition or no, we've never seen two living legends of the game playing on the same team, and definitely not on the same side of the court. And I nearly stroked out when Nadal got in front of Fed for that overhead.

NADAL WAS NOT MESSING AROUND THIS ENTIRE WEEKEND. I know I'm not the only one who thought he was about to go off on Federer when they lost that second set. He was inTENSE.

So why did Laver Cup pick up and gather steam? What worked? And what can our other group competitions learn about this? I have thoughts, naturally:
1. Star power: I expect a lot of money was involved for Laver Cup, but alas, all that's on the line for Davis and Fed cups are national pride and, occasionally, a spot on the Olympic team. Money = playing for love of country. Just thought I'd point that out. Whatever. It's good tennis. Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing these annual tournaments is the lack of top-player interest, especially in non-tennis years. There's other ways to deal with that besides money, like adopting a Ryder Cup-styled schedule, but I'm actually getting tired of myself saying that the ITF needs to address this, so I'm gonna move on.

2. Rafa and Fed together.

My god.

3. The sliding scale scoring: I had never even thought of this, but this could be an idea that could fit Davis and Fed cups. Especially Fed Cup. I really hate that Fed Cup insists on playing its doubles last, and that you don't even get to it half the time, but what if the doubles match actually was worth more points and could sway the result? Or ... what if you followed the Davis Cup lead and moved the doubles to the middle of the rotation? Too much to ask, probably. But anyway, in the Laver Cup format, this worked great for suspense. It all hinged on the very last match, which was a great match! I'm sure one day, Nick Kyrgios will beat Federer, but I fear it will be in Jim Courier's old-man league.

4. Timing: In two ways -- the shortened format and at the end of the Grand Slam season. I feel like exo events can do whatever they want, and this isn't the place for five-setters with no tiebreaks. To its credit, this event was set up for optimal efficiency. They won't even play it in a place without a roof, per the rules.
Obviously, it's a great idea not to shove this right in the middle of the calendar. But also, Laver Cup couldn't have come at a better time as far as current events. While half the country was arguing about the railings of an unacceptable president and the ensuing illogical ramblings of people equating standing up for a song and saluting a flag to loyalty to a country (and yeah, I have thoughts), I found refuge on Sunday in watching some great tennis.
So, thanks, fellas. On several levels.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

U.S. Open Time!: The Definitive U.S. Open Wrap

I didn't get to see Rafael Nadal win his 16th Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open live. I missed most of the match due to inconsistent Wi-Fi coverage during Hurricane Irma and then my computer battery died and there was no power for almost two days. So things have been a little crazy since the Open ended, but it doesn't mean I don't have thoughts about what happened during the last major of the year. Let's go!

1. Watching Nadal play in this tournament brought back memories of the French Open, where he was wearing down opponents who looked great in Set 1. Those same opponents looked like they could use an oxygen tank by the end of the match. Nadal could have found complications in the final against Kevin Anderson, the lone survivor of the bottom half of the men's draw. Heavy and hard hitters like Nick Kyrgios and Denis Shapovalov have gotten the best of Nadal this year, but at this tournament, Nadal was able to blunt power and use the entire court to keep his opponents from standing at the baseline hitting comfortably. I mean, poor Anderson looked like a weary lab retriever by the end of that match -- he's not the most elegant mover to begin with.
I've had some things to say about the bottom half of the draw, but making a Slam final is still an accomplishment, even if you didn't have to beat a top 10 player to do it. This could be the thing that propels Anderson's career to another level. Hopefully, when he gets to that level, he won't feel the need to give himself a fist pump just for holding serve in the first game of the match. It's just that, Kevin, well, you're supposed to hold serve.

Besides, it's not really a fist pump unless you're covering some court.                                  

2. So Sloane Stephens won the U.S. Open and I still feel she was pretty lucky to make it out of her semifinal against Venus Williams. Right? I mean, those last two games featured some of the gutsiest ball retrieval skills I've ever seen from a non-Williams. Look at this:

I mean, what.
Now, perhaps I judged Sloane a bit harshly by wondering what in hell she was thinking by playing Wimbledon first tournament back and losing in the first round. Still a valid question, but obviously, winning the next major out after a long injury layoff is no small feat. And just as you probably shouldn't take anything long-term about Madison Keys' performance in the final, I'd caution the same about Stephens. Keys did not handle her nerves well for the final, but that was such a colossal lock-up, it's hard to imagine her letting that hamper her again. As for Sloane, I don't know what her new pecking order is in the grand scheme now. I'd love to see her tested more against the rest of the top 10, especially Garbine Muguruza.

3. Because the women's No. 1 ranking has been like a hot potato that no one wants since Serena Williams went on maternity leave, Muguruza is now the top dog of the WTA. At least she's a current major winner. Maybe we're asking too much of our No. Ones. Serena and Roger Federer and Nadal and Djokovic have been dominant and consistent in their reins. Angelique Kerber? No, not exactly. Karolina Pliskova? Well, no. Maybe now we're heading into the scrapper age, where players are battling weekly against each other, as opposed to acquiescing to the dominance of one. That actually sounds like a lot of fun, too.

4. Martina Hingis is still out here winning doubles titles, this time with Chan Yung-Jan and Jamie Murray. That brings the grand career total to 25. My unofficial theory: She is out to prove that she can win a title with anyone with the same serve she'd had since she was 16. Pretty bold.
Oh, and also, I'm going to need someone to talk to me about how this dinner went:

Sunday, September 03, 2017

U.S. Open Time!: Peak Shade and a Cavernous Men's Half

You know me. I am not about gossip or "spilling tea" or anything like that.
OK, who am I kidding? I am loving this Sharapova/Wozniacki/Coach Patrick shade-throwing! I mean, when half of the big-time talent are missing from the last major of the year, you have to find life somewhere!
You know what? Let's start with the men. As previously noted, we have Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in the same half of the draw, and so far, they are delivering. They're making it a little uncomfortable  on themselves -- watching Federer go into five sets after seemingly gaining control of a match is a bit weird. Probably moreso for him. Nadal's last two matches have been interesting, too. He's had tight first sets with players he would not normally have trouble with -- Taro Daniel and Leonardo Mayer -- but watching him struggle to find that gear, then just go off to the races has been really interesting. And let's not forget that past champion Juan Martin del Potro, up-and-comer Dominic Thiem and ninth-seed David Goffin are still among contenders in the Rafa/Roger half.
Wanna see the bottom half?

One of these guys is going to play for a U.S. Open title. Yep. Yeppers. Uh-huh!
Yeah, this is what happens when Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic can't even show up. No, this is no time to talk about the pro tennis schedule. Don't. Be. Silly. The other thing that happens when you need to schedule matches for a spotlight-short men's draw is that you look in other places. You look at your star attractions. You look for someone who can put butts in seats when Pablo Carreno Busta can't.
You look at Maria Sharapova.
And, yes, this sucks for all the reasons I have previously stated, and many die-hard fans feel the same way. But I think this is why she's getting the plum night session on Ashe every time. No, it's not fair. It's definitely not fair to someone like Caroline Wozniacki, delegated to Court 17 and reportedly deluged by fans after a match she lost because security was nowhere to be found.
Yeah, they were probably at Ashe. Protecting the gold bouillon.
Wozniacki aired her frustrations and said what many have been saying (count among them the organizers at the French Open and Wimbledon, by the way, nbd): Someone coming back from a drug ban shouldn't have the fatted calf laid out for her the second she returns, regardless of whether she's done the time.
And it turns out that Maria Sharapova had something to say about that, which went a little like this:

Whew! I did not know Sharapova had that in her and I'm kinda impressed. Because we know that she knew exactly where Wozniacki was, don't we?
Still, it's worth pointing out that for all of her talk about being willing to play anywhere, including a parking lot in Queens, there has been one place she has not been all that enthusiastic about: The qualifier draw.
But in case you thought that would close the book on this chapter, Serena Williams' (who of course had to have her baby during a major) coach Patrick Moratoglou (who seems to really enjoy digging Sharapova) had to get involved, telling a New York newspaper that the best thing for Sharapova is to not have Serena in the draw AND that those with drug bans should have to wait a year before they get a wild card. I'll let him expand:

Man's right.
Very much looking forward to Sharapova's response. Because, yeah, I'm not mature at all.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

U.S. Open Time: Women's Draw

Let's just get this out of the way.
Remember when Maria Sharapova acted like playing through qualifying was no problem for her? When she didn't get a wild card at Wimbledon, she put on a very stoic face and vowed to fight. And then backed out of Wimbledon. And now she's got a U.S. Open wild card and she is ready to go all of a sudden. OK! And then she draws the No. 2 seed and a night tennis slot at MY HOME SLAM.
OK. Deep breath. I'm fine.
Here's the women's draw:

Part of me is disappointed, wishing that Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka were here just to establish some type of pecking order. But most of me thinks this tournament is going to play a part in establishing a new pecking order. Most of the seeds here are not exactly coming into the U.S. Open with a head of steam. Except Elina Svitolina. Somehow.
So who do we have? We have top seed Karolina Pliskova who was killing it this time last year, but who lately has not been playing to her ranking. She picked it up a bit in Cincinnati, but ended up losing to Garbine Muguruza in the semis. And then there's Angelique Kerber who I honestly don't even trust to make it out of round one, or past Francesca Schiavone in the third round. Venus Williams hasn't done much this summer. Nor has Johanna Konta. Still, of all the players who really didn't need to see Sharapova's name next to hers in the first round, though, it would have to be Halep. Her ego must be just tissue-thin right now. This summer, she has:
* taken defeat out of the jaws of victory at the French Open final
* lost a close one at Wimbledon against Johanna Konta
* had a chance to become the world No. 1 and lost pretty badly instead
* got the Venus treatment from Muguruza in the Cincinnati final
Can we let Darren Cahill coach from the sideline, for just this one match?
Anyway, I also have Svetlana Kuznetsova as a dark horse. There's a lot of youth in her quarter, and if she's healthy, she's probably got enough guile to handle the CoCo Vandeweghes of the world. And yes, Pliskova, too, if it came down to it.

First round matches to watch:
Kerber v. Osaka
Jelena Jankovic v. Petra Kvitova: Bring an Oscar, because you know there will be drama. Drinking game: Take a shot every time Jankovic throws her arms towards the line judge as though it's her job to call an in ball out.
Heather Watson v. Alize Cornet: Take a shot every time Cornet stops to stare in shock at the umpire for calling an in ball in.
Garbine Muguruza v. Vavara Lepchenko
Sloane Stephens v. Roberta Vinci: Yes, Vinci is still here and yes, Sloane has been rounding into form since her return at Wimbledon. Could be fun.

U.S. Open Time!: Men's Draw

So I'm filling out my draw yesterday and decided to take a Twitter break to see if we were in World War III or if Charles Manson had been let out of prison, and it's a good thing I did, because Andy Murray had decided at the last possible moment to back out of the U.S. Open. It's probably best he did, but if he had decided to back out a bit earlier, we wouldn't have our current situation. Like this thing:

This was a tough call for Andy and maybe, just maybe it's time to talk about the 11-month tennis season. 
No? Too soon? OK. 
But anyway, now the bottom half of the draw is not as, let's say, robust in talent as the top half. The top half now features the two favorites to win the tournament -- Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Nadal, who is now in 2017 the world No. 1, has a couple potential issues on his way to the semis -- Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov. 
Nadal has looked good at the Slams, but lost to some Canadian kid in oversized clothing at the Canadian Open a couple weeks ago and then Nick Kyrgios more recently. Still, he's the favorite to get through that part of the draw, as is Federer, who's got a dicier situation going on, and who also is coming off an injury layoff. There's Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin del Potro and Kyrgios (who apparently has trouble playing nobodies but gets geeked up to play the Federers of the world). 
I'm just saying that if Andy had pulled out before the draw came out, Federer might have the bottom draw to himself. As it stands, everyone in the bottom half of the draw has the draw to himself. Especially the bottom half of the bottom half. Someone said it looked like the draw of a Masters 250 now. This isn't inaccurate. There's Nicolas Almagro, Nicolas Mahut, Lucas Pouille, David Ferrer, oh!, and ex-U.S. Open champ Marin Cilic. Also Denis Shapalavov, the Canadian kid. And to think all off this real estate could have belonged to Federer. Sigh. Without playing Nadal until the final. Double sigh. 
The top half features Alexander Zverev and he's also looked good this summer, having bagged a win off Federer at the Italian Open. Also in his path are Americans Sam Querrey and John Isner and maybe Ernests Gulbis and Gilles Muller. I mean, I filled out the draw, but do not hold me accountable for the bottom. 

Early rounds to watch: 
Tomas Berdych v. Ryan Harrison
Roger Federer v. Francis Tiafoe: First match after an injury layoff ... just saying.
Fernando Verdasco v. Vasek Pospisil

One last funny thing: The rule for late withdrawals call for the No. 17 seed to take the place of the second seed should there be a late withdrawal. I know. That's Querrey and before Murray's withdrawal, he would have faced a qualifier and now? His first round is against Gilles Simon, who is ... not a qualifier. 
Looks like Murray came bearing gifts this U.S. Open. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

League Watch: How You Play the Game

For me, league play has been so infrequent that it's been hard to get excited or amped for it. You know what it's like? It's like when the Davis Cup happens. You kinda knew it was happening some time soon, but then it's on TV now, and you're like, "OK, I'll watch it." I used to get jacked for league matches. Checking out all the potential opponents, coming up with game strategy during the warm-ups.
That just doesn't happen anymore, and I think part of the reason is that the competitor pool in this part of Florida is actually smaller than it was in Pittsburgh, which is very disappointing. I didn't come to constant sunshine to have fewer leagues going on. Someone better fix that!
Also, though, I'm busier. I have a few irons in the fire right now and as much as I still love getting out on a tennis court, it's more like a block on my schedule. I just show up to the courts when my captain tells me to and try to have a good time.
So that last part right there, the "have a good time?" I think it's been a bit of a crutch lately, borne of a run of bad tennis. It's been my way of coping with losing -- saying, "Well, it was a good match, good competition. We had fun!" And really it's a shame that the Brooklyn in me has allowed this to go on for so long.
Part of what makes tennis fun is winning. Playing really good competition is another part. And this summer, I've been lucky to play some very high-quality players, especially in mixed doubles. During a recent match, we were playing against a team with a really strong male player and by the end of the first set (which we lost quite easily), I was feeling great. I thought I was hitting and returning well, and targeting the weaknesses on the court. My partner, though, spent half the match denigrating his own play and the other half telling our opponent how great he was. Every changeover was a set of fresh compliments as I stood on the court, waiting for him to remove his lips from this guy's ass. I don't know if it was this specifically, but something shifted in my thinking. I asked myself that day, "Why do I have to be the one to lose?" That might not have been the best time to ask that question -- we did lose in straight sets, even squandering a lead in the second -- but that question has stuck with me
I've been too quick to cede the advantage to the other side, too eager to conclude that they're good, too, so they'll probably win. Que?! And why? Maybe listening to my partner give voice to effusive opponent praise was what spurred this revelation in me, but it's changed the way I walk out on court lately. It makes me lower my chin and get to work out there and it makes tennis more fun when you play to win, not play to have fun.
This year, there's this new division for league play -- tri-level. It's a range of players, say 3.0 to 4.0 and there are three lines, with each line being a different level. So I would play the 4.0 line with a partner against two other 4.0s. So our first match, I was telling myself to relax and have fun. Besides, these women are warming up terribly. Well, the match started and our opponents really surprised me with their level of play -- they were very good. We lost the first set easily, won the second set easily and then came the tiebreak. (You know how I feel about third-set tiebreaks. If not, please consult the right side of this page.) Between my partner and I, we handed over half of the tiebreak points in double faults. That is not an exaggeration. Of course, when we shook hands in defeat at the net, we did acknowledge that it was a good match, a fun match.
Fast forward to this week. I ended up playing against the same two players, although I had a different partner. Of course I remembered how the last match went. And just like that, in either my first or second serve game, I found myself already in trouble, about to drop a game during a tight set. Usually, in this situation, I'll think something like this to myself: "Well, if you lose this game, at least there's the next one." This time, I thought to myself, "I don't have to lose this game." And we didn't. If I remember correctly, we didn't lose any deuce games. And this time, we won the whole match in straight sets. Just that shift in thinking made me feel like a different person out there, and that was fun.
One of my least favorite sports adages of all time is, "It's not how you win, it's how you play the game." Maybe if I tweak it a little, I'll like it more: "Play like you want to win the game?"
I'm liking it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

But Are We, Though?

Here's how I found out Maria Sharapova was getting a wild card into this year's U.S. Open:

Blessed by none other.
Sure, she gets butts into seats. Sure, she's pretty and is actually good at tennis. Guess what else is true? The reason her ranking is so low is because she just had to serve a drug ban! Not only that, but for someone who sure looks like she tried to hide that she was taking meldonium for 10 years, she has been awfully unrepentant about her time in the penalty box! I mean, a wild card at a major?!
Ugh. That's all I have to say about that.
No, it's not. One of my favorite all-time tennis writers, Jon Wertheim, pointed out that, "Wild cards fly in the face of fairness." He noted that Vicky Duval, the young chipmunk-looking (meant in the nicest way) American who had been fighting lymphoma, has to qualify. That stinks. She's an American and it's the U.S. Open!
Yeah, right, I know. She wasn't likely to win the U.S. Open and maybe Sharapova is more likely to do that. If Maria Sharapova wins the U.S. Open off a wild card because her ranking was too low to get in on her own merits because she had to stay off the court for a year and a half because of a drug ban, then I think I am missing how that's good for tennis.

In other news, Rafael Nadal is going to be the world No. 1 next week. It's 2017.

In even more other news, Caroline Wozniacki lost in another tournament final. 0-6 now, and zero sets won. Zero tiebreakers played. I watched this one -- against Elina Svitolina in Montreal and two things:
1. Svitolina's game is effective and super boring to watch. I don't know how that's possible, but here we are.
2. Wozniacki looked fine throughout the tournament until the final. She's down 1-5 and calls her dad down? (Also she appears to have poached Victoria Azarenka's old hitting partner, who was Serena's old hitting partner -- the ever-mobile Sascha Bajin) Her dad's talking, gesturing wildly. Caroline's nodding. Caroline goes out and loses the next game in about five minutes. This on-court coaching is VERY BENEFICIAL.

Oh, and I almost forgot about Azarenka. Listen, this nonsense her ex is pulling is ... not cool, to say the least. Anyone who didn't want to be a petulant jerk would let his ex and her (presumably) very responsible team go to work out-of-state without making it a court issue.
This sucks for Azarenka. I really thought she was in the relationship clear once she got rid of RedFootBlueFoot Foo. Dang.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

ITF: Hold My Beer

In some ways, I wish the Interational Tennis Federation was my mom while I was growing up. My life would have been so different! Because when I was a kid, this is how conversations went:

MOM: Who took my lipstick?
ME: (wearing it all over my face) Not me!
MOM: Go to your room. You're grounded.

Just imagine what you could do with the ITF:

ITF: Who used this lipstick? It's crusted with PEDs.
ME: I did. But it was totally an accident and really it's my team's fault.
ITF: OK. Don't let it happen again, hon.
ME: ok, cool
ITF: But I slit the tires on your car, so

I'm oversimplifying here, I know. But this Sara Errani drug suspension case is bonkers. Let's start right out by pointing out that there is no evidence, based on tests, that she has been a regular user of the drug letrozole, which has been used to increase the presence of testosterone in the body, which leads to a lean body mass. It appears that this ingestion happened once and in low levels in her body.
But how it got there? I ... I ... OK, you can read it for yourself.

That's right. Sara's mom (Mrs. Errani) accidentally apparently gave her entire family a dose of her cancer medication, including Sara, who was home visiting on an injury-related break from tennis. This is pretty unbelievable. Sara's mom is also a part-time pharmacist. 
Obviously, I wish the best for Sara's mom and her family. She has apparently been fighting cancer since 2005. 
With that said, this is the craziest report I've ever read. We have one doctor saying Errani probably took it to enhance her performance and another doctor with a hair test disputing this. We have the ITF panel trying to determine the level of intention on a scale of "no-blame" to the "five-alarm Sharapova special." 
Ultimately, they determined that Sara is a little responsible and give her a two-month ban. 
This positive test was first discovered in February, which is a bit of a ... problem here. Errani had been allowed to play through much of the year. Why? 
But then the other crazy part is that although they let her play all that time, they are also taking back all her earnings from between February and June on top of the suspension.
In short, this makes absolutely no sense at all. I mean, the ITF has made a lot of ridiculous judgments in the past. As any TWA reader knows, my favorite is cutting short Maria Sharapova's drug ban, even as she testified that she was making efforts to keep the use of the drug from her team. But it's like they had no idea what to do here. 

... um, why??

And I kind of get it because if you are putting yourself in the position where, as the ITF, you're going to go all in on buying this defense (and I would have loved to be in on some of the tests Errani's team conducted), then it probably becomes difficult to figure out a punishment for this -- or if there should be one. They never quite figured that one out, so they went with a slap on the wrist ... and also taking the money they let her earn for several months. 
It's almost as though Errani and her team came up with the craziest possibility for this positive test and the ITF was like, "You want a judgment? Hold my beer." 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

There *Might* Be a Theme Here

Did you know that Caroline Wozniacki has been to five WTA Tour finals this year? Not bad. Not bad.
Did you know she hasn't won one of them?
Although Wozniacki has been No. 1 before, recall that she has done this without having won a major. She has been to a couple of finals and come up short there, too.
Five finals in a season without winning one of them? That's nuts. Especially with a lot of the usual suspects on maternity leave or struggling with a return to form. She's lost to Johanna Konta, Karolina Plishkova (x2), Katerina Siniakova and Elina Svitolina. With the exception of Siniakova, all these women are in the top 10 --- and she's not so much snagged one set. Not a tiebreak.
Still. Wozniacki is No. 6 in the world. That's mainly because there's never been a tournament she won't play. "On the moon, you say? OK. I'll give it a shot."

I'm just wondering out loud whether Wozniacki has missed her window to take a major title. What do you guys think?

In other news, Maria Sharapova has pulled out of her last two tournaments with injuries.
And I don't even know why I mention this, because it's completely unrelated, but did you know that one of the benefits of meldonium is physical endurance due to increased blood flow? Oh, also a heart medicine.

The Aussie young guns are under fire. First Bernard Tomic admits he's not really feeling tennis right now, and then Nick Kyrgios defaults a match against a guy named Tennys. He didn't even win a game on Thursday in his first-round match against Sandgren, and the crowd was not impressed. He was booed out of the stadium.
I have been a proponent of giving Kyrgios a chance to be young and figure out what he wants. I'm also about tennis-ing with attitude (see top of page). I wonder, though, if these guys might not benefit from some type of ATP mentorship program. I'm serious. You can't tell me all the top pros didn't go through bouts like this. So why do some go on to be Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray  (who probably could also benefit from some real talk), etc. and others are chronic underachievers with talent and no patience to stick it out? Is it a millennial thing? Or are fans too hard on these players (and they paid good money for tickets -- they have the right), only to find no support in the locker room or close by?
Just a thought.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Andy Roddick Was Good at Tennis. That's It!

Wimbledon might be over, but the tennis world keeps spinning. Let's talk about some things that have happened in the past week or so:

1. Hall of Fame: Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick are the newest inductees into the Tennis Hall of Fame. Let me say a few things about Roddick first, because I've spent a significant amount of time on him in this blog over the past decade. Here's one of my favorite old posts about him. Roddick was the shot of personality that tennis needed in the early aughts. There was nothing better for a while there than Andy Roddick playing tennis at night at the U.S. Open. He was the first significant sign of American male tennis life since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. He won a major. He was No. 1 in the world for a minute.
He totally does not deserve to be in the Tennis Hall of Fame.
You can't (or should not) get into the Hall of Fame if you came in second a lot. You should be great, and not just good to get into the HOF. Think about this: Chris Evert is in the Tennis Hall of Fame. Sampras. Navratilova. Agassi. Arthur Ashe. I mean, really?!
I was a little pissed about this for a few days, until I finally decided to find out exactly who is in the International Hall of Fame. There are more than 200 members -- and this includes not just players, but broadcasters and others who contributed to the sport in other ways than picking up a racquet. Here's the list. I clicked on the first name I didn't recognize that caught my eye: one Mal Anderson. He actually was never No. 1 in the world, but was No. 2 and he won one major -- the 1957 U.S. Open. He was on two winning Davis Cup teams. So Mal Anderson is not great, but good. Like Roddick.
Then I realized that the Tennis Hall of Fame is a lot like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I mean, it used to be a big deal for someone to get a star. And then a couple years ago, Paul Rudd got one. Right. Exactly. It's this guy:

Rudd was pretty good in "Clueless," and is an OK Antman, I guess. H'es good, not great. We have a theme.
So now I get it and my mind is de-boggled. It's worth noting at this point that Clijsters is absolutely deserving of this honor. This woman left the tour to have a baby and then came back and won a Slam. She was a force in women's tennis for a long time and hit a clean ball. I loved watching her play. I still remember when she faced off against Jennifer Capriati in the final of the French Open in '01. Tracy Austin was doing on-air commentary before the match and she actually said these words about Clijsters: "She doesn't have anything to hurt Capriati with." That was when I realized that commentators don't necessarily watch tennis until someone pays them to do so.

2. Agz Radwanska got married. Congratulations! Let's work on that serve now!

3. OK. Let's talk about Bernard Tomic. Everyone else is, and it's not for a good reason. Tomic has been taking his pity party on the road lately. It all started at Wimbledon, when he acknowledged that he was bored and couldn't get himself motivated or interested in winning. He also may or may not have entirely bailed on his match. That lost him his Head sponsorship, which takes some doing, especially when you realize that Head is happy to stand behind an admitted drug cheat. But we've had enough tangents here, so let's push through my heavy eye-roll. Tomic last week said he was playing tennis just for the money, but is still trying to find some joy in tennis.
It is super easy to go off on Tomic and point out that he gets paid to play a game. It's probably true that if someone walked into my house and told me I could play tennis for a living for any amount of time, I'd leave a note for the family and hit the road. Here's what else is true: There are an awful lot of people who feel exactly the way Tomic feels about their own jobs. And a good chunk of those people are not afraid to tell you just how much they hate their jobs. Believe me -- I've worked with them. So I really just feel sorry for Tomic if he hates his job so much. I've been there too, and when you get out, it's like getting rid of a heavy weight from your shoulders. Tomic has a varied game that shouldn't bore him, but if it does, I hope he finds something else to do, because if he doesn't want to be out there, no one is really going to want to pay to watch him, either.

4. Davis Cup: A couple of weeks ago, the ITF announced some potential changes to the Davis Cup and Fed Cup formats. One was having men play best-of-three, because who wants to see five sets of tennis when players are representing their country, and not just themselves for once? So silly.
Whatever on that. BUT there is one other thing on the agenda -- having the Cups play their final ties at the same place and time, starting in 2018. It would be called the World Cup of Tennis.
When I saw this, it made me feel like that homeless person in those crisis movies, the one who stands on the street corner holding a "THE END IS NEAR" sign. Except that instead of everyone ignoring me and throwing nasty looks, someone stops, hugs me and says, "You guys we should listen to her because she is totally right and Davis Cup and Fed Cup have been flawed for a long time and gentlemen we can fix it we can give it a structure and give fans a reason to care about it instead of having it be at random times on the calendar which makes it appear to be an afterthought and if even the sport of golf can make it work surely we can because tennis is much more interesting to watch than golf so let's get this new format rolling like now and someone get her a shower because she stinks."
I'm just saying it's a start.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wimbledon 2017: Wimbledon Wrapup

It turned out that working the rare weekend morning at my full-time gig during the Wimbledon women's final was a blessing. I don't know what I would have done if I had seen Venus Williams get clobbered live by Garbine Muguruza. As the draw shook out, this pairing seemed like the one that would produce the highest quality tennis, but it did. For one of them.
After finally having watched the match, I'm torn about what to say about Venus, and not in the way you might think. It's tempting to go with the trusty line of, "This is a good performance ... for her ..." or "Not bad for 37 years old ..." But here's what I saw in the first set of the final, and throughout the entire tournament. Venus is playing better now than when she was winning slams. This is probably not the best time to discuss her improved forehand, given the last set of the final. But it is better. And sure, she still double-faults a lot, but her second serves are deeper when they land. She's still shoring up her weaknesses, is what I'm saying. There's no asterisk besides this performance for me that would even slightly suggest being graded on an age scale. She's playing great tennis. Period. She could win the U.S. Open. There. I said it.
Having said all of that, Muguruza is one of the biggest talents on the WTA Tour. This is one bold soldier. I mean, that first set point against her? Look at this, starting at the 27-second mark:

Whoa. (Worth noting here that I'm not enough of a tech character to figure out the framing on this video. Working on it. JUST WATCH THE POINT.)
I've been saying for a while that Muguruza is one of the best players out there, but after she won the French Open, she kinda went sideways for whatever reason. She has had a very inconsistent year, and now would be a good time to get the wheels straight. No Serena. Victoria Azarenka is still rounding into form, as is Petra Kvitova. So I think this is a time for Muguruza to stand out from the crowd, but I should not diminish the crowd here:

And then there's Roger Freakin' Federer. Again. This guy has won every major he's played in 2017. This is otherworldly and that's all I have to say about that for now.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wimbledon 2017: If You Hear Something, Say Something

Well, here we are, tennis world. Living in a time when Tomas Berdych has just as good a shot at winning Wimbledon as Roger Federer. Except Berdych would have to beat Federer to do that.
Berdych advanced to the semis when Novak Djokovic quit the match with an ongoing elbow issue, which to me begs the question: Why hire a new coach if your issue is injury? I think Federer (and the Williams sisters -- to great criticism) showed that taking an expended break to address injuries can be positive for your career.
Another big surprise was Sam Querrey outplaying Andy Murray in the quarters. I mean. Sam Querrey could win Wimbledon. My brain is speechless.
However, Murray's press conference after his loss must be addressed, specifically this right here.

The reporter and the room laughed at his clarification, which is actually not funny. Murray didn't laugh. Sure, he just got beaten at Wimbledon, but even he recognized that that wasn't funny. It would be funny if there was evidence that it was a minor oversight. But a couple of weeks ago, an American tennis icon made a comment that negated the achievements of one of the greatest athletes this game has seen. So it's not an oversight. Look, if you want to limit your question to men's tennis, that's fine. If you're a tennis reporter without a working knowledge of the history of the game, you're a pretty crappy tennis reporter.
As for Murray, he could have let that phrase go, as many before him have, under the assumption that they were discussing Tennis, not tennis. No one appointed him the official ally of women's tennis. He just did that because it was true and correct. This moment is not some type of game-changer or the thing that's going to lead to the proper recognition of women athletes. But it is not hard to say something that's true and correct. Drops in a bucket eventually amount to a full bucket.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wimbledon 2017: You Don't Just Stop Playing

Couple of observations before Andy Murray takes the court for the men's quarterfinals:

1. True confession time: I have been following the late matches from work this week, and the Rafa Nadal/Gilles Muller match had me a useless mess. I was sitting there, staring at my phone, waiting for updates, thinking about breaking out and hitting up a sports bar to see this match live. The anxiety had me losing my mind. For a second there, I thought I was crazy, that I was going through this all myself. Then I thought about Tennis Twitter and they were going through with me and breaking news, too! Did you know Rafa sustained a head injury just before that match?

2. The Simona Halep/Johanna Konta match was incredible. Everyone's talking about the last point, though, and with good reason. That was a pretty loud scream.

Bush league. Fer sure. But even in rec tennis, you have to play through everything. If you think your serve is out and it isn't called out, you play. Why would Halep, who appeared to just stop playing, think that she would just get bailed out by the umpire? And wouldn't that have just been a warning anyway? Had there been a hindrance from the crowd call before from the chair? It definitely sucks for both women to have their match end that way.
But this is a life lesson. The British crowds are just as bad as the French.

3. I really thought Venus Williams was going to lose to Jelena Ostapenko. But then I keep reminding myself: Who was the other person who made the Australian Open final this year again? And -- my memory fails: Who beat her in that final? And -- where is that person now?And then I ask myself why we keep underestimating Venus Williams.

Later, gang.