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.