Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Attitudimeter: WTA Finals edition

Live from ... my home office ... a special Attitudimeter, WTA Finals edition! Just the ladies this week:

Who's Up

Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki spent this season flirting with greatness. She made eight finals and lost the first six of them. So it shouldn't be a surprise that she was the last one sitting on the top of the heap in Singapore this year. She had it coming. In some ways, she maybe should have been part of the Player of the Year conversation a bit more. But the reason she wasn't was her inability to do anything significant at big tournaments this year. So maybe this is the set-up stage for 2018 for her.

Venus Williams

So there's Venus, down 4-6, 0-5 in the WTA Finals, when she receives a push alert on her phone that she, in fact, is in the middle of a tennis match. Alas, it was soon to late to remedy the situation because she lost the second set 6-4. As any longtime reader of TWA knows, I have something of a soft spot for Venus and part of the reason why is in regards to the way she played the WTA Finals -- in her usual OG style. I watched as every single other player in the draw consulted their coach every possible time. Venus spent the tournament figuring it out by herself. That's why she'll almost always be up on the old 'meter. Unless she throws away another final like Wimbledon. I mean, for Pete's sake, Venus ...

Who's Down

WTA Finals

I take it I'm alone on this, but I'm going in anyway. Why on earth is on-court coaching allowed at a major tournament like Singapore? Incidentally, why are so many women running to their coaches, their daddies, their spiritual mentor -- instead of figuring it out themselves. Half of the on-court coaching I heard was, admittedly, Darren Cahill, who's great. Don't get me wrong. But my god, if he is so great, why can't Halep retain what he has been teaching him? Most of what he said seemed to be aimed at managing her feelings, not her game. I'll say it again. This concept, and the fact that only women are allowed to have it, is an insult.

Elina Svitolina

Yeah, she had a rough tournament, but a bad translation of an interview she did led to a severe raking over of the coals. Svitolina's observation that many people were now in contention for being No. 1 somehow became her saying that Serena Williams used to dominate, but that they were now in a different era, which triggered Serena fans, which led to her taking some online hateration until the website issued a correction. Sadly, it was too late for Svitolina's Twitter mentions.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Attitudimeter: There's No Crying in Tennis

High Attitude

Julia Goerges
The thing I love about writing about sports is that there's no crying in tennis. No emotion, no muss, no fuss, just sports.
Oh, what? You want me to watch this video of Goerges winning her first title in more than six years? Fine! No biggie:

Garbine Muguruza
I'm OK now. Whew. I need some snark in my life, stat:
Picking a WTA Player of the Year this year is a little like picking the worst Donald Trump tweet of 2017. Like, where do you start? They're all terrible! I'm not saying the WTA has been terrible, but no one has stood out. Sure, after a Slam, they stand out. No one has been consistent. No one. Muguruza's spotty season (slam, Cincy, World No. 1 for 10 minutes) is among many spotty seasons among the POY candidates. So spotty that folks were writing in Serena Williams as POY despite her playing, literally, two tournaments this year. One of them was the Australian Open and she happened to be pregnant at the time. I don't know. She's got a case, too. They all do.

Juan Martin del Potro
Listen. Juan Martin del Potro could lose in the first round of Star Search and make this list. Who doesn't love this guy? Sure, he got smoked by Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer recently, but he just won the Stockholm Open, his first tournament win since ... the same tournament the previous year. Glad to see that tumble he took in Shanghai wasn't too much of a problem. I mean, dude deserves a break.
Not that kind of break. The other break.

Low Attitude

Half of the ATP tour
Not literally, but in this past week alone, Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych said "nah" to the rest of the season. Off the top of my head, I believe we are now at Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka as major contenders who started 2017 on a court and ended it on a stretcher. We

Barbora Strycova
We all know that you won't like Strycova when she's angry.

And now, have mercy, she is angry at her fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, who apparently stole Strycova's coach behind her back.
"Our relationship is zero. We do not go for coffee," she told the press.
No coffee.
This is serious.
Strycova said she'll still play Fed Cup if Pliskova is on the team, and if I were Pliskova, I would not play doubles with her again. That's right -- with her. Strycova knows just how to set up a point to get her partner blasted out of her shoes. Would she actually do that? I'm gonna refer you to the video above.

The WTA Rankings System
How are you going to lose 10 matches in a row and then still manage to end up moving up the rankings into the top 10? That's a question best asked of Kristina Mladenovic and the WTA rankings system. Maybe let's throw in the rest of the players, too. Yo, these guys had almost a year to wreak some havoc while Serena Williams was out and instead of people taking their shots, we have folks moving up the ranking having done nothing at all. I'm done with this topic, I think.

Maria Sharapova
Fresh from winning her first post-ban tournament, Maria Sharapova rolled up at the Kremlin Cup, probably popping the collar, feeling pretty good about herself.
She didn't stay long, losing in some erratic tennis to Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets.
I admit that I'm tempted right now to make a joke at Sharapova's expense. But I think I may have been a bit rough on Sharapova. Maybe, I thought, I might try a bit harder to understand her, so I decided to go out and buy her book. I guess the first run sold out, because all I could find was this updated version:

Should I buy it?

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Attitudimeter: Who's Up, Who's Down This Week

And now for a new feature here at TWA: The Attitudimeter -- a weekly look at who's on top in the pro game ... and who could use an attitude adjustment. (Note: Attitudimeter is copyright protected, so don't even try it.)

Who's Got Attitude

Roger Federer
He doesn't just get the top spot for winning Shanghai this week, beating his longtime rival Rafael Nadal in the process, but I suspect that Fed is playing the least pressure-free tennis of his life. I only say this because my dude showed up to this tournament looking like a homeless dude and he's cool with that.

Maria Sharapova
Well, Sharapova finally made good use of a wild card, winning the Tianjin Open this weekend. She didn't lose one set, although there weren't any real threats in the draw, either (at least none who advanced very far, ahem Petra Kvitova). Here's the draw.

I'm not usually in the "wild-card-for-drug-ban-returnees," but this tournament really needed some help.

Serena Williams
The women's tennis season has been so inconsistent that folks are talking about Serena Williams for player of the year because she won a slam while pregnant. I agree that this is remarkable, but it's also remarkable that the women who have been jockeying for the No. 1 position have left virtually no impression on the voters. Also, here's another thought -- if we're going to suggest that Serena should win for her Australian Open performance (and apparently not for losing to Madison Brengle in a warmup tournament), can't we throw Venus Williams' name in the mix? She played in two Slam finals and a semi ...

Who Needs an Attitude Adjustment

Rafael Nadal
Nadal's had a good summer and two major titles to his season, but when it comes to beating Federer, he's stuck on the backhand strategy, I think, and it's ... not working anymore. I'm not sure how he did it, or even if it's legal, but Federer has somehow had his backhand surgically replaced with that of Ivan Ljubicic's. Plot twist, Rafa! But he's going to need to go back to the drawing board for a new strategy on his old rival.

Nick Kyrgios
It feels like October must be some type of triggering time of year for Nick. Last year, he got himself thrown off the tour before season's end for not trying during matches. This year, one call going against him in a final against Nadal caused him to hand over the entire match. And then, he threatened to quit a match if he didn't win the first set -- and then he quit the match.

Off-topic: Steve Johnson and that mustache, though. Anyway, Kyrgios needs to take Octobers off or something.

Fabio Fognini
I don't think I covered this knucklehead in the blog during the U.S. Open, but he called an umpire a whore during his first-round loss and he is currently playing tennis. This week, officials decided to suspend him and fine him ... kind of. He has to miss two slams next year -- one the U.S. Open and one, apparently, of his choosing. If he behaves himself in the next two years, his fine will be halved from the current $96,000. Fognini isn't challenging this, and why should he? He gets to choose some of his punishment!

Simona Halep
I remember when I thought Angelique Kerber was a placeholder No. 1, and compared to Halep, I really regret that take. I am sorry, Angelique. Like, Halep has had many chances to take the top spot this year, and then she backs into it and follows it up with a loss in the final. She is so unremarkable as a No. 1 that I don't have anything left to say.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

League Watch: The Best Advice I've Ever Gotten on a Tennis Court

If you play USTA matches, you probably have played combo leagues as well. It's when you team up with a player who isn't your rating. So if I'm a 4.0 and I'm playing 7.5 combo, I'm playing with a 3.5. Up north, it was somewhat similar to playing 9.0 mixed doubles, where you're playing with a 5 and a 4. Anyway.
So that's the main tennis out here in the fall and I signed up this year with a fairly solid team, so strong I thought we would have no problem with the other teams in our division. So I rolled up to my first match with my partner, a decent 3.5 who forgot her racquet at home the last time I played with her. She had it this time. Our opponents were a pair of what appeared to be nice older ladies who were somewhat slow.
They weren't that slow. Nice? Here's an anecdote and you can decide. So I'm serving. First serve's out. It rolls to the fence. Bouncing maybe six inches off the net -- far from our opponents. The returner stops everything to retreat this ball that is nowhere near any of us. About 30 seconds between first and second serves for this. We win the point. But I'm not pleased. Starting to think it was done on purpose. Happens again. OK. OK.
Now it's the first set tiebreak, one of them is serving and the first serve is out, but my partner swats it back the way you do when you are in mid-swing anyway. Ball bounces behind these women and actually comes off the fence a good distance. The server goes, "It's fine," and serves!
I literally laughed out loud when the point was over and may or may not have mockingly said, "It's fine?"
Anyway, we lost the set. But I always lose the first set (probably not a good thing), so I'm feeling great and we get out to a 4-1 jump in the second set. But small problem: I'm feeling great and my partner, who's a little older, was slowing down and it was obvious. Our opponents started running her all over creation for lobs and then short balls and I didn't know what to do. It was clear that she was going away, and slowly, our opponents came back and won the match.
People get really excited about 7.5 tennis out here and I am not sure why. Just last night, I watched a men's match where the one team was "C'mon!"ing so loudly it distracted the team serving on the next court. Fist pumps. I mean, it's 7.5 tennis. As far as I know, it doesn't count for ratings and there is no prize money.
But my goodness, did these women celebrate when they beat us. They hugged each other and high-fived like they had won the Olympics.
For me, I came away from the match wondering how I could have better protected my partner. The second half of the match, they were running her all over with lobs and crosscourt shots that I couldn't get involved with. I'm not a confident volleyer or poacher, and I knew that if I poached and didn't hit a winning volley, any reply would go to the other side of the court -- and my partner didn't move well enough to switch. So I began to think about what I could have done to help out more. You know, in case we ever played them again.
Which I did not think would happen. After all, I had told my captain that that partner and I didn't make a good team because of our styles and she agreed to switch things up and give me a new partner. That had all changed by the next week and I was back with my original partner again for reasons you honestly could care less about.
Well, OK. I promised my partner that I would try harder to help her. How? First, instead of easing into matches as I like to do, I endeavored to have a sharp start while my partner was at her freshest. I also planned to be more aggressive at net and to stand back a bit on serve returns to help handle the lobs we would get. Besides, I thought to myself as our opponents walked over, what are the chances we were going to play the same women again?
Those chances are 100 percent.
So here we are again with Rose and Blanche (not their real names). This time, we get out to a good start and despite the fact that I hit three double faults in a service game, we win the first set. In the second set, they decided to go to the Australian formation. I always enjoy when people do this because they're usually not doing it right and after one or two failed returns, they go back to normal. Well, this time, they kept it going and for the life of me, I could not get an advantage. Even though our opponent is standing in the middle of the stinkin' service box. It was very annoying and they won the second set pretty easily, as both myself and my partner were entirely flummoxed by these women standing in a different place.
So now we have to play a third-set tiebreak. My partner was tired again and wanted to take a 10-minute break. I mean, it was a good match, but I wanted to go home. But I tried to keep it loose and give her a bit of a break. I told her, "If you need a break, it's no big deal. We beat them now, or we beat them in 10 minutes." We laughed, but I also made a point of not sitting down. She laughed and got up off the bench. I'd like to think it was my inspirational line, but like, it was 8:15 p.m. at this point.
Anyway, we start the match and get an early, but slight lead. I get into position to take the serve and worried about my partner being able to finish the match, and all of a sudden, I see it. This big Mac truck-sized hole up the line and that's where my return went and it was a winner. Then my partner did the same thing when it was her turn. And then we won most of the rest of the points and won the match. When it was over, I told my partner, "That return was there the entire second set! This could've been over a half-hour ago!"
My exhausted partner looked at me, shaking her head. "Sometimes we try too hard, you know?"
And this is seriously the best advice that anyone has ever given me about tennis. I'm not kidding. The easy way isn't always flashy or -- let's be honest -- satisfying. We like winning points with style, right? We want to hit the shot that makes the crowd go "ooh."
But simplicity will get you home a half-hour earlier. Think about that.

Friday, October 06, 2017

IDEA: The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme *Might* Need a New Name

See, if you understand the purpose of the International Tennis Federation's drug panel, it makes more sense.
See, I thought -- and maybe you did, too -- that their purpose is to set definitive rules regarding drug use and to crack down when they spot abuse. I'm not sure where I got such a ridiculous thought, but I'll own it. It was dumb and I'm sorry.
But the actual purpose of the tribunal is to undercut its own authority, protect the players and their ever-fragile reputations and, where possible, aid and abet a drug problem, not fix it in any way. I mean, they're not miracle workers.
How does this role work? Well, you write a lovely letter to a player and you say, "Hey, Dan Evans. Hope you are well. It appears you failed a drug test a few months back -- says you had cocaine in your system? Weird. Anyway, we're gonna need an explanation on this. Can you come see us in a few weeks? No pressure. Thanks. xoxo"
And then Evans gets to come up with a scenario that makes sense. Kind of. "OK, well, yeah, I had a bit of cocaine once. ONE time. And I was NOT competing. And maybe some of the residue got into my toiletries and maybe got into my system when I was competing. And I am VERY sorry. What do you guys think of that one?"
The ITF drug Justice League huddles, comes back to face Evans, looking all clever-like. "OK. OK. Cocaine is a pretty dangerous drug that people have died from using, but we're going to believe that you don't have an ... addiction problem here, and we can see where you might not be at your best cleaning up when you're high. But, Danny -- Danny. We've got to do something here, you understand. We're going to suspend you for a year, but it's backdated to when you failed the test, so it's really just seven months and you have to give back some of your money ... (whispers) assuming you still have it.
"So! I think we're good here. Hey, keep your nose clean, kid! We're here for you."

You know what I have learned about tennis players through the ITF? They are the unluckiest athletes in the world. I mean, consider the odd coincidences that have conspired to damn them in the last couple years when it comes to banned substances entering their bodies without their knowledge or permission:

1. Maria Sharapova missed the email that said her "heart medication" was now banned, and although her team probably got the email, no one on her team really knew she was taking this "heart medication" -- the same "heart medication" that Russian athletes were banned from various sports from taking because it had been found to be performance-enhancing. Huh.
2. Sara Errani accidentally ingested a banned substance that happened to be an ingredient in her mother's cancer medication. Errani's mom, a pharmacist by trade, apparently took this drug -- and then fixed the family dinner at the same spot, which is how Errani ended up taking this drug. Wow!
3. Back to Evans. I just want you to read this, please:

Oh. OK. He just ... threw out the leftover cocaine. OK.

That is burden of proof? I wish this panel was my mom when I was a kid.

"On the other hand."