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.