Friday, June 29, 2018

The Attitudimeter: Taking the Pre-Wimbledon Temperature

Let's get right to it. There's a lot happening.

Who's Up

Serena Williams

Serena Williams was unseeded when she returned to Grand Slam tennis. Has been since her return. Serena's not the first woman to come back from having a baby to play tennis, but you sure would think that. I bet you Victoria Azarenka is feeling pretty unloved right now as everyone rallies around the idea of a protected ranking for new mom Serena. Serena doesn't even have baby daddy drama and she's getting the help. Sorry, Vika. We shoulda been there for you. Because, yeah, new moms should get a protected ranking.
I don't understand why it isn't the same as an injury protection, because a woman's body gets beat to hell for it. But you shouldn't be protected forever, and you wouldn't be with an injury protective ranking, either. And as Katrina Adams pointed out in this New York Times story, doing anything other than protecting the ranking is like asking a female CEO to come back from maternity leave to start in the mail room. And yes, I heard Barbora Strycova saying it isn't fair to everyone else, and Dominika Cibulkova crowing about losing her seeding, but ... wait. I gotta address Cibulkova first:

1. Win a Slam first, sis!
2. Giving Serena a seed at a major is a favor to YOU!

Now, to Strycova's point that pregnancy isn't the same as an injury, as it is a choice to become pregnant. It is true. Choosing to have a family should not ever negatively affect your career. Nothing you do outside your job (except being a criminal and a racist) should change your employment status. I hate to get New York Times-heavy in this post, but The Daily podcast did two incredible episodes about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace this week, which might add some nuance to the way we think about this.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka could be Andy Roddick's twin sister, and we don't talk about that enough.


Also, she does have a hell of a game ... and a hell of a penchant for giving up leads and winning matches in dramatic third sets, does she not? And her backhand is better than Roddick's.
So, does she have a shot at Wimbledon? You need at least a bit of a net game for that ... and Sabalenka's net game looks about the same as it did during the Fed Cup tie against the U.S. We'll see about Wimby. We'll see.

Who's Down

Serena Williams

You're not seeing double.
So Deadspin actually did a real tennis story about Serena apparently refusing to take a drug test and the headline is gold:

There's a lot here. Mainly, I have to say that when the airport eavesdropper heard some guy named Steve leave Serena a message, I just knew it was that dim bulb Steve Simon. Y'all know how I feel about him. Who the hell walks around a public place fielding private calls? Oh, that's right. Everybody. I guess he could have put it on speaker, like most people do in the grocery store.
Second, someone really should answer why Serena is getting tested at twice the rate of other Americans -- having played, what, three tournaments this year?
Third, I have a hard time buying that Serena was dodging this test, judging how vocal she is on social media about these tests. And then there is the small detail that she wasn't actually home. I would have liked to know what the policy is in that case. Are you supposed to wait around for her to come home? And sorry, why is she being tested so much?!
Fourth, I will definitely have my popcorn ready for Serena's first presser when someone asks her
about this.

Roger Federer

Happens, I guess. Your main rival to date takes a break and affords you the opportunity to run the table. Perfect set-up to win the warm-up in Halle and then Wimbledon maybe -- making it Federer's 100th tournament win. But there comes Borna Coric, deciding after years of prospect talk about him, that he is going to go ahead and beat Roger Federer on his best surface. Surely, this is just a blip for Federer, which hopefully will lead to better decision-making. After all, the wheels pretty much fell off for Roger after THREE FAILED CHALLENGES IN A ROW. As I recall, Federer was super resistant to the challenge system in the first place and it looks like he should have really stayed away from it.

Novak Djokovic

Actually, Djokovic is progressing in his comeback. He's not at the top of his game yet -- he lost a tough final at Queen's Club against Marin Cilic. But how about John McEnroe comparing him to Tiger Woods and his, uh, family troubles? McEnroe took the locker room talk to the mic! Woo. I bet Djokovic was ticked off about that one!

Is this sarcastic?

Nick Kyrgios

Someone just answer me this: What did the person say to elicit this reaction?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Attitudimeter: The Grass is Greener than the Clay

Well, it's the end of the clay court season. That means Roger Federer came out of his hole and did not see his shadow, so he'll be sticking around for a while. Rafael Nadal? Well, who knows really. But there were plenty of players happy to return to the grass courts. Let's check in with them now!

Who's Up

Andy Murray

He's back! Woo! I really didn't realize how much I missed his game until he played against Nick Kyrgios this week (who we will discuss). He has a real workman-like game, and it's good to have his variety back. Sure, he's still rusty, but this is plenty of preparation to win Wimbledon in a couple weeks, right? No pressure whatsoever.

Roger Federer

This might be a good time to note that back in the day, some people couldn't get away with having the schedule Federer currently enjoys, which is: "Play whenever I like!" I only say this because of Serena and Venus Williams, who took on a lighter schedule to go to school, to start a business, to do "play whenever they liked!" They were greeted with haughty looks, upturned noses, lectures about how unserious they were about tennis. Federer is doing what the sisters did a decade ago and I have heard hardly a cross word about it. And I'm not looking to pick a whataboutism fight. I'm just saying, I guess. Anyway, Federer came back out and utterly dominated to win his 18th grass court title, and 98 overall. Some pundits have pointed out that if Federer plays his schedule right, he could win his 100th title at Wimbledon. Let's hope he doesn't run into ...

Who's Down

Nick Kyrgios

First of all, to answer your question, Nick, yes. Yes, the between-the-legs shot can be overplayed. And yes, it loses its brilliance when you are doing it standing still.
Kyrgios is a strange character. You might know this already. So there he is in Stuttgart, playing the semis against Federer. They're playing their per-usual tiebreaker, and Kyrgios, for once, wins a set against Federer. And then he put his head down and focused on the task and grinded his way through a challenging second set. LOL no. Actually, what he did was treat the second set as some type of proving ground for all his trick shots, and missed nearly all of them. By the time he reconciled himself to the fact that Fed wasn't going to sabotage himself, he tried to refocus for the third set, which he did, but still lost because it was Federer he was playing against. I have advocated for giving Nick a bit of space before writing him off completely. I still am, but I also am losing a bit of patience for someone who apparently is so bored out there that he's taken to hitting trick shots just to keep himself amused. If the thrill of competition doesn't do it for him, then what will?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dustup in Paris: The Answer Was Right In Front of our Faces

Who would win the French Open? The top seeds, as it turned out.
Of course Simona Halep. Three times this tournament, she lost the first set against an inspired opponent, and three times, she would come back and dominate the last two sets. She played three major finals before this and lost, including one on the same court last year. She deserves it.
Naturally, it was going to be Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer just takes the spring off because it's going to be Nadal. This time, Nadal faced Dominic Thiem in the final, who was young and fast with powerful groundstrokes, who said he had a plan to beat Nadal. Dude won eight games. It might have been seven if Nadal's fingers hadn't started cramping. Usually, Nadal doesn't take cramping very well


but this time, no biggie.
Let's talk about the things you don't expect, like being fortunate enough to have a long enough career that you can win a Slam and be greeted by your proud son, ahem Nicolas Mahut:

And don't think I didn't see you wiping that sweet child's kiss off your face Pierre-Hugues Herbert. I mean, I get it, but ... I see you.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Dustup in Paris: Gird Thyself for Finals Weekend!

Patrick McEnroe tweeted early last week that Sloane Stephens was going to win the French Open. I don't want to say I doubted him

but I just wasn't sure. He tweeted this while there was a Williams sister, a Pliskova, a Kerber, a Muguruza and a Kvitova for good measure still active in the tournament. And Sloane is not always hitting monster groundies. She has just been steady throughout, playing out points and waiting for her opportunity. When her opportunity comes, she rarely squandered it. (Totally looking at you, Garbine Muguruza. Like, totally.) Stephens' performance here is a good reminder of something I've been thinking about lately -- there's no one way to win a tennis match. You don't have to look a certain way, or be a good server -- it helps to be fit these days -- but there's always room for strategy and steadiness.
The one person who might know that better than Stephens, is, unfortunately for her, Simona Halep. Halep has played two Slam finals and lost them both -- one in spectacular fashion this time last year. I've been watching her matches, including against Muguruza in the semis and wondered how she is doing it. And it is that thing that I've always admired about Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. I've never seen two people who could win a match with sheer will (vintage, of course), even when their game wasn't there for them. This tournament, Halep has sprinted all over the court to run down wannabe winners, from side to side, front to back -- and then lost the point. And the next point, she resets and starts all over again. I throw a LOT of shade her way for on-court coaching, because she's better than needing a crutch. She can do it herself.
The women's final holds much more intrigue to me than the men's final. I know it shouldn't. I know in my head that Dominic Thiem is going to be a big problem for Rafael Nadal. Nadal said today that his body feels like it's 40. (Anytime he's ready, I can tell him what it looks like.) Logically, yes, Thiem can win his first French Open on Sunday, and he might. However, it is difficult to ignore history here. Something happens to Nadal in Paris. And this year, that thing can need a set to get kicked into year. Maybe a set and a break, but then he's stalking the baseline, doing that engine thing, slapping forehands down the line, both feet airborne. If you create a Thiem and Nadal column, there's a lot in Thiem's column: youth, fire, steadiness, patience, point construction. Almost all of those things are in the Nadal column as well, and then you'd add that thing. I don't know what you call it, but it's worth about 50 items on the Nadal column.
I got another thing to get off my chest and it's about Serena Williams. Apparently, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou doesn't think Serena should be playing doubles with her sister. Like Venus is the problem. He's had this beef apparently for a while. He probably wasn't wrong in this case -- it's her first major back and it did end in a retirement from injury. BUT. Let the record show that Serena could use some doubles lessons from her coach. Standing like a stone in the middle of no-man's land so that her sister must cover three-quarters of a court. The volleys. Doubles is not a stationary game, hon!
That's it. I just feel like it needed to be said.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Dustup in Paris: A Running List of French Open-Related Grievances

I'm really not someone who's hard to please. I mean, when Slams come around, I just need to either be on location (I am currently available in July and in late-August/early-September), or an air-conditioned locale in which to watch, and a mute button for most match commentators. I also need not to humiliate myself with the draw every year. But no. Every year, I have to deal with people trying to ruin my tournament by doing things like:

1. Airing the French Open on the Tennis Channel: It's nothing personal. I like Jon Wertheim, Lindsay Davenport and James Blake as commentators. (Justin Gimelstob? Hard pass to anyone who would insult a fellow pro player by suggesting, even in jest, that Rafa Nadal got a better challenge from a ballboy than Richard Gasquet, his third-round opponent.) The problem is this feature they have where they go around the grounds to update viewers on other matches. And then ... they just stay with the match they were showing you. Example: Novak Djokovic is in his first set against Roberto Bautista-Agut. At the same time, second seed Alexander Zverev is two sets and a break down to some dude and Grigor Dimitrov, the fourth (!) seed, is also facing elimination. And so it makes complete sense to ... watch Djokovic hold serve IN THE FIRST SET. I know that the Tennis Channel thinks it's the only show in town, but there is this thing called the Internet. It's a wild place, and there, you can watch any match you want, mostly via this one website called Reddit. But, yeah, you keep showing us matches based on what you think casual tennis fans who only know the big names would want to see.

2. This infernal debate about men playing five sets: This happens at every Slam, but nowhere is it as loud as in Paris each year. The courts are slower, the points longer. Five sets can take a long time. Not all of it is action-packed. That means you can basically set your clock to a tweet from tennis writer Ben Rothenberg:

I like his work. He's a very good reporter, a decent writer. He finds really good tennis stories. But for Pete's sake, he has some really bad takes. #saveourmen? Those poor men who were making more money at all the majors for decades? I have ranted on this before, but I don't know why tennis fans are so quick to change the game of tennis as if something's so horrible about it. Just to pick up a few casual fans? You know what would bring in more tennis fans? Making it easier to people to actually play tennis. I am just saying. I am also just saying that if Roger Federer and Nadal were about to play five sets, I bet it would get awfully quiet in that corner of Twitter. Not every five-setter is worth writing home about. Not every match is worth writing home about. What, are we going to change this to a super-tiebreak game because we think that not everyone has the patience for a whole match? Bruh-uh-uh-uh-uhhhhhhhh.
(Oh, fun fact! I ballgirlled for Niskioka this spring when he played in Sarasota. Did I not tell you guys about that yet? I have to tell y'all about that.)

3. The French are out here every year putting their countryfolk on Phillippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen every year as if a French person is going to win the French Open. You kidding me? We're really watching Gael Monfils and Caroline Garcia on Center Court while Simona Halep is on COURT 18? Yes, the Simona Halep who almost won the tournament last year. Really, French fam? It kind of cracks me up to see this center-court treatment for these guys when I'm old enough to remember how the French used to do Mary Pierce, who actually won the French Open.