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.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Wimbledon '17: Musings from the First Week

So that was some week. Let's just dive right in:
  • Here are my draws now. I haven't seen this much red since that one time I checked my bank account in college! 

  • Minor point: Venus Williams has won Wimbledon five times -- and zero-times Grand Slam finalist Johanna Konta is now the oddsmakers' favorite to win Wimbledon. I. Am. Just. Saying. 
  • I kinda can't believe Victoria Azarenka is still in this tournament. Same with Angelique Kerber.
  • I have a pretty strong stomach, but I took one glance at Bethanie Mattek-Sands after she fell, and I closed the browser window. Best of luck to her.
  • What am I missing? Why on earth, if you're Sloane Stephens, would you choose to play your first match in nearly a year at Wimbledon?
  • I just also want to point out Head dropped Bernard Tomic as a sponsor for being honest at a press conference. Head also stood behind one of their sponsored athletes who got busted for taking a banned substance. *shrug*
  • Damn, I hope Heather Watson wins a major in singles one day, for as close as she's come with the heavy hitters. Or at least Indian Wells.
  • It's nice to see the American women step up at a major, not just the usual suspects. Shelby Rogers totally blinked and if she hadn't, she would have beaten the pants off Kerber. Cici Bellis stayed with Azarenka as long as could be expected. 
  • During this tournament, I realized that my in-match tweets age about as bad as the average Trump tweet.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Wimbledon '17: Victoria Azarenka. There. I Called It.

OK, that headline is clickbait. I'm not saying Victoria Azarenka is going to win Wimbledon. But there is a chance. Hang in to the end.
But let's start with the two weakest No. 1 seeds this side of ... well, Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray. Remember last year, when they were just the toast of everything? They both come into Wimbledon with some downwind behind them. Murray himself says he's not 100 percent fit for duty and Kerber recently admitted that there are ups and downs and she is currently experiencing downs. She's played one grasscourt match -- and lost it. So there's that.
Anyway, let's check out the men's draw (as I see it): 

Couple things of note:
If your friend calls you during the first-round match between Thiem and Pospisil and/or Ferrer/Gasquet, she's not really your friend.
I see many of the usual suspects advancing far into the tournament, but you might note some ... uncertainty in the bottom quarter of the bottom half. Sure, Djokovic just had a nice win at Eastbourne. But he didn't exactly come up against any heavy hitters there, unless we're deciding now that Donald Young is a real shot at winning this thing. So I have struggled a bit with him here. I mean. I mean. Like, I kinda think Juan Martin del Potro might have a shot. But then. Yeah. I'm a hypocrite.

THE BOTTOM HALF OF THE BOTTOM HALF OF THE WOMEN'S DRAW IS LIT. I guess the better word for this is "quarter." Johanna Konta. (maybe, OK), Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep. Heather Watson. And Azarenka. I'm going with Kvitova because she's returned from injury with a bullet.
We got some asterisks here, too. I can see Azarenka propelling herself out of this side of the draw out of hunger. I would normally think Venus Williams would have a good shot in this situation normally, but the lawsuit. I don't know, guys. What do we think about the draw? What do we think about this accident?