Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Frenchy 2017: What the French just happened?

I know that I said the French Open always produces surprising results, and that it is almost impossible to predict at times. But I have also come to realize that I have some incredibly awful prediction abilities. I probably always have. But thanks to social media, now there is concrete evidence.




Y'all should follow me on Twitter, where I make an ass of myself daily!
So, lesson being learned, I was mostly quiet during the final between Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka. Nadal won his tenth French Open title due in some part to me staying off Twitter, meaning now that our fates are now inexorably linked.
Makes sense to me.
OK, but seriously. What happened at the French Open that's worth discussing?

5. I am just saying I'm right about Angelique Kerber: Last year, I paid a shaky tribute to Kerber's ascent to No. 1. There's no questioning how she got there -- she won two slams and beat Serena Williams in the process of winning Australia. I questioned then if her game is built to last at the top, and it's starting to look like the answer is no. Was there anyone who follows tennis who actually expected her to win against Ekaterina Makarova in the first round? Now, I heard people floating around the idea that she was injured, and although she's had issues earlier in the year, she hasn't said recently that she's struggling with injury. What she has said is that she's having trouble handling the pressure of being at the top. That happens a lot (definitely not looking at you, Garbine Muguruza), and really the best time for this to happen is now -- if Kerber can get past the yips. The top four slots in women's tennis are just there for the taking for whoever is bold enough to cash in until Serena and Victoria Azarenka return. Yes, I expect both of them back in the top 5 after their maternity leaves. No, that's not undue pressure.

4. Bagels were served quite often at the French Open: Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Novak Djokovic. Juan Martin del Potro, Fabio Fognini. Genie Bouchard. Anyone who played Nadal. It's sort of funny when you think about this happening so often to men because, as we all know, women's tennis is traditionally considered the weaker variety. Of course, the bagel epidemic has caused proponents of best-of-three matches for men to reanimate. There are far too many high-quality men's matches still going on to make that a solid argument. But ... I am watching the trend.

3. The future is pretty much now: That bagel Djokovic took came from Dominic Thiem. Last month, Thiem beat Nadal on clay. He's beaten all the Big 4 already. All of this as Alexander Zverev still struggles for consistency. Guys, I think Thiem might win a major this year, like

2. Jelena Ostapenko: Like, WHAT.: OK, for the first hour of this match, I fought to keep it on my television. It was that hard to watch. Halep played probably the best I'd ever seen her, but Ostapenko? If it wasn't a winner, it was an error. Sometimes, my husband calls me "Two-Hit Nancy." The first half of this match was like watching me play, and it was pretty horrifying and also reminds me I should call my life coach. Anyway, all of a sudden, Ostapenko's shots began staying in the court, and for all the defense in the world, Halep couldn't keep up. For a 20-year-old kid to come back from a set and 3-0 deficit in a Grand Slam final just defies all logic, and that's kinda what makes tennis great. But also, can we briefly run through some of the people Ostapenko beat over the last two weeks? There's ... Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki and Timea Bacsinszky.

1. My bae Rafa: OK, that forehand down the line in the final was SICK and you know the one I'm talking about. During the ceremony to mark Rafa's achievement -- not done before in the Open era -- they played the stinking thing again with poor Wawrinka standing there! The idea that Nadal's form on clay looked better than ever is not great for the competition. Tennis observers think the grass is playing slow these days, too. Oh, man. I hope he wears that sleeveless white top again.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Frenchy 2017: Tennis-ing is Hard

I've been doing this blog for a long time, and the French Open has always been the outlier-hot mess tournament, so naturally, the top seed is gone by the second round. Annnnd, the person who beat her is also not out of the second round. The sad part is that only one of those results is a real surprise.

What the hell, A. Kerber.: Not only did Kerber lose in the opening round, she only managed to win four games -- and she was lucky to get those. I'm not going to lie, when I filled out my draw, I hesitated at this one. But in the end, I couldn't see Kerber withstanding a stiff challenge in the first round, in this case from Ekaterina Makarova. She needed a break and she got broken. Know what I'm sayin'?
Now for the unexpected part: Makarova takes advantage of this path through the quarters BY WINNING FOUR GAMES ON THE WAY TO DEFEAT IN THE VERY NEXT ROUND. Because of course. Let's move on to better news.

Yes, Petra is back!: Petra Kvitova was attacked in her own apartment by a knife-wielding intruder and was badly cut on her hand in the process of fighting this person off. This week, she came back to tennis. Her stay was brief (second-round loss to Bethanie Mattek-Sands). But she's back. I hope she's OK -- physically and emotionally.

... and Serena? ... Not gonna lie -- I saw this photo of Serena and her coach and thought, "I knew it! She's gonna play!" She is allegedly -- "allegedly" here to watch Venus, although I think her true motives were somewhere in here:



What the hell, A. Zverev.: I can't even be mad at Alexander Zverev for blowing up my bracket for frankness like this:



The Cornet-iest quote that has ever lived:


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Frenchy Preview: Good luck, gang.


The French Open is never easy to predict. But this one is bananas. Just take one look at this crazy men's draw:




Thank god Roger Federer isn't in this draw. We got about three favorites cropping up just in time -- Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic. My heart is with Rafa, but I've got an eye on Andre, er, Novak. We'll see!
Also, a nod to all the really interesting first-round matches in the men's draw. Many of them involve Spaniards, and not Russell Crowe-Spaniard, either. We're talking about David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez and the like. 




OK, I have to freely admit that the first draw I tried to fill in was the women's draw and the first match you see is Angelique Kerber v. Ekaterina Makarova! I stared at that for a few minutes and went to the men's bracket. This has to be the first time in pro tennis history that the top seed is most certainly NOT the favorite to advance out of the second round. Like, if she wins, it will shock the hell out of everyone. 
I also wanted to note here that Pauline Parmentier is still around. 
More later. Filling out this draw was exhausting.













Thursday, May 25, 2017

Red-Dirt Volleys

Really slow time here in TennisLand as we go into the French Open next week. Not much happening at all.
Well, OK. A couple of “minor” developments:

via GIPHY

1. That was me fangirlling it when I checked my phone at work and saw that Novak Djokovic had hired ANDRE AGASSI to be his coach for the French Open. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be yell. I meant to say ANDRE AGASSI. I can't help it. My ultimate tennis crush is ANDRE AGASSI. Let me tell you something. The first year I was a tennis fan, I stayed up until 7 a.m. EST to watch an Australian Open semifinal between ANDRE AGASSI!!!! and Pete Sampras. After ANDRE beat the tar out of Sampras in the fifth set, that was it. He duck-walked all the way into my tennis heart. And now he is joining forces with the struggling Djokovic?! I have one question: Is Gil Reyes coming? He'd better be coming.

2. So for the last month, Rafa Nadal and his fine ass has been tearing up the clay courts, and the tennis talkers-that-be anointed him the French Open favorite soon after he won Monte Carlo. And then ... well, what had happened was Dominic Thiem. Last week, in Madrid, he lost a tight one to Nadal. Then. In Italy, he beat Nadal in straight sets, and advanced to the final against Djokovic, who, until now, had been working diligently on his little molehill of mediocrity. But Djokovic rolled in and beat Juan Martin del Potro and Thiem on the way to the final ... where he lost to Alexander Zverev?!!!! I say all of this to say that the French Open should be ... entertaining.

3. We're gonna call this paragraph SHUT UP JOHN ISNER. OK, so Roger Federer decided last week that he was not going to play the French Open, and naturally, everyone began to think it was because Nadal was killing it. That's ridiculous, but more ridiculous was when Isner got involved. First of all, Isner says that he would never miss a Slam because he was saving up for the next one. Says the guy who didn't go to Rio to save himself for the U.S. Open THAT HE DIDN'T WIN. Secondly, we're gonna need a headline fix on this story:


Oh. OK. Hey, Google, can I get a definition of the word "rival?"


I am just saying. 

4. Maria Sharapova has finally done something I can respect. After being passed over for a wild card of any kind into the French Open (meaning she can't play -- ranking's too low) she announced that she would play in the qualifying draw at Wimbledon. Look, you get busted for doping, don't look for gifts. Play your way in if you think you've got it like that. Does Sharapova have it like that? Could she get through a qualifying draw and then deep in a main? Probably, gang. Probably.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Therapy with TWA: Maria Sharapova

After careful consideration of Genie Bouchard's application for membership to The Official Tennis with Attitude Commission, I have decided to advance it to the second stage. Her first attempt last year was blocked for having all the talk and not the action to back it up. This time, she straight-up called Maria Sharapova a drug cheat who should be banned for life. Just before meeting her in the second round at the Madrid Open.
I couldn't watch the match, but kept a watchful eye on Twitter all day at work, and when I saw that Bouchard had pulled out the win, 6-4 in the third -- all I can say is that I have never been so gleeful at someone's defeat. Especially when I saw what I was waiting for (h/t to @hypotemuse on Twitter):



The cold-fish handshake, accompanied by the dismissive scold-stare by Bouchard. Oh, I tell you, I was gleeful. And that's when I realized I needed help.
I am not at all happy that Maria Sharapova is back in tennis.
I am trying to be a grown-up and be reasonable about this. Yes, it's good for tennis, especially for that green bottom line. She attracts people and attention. The more attention tennis gets, the better. Right. I know. And I get that she served her time for taking a banned substance and that when you do something wrong, you should be allowed to do the time and move on. She's done that.
She's also -- ever since this happened -- been walking around acting as though she hasn't done anything wrong, that this is Someone Else's fault and that she was simply caught in the middle. She has threatened legal action and essentially demanded that people like Bouchard not say bad things about her. She accepted a wild card into an event that had already started before she was cleared to play again. And this is really where I struggle. Wild cards are for people who are not banned for drugs or other illegal activities. She was ranked #262 in the world BECAUSE OF THE BAN, NOT AN INJURY. !!!!!!
Whew. Had to take a minute. I'm back.
But here's the problem I have: Sharapova is not going anywhere any time soon. She's not going to walk into a press conference one day this week and express any real regret for the situation she put herself into, and apologize on behalf of her ignorant agent who chose to defend her by insulting the careers of two pretty good players. So what do I do?
Nothing, basically. Sometime around last November 8, I learned that not everyone plays by the rules, and they still get to play and they still win. Sometimes, you can get banned by your sport,, and go to Harvard, write a book, and get welcomed back to your sport with a wild card that you don't deserve. Sharapova might even win another Slam, and maybe even this year. And she will feel vindicated and everyone will say that this is why she's great for tennis and we'll forget she took a "heart medication" and apparently never told most of her team about this, which is probably why no one told her it was banned for 2017 -- no one knew she was taking it. That woulda helped.
There I go again. I was hoping this therapy session would end with me finding a way to make peace with the way Sharapova has returned to tennis, but nope. Still mad. Except when I watch this;



Heh. Small victories.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Servin' and Volleyin' 'em Up

Where to start? Maria Sharapova? Not today, Satan.
How about Rafael Nadal Parera instead? A fellow tennis fan friend of mine forwarded me a story from Deadspin with the headline: "The King of Clay is Looking a Little Wobbly." This after a tight first-round match in Monte Carlo and with Alexander Zverev on the horizon, this guy figured Rafa was done for. I told my friend then that the story was basically pablum and was utterly useless in a respectful way:



And then Rafael Nadal Parera kilt the rest of the field, even winning Monte Carlo. No, I haven't gotten my apology yet.
Nadal beat Zverev along the way. And then he went ahead the next week and won Barcelona, beating Kevin Anderson and Dominic Thiem in that process. And that three-set match against Kyle Edmund that prompted Deadspin to put on their genie hat? It's the only three-setter he's played since. I mean, damn, who consistently makes it to finals this year, losing mostly to Roger Federer for most of this year and still has to have folks questioning his career?
Hell, he's having a better year right now than three out of the four players ranked above him right now!
Speaking of, so Novak Djokovic! Djokovic has had some issues lately. He beat Andy Murray in a tournament final in January -- and hasn't sniffed the latter stages of a tournament since. The Australian Open didn't go well. He's taken a couple Ls to Nick Kyrgios, which are not bad losses. But Denis Istomin? David Goffin? So yeah, it's been tough. How tough? Welp, Novak answered that for us this week by DITCHING HIS ENTIRE TEAM. All. Of. Them. He revealed the news on his website and one line



kinda made me wonder if he wouldn't have wanted to quote that a little differently.
Seriously, this is a pretty dramatic move and of course, you wonder how amiable this is. You also wonder how long Djokovic will stay on his own. Especially with the French Open coming, and as Nadal and Federer are becoming more of a threat. So this will be interesting ...

By the way, the current average age of  the ATP's top 5 is 31. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

My First Fed Cup Tie, in Pictures (Some of Which are Moving)

After playing a lackluster league match to start my Saturday, I wasn't really jacked about driving an hour up the highway and shelling out $50 to watch a Fed Cup tie. But honestly, in the middle of Florida, it's not likely we're getting pro tennis much closer than this, so I got my sweaty self in the car and drove to Saddlebrook Resort to watch the U.S. face off against the Czech Republic.
Verdict: I wish the ITF would figure out how to pimp out the Davis and Fed cups properly because even stateside, there was a lot of energy and excitement that I thought only existed in Spain and Argentina. So, without further adue, a photo tour of my first Fed Cup tie:

I was pretty perturbed about paying $15 for parking until someone handed me a free ticket to the matches. Still, $15 to leave my car somewhere? It's not running or anything ...


  
I showed up at the beginning of the second set. I had to wait to go to my seat until the first changeover at 2-1. Not bad, but the kid next to me was starting to annoy me a little. We all want to get to our seats, Johnny!




In case you couldn't see that, Coco Vandeweghe, who was playing against Marketa Vondrousova, lost the point. I was sitting in the American section, where everyone was rooting for the Americans. Except one guy ...


This one. He was loudly rooting for the Czechs, cheering in a different language. Whenever he did that and someone would look at him, he would return the stare as if to say, "You got a problem, kid? I'll solve it!" I thought this guy really won the section.


My panoramic game is weak.



I'm still not the biggest Coco fan, but still wouldn't want to encounter that game late at night on a street corner.



Apparently, I had missed the part when Coco busted her racquet and hit herself with the flying pieces. But, hey, no fine! Also, that's Martina Navratilova.



Here's on thing I couldn't quite figure out. We got a four-piece band out here making noise and piped in music from the speakers? Why not let the crowd music create some energy? By itself?? This is an American thing, isn't it. Oh, and ALSO. These musicians think they're slick. Several times, while the Czech players were about to hit second serves, one of them would "accidentally" hit their drum, producing just enough sound for everyone to hear. Once, the umpire looked directly at them and told them to stop. Come on, dudes. That's lame.


This American camouflage vomit design has got to stop. Just no


Didn't take too many pix of poor Shelby Rogers, who lost so quickly and with so little pushback that I ended up taking more photos and videos of what was happening in the stands while she was playing. Next time, Shelb. Next time.








Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quick hits

OK, tennis news was a bit heavy this weekend and there's some things that didn't quite get addressed that we should probably discuss at least briefly:

1. You have got to be kidding me with this Maria Sharapova offensive. I mean, what. WHAT. I have never seen a person take a drug ban and demonstrably deserving of this ban, and yet be so defensive about criticism. I'm talking about Sharapova's agent coming out and insulting the careers of Caroline Wozniacki and Agz Radwanska because they had the nerve to suggest that wild cards should not be reserved for drug ban recipients. WHICH IS A FAIR POINT, by the way. I didn't mean to shout. But between Sharapova saying stupid stuff like this:



... and Max Eisenbud following up with petty nonsense like this:


... and then when you consider that the original ITF report on the ban had suspicious passages such as this:



you wonder what the strategy is here. It's already pretty clear that not everyone on tour is not that stoked about her coming back and ... then you go scorched earth? I sure hope Sharapova's game is going to back up all of this talk. Her comeback is this week at Stuttgart and her first round match is against Roberta Vinci.
(Quick aside regarding Eisenbud's comment about paragraphs 100 and 101, which are:

Here's paragraph 97b, which is also kind of interesting and one that Eisenbud should address as well perhaps:

So I don't understand how both these segments are in the same decision to grant Sharapova a reduced ban time. But hey, whatever, right?)

Anyway, I do believe Sharapova's return is good for women's tennis in terms of visibility, but I really wish she hadn't jumped the line this way by taking a wild card in a tournament that's started before her ban is completed. It's going to rightfully leave a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans.

2. While I was at the U.S. Fed Cup over the weekend, I noted some comments about Rafael Nadal, David Goffin and poor sportsmanship accusations about my man Rafa. I have investigated these charges, which are based on this point:



Obviously, umpire Cedric Mourier made a really bad mistake. It's these types of mistakes that make you think it might actually be time to bring the Shot Spot to clay courts, too, because now we can see that a mark can lie. But it's kind of hard to put this one on Nadal's shoulders. Sure, he looked like he was OK with the 'out' call, but is it on Nadal, from the other side of the court, to reverse a call? If the umpire has come down to inspect a mark, you'd think he knows how to do his job. I know there have been times I've hit a shot and thought it was long, only for my opponents to say it was right on the line. It happens. With the type of spin Nadal hits, it probably happens to him more than most. It would be one thing if Nadal was at the net and could see the shot a bit better. Otherwise, let's leave this one square at the feet of Mourier. Which, by the way, was exactly what Goffin did.

3. Ilie Nastase is a mentally depraved old man and even before this weekend's Fed Cup tie, this should have been noted and handled before. He warmed up on his weekend path of suckitude by speculating on the color Serena Williams' baby might have. (I wish I could see the way this question was posed to him, because I would almost bet the questioner knew he'd say something crazy.)
I don't want to waste too much more time on him. But let's just leave it here: He's very bad for tennis. Well, OK. Let me allow Great Britain coach Anne Keothavong to respond to Nastase's weak attempt at an apology by giving flowers to the entire team (God, did really have to go the full 1960s-stereotypical route?):


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Two Months Pregnant Is a Lot Pregnant, OK?

Well, I had to do an extra post this week because Serena Williams won the Australian Open while she was pregnant. I still remember where I was (a couple days ago) when my sister texted me to say that the new World No. 1 (again) was pregnant. I'm not a math person, but when I realized this was April and she was 20 weeks in, I couldn't get much further in my brain. Fortunately, neither could the Internet.


I'm old enough to remember when we thought Serena was on shaky ground because she lost to Madison Brendle before the Open started. Remember that?


OK, that looks like my blog font. I guess just "me." But, OK, I was right! In a way. Kinda.
After I got over my shock, some people noted that Serena was only a couple months in when she won Australia. "Only." OK. When I was eight-ish weeks pregnant, things were not going well. I literally hid a bottle of my husband's foot lotion because the smell was killing me. Same with cigarette smoke. I subsisted on crackers and antacids. Also water. In case anyone wants to act like being first-trimester pregnant is no big deal, let's talk about what that means. This is about the time your body realizes there is an alien in it and it begins to rebel. I was scheduled to play a league match in my first trimester once. I don't bail out of league matches. I had a small problem, though. I couldn't get out of bed because my body wasn't handling its new friend very well and I bailed out of it. Then I stayed in bed from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. There were days I couldn't even go to work -- and all I was doing at work was sitting in a chair!
I'm just saying that Serena Williams having two weeks where she could go play pro-level tennis while she was pregnant is extraordinary. But we got think pieces about how pregnancy will affect her.



These are some of the dumbest sentences I've ever read, and I say that with the full recognition that Donald Trump is the president of the United States.
Couple quick tips for handling Serena being pregnant:
1. If you are a man, put your damned pen down. Just stop. Women, stop asking men to be your source:

This story's main source -- man. Of course.


2. Serena Williams won the Australian Open pregnant and we're talking about what motherhood is going to do to her competitive drive. I'm gonna go ahead and wager it's (a) none of your business and (b) BREAKING: Many women have babies and then go back to slay on the job. Many women decide to dedicate their time and energy to their new families. So just stop.
3. Can we stop talking about Serena like she's Tiger Woods, and her career got derailed by her man beating her down on the street because she had several hundred girlfriends?
OK, Naf, you're trimming the reactions everyone can have, right? Right. Here's the angle we want to pursue. Serena Williams won a Grand Slam when all type of chaos was going on in her body and that is awesome. Now just think of an appropriate shower gift. (Diapers are always good.)


Sometimes, I think Jim Courier doesn't want to be Davis Cup captain.

Yes, Davis Cup was a bit ago, but I refuse to address it in a timely manner on account of that I hate the format. So there.
But I was a bit curious about how it is that the U.S. took such a lopsided loss, so I started watching the matches I had recorded. I though I could try to figure out how some guy ranked 79th in the world beat Jack Sock, who has been playing well as of late. Is Thompson the new hot Aussie talent?
I'm not going to say all of that. But I did notice something about the weekend that made me wonder if Jim Courier had to be compelled by force to take this Davis Cup captain job.
I'm just going to say the following, and then offer video evidence to support my thoughts: OK. You're in Australia and it's Davis Cup. You're not in America for Davis Cup, so the crowd is jacked. Their faces are painted. They're screaming at the top of their lungs. And, you, as the opposition captain, is like:



This isn't a random snapshot. Here is the thing. Davis Cup is the one event where it's OK for the captain to coach the player, and it's the only time I'm cool with that, because it happens for Fed Cup, too. But the really fun thing about it is that the captain isn't really coaching per se. He (or she, Conchita) is a cheerleader. When you're on the road, you're that friendly face that isn't painted yellow and green for your player. You're the energy! You're



Did you know that Jim Courier once just started reading a book during changeovers during a match he was playing? Doesn't that seem like something someone would do if they weren't really into the match? Speaking of not being into a match, here's Courier and Isner during a changeover on day one of the tie:


I deliberately muted the volume because really you don't need it.
I'm not really saying Courier is a poor coach. It might just be that he's not a team coach guy. He probably could drop some serious knowledge on a player one-on-one. Kind of like a Lindsay Davenport. And maybe the only reason this yoga-styled coaching stands out is because of who he was coaching against: Lleyton "C'mon Rock!" Hewitt, who probably pumps himself up just to go to sleep at night. Here he is coaching young Thompson, who has just placed match favorite Sock onto the ropes:





Here is Courier after Sock pulls to 5-5 in the third set against Thompson:


He looks like someone has issued a dire threat against his family pet! What is up with this reaction?!! Here is Hewitt coaching Kyrgios.


After Kyrios won the first set on a drop shot winner, and in the presence of Hewitt, he did this:



He's ... smiling. This guy just gave an interview last fall saying he'd rather be playing basketball and Pokemon Go.
And we got a coach with this going on:



I gotta say, he sets the phrase "hands-off" into a whole new stratosphere in terms of definition.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Federer v. Nadal ... and Nicky Kyrgios

So I was watching the Roger Federer/Rafa Nadal Miami Open final and was struck by two details:

1. Damned if Federer's new backhand doesn't look just like Ivan Ljubicic's old one.
2. Federer is the best sports story of 2017 so far.

Yeah, I know the NCAA final was just played. Nothing really new with Cheatin' North Carolina walking away with all the glory again. OK, I'd throw the UConn women's basketball team upset in there as a contender, but here's what the Federer story has right now that makes it unlike no other -- Nadal.

via GIPHY

We're talking about two legends of the game who came up together and were both overtaken at the same time and are now meeting again in big-money finals, despite their lower seeding. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the ones struggling with injury and the veterans are doing the heavy lifting, despite Roger's poor back.
Their matchups now don't seem to carry the same tension, because Federer is just thumping Nadal right now. With his new backhand, he's taken away the linchpin of Nadal's strategy against him, and although Nadal presented a much tougher challenge than he did in the Australian Open final, it wasn't enough. Well, Federer's changed a component of his game. Perhaps it's time Nadal did the same thing. What is that thing he needs to do? He's gotta stop playing from the first row of the spectator seats. Yes, he's fast and can do ridiculous things on defense, but now that he can't depend on Fed's backhand to attack, he needs to focus on taking time away from Federer by playing closer to the baseline. With the clay season coming up, yeah, he'll be fine so far back, but if he's really going to push to stay with Federer, he's going to need to lean in. Like, a lot.
Having said all of that, it's time to also give it up for Nick Kyrgios. He is just going to be the John McEnroe of our time. It's going to be hard to watch his antics sometimes and he's going to have to pay some fines, maybe even get suspended again. Kyrgios likes to say he'd rather be playing basketball, but one of two things his semifinal against Federer showed us is that's not altogether true. He cared about winning that particular match. And I get the vitriol against him, but the crowd, if nothing else, should have been able to appreciate the tennis they saw -- it might have been the best men's match of the year. Yes, it's April.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

That's an Indian Wells wrap

So my last post was a little heated. I had to unload a bit about on-court coaching, and because I am often overtaken by my mini-rages, I lose sight of the good things. I mentioned a few of them early in my last post. Let us hit the way-back button to revisit Indian Wells, shall we? OK!

1. Roger Freakin' Federer. You might recall Federer taking some time off before, needing to rest his bad knee. It was at that moment that the Rolex-sponsored Retirement Watch began ticking in the minds of many. He sat on the sideline watching Rafa Nadal do damage at the Rio Olympics, Andy Murray become knighted and Novak Djokovic assert himself (kinda) as the world No. 1. Ol' Grandpa Roger must have really been motivated by what he was seeing. Even after the man won the Australian Open with his fishing buddy Rafa, commentators said, "Well, this is it for these guys. This might be the last time ..." And then Roger played Rafa in the fourth round here and beat him so bad I was wincing. Now I'm a big fan of Rafa and his sexy ass. So it was a tough one to watch:



Still, Federer looks unbeatable right now. He's running around tagging backhands like a teenager while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are pulling out of Miami. And let's give Stan Wawrinka a good amount of props, too. He made the final entertaining and had a couple key points gone his way, it might have gone to three. He also gave possibly the most memorable runner-up speech. So memorable that Mirka is probably gonna find him and wallop him upside the head with her purse.



2. I just don't even know what to say about Elena Vesnina.

3. Do you know what Maria Sharapova has done since she was ordered to serve an 15-month drug ban from tennis? She has:

a. gone to HARVARD UNIVERSITY for a specialized business program (that has a no-drug policy but whatever am I right?)
b. written and secured a publisher for her memoir
c. retained many of her sponsors, including Head, which congratulated her for getting time taken off her ban
d. appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine
e. received a wildcard into the Stuttgard tournament, which begins before her ban ends, but barely. That means organizers held a spot for her and set it up so she can start as soon as her ban is over, two days after the starting bell.
This should be obvious.
If you're someone, like me, who thinks she violated the rules and did it with some intention, then you're wondering how a drug cheat like Maria Sharapova ends up with the world on a string. Cheaters aren't supposed to win. But here Maria is, running the tables. Like big time. Even the WTA is embracing her with open arms. Well, at least the WTA's social media manager is. Er, was:


Good thing the WTA deleted this tweet. Wise move. Heck, Dominika Cibulkova probably hadn't even seen that yet.
I don't say this every day, but Alize is so many of us right now.

4. The secret plot to make Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios love tennis and stop being babies: I'm gonna start with acknowledging that this is some real conspiracy-theory stuff I'm about to drop. That's not me usually, but I want this to be true so badly. So you know how Rafa Nadal usually plays doubles (when he plays doubles) with fellow Spaniard and gold-medal champ Marc Lopez? So this time, he took on Tomic. And then Nenad Zimonjic who usually plays with someone who will help him win a title, played with Kyrgios. And frankly, I have never either sourpuss happier on a tennis court. Also, if you're a sourpuss, you're less likely to be one while playing against legit Grand Slam winners. You will be on your best behavior. But still, this is odd for major champions to choose such unlikely partners. Even Nadal's countrymen had no idea why he was playing with Tomic. Now Nadal says it was because they were supposed to play together in Australia, but couldn't. OK, fine. But I think Nadal and Zimonjic did this for the good of the game. They might have even hatched this plot together. They know that Tomic and Kyrgios have the potential to be the future of the game, and because they're thinking big-picture, they're taking them under their more-experienced wing to show them that instead of murdering your racquet, you might consider taking a deep breath instead. So that's my theory. Rafa and Zimonij are geniuses, and not the evil variety, either,

OK, I finally figured out something to say about Vesnina. You know how people say, "Youth is wasted on the young?" It's meant to say that young people squander their physical assets or their time and when they're older they have less time and limited physical abilities. Vesnina is 30. She and her fellow Russian Indian Wells finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova (31) have been around for a long time. It's probably easy to think, even to yourself, that you have the ability to go through a murderer's row to earn your first tier 1 WTA singles title, especially when you see folks like Garbine Muguruza blow by and win a major before she's 20. But look at how Muguruza struggles to be consistent now. I think Vesnina, Kuznetsova, the Williams sisters, Nadal and Federer are living in tennis' sweet spot right now. They have age, but they also have experience, and as Eminem would probably say, their feet aren't failing them now. Youth is nice. Thinking young is impressive, too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The rage edition: Indian Wells Can't Be the 5th Slam for This One Reason

Let's not talk about how Stevie Wonder must have pulled together the men's draw, with three of the traditional Big Four on one side of the draw. Let's also not point out that the one guy who had a whole half of a draw to himself lost in the first round, while the other guys are still playing. (COME ON RAFA.) Let's not even go there about how Venus Williams is playing the smartest, and by extension, the best tennis of her career. The other thing we've got to hold off on is that all the big boys are playing doubles and drawing crowds, and veterans are playing with hotheads and if it's a strategy, it's a beautiful one and it just might work to loosen the dour temperaments of the young Aussies.
And of course, we can't talk about the big controversy of whether a player serving a drug ban should be getting wild cards into tournaments. (no. Not her and not for a tournament that starts while she's still banned and hold a spot for her that someone who presumably hasn't been banned for drugs now can't have. But we're not talking about that now. Just ... just focus, OK?) We can't talk about all the great things about Indian Wells because of the one thing that's really got me freaking pissed right now. It's not a topic that's gone uncovered here at TWA, and we are gonna talk about it again now. This friggin' on-court coaching that only the women have access to. Instead of me just going on about this, let's just talk about all the "good" that's come of it here at the "Fifth Slam."
Kayla Day. Day is a 17-year-old American who I just saw for the first time this week, and she has got some serious lefty GAME. Last week, she was beating the tar out of Garbine Muguruza. Day really had her on the ropes, too -- up a set and a break in the second. But then it seemed as though Muguruza woke up and realized that she did indeed have a match this day and that in fact it was happening at that point in time. So she stepped up her game, which threw the teenager for a bit of a loop.
COACH CONFAB!

Day: "She's hitting great first serves now. I can't even touch them!"
Coach: "Yeah, you have to give her that. but focus on the serves you can hit and do what you can."

I'm paraphrasing. But isn't this information that Day, if pressed, could have told herself? Yeah, sure, Naf, but the real question is did it work?

Later in the third set, as Day finds herself in the process of getting wiped off the court, she summons her coach again.

Coach: "It's never over until it's over."
Day: ... (looking dejected. she's pretty sure it's over)
Coach: "blah blah blah blah"

Oh, wait, sorry. That's just what Day heard just before she went and double-faulted the match away.
So, no, it didn't help. It's also not his fault. But what's burning me up is that these women are getting advice that they should already know.

Speaking of "blah blah blah," let's move on to Madison Keys, who called Lindsay Davenport out when she was having trouble closing out her first-round match. Later, Keys acknowledged that she couldn't remember what it was Davenport had said. "I just needed to calm down."
OK. So we have a pro player who can't settle herself down during a match, even at the risk of choking at least the set, and maybe the match away? Funny, if she were a dude, Madison would just have to go ahead and lose that match ... or figure it out on her own. What. A. Concept.
This alone should disqualify Indian Wells from any premier status as a tournament. Allowing on-court coaching a) gives one half of the tournament's participants an advantage based on gender b) advances the idea that women are mentally weak and c) does absolutely nothing to make Kayla Day a better tennis player. If tennis is really 99.9207 percent mental, why offer a crutch? The ability to deal with stress and pressure is literally at the heart of the game of tennis.
In fact, if you're a coach, you should not support this concept or participate in it, unless your endgame is feeding mental enablement. (That's probably not a word. It is today.) Let's just put this in the most basic of terms. Let's say I'm 4 years old. My mom really would like me to clean up the table after dinner. But she really only makes me do it about half the time. Am I going to clean up after myself every time, knowing that there's a decent chance I can get away with her doing it for me? See what I'm saying? If you're a coach, don't you want to get to the point where you don't have to tell your charge what to do? Like, say, at the French Open, where you can't call Mommy or Daddy down for a quick talk?
Fifth Slam my

Sunday, February 26, 2017

LEAGUE WATCH: Rounding into form

Last summer, I went out and watched one of my husband's doubles matches and watched as his partner sliced and diced their opponents into frustration and defeat. I said to myself, "Man, I'd never want to play against that tricky bastard."
So guess who's standing across the net from me on my first league match of the season earlier this month? That guy. Along with his partner, who probably beat me in my first league match in Florida. I looked at my partner and said, "This is gonna be a lot like work, isn't it?"
At least he was honest with me. "Yeah. We'll just do our best."
PLOT TWIST: We beat them. It wasn't easy and it seemed as though each game went to deuce, but we won. How? I thought you'd never ask.
This was a morning match, so I wasn't expecting much of my brain, but it delivered in a couple key ways. First, as I warmed up with the slicer-and-dicer, I realized that the best way to deal with his game was to be aggressive at the net. Once those balls bounced, who the hell knew where it was going to land? This sounds easy and like a good solid idea -- until I reminded myself that I'm actually a pretty poor net player. My partner, on the other hand, liked returning those funky shots with some junk of his own, so he stayed back. It worked out, I think, because we both played different styles and it probably shook things up. I also poached successfully early on, which is usually a good time to get your opponent nervous.
Our dual approach shook them up enough that we built up a pretty good lead in the first set. The only thing that could derail us was me making bad shot choices, which can always happen. I don't know. I get this thing sometimes when I start trying drop shots. I hit about 1 in 100 of them. Five of 100 actually make it to the other side of the court. But I am persistent. Well, during the match, I hit another failed dropper, and I told myself out loud: "Stop doing that!" And I did! This might not sound like much, but I actually listened to myself. This was a huge mental step for me.
Anyway, we won, which was a huge confidence boost and one that we'd need going into our next match.
The following weekend, we played the third line of doubles against the top team in our division. And they didn't come to play games. To ensure at least one win, they flipped their lineup, meaning we got their best team and line 1 got their worst. So we had our hands full. I knew the woman -- one of the best doubles players in the league. I didn't know her partner, who, during the first game of the match, hit a forehand so hard that I had no idea if it was in or out and I watching the baseline specifically for that purpose.
So it was a handful, but we built a 4-1 lead early. A lot of that was due in part to our ability to isolate the woman, who was having an off day so far. But then her partner, aware that this was about to go sideways for them, got really active at the net and just crushed nearly everything he touched and we lost that lead and set pretty quickly.
We fought hard, but in the end, it wasn't to be. Still, I enjoyed the whole match -- more than the one we won, even. The quality of the opponent was better and even though we lost, I felt like I didn't wither to the challenge, as I had done last year in league play. I missed some key shots toward the end, but overall, I felt pretty good out there.
How good? Good enough maybe to mark the return of my inner Scrappy.
Maybe.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The U.S. Fed Cup team showed us that yes, you can win and be a loser

I already have fundamental issues about the way Fed Cup is handled. It's squeezed between other major tennis events across the world. Why not a Ryder Cup approach -- every other year in one location?
Well, this year's Fed Cup tie in Maui was threat-level 3 disaster. And if I were the German team captain, I'd default every time in the future I had to face the U.S. team. I'm talking about Williams sisters v. Indian Wells. Overreacting? Well, I don't know. Let's recap:
1. The Anthem situation:
The U.S. had its singer perform the wrong anthem before the opening of the tie. At first, I was like, "Well, that's a big whoopsy!" But then Twitter started losing it, and I realized: "Oh. Germany." It was the national anthem under Nazi Germany." And this guy is belting it like he's Pavarotti! The Germans in the crowd -- including the players -- were trying over sing over this dude singing an anthem that is essentially a humiliating slap in the face. Plus, given the events happening in the U.S. right now with ICE agents dragging immigrants out of their homes -- well, it just seems like worse timing than usual. Especially when there are currently some pretty powerful parallels being drawn between Nazi Germany and the current regime, er, administration here in America.
So, yeah, a disaster. Pretty bad on its face. It was compounded by the USTA's weak-ass apology and failure to explain how this fresh hell happened.



To the fans, too, geniuses.

2. Julia Goerges gets injured:
Like everything else about this weekend, this was completely avoidable. It had been raining most of the first day and during Goerges' match against Coco Vandeweghe, it had started to drizzle lightly again (AS HAD BEEN FORECAST, by the way). The German was down a set and was trying to fight off a 1-3 deficit when she slipped on the damp baseline and crumbled down in pain. After the rain stopped, officials brought the players back onto the court, but rightfully, the German team was like, "Hell no, wethinks." The next day, Goerges can't play. Knee injury. See, this is why we don't just roll the dice when it comes to court conditions.

3. Coco Vandeweghe is a petulant child who is so long overdue for a time-out that she has wet her diaper:
There is a fine line between Tennis With Attitude and just Attitude with nothing to back up said attitude. Vandeweghe is a Grand Slam semifinalist one time over. One (1). On top of this anthem and injury issue, Vandeweghe showed no semblance of sportsmanship, especially not in the pivotal third match of the tie against Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic was up a set and a break when Vandeweghe decides she's got a cramp.
OK. OK.
She takes a long timeout for treatment and in so doing appears to completely rattle Petkovic. That's a mental thing, and a thing a veteran should not have fallen for, so that's on Petkovic, because she had a huge advantage in the match. Was Vandeweghe really sick? Well, she came back from this timeout and began crushing balls and flying all over the court. Every time she missed a ball, she pulled up lame. You know, the injury is why she missed.
OK. OK.
Even if you subscribe to the idea that Vandeweghe was really struggling out there, you would think that when she came all the way back to win the match, she would be a little more humble in her celebration. No. Nope. NO.
Instead, she crumpled to the court, sobbing, and the rest of the team mobbed her. Petkovic actually decided to walk over to this ridiculous celebration to shake Vandeweghe's hand, but sorry, Andrea. THEY'RE. NOT. DONE. YET. They're busy celebrating their teammate overcoming a cramp. A crAMP.
It's like everything about this weekend in Maui was tone-deaf. (Pun not really intended, but it's appropriate, right??) Because when Riske sent out a congratulatory tweet, well, people had some things to say:




Every second, Alison? Sigh.
Congrats, new Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi. You've got some class on your hands.



Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What's Up Down Under?: What Lies Beneath

Have you ever seen a high-performing athlete suffer a drought and thought to yourself, "Man, he should retire?" I have. But this year's Australian Open has given me pause.
You could argue that it all had to align perfectly to get the Australian Open finals that we did. What if Venus Williams had to play Simona Halep, or Svetlana Kuznetsova? What if Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had advanced to play Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal? What if the Open were played in February? Or if it were always roof-down? You could do this all day.
But it remains that the reason that Serena Williams and Federer won the 2017 Australian Open against their career-long rivals is because they showed up to compete. If you never try, you never win. If you never try, you never fail. Sometimes failure is not a bad thing, either. The last time Venus failed this big, it was 2009. Nadal last failed big in 2014. To do it again on such a stage, at such an age is a loss, sure, but for them, it could be fuel.
The wins will be fuel for Serena and Roger, too. At some point, they will need to cede the stage to the next big challenger. But why now, when you can still win so big, or fail so big? This weekend gave me a new perspective on the question of when to quit. Some pros quit when they can't win anymore. Which is fine -- it's their call. But what about this new breed of veterans, who happen to believe it's worth the big failures for the (rare?) big win? Is that crazy? Or could they do this all day? If you know that you can, even if it's sometimes only, is it still worth the ride?
I'm asking. I really don't know. But I'm happy to sit back and watch these greats figure out the answer that best suits them.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What's Up Down Under: Aussie Anomaly?

I gotta go to sleep soon so I can watch the women's final in the middle of the night, my time. But. Let us discuss the time warp we find ourselves in, and let us just appreciate it.
First, the Williams sisters. Sorry, I meant The Williams Sisters. Serena Williams will likely go down as one of the best tennis players in history, and certainly the best woman to ever play the game to date. She's ranked No. 2 in the world, and that's seriously underachieving to her. You could see her getting this far. Her draw was full of potential minefields and she navigated the ones she faced. Her opponent, though? Well, it's been a rough few years. Venus Williams has had to cope with a chronic disease that leads to fatigue and once she figured that out, well, the women's game had come up a bit. She was seeded 13th, and that seemed about right. Except if you were paying attention to Venus toward the end of 2016. Karolina Pliskova almost won the U.S. Open, but she barely managed to get past Venus to do it, which was plenty surprising enough. Also, Venus is 36 years old.
Oh, and is Roger Federer isn't far behind. Venus has been building up toward a result like this. Federer took the last quarter of the season off because of injury. With the exception of a warm-up tournament, he came into this tournament cold. He is seeded 17th (same number of the Slams he's won ...) and handled business, meaning Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka.
And Rafa Nadal. Nadal showed at the Olympics that yes, he still has it. But will the body cooperate? I guess so. I don't know if you saw the semifinal with Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov (who picked a heckuva time to live up to his potential), but Nadal got outhit at times. The ball didn't bounce his way. But when he did at 3-4, 30-love down, was a life lesson. You go for it. You could be tentative -- play not to lose. Or you could step inside the baseline and hit a perfect backhand and leave your opponent flailing.
What does this mean? Is it an anomaly? Who knows. What it is -- to me -- as the real world slowly drifts off its axis, it means that there is one constant, one thing that is true. It means that if you want something, and put yourself in the position to get it, you can get it. You can only control you. The draws fall where they may and the people left standing put themselves in that position. This time, it true. It's the beauty of sport. I'm gonna let Venus take it from here:


Sunday, January 22, 2017

What's Up Down Under? Seriously. What Is Going On Down There?

Truth time: I have been out of commission for the better part of this week with a doozy of a cold. ASIDE (I don't like to align ailments with current events, but I felt really bad on Friday, but better on Saturday, when I had to go exercise my First Amendment rights. By the way, if you're reading this in another part of the world and did the same thing, thank you. Also, just to let you know, most of us had nothing to do with this. Honestly.) END OF ASIDE. The only thing that's kept me from coughing are cold meds and cold meds have me in la-la-land before 11 p.m. This is really not ideal if you're watching the Australian Open in the U.S.
I'm feeling better. Thank you for asking! But I thought for a second that the meds were messing with me. So I thought I'd run these draws by you to see if I'm crazy or not:





OK. It's 2017 and Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have a legitimate chance of playing in the Australian Open final. The same is true of Venus and Serena Williams.
There is so much here that I don't know where to start. Like I said, I haven't seen a good chunk of these matches, so I literally have no earthly idea how most of this happened, but I will be catching up! Let's start with what I woke up with this morning. Angelique Kerber lost to Coco Vandeweghe. THE SCORE WAS 6-2, 6-3. I just want to point out that Coco barely beat Genie Bouchard in the second round. So can someone explain this to me. It's almost as if young Americans are trying to be a presence in pro tennis again!
OK! Moving on. We got Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. I picked her to go that far. But barely, because of Simona Halep, who did not make it out of the first round. I'm not even going there right now, because if she had come that far, it wouldn't have made a difference. I have seen a couple of Venus' matches, and she is lighting it up! She is playing the best tennis she has ever played. That's up for debate, but you'd have to bring me some indisputable evidence.
Let's move to the red-stained bottom half of the women's draw, populated by unknowns (American Jennifer Brady), up-and-comers (Johanna Konta) and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Yes. The same Mirjana Lucic who upset Monica Seles at Wimbledon. SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. This is like Back to the Future XIII, or whichever one they're up to now. Here, in 2017, she's beating Agz Radwanska, the third-best player in the world.
And then there's Serena Williams, who had a nasty-looking draw ahead of her. Had. Because she's in the quarterfinals against Barbora Strycova now, who holds a doctorate at the University of Tennis With Attitude. She is definitely not intimidated by Serena. I'm not saying she won't get her butt kicked. I'm just saying she's doesn't really care who Serena is.
I got to see the tail end of Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova and I had to chuckle at the idea that two people who usually mess with top seeds in early rounds had to play each other. And of course, the lower seed won. Maybe it's just me who finds that funny.
Now the men. Like what the actual hell. This is what I wrote last week about the most probable final:


Novak Djokovic? Lost to Denis Istomin. See what I'm saying about Back to the Future?
Andy Murray lost to the lesser-regarded Zverev brother, Mischa in the fourth round. (Oh. We'll get to the higher-regarded one in a minute.) So yeah. Not so destined to rumble all the time.
Meanwhile, Federer is gliding through the draw like it's five years ago, beating the fifth- and tenth-seeded players with relative ease. People have been asking Federer about retiring the last year or so. Roger, your thoughts?

via GIPHY

Now that we've gotten that straight, let's move on Federer's good friend, Nadal. He has recently begun receiving AARP mailers as well. But then I woke up yesterday with this match still looking at me, a few hours after I had dozed off watching Nadal getting his butt kicked. Because Nadal is also not really ready for retirement. He's got some schooling of Zverev boys to do. It hurt me last week to pick Alexandr Zverev over him when I was filling out my draw, but I just didn't see how Nadal, riddled with injury, could mount a real challenge to anyone in form right now. Guess it's time to get the crystal ball back into the shop.
And then there's Gael Monfils and Jo-Jo Tsonga, who are apparently still not receiving the memos that their time as Grand Slam threats are over. Also Andreas Seppi. Like, what is happening here? Have I taken too many meds? Am I actually in the 2007 Australian Open? Next, you'll be telling me that Grigor Dimitrov has advanced further into this tournament than Djokovic and beat a wily veteran to do it.


OK. I am going to sleep now.