Thursday, March 29, 2018

I Got Some Things to Say About the Miami Open

This is going to be a short post because the semifinals are about to start and nobody better bother me after 1 p.m., my time.
Seriously, this tournament has been crazy. I've said this before, but the women's tennis is just a tad bit more interesting than last year, yes?
For me, tennis is fun to watch and to try to play, but sometimes, you get little tiny reminders about how it's more than than for people. Sometimes, a tennis career ventures into dream category. As in, achieving something you thought you could do, but were almost too afraid to say it, or try it. And then the moment is there, and then you do it. Sometimes, you see how it matters in moments like this:

Did you see that? That look from Danielle Collins after she shook Venus Williams' hand? It gave me goosebumps, because that's a dream come true right there. Also, though? Her backhand is *fire emoji*

Still with the on-court coaching
The first time I heard a player get decent advice during this sexist practice was yesterday, during Elina Svitolina's match against Jelena Ostapenko (whatever happened with this Alona thing from last year? Was that some type of Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines thing?). The timing wasn't awesome -- she didn't know it, but Svitolina was about to be a couple games and a tiebreak from losing in straight sets. But what he said: "You have to be willing to play the right way" as opposed to focusing solely on winning or losing is actually a great reminder. Much easier said than done, but still, great advice.

I mean, dang! I am woman enough to acknowledge that in my heart of hearts, I thought Sloane Stephens winning a Slam might have been a touch fluke-y. But I think I might have been wrong. I really liked reading this from her after her most recent beatdown of Angelique Kerber:

The wind issue
Speaking of Sloane v. Kerber, some people on the Internet had some issues with the court conditions:

Nguyen offered some decent video evidence as well. But here's my thing: playing in high winds is difficult. So is playing when it's 90 degrees. So is when you're playing in wind on clay and little sand particles get into your eyes. Also when the sun overhead is messing with your toss. Where do you draw the line? And what does it say about the winner of the match when you essentially nullify the conditions by complaining about them? Stephens also played in high winds and she was able to negotiate the conditions. Kerber wasn't. That's why she lost. There's my tennis hill, I guess. 

Now everyone go watch tennis!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Indian Wells Wrap: Because There's a Lot to Say

Yes, the tennis was excellent this tournament. The women's draw had a lot of storylines, and most of them seemed to run through Naomi Osaka, and we'll get there. On the men's side, well, I don't applaud at my laptop screen often, but when I do, it's when Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro have put on a helluva final.
First thing's first: Tommy Haas. That might not be the first thing for everyone but just hang on a second. Tommy Haas retired this week at Indian Wells and it made me sad. When I was a new tennis fan, Haas was one of those big guns coming up in the game with a smooth game and was also not difficult to look at. That sexy AF backhand. (Whew.) He was, for me, one of those figures in the game who was always on the precipice of greatness, but seemed to run into something. It was either injury, or Marat Safin, or injury, or it was Pete Sampras, or personal tragedy, or it was Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, or it was injury, or it was Roger Federer. Haas' career high ranking was No. 2. He never won a Slam, but all those guys I named? He beat them all, too. That's a hell of a span of players, and he was present for all of it -- as much as he could be with injuries in the way. As a fan, my knee-jerk is to say that his career was unfinished, but I think that's an insult in a way. Tommy Haas did what he could with what he had. He didn't waste one bit of his talent and he has nothing to be sorry about. His isn't a career to ask "What if?" about. It's just one that you're glad you got to see. Also, by the way, one of the last big wins he had was in 2017, against Roger Federer. So. And most importantly, Haas isn't riding that sexy ass into the sunset just yet -- we'll get to see him as a regular presence in tennis as the Indian Wells tournament organizer.
Now, on to the tournament itself. I don't know where to start. OK, fine, let's start with Osaka if you insist. I haven't written about her yet, mostly because of her spotty results. But the first time I honestly took notice of her was this year at Hopman Cup. Yeah, an exo, but an exo in which she got to square off against Federer in mixed doubles. The thing I noticed about her was that she went for Federer a couple times. This chick was trading groundstrokes with him instead of going to Belinda Bencic, which I definitely would have done. The thing about Osaka is that she wants to be weighed and measured, and if she's found wanting, she wants to fix it. She looked like a machine this tournament. I normally don't put a lot of stock about how players act, but she beat Maria Sharapova in the first round, and her expression was not of a stunned young upstart. She expected that result, and that was the same face she had throughout the tournament. She won the tournament and she smiled as if to say, "Oh, well, this is nice. I'm looking for No. 1., but this will do in a pinch." I'm legit wondering if she's gonna end the year with the U.S. Open title. Oh, but back to that poker face for a second: I wonder how it will hold up if she wins her first-round match in Miami next week. Her opponent is Serena Williams.

I haven't said a lot about Daria Kasatkina, either, but talk about players who are going to be a problem. Watching the emergence of she and Osaka is almost like the total opposite of what we saw in women's tennis last year, where the usual suspects couldn't quite bring themselves to dominate with a window in the leadership. These 20-year-olds seem to not have that type of concern at all. Kasatkina's match against Venus Williams was, so far, the match of the year to me. They both played some remarkable tennis and you can say that match was won by Kasatkina, not surrendered by Williams. And once again, Venus is out here as a message to all of you. You know who you are. You've had that crappy volley for years, and you figure you'll never be able to fix it. She's 37, y'all. Fix the volley.

Finally. That Federer/delP match. Hoo buddy. I don't know what to say about it. It just needs to be viewed. The turning points, the general saltiness of the players, the match point won turned double fault, I mean. Gracious. All I can say is that I feel like del Potro needed this win and I'm glad he got it. And if you don't have a soft spot for del Potro, you need to check your pulse. Verdict!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Attitudimeter: Indian Wells edition

We are only halfway through Indian Wells and has it been a time! Right now, Karolina Pliskova is whupping up on another fledgling American, Amanda Anisimova, and unknown Americans have been popping up in weird places. That is to say, they're advancing past the first rounds. But let's talk more about that later.

On the Up Swing


The tournament announced a $1 million bonus for the player who wins in singles and doubles, and look! It's Victoria Azarenka! John Isner! Grigor friggin' Dimitrov! It might have been a cheap trick, but that Azarenka/Aryna Sabalenka v. Sloane Stephens/Genie Bouchard match was still great to watch. The best part of this bonus is that it brings out the big names in the game, but people who show up get to see the Barbora Strycovas and Marc Lopezes -- the real doubles specialists, and they get the attention they deserve, too. Everyone wins. Except the singles players. Everyone else, though.

American Women You've Never Heard Of

Danielle Collins? Caroline Dolehide? (was anyone else having a hard time not thinking of Silence of the Lambs during her match against Simona Halep?) Sachia Vickery? It appears that the wild cards decided they were going to make this visit count.

Williams v. Williams rivalry

It's unbelievable that we are almost on our second decade of watching Venus and Serena square off and that (a) people still care and (b) the matches actually get better with time. I'm old enough to remember when watching the sisters play was painful and awkward for all involved. Now? I feel like their match-up last night -- their 29th time playing each other -- was one of their better matches. I mean, they were going after each other! Look a' dis:

Also, small postscript: I can't imagine that any member of the Top 10 last night (including the one on court opposite Serena) watched that match without a wee bit of concern that Serena was coming for them personally.

Down Swing

Madison Keys

I feel like a broken record, but here we go anyway. This reliance on on-court coaching isn't even helpful. Keys is on the ropes against fellow American Danielle Collins in the first round, and she can't figure out what she should do, so she calls Lindsay Davenport over, who tells her, in a nutshell, "You're doing amazing, sweetie. Hang in there." Keys goes out there and stands idly while Collins whips shots all over the court. This isn't even Davenport's fault. I'm just saying that Keys obviously has a problem with nerves (see: 2017 U.S. Open final) and running to the coach isn't going to fix it.

Men's tennis

I don't know. Maybe it's because so many of the big guns are MIA, but it is hard to get with these early rounds so far. Even Novak Djokovic losing in his first match wasn't that dramatic -- or unexpected. These injuries are beginning to make a big dent in this big tournaments. As it is now, we'll have to wait until the end of the week (hopefully) to see some firework matches.

Some of these coaches

I know. I'm gonna stop. But first. I believe this was late in Simona Halep's scrappy win over Dolehide when Dolehide calls the coach over. Coach tells her she has to be the first one to change direction. OK, why? What exactly is the strategy here? Of course it didn't work. These players need to check where their money is going is all I'm saying.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Therapy with TWA: The Davis Cup Breakdown

So here's how news breaks on Twitter:

1. *news breaks*
2. Twitter at 30 seconds: this is the worst
3. Twitter at 60 seconds: ugh so depressing. 2018 ruined
4. Twitter at 120 seconds: hey, guys, so read the story
5. Twitter at 10 minutes: wow, this is what I've always wanted

That's how it went in a nutshell with the announcement that Davis Cup was planning to change up some things. Right now, the plan on the table (which still needs to be approved this August) is to play the event at one place over one week. The matches would be best-of-three, with three matches per tie -- two singles, one doubles. Also, an investment firm run by a soccer player (!) would be at the helm.

This is, in case you are new here, what I've been talking about for about 10 years on this blog (not the soccer guy part). Here's the first time I complained about the DC format. (I actually called for playoffs for a spot on your team, which is a great damn idea!) Here's another time. Sometimes, I've even wondered if the coaches want to be there. However, I realize I am but one person. There are other tennis fans (and players!), and some of them were not happy about this change to Davis Cup. Oh, actually, it's, uh, now going to be called the World Cup of Tennis. Normally, I'm the tradition junkie who rejects tennis changes at all times, but this needs to happen. Or something like it. Why? So that people will care about this event!

There is reason to think the ITF doesn't even care much about Davis Cup. This year's first round of Davis Cup was during Super Bowl weekend. If you want to generate excitement for a sport, why would you set it for the same weekend as one of the largest North American sporting events at all? Now, most of those matches, if not all, were over by the start time of the game, but the point remains. Super Bowl weekend is Super Bowl weekend. It doesn't leave a lot of oxygen in the room for anything else. And in general, it's hard to generate excitement for a tournament that is tucked into the calendar four times a year.

Now, one complaint about this idea is that part of the appeal of Davis Cup was that players had more opportunities to play in their home country, no matter how small. These are people who will never be able to attend the Australian Open. That will be a loss for those places in ways that are financial and ways that can grow the sport there. I don't know what to say about that, because that sucks. Last year, I drove a little over an hour from the middle of Florida to watch a Fed Cup tie and that was a good experience, and one I'm not likely to have again if this plan takes hold.

But big-name players cared so little about Davis Cup that they eventually had to be compelled to participate when the ITF linked DC appearances to Olympic eligibility. Which is interesting. Because here are these players, who are clearly willing and proud to represent their country in sport. They do it for the Olympics and they'll even travel to alleged hole-in-the-ground Rio de Janiero to do this, but not to ... their home country? Why?

Because Davis Cup is broken. And these proposed changes will fix that, I think. Let's face it: A lot had changed about tennis in the years since the Cup began. It started in 1900, so, for one thing, there were wooden racquets. Tennis was also a bit more popular than it is now, at least in the States, and back then, there weren't three tournaments a week. All of that has changed, and the Davis Cup has not. It has not looked at the success of the Ryder Cup in golf.

I don't agree with all these changes. I wish they could play more matches, keep it at reverse singles and the doubles match. They could do that if they made it a two-week event. I would even be in support of making it a biannual event.

But the main thing that needs to happen here is that Davis Cup, er, World Cup, is finally treated as an EVENT. When you have an EVENT, it fills stadiums every day for two weeks. I think tennis should be more popular than it is. Tennis players like to compete for their countries. They do it in every context except Davis Cup. It's Davis Cup that's broken, and hopefully in August, the ITF will fix it.