Sunday, September 16, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: The Definitive Wrap

Fourteen years ago, on Aug. 26, 2018, I tweeted the following:


I didn't mean to be prophetic. (but I did ask it for a reason ...)
Man, I've never been so glad to bear witness to the end of a tournament as I was with this year's U.S. Open. It was full of great tennis moments, but also some of the most insane moments -- and that was before the Williams/Osaka final. Questionable umpire conduct took a front seat quite a few times. There were stories that emerged from this tournament that might change the structure of tennis forever. I wrote about some of those possibilities for the, er, WASHINGTON POST. Like I said, crazy two weeks.
That piece, its fallout and other things I had going on caused me to step back a little from the pro tennis scene and although I watched the rest of the tournament, I was mentally fried. I don't have much to say, but here is the last definitive wrap of the U.S. Open you will find:

1. I don't know what happened to Novak Djokovic between Marco Cecchinato and now, but it happened fast. When he came back from injury this year, it was hard to see anything technically wrong with his game -- same dependable groundstrokes, especially on the backhand. But obviously, the confidence wasn't there, and now it is. Maybe it's just as simple as him returning to his original coach. But what we do know for sure now is that Djokovic has as many Slams as Pete Sampras (and I'm old enough to remember when that was the unattainable benchmark) and that just when we thought the order of things was set, Djokovic looks ready to make an all-out assault on both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer's records.
(Addendum: What happened to that forehand, Juan Martin del Potro? So tentative! Gah!!)

2. The doubles at this tournament was great. Coco Vandeweghe is not my cup of tea. Having said that the women's doubles final was a nice palate-cleanser on Sunday afternoon. Along with most recreational players, I end up playing more doubles and I wish I better at it. So these doubles matches are always so informative, but this one? I am seriously wondering if Kiki Mladenovich ever plays with Timea Babos again. Yes, they had Slam success this year, but this loss is gonna leave a mark. They held match points in the second and third sets and choked each time, especially Babos, whose level took a severe drop right around the time they should have closed out the match the first time. If you've played tennis, it's happened to you and even as you observe it happening to other people, you alternate between "Timea, how are you letting this happen to you?" and "Well, that dumped forehand looks familiar." You never want to see good players choke a match away, and you definitely don't want to see it them do it against Vandeweghe. 

3. I know that mixed doubles is sort of an exhibition event at Slams, but once again, can we NOT do tiebreakers in lieu of a third set? Especially at a major? Especially in the final match? Please?? Please???? 
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray defeated a team I had never heard of, Alicja Rosolska and Nicola Mektic, but will always remember now for (1) Mektic getting blasted out of his shoes at net by Mattek-Sands and (2) Rosolska's really scrappy play. I shall cheer for you, Pole and Croatian. 
So let's get back into the swing of things here at TWA with Mattek-Sands' acceptance speech (after a bad knee injury at Wimbledon last year):


Saturday, September 08, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: Serena, Osaka and the Fact that Many Things Can Be True at Once

So here I sit, a few hours removed from the U.S. Open women's final, and I am not going to be able to sleep unless I write this, so here we are. I want to say that there are many things that can be true at once without canceling each other out. Let us talk about those things now, please:

1. Naomi Osaka played some typa match: Six aces -- five more than her opponent, who has won 23 Grand Slam titles. Fourteen unforced errors, seven fewer than her opponent. Seventy-three percent of points won on her first serve. That's a full ten percent more than her opponent. When Serena Williams unleashed her first (only) "KAMANNNNN!" Osaka kept her head down and kept making her shots. When the histrionics started, and continued, she was able to keep her head and remain unbowed by the sideshow. She closed the match on her serve without blinking. She's 20. Naomi Osaka's first grand slam win got sidetracked by another incident, as did Amelie Mauresmo's against Justine Henin (Also bs nonsense, but strictly by Henin) Mauresmo won another, and was able to celebrate -- take in her moment. Osaka will, too, one day. She's 20. Here's hoping we get her for another 16-18 years, and that they are as successful as Williams'.

2. This isn't about women's rights: When an umpire says, "Code violation -- [ insert violation here], that is a code violation. Carlos Ramos doesn't call a coaching violation and then just say, "Oh, my bad!" unless of course, he was wrong. He was not wrong. Patrick Mouratoglou made hand signals to his player, which is known as coaching. It's just as possible that Serena only saw his thumbs, and not his indication to move into the court, or to move Osaka into the court. But he did it, Ramos saw, and it was a violation on her. This might be a thing she talks about with her coach. At any rate, she knew that because he said, "CODE VIOLATION, WILLIAMS." Good god, woman. Ramos did not compel her to smash her racquet. He also was sitting there minding her business when she decided to call him a thief and demand an apology multiple times. Had Serena kept her head down and focused on the task at hand (she was down a set and break), nothing else would have happened. Maybe she loses. Maybe she comes back to win the second set. But if Serena had said nothing, it is clear that Ramos would have been a non-factor in this match. To suggest, as Serena did, that this "struggle" for equal standing in the quest to say whatever she wants to an umpire, and that it will work out for others although it didn't for her? S-T-R-E-T-T-T-T-T-T-T-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H

3. This is about fair play: We've seen this for years. Some umps are rule sticklers, others aren't. Some give a code violation for racquet abuse, and others don't. Some will give a code violation for backtalk from players (see: Federer v. del Potro at the U.S. Open in 2009) and others let it slide. Others still get down from their chairs and give the trailing player a pep talk. You see what I'm saying, yes? It's like boxing or figure skating. One judge's point-docking would cause another to say nothing. Umpires in tennis need to follow uniform rules. Even the serve clock this year (and indeed, in this match) was observed case-by-case. You shouldn't do that. It's either a rule or it isn't.

4. This is Serena Williams' fault: Listen, when you get a code violation, you don't then smash the living crap out of your racquet in plain view. You don't go ahead to call the ump names and give him a chance to call you out. No one would know this better than Serena Williams because THIS EXACT THING HAPPENED TO HER BEFORE. If anyone knows about violation penalties and poor timing, all she would need to do is take ONE LOOK at Mrs. Kim Clijsters. I mean, damn ... For Serena to suggest that it just seems to always happens to her here is completely neglecting the fact that she has been at fault at almost all those times. Clijsters. Stosur. Osaka. Dammit, woman

5. The fallout from the debacle is the USTA's fault: What the hell, Katrina Adams?! You've got a contentious ending to a match and a first-time Slam winner who is a kid and is already not enjoying the moment on account of the soap opera that unfolded en route, and what does Katrina Adams do? The first thing out of her mouth is, essentially, "You are a GOAT, Serena!" Which is true, but this is not the best time to point this out. After all, she did NOT win the match. Adams is tone-deaf AF on many things, and she should have done better here. This is why Serena Williams, who created this disaster, had to then calm the crowd before it turned into the background of the "This is America" music video. Because Adams, and post-match interviewer Tom Rinaldi, were not the adults in the room and by dint of their inability to read the moment could have led to Osaka having a breakdown after the biggest moment of her tennis life. (Rinaldi to Serena and Osaka during the postmatch, in essence: "So ... how about all of that?" God, man. Good god.)

6. This is not a time when Serena gets to change the game of tennis: I love me some Chris McKendry, but if she, Mary Joe Fernandez and Chrissie Evert didn't just fall in line with Serena's "women's rights" trope ... Now, Serena has had a history at the U.S. Open. Maybe you remember the time when she got screwed over during her match against Jennifer Capriati (you remember. This was the denim and boots outfit, which was as badass as one has gotten at any major. HANDS DOWN DON'T @ME. Definitely better than that tutu.) The horrible line calls against Serena in that match were ... wow, they were bad. Anyway, a few obviously bad line calls went against Serena and really did cost her in that 2004 quarterfinal match. Many people point to this as the birth of the challenge system. This turned out to be good for the game. Now, the ESPN cast is calling for on-court coaching because it happens anyway. What?! Even Serena doesn't want on-court coaching. In what world are we now attributing this disaster to a flaw in the rules as opposed to a flaw in Serena? She needs to cool out when she comes to play in Flushing. FULL DAMN STOP. Plenty of players get code violations, then move on in their lives. We're going to allow on-court coaching at Slams now for everyone (which, by the way, will probably just mean the women which is another injustice unto itself) because Serena lost her temper? What?!

7. Naomi Osaka. I just want to end on her. My god. Keeping your head through Nos. 2-6 to serve your way to a final? What maturity and poise. Most of us can't even stay that calm during a USTA league match. I hope they replay this match without the tantrums, so they can see what I saw early on -- that Osaka was ready. She came ready to play and snatched that title. Also, she's half-West Indian, so you're fam, sis, on these tennis streets. 😉

Sunday, September 02, 2018

HOMELAND SLAM: A Sea of Red

I had a lot of fun filling out the women's draw. Was feeling pretty good about my choices. And then the tournament started.




Anyway, this year's U.S. Open has had a lot going on, which is something of an understatement. On the first day, Simona Halep lost and it turned out that there wasn't a heat rule for men, which is ... something. On the second day, Alize Cornet changed her shirt on court and an umpire, upon viewing a sports bra, was more offended by that than the bare-chested men he no-doubt sees at least twice a week.
We all know about Mo Lahyani's free coaching session by now. This whole episode, which -- don't get me wrong -- is wild, still illustrates something I've been trying to point out for a while. For much of the tennis calendar, women are encouraged to get coaching -- it's actually a feature that is apparently a fan pleaser. (?) But if a man gets a whiff of coaching (also this week, Andy Murray reported to his match ump that his opponent that day, Fernando Verdasco, had been getting advice during the 10-minute break due to heat), this is viewed as very bad.
Yes, I understand that the coaching they were receiving was against the rules, while the women being coached during the year is a rule. But the existence of this rule suggests this notion that women somehow need it, which sort of flies in the face of the idea of equality in the sport. I think on-court coaching is a crutch, but if both men and women were allowed access to it, it would be just another thing I didn't like about tennis, and you wouldn't have Twitter exchanges like this between a male and female pro


where I would be in the unenviable position of agreeing with Nick Kyrgios. (Yes, this is that Donna Vekic. Yikeys.)

Predictions. I hate to embarrass myself and keep making very wrong picks, but I also cannot resist offering thoughts. First, Maria Sharapova's advancement through this draw has been behind some of the ugliest tennis I've ever seen. But maybe also behind some of the luckiest. Sure, when she beat Jelena Ostapenko yesterday, her winners/unforced errors ratio was 11/18, which isn't great. But Ostapenko's was 10/41. Also not great.
Second, I am still unsure of what to make of Serena Williams. But the way she took down her own sister the other day was savage and if she's willing to do that to her own sister, the other players in the draw should be at least aware of that. Now pardon me while I go make some popcorn to watch Williams/Kanepi.