Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Picking Up the Story
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Picking Up the Story 07/28/2008 - 4:17 PM

SafinaYes, women’s tennis exists right now, but can you really say much more than that? The subject came up in a conversation that my friend and sometime Tennis.com correspondent Asad Raza and I were having with a casual tennis fan this weekend. He asked, like so many people seem to ask these days, “What’s going on with women’s tennis? Anything?” Neither Asad nor I had a good answer. Various wins and losses were certainly occuring, but they fit no storyline. There are few things more depressing to a sportswriter than a sport with no recognizable narrative arc. Without one, tennis is just one winner and unforced error after another.

This is nothing new to WTA fans. The summer months, when injuries and indifference tend to peak among the women, can stifle even the most fascinating emerging narratives. As of last week, Ana Ivanovic, who had won her first major this spring in Paris, hadn’t made the U.S. hard-court scene. The Williams sisters, who had found themselves together in a Slam final again at Wimbledon, had caught the injury bug. The one story that was played up last week—can Jelena Jankovic reach No. 1 for the first time?—was anything but fascinating. In fact, it only reinforced the idea that the tour makes no sense right now. Not only has Jankovic never won a Grand Slam, she’s never even been to the finalof one. She had ascended not because she had won when it counted, but because she had entered a lot of tournaments and done pretty well in most of them. Imagine if Nikolay Davydenko were the No. 1 player on the men’s computer. On second thought, don’t. You may start to wonder if there’s a point to anything.

Then, this weekend, we picked up the tale of Dinara Safina again. Marat’s little sister had been a story herself this spring at Roland Garros, where she reached her first major final. After cramping and losing at Wimbledon to Shahar Peer, she continued in Los Angeles where she had left off in Paris. There she had saved match points and won on two separate occasions; here she did the same against her countrywoman Alla Kudryavtseva. Safina was asked afterward how she did it. I liked her answer: “I just kept remembering that the match isn’t over until you shake hands.” Seems simple and realistic enough. Maybe I’ll try it the next time I’m losing.

For the first time, I’ve also begun to like watching Safina’s game. She had always seemed clumsy and overly infuriated to me in the past, a red face inevitably filled with painful emotion. Now I found myself realizing, and enjoying, how early she takes her backhand and how she isn’t afraid to gun it crosscourt on crucial points. Safina’s backhand is not just the equivalent to other players' forehands; she almost uses it like a serve. I also like how heavily she clubs her forehand, particularly from shoulder height, and how committed she seems to be to improving and winning. Like Ivanovic, Safina is fitter than she has ever been, and it’s making a difference; she can even scramble a little on defense. In the semis, she made Jankovic look more like the actress she wants to be than the top tennis player she is, beating the smiling Serb in straight sets and ending her bid for No. 1. (Jankovic wasn’t too distraught at the end.)

Of course, Safina could be another short story. She played a nervous game at 5-1 in the second and was broken. While she broke back for the title, the top women—the Williamses, Sharapova, Ivanovic—are the ones who can serve matches out consistently, rather than break them out. Safina also didn’t beat any of those top women in this tournament. But she’s a worker, and a strong ball-striker, and she seems more focused than angry now. She's also not a pusher, which you have to like no matter what the results may be.

Safina has the down-to-earth honesty of her brother, without the dark cynicism. On match point against Jankovic, the Serb sent a ball over the baseline that was called long. As the two players walked to the net, Jankovic challenged the call. Safina looked at her and said, “I think it was out.” There was something very calm and normal, friendly and honest, about the way she looked when she said it (and she was right, it was out). One of the Safins staying calm and normal on a tennis court? OK, we’ve found our story.


 
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Posted by Tennis Fan 07/28/2008 at 11:58 PM

As the years go by, Jankovic's quest will no doubt be fascinating and theatrical... not to mention exasperating, irritating, humorous, infuriating, wonderful, horrible, fun and, possibly even one day, emotionally fulfilling. Maybe. I mean, as long as Jelena doesn't do something perilous and/or stupid and mess things up.

A beautiful end to an excellent article!

Thanks C Note! Keep them coming!

Posted by C Note 07/29/2008 at 12:02 AM

Glad it brought the same joy to you as it did for me.

Posted by etobicoke in etobicoke 07/29/2008 at 12:07 AM

JJ promised last year to prune her schedule -- and she did not do it. I wish she woke up one day and figured out she had enough money (even though with her fashion fancy maybe not :) It is quite possible that with less tournaments to play her injuries would be less frequent and maybe, maybe, she would be able to get a Slam or two. The way it is now -- always injured -- I don't see that happening. Somebody explain to her that Slams bring in much more money that rankings alone and that translates to oodles of Luis Vuitons couture and I am sure she will follow :)

Posted by C Note 07/29/2008 at 12:26 AM

The funny thing is that she genuinely believes that she has trimmed her schedule.

Posted by el 07/29/2008 at 12:36 AM

wait until the olympics- we are overdue for a good match

Posted by Liesbeth 07/29/2008 at 05:25 AM

It's a pity nobody has mentionned/discussed it her yet, but Kim Clijsters was also a #1 without winning a grand slam. Ok, she had already made it to a grand slam final by that time, unlike JJ, but in the end it's the same debate: being a #1 without a grand slam title under your belt.
It was august 2003 when Kim attained the top ranking. Her career rival Justine Henin had already won a GS at that time (the French Open that year), while Kim hadn't (she was already a two times runner-up at the French, and would lose another GS final soon at the US Open that year). But still it was the 'right' thing when Kim became our first Belgian #1 tennis player. She was more consistent at that time than Justine, and in my opinion that's exactly the characteristic you have to possess to become the first in the rankings. After a couple of weeks Justine took over the #1 spot from Kim, and again this was 'right' as Justine started to play more dominant in all tournaments. Kim Clijsters would just win her only grand slam at the US Open in 2005 (and she would be #1 just once more form February to March in 2006).
It seems like JJ and Kim Clijsters have similar carreer progressions (including an intense rivalry with a compatriot). My point is: if JJ took over the #1 spot from Ana, you can't blame her or the ranking system. It means she is the most consistent player on the WTA-tour for the moment. Besides the fact that Ana has already one a GS by now, and is more likely to win more GS titles than JJ ever will in here career (no offence to JJ here). If JJ conquers the #1 ranking, she'd deserve it.
And as we have seen in Kim Clijsters' case, it might be a matter of time when JJ will have a break through at a GS. JJ has many more years to win that GS title...

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/29/2008 at 06:40 AM

I think people are missing a major point here about JJ and that point is this, the reason why she hasn't made it to a final is because she doesn't possses the game to beat the top players. She has a overall dismal record against them. She was playing great in LA until she met up with Safina, and here is where you could see the talent didn't match up. You knew you were looking at a second tier player. I disagree with those who say she will make a break through to the slams. I think if you examine her game, it doesn't equal a slam winner. Every slam winner has at least a good first serve, Jelena doesn't have it. Please nobody tell me her serve has changed I watched it closely and it's the same. If you look at the close FO match against Ivanovic, the difference was the serve. Ana won that match because she was the better server which sets up your points. JJ is a great retriever of the ball, but this isn't enough. Talent normally comes through. There is a reason JJ hasn't made it to a GS final. I don't believe she will ever win a slam because she doesn't have the game, serve and shot making abilities of a slam winner. I see her as very similar to Elena D, close, but never making it, and I think that is sad because she's a very hard worker. So many people have said they miss queen Justine, she had it all and was such a pleasure to watch, an all court player who brought more grace and class to the game than any other player, no Diva nonsense for her, she was ALL tennis. The amazing, unforgetable Justine, alway #1 in my heart. To quote Billy Jean King, "Pound for pound, she was the best of her era." Go Justine!

Posted by lulu 07/29/2008 at 07:10 AM

Steve, thanks for your report on Dinara's game. Much welcome, especially after reports I read elsewhere of her brother losing his head again yesterday. *sigh*

Posted by scineram 07/29/2008 at 08:13 AM

Okay, smartasses. Who IS the real number one?

And WHY?

Posted by steve 07/29/2008 at 08:44 AM

well, maybe i came across as a little harsh on jj. i like her, and i like her game, and i really like her press conferences. she can just be a little much with her dramatics on court for me. and i don't want her to be no. 1 without at least making a slam final. not too much to ask, right?

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/29/2008 at 09:01 AM

Steve, it's definetly not to much to ask and I think you were fair to Jelena. And I think you're right she can be a little too dramatic on court like when she changed her undies in front of the crowd. I know she likes attention but this is going a little bit to far. I only believe you should change your undies in front of your husband or boyfriend.

Posted by 07/29/2008 at 09:26 AM

Good grief! How does one follow post @ 9:01.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/29/2008 at 09:57 AM

And you see the problem with rankings solely based on a computer points system.

Here in NOrth Carolina, where I compete sporadically in the Men's 40-and-over, 45-and-over, and 50-and-over divisions, there are several guys who show up a lot and lose almost all their matches, and yet are leading the rankings. When I say they show up a lot, I'm talking 8 to 12 tournaments each Spring-Summer-Fall. THat's plenty to drive up their computer points, especially since once they get a seeding, based on those "earned" computer points, they are likely to get byes and sometimes a bye right into the quarterfinals and semifinals (the latter mostly in doubles), where they are guaranteed to chalk up some big points, even if they never win a match!

Just this past weekend I played in the mountains, and my partner and I won the Men's 45 doubles evenet, beating a pretty decent team in the final (one of the guys was a just-turned 45 former All-America from Wake Forest and former European Club Tennis player, i.e., a "pro"). So we earned our win, for sure. But we also had quarterfinals and semifinals wins. However, our semifinals opponents are two guys who came in seeded, received a bye, and then git drummed by us. They'll earn another 75 points or something, and keep expanding their lead over the rest of the field. They had 370 cpmputer ranking points coming into the event. I had 150, from a previous 45s win in Pinehurst back in March. An injury and other scheduling conflicts (i.e., family commitments, work commitments, etc.) kept me from playing another event until this past weekend. But I'm 7-0 in Men's 45-and-over doubles, with 2 tournament titles, and I'll end up ranked somethig like 7th in the state, if that. Now, if I go to the State Championships in CHarlotte in October (again, bad timing) and win the doubles there, I might end up ranked as high as 4th, despite an 11-0 or 12-0 record and 3 titles, including the NC State Closed.

Our friends, the always-show-ups, will end the year co-ranked #1, by a long shot, with a total match-play record of something like 7-12. Having played as many as 18 to 20 matches will push them over the top, even though they've not earned one title and have been beaten most times in their first or second match.

Now this is clearly insane, and nearly the same thing is happening at the pro level.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/29/2008 at 10:44 AM

Slice-n-Dice: I don't know if you are an amatuer or a semi-pro or what kind of ranking system is in NC but I don't think the pro level exactly works that way with regard to byes, at least in the women's game.

Yes, byes are provided to higher ranked players at some tournaments. However, if they don't win a match they only get first round points (i.e. 1 point). So if you got into 20 tournments and had a bye in 20 tournments and never won a match you would only have 20 points and not be ranked at all.

There are seeming in equities in any system. And I have ambivolent feeling about byes. They are a reward for getting your ranking up, however they do rob some lower ranked players of getting into tournaments. Further, if you don't win at some point you wont have them very long.

Like today Kuznetsova has a first round bye and is playing Kudryavseva in the second round. If Kuzzy does not win, she get ssecond round money but only the first round points. However, if she wins she get 60 points. There is no inbetween. So you do still have to earn the points.

And talk about inequities. Look at the case of Kudryavseva. She beats Sharapova at Wimbeldon and almost beats Safina last week in LA but has to qualify for the tournament in Montreal, because she she only like 104. And some no name Candanian players get a free pass with a Wild Card.

However, at one point Sharapova and all the rest were in the same boat working there way up the rankings. There is some privelege at the top but it is reward for the struggle to get there plus you have to keep it up or you will go right back where you came from.

Bartoli is case in point. She had a year of good times due to here great Wimbeldon results but she did not follow it up. Now she is sinking and has to start winning or she will sink even further. Whatever, priviledge is on temporary.

Whatever the criticism, the system seems to work in the long run.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/29/2008 at 10:56 AM

Tennis Fan,

You are right, there seems to be a world of difference between the two computer-based ranking systems (Pros vs. NC amateur). Here in NC, you get points for the rounds you reach. I believe the points begin in the quarterfinals, so that even if yoiu get a bye or a withdrawal/default into one of the final rounds, you'll "earn" points. It's ludicrous, and was clearly instituted to try to drive up participation in tournaments. It's not working; it's merely making the rankings meaningless. Fortunately, everybody knows who are the players to beat.

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2008 at 11:10 AM

"And talk about inequities. Look at the case of Kudryavseva. She beats Sharapova at Wimbeldon and almost beats Safina last week in LA but has to qualify for the tournament in Montreal, because she she only like 104. And some no name Candanian players get a free pass with a Wild Card."

Only reason I believe Aleksandra Wozniak got the wild card is she was playing(and winning) Stanford during LA qualifying. Then, Flavia lost only one game against Aleksandra.

Posted by svelterogue 07/29/2008 at 11:11 AM

c-note and tennis fan

caught up on the posts last night and this morning and i thoroughly enjoyed your exchange, plus the article posted about JJ (it was wickedly witty, deliciously written). i wish all forum exchanges could be as pleasant, intelligent, and warm as yours. thanks for letting people like me eavesdrop. i also opened c-note's blog and am resolved to bookmark it! :)

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2008 at 11:12 AM

Tennis Fan,
Good point on Marion and her Wimby final in 2007. Pressure was on her to win consistently for the past year and now her ranking is back to her talent level so she may play with no pressure.

Posted by svelterogue 07/29/2008 at 11:21 AM

liesbeth

while reading this post and the comments, i could think of no one else but kim clijsters. and i loved that girl. couldn't understand why people were so put off by her.

Posted by svelterogue 07/29/2008 at 11:21 AM

c-note and tennis fan

caught up on the posts last night and this morning and i thoroughly enjoyed your exchange, plus the article posted about JJ (it was wickedly witty, deliciously written). i wish all forum exchanges could be as pleasant, intelligent, and warm as yours. thanks for letting people like me eavesdrop. i also opened c-note's blog and am resolved to bookmark it! :)

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/29/2008 at 12:00 PM

Master Ace:

I didn't mean Wozniack. According to the draw sheet she is not a wild card, she is up in the rankings now so they probably put her in based on when others withdrew.

svelterogue:

Glad you enjoyed the exchange. I also found this on that same sight. I think I'm going to bookmark it also!

This is from the Grass Court Awards - hysterical!

4. Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
...look out, New York City. A-Rad's coming to town.

Posted by Anon 07/29/2008 at 12:11 PM

Wait a minute, 6 different players have a legit chance of ending the year at #1 (with Safina looking like a strong contender to do so soon after), and you couldn't come up with a positive narative for women's tennis? Are you kidding? And what has been up with all of the criticism of the women's game for not having a dominant player? Those of us without short attention spans can remember just a few years ago, when the WTA was dominated by Williams/Williams, then Henin/Clijsters, and before that by Graf/Seles, or even Navratilova/Evert. And what did the tennis media do? Blasted the tour! Having a couple of players dominate, and routinely meet in slam finals, we were told was "boring", "predictable", and "exposed a lack of depth", and we were told we "might as well not even bother to watch before the semis". Now it's happening on the men's side, and it's suddenly the greatest thing since sliced bread? Holy Double Standards, Batman!

I've even seen one wag make the ridiculous comparison of the current WTA to what the ATP went through earlier in the decade, with the likes of Johansson and Costa winning slams. What an insult, to compare the recent WTA slam winners, Mauresmo, Henin, Williams, Williams, Sharapova, and Ivanovic, all lead-pipe lock Hall of Famers, to those two guys who, while good, were not great players.

There is one player in all of tennis that has won all 4 majors, and it's Serena. There are 4 active players who have won at least 3 different majors, and only Federer is on the men's tour. (And 3 other women who fit that description just retired-- Seles, Hingis, and Henin). The WTA has SEVEN active players who have won at least 2 different majors (and most would be shocked if Ivanovic didn't soon join that group). Nadal just became only the 4th such player on the men's tour. And if you break it down along the lines of different slam finals reached, and different slam semis, the women have an edge there, too.

Someone did a study recently, based purely on achievements, that showed that fully 8 of the 20 greatest players of all time in women's tennis were active. Now with the 3 recent retirements, that leaves 5. But that's still 1/4th of the greatest players of all time who are playing now. How many of the 20 greatest men are active? I count 2.

This is not meant to disparage the men's tour-- only to point out how vastly underrated the women's tour is. If you guys could spin the Johansson/Costa era, and try to come up with positive takes, you sure as heck ought to be able to do it with the current WTA, which is leagues ahead of that. I'm not saying the WTA is at the best it ever has been, but it is a damn sight better than it's being given credit for.

And revisting the issue of double standards, why do the women get so much crap for legit injuries? Serena was in Stanford, and got hurt there. She was in Carson, with every intention of playing, but couldn't go. Yet whenever some top women pull out, we get bombarded about how "indifferent" they are to their tour. So, tell me, how many American men have been in or close to the top 10 in the last decade or so? Now, how many of those have played all 3 (until recently) clay court Masters events? I seem to recall it as an annual ritual of the Americans blowing them off. Yet they don't get blasted for being "indifferent to their tour". Instead, they get a pass because "they didn't have a legit chance of winning those tournaments anyway". Well, swell, then using those standards, we should only have about a dozen women and 3 men playing in the slams, since the others don't have a legit chance of winning. And speaking of blowing off "mandatory" Masters Series events, how about the fall indoor events? Haven't they had their own withdrawal issues in recent years? Yet again, the ATP players don't get anywhere near the condemnation of their WTA counterparts for the same actions.

But, it seems that as long as the top players show up for the North American events, that's all that matters to the US tennis press, who then sing the praises of how well the mandatory Masters approach works. And even in the event of withdrawals, double standards still apply. If only half of the top 10 showed up for both draws, we'd be hearing about the 5 men who did show up, and the 5 women who didn't, thus creating a false impression among casual fans that the women's field was somehow more "diluted".

But, hey, this is the tennis media. If they didn't have double standards, they'd have no standards at all. If you guys actually followed women's tennis more than 4 weeks a year (the 2nd weeks of the majors), you'd have no problems finding interesting naratives. Certainly, were the situations on the two tours reversed, you'd come up with some for the men (and we'd be bombarded again with how "boring" it is to have 2 players dominate).

Try a little test, Steve. Next time you get together with some scribe colleagues, dig out the latest issue of Tennis Week, and open it to the page with the WTA rankings list. It has the players listed by last name and first initial. You guys, as professionals who are paid to cover the sport, should have no difficulty filling in, for each of the top 100 players, their first names, nationality, whether right or left handed, and whether one or two handed backhand. Of 400 possible items, you should get at least 380 correct, with 100% on the first names and nationalities. Have your scribe friends number from 1-100, write down the surnames, and fill in the other info. Then, when finished, look up the correct info. The scores might be very revealing, and show that the inability to come up with a compelling narative about the WTA is not a fault of the tour, but the media's lack of familiarity with it.

And while we're talking rankings, one last point. The NY Giants won the Super Bowl, making them the NFL equivalent of #1. Yet they were not the BEST team in the league for the 2007 season. They weren't the best in their conference, or even in their own division. Sometimes being #1 is about being #1, not necessarily about being the best. And thus it should be afforded a measure of respect. To say it's just a matter of playing a lot is misleading. It's a matter of WINNING a lot, even if it's not the biggest events. There are a bunch of players that play a lot, but they're not in the running for #1. Only Jankovic. So before she's criticized too harshly for not winning the big prize, let's see a comparison of how much winning she's actually done. Who has won the most matches on tour over the past year? (And keep in mind that Jankoic doesn't pad her record by playing lower tier events.) This may shed a bit more light, and provide a more compelling narative. Sometimes you have to look into the forest to see the trees. There were plenty of complaints when Mauresmo first grabbed #1 without having won a major. Yet no one bothered to point out that, when all 4 majors were looked at as a whole, she had the best overall record in them. So while she wasn't the best in any one major (champion), she was the best in all 4 overall. The tennis press needs more research, and less anti-WTA bias.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/29/2008 at 12:31 PM

Anon,
Nice rant. You make a bevy of good points while getting in some zingers.

Ex.:
"But, hey, this is the tennis media. If they didn't have double standards, they'd have no standards at all." LMAO!!!!

"Sometimes you have to look into the forest to see the trees." Undoubtedly true.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/29/2008 at 12:41 PM

Right on Anon!

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2008 at 01:10 PM

"There is one player in all of tennis that has won all 4 majors, and it's Serena. There are 4 active players who have won at least 3 different majors, and only Federer is on the men's tour. (And 3 other women who fit that description just retired-- Seles, Hingis, and Henin). The WTA has SEVEN active players who have won at least 2 different majors (and most would be shocked if Ivanovic didn't soon join that group). Nadal just became only the 4th such player on the men's tour"

Anon,
On the 4 active players who won 3 majors, who is the 4th one? Serena (all Slams), Davenport and Sharapova (all slams except the French)
On the 7 active players, who are the 6th and 7th? Serena, Davenport, Sharapova, Mauresmo(AO and USO), Venus (Wimby and USO). Capriati(AO and FO) and Pierce(AO and FO) could be included since they have not officially retired.

Posted by tennisesq. 07/29/2008 at 01:10 PM

Just wanted to say I enjoyed this post and the comments. Like many here, I too prefer the WTA over the ATP.

Anon,
It's difficult to top your post. Whenever the WTA is bashed on Steve's blog or Pete's blog, I suggest you just cut and paste your post in that particular thread. It's a classic.

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2008 at 01:23 PM

Anon,
They did give Amelie some grief about being number 1 without a Slam title(Kim Clijsters, also). I, for one, think Jelena deserves to be number 1 as she has been consistent since breaking her 10 match losing streak in Rome. Since the losing streak, she has won 3 Tier I tournaments(Rome 2007,2008 and Charleston 2007) and has made a bunch of quarterfinals or better in a lot of tournaments. If Jelena was playing the same tournaments but had a lot of 1st and 2nd round losses, the number 1 issue would have not been a big issue in LA last week. Therefore, give Jelena credit for putting herself in that position.

Great point about NYG as NE was the best team and Dallas was the best team in the NFC. NYG made the playoffs as a WILD CARD and had to travel to Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay to make the Super Bowl. With a week rest, they came up with a plan to defeat NE by putting heavy pressure on Tom Brady as they knew NE did not have an effective running game.

*standing ovation for Anon 12:11 PM post*

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2008 at 01:24 PM

Tennis Esq,
Thanks for the suggestion because I will cut and paste Anon's post to a word document.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/29/2008 at 02:36 PM

Just one last comment. Wasn't Steve the one who responded back to the Sports Guy's uninformed article about Tennis. Wasn't it 'Wimbeldon, wouldn't miss it and I don't mean that in a good way.'? Hasn't Steve essentially done the same thing to the WTA?

Posted by sonya 07/29/2008 at 04:26 PM

Anon thank you very much, I also have enough of the way those girls are treated. you may want someone with a grandslam at #1 steve, actually that would be my choice as well. But who between is ready to put on the hard work? maybe the next weeks will determine that. Right now, like I said before we need to credit someone who works hard to be where she is.

Posted by C Note 07/29/2008 at 05:09 PM

Whoa. I totally thought this thread was done.

Svelterogue -- Thanks for the props. It was fun sparring with Tennis Fan yesterday. I enjoy any and all opportunities to nerd out on the WTA.

Anon -- Great post. Nuff said.

Tomorrow is the big day in Montreal. Kuzzie dodged a bullet today with Alla Pleasehelpmegiveheraclevernicknameseva's retirement due to injury. Let's see who brings her A game tomorrow.

Oh, and Vaidisova is out. Whatever.

Posted by svelterogue 07/29/2008 at 05:19 PM

*take a deep breath, anon*

that was definitely the poster comment for all true wta fans in tennis.com :)

however, as an atp fan, i don't think the american men get a free pass for skipping the spring clay court tournaments. i have read jon wertheim, pete bodo and steve tignor lambasting the decision of roddick/blake et al for skipping monte carlo and barcelona. sam querrey obviously benefited from playing in the early clay court tournaments and was praised for his move to improve his skills on the red stuff.

other than that, i join master ace, tennis esq, and the others who lauded you for your brave, bold, definitive post.

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2008 at 06:20 PM

C Note,
Tomorrow is the big day in Montreal as we will find out some questions on Ana(thumb), Maria(shoulder), Jelena(knee), and Dinara(motivation after winning LA).

Posted by C Note 07/29/2008 at 08:13 PM

Looks like Wozniak is going to win. The JJ/Wozniak match on Center Court will be interesting. We'll see how JJ deals with NOT being a crowd favorite.

Posted by barry 07/30/2008 at 02:55 AM

there isn't much to add....so many salient points have been made. but i'm a windbag, so i'll throw in my two cents.

as a fan, it has been more entertaining to watch 'second tier' men's matches than 'second tier' women's. Tonight's epic three hour battle between Igor Andreev and Radek Stepanek is an example, or the one last year between Baghdatis and Chela (i think) in Cincy. High quality tennis, greater probability of a match with both players performing at an extremely high level, great shotmaking skills, greater athleticism. You don't see this on the WTA that often. It may explain why attendance around the world is generally higher for men's tennis than for the WTA.

That said, on the level of the top tier the battle for number one in women's tennis is (for me) more interesting than the battle on the men's side, with Roger & Rafa dominating and only Djokovic to challenge the duopoly. Andy Murray showed game in Toronto that is primed for top 3 or 4, Richard Gasquet has the 'flair' and talent. Marin Cilic, Juan del Potro (sp?) - maybe in a year or two. Nalby....where are you? Heal up ASAP.

As beautiful as Justine's game is, she dominated and made the question moot. With Ana, JJ, Maria, Venus, Serena and Svetlana all in the mix, and Dinara soon to follow, what more can we ask for? This is fun!

However, among this group of players, Jelena is the most interesting to watch. The others play similar styles, paint using the same colors; Jelena alone counterpunches their power. Anna Chaki is another, but with all that's happened to her in the past few months, she understandably has dropped out of contention, for now.

As a fan not located in NYC, Melbourne, Paris, or London, how can one not praise Jelena for showing up to play as many venues as possible? I loved watching Justine, but she only played 12, 13 tournaments a year. Maria, Venus, Serena - about the same. Those that show up and treat the smaller tournaments with respect deserve the corresponding rewards that come their way.

Everyone knows the point system at the outset of the year. There's no room for complaining about one's ranking if one chooses to play less frequently. You play less, you get the benefit of showing up at the Slams more rested, fresher - and you do a disservice to tennis fans around the world who like to see their tennis live and in person.

Last point regarding Jelena - she has held her own against all the players mentioned above. Justine was THE major thorn in her side (although many of their matches were close). Ana of late has become a problem for Jelena, too, but their matches are usually decided by a point or two in the 3rd set. To say Jelena's talent level does not rank with the others in the top 6 or 7 is simply spurious.

Posted by lulu 07/30/2008 at 04:11 AM

Thanks for this post, Anon. I nearly missed it, but I'm glad I didn't. :)

Posted by C Note 07/30/2008 at 04:28 AM

Quick point of clarification. Ana's head to head against JJ is 6-1, with JJ's lone win coming two years ago. So to say that JJ has held her own against Ana is, to you use your word, spurious. Similarly, Maria is 4-1 against JJ, with the most recent win being the 3 and 1 shellacking at AO.

Posted by barry 07/30/2008 at 05:39 AM

C Note: post-Jelena almost quitting tennis (spring 2007), JJ is either 0-4 or 0-5 vs. Ana. However, 3 of the 5 matches went 3 sets; the other two matches she lost 7-5, 6-3 and 7-6, 6-3. All were competitive. She held the lead in the 3rd set in their most recent match at the French before blowing her opportunity to make the final (and the #1 ranking).

JJ is 1-1 vs. Maria post-almost quitting tennis; the shellacking you mentioned at AO, and a 3 set victory over Maria.

That to me is holding one's own. You may disagree, as is your right.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/30/2008 at 06:04 AM

I agree with C-note, a 6-1 and 4-1 record isn't holding your own no matter how close. Now she has to worry about player like Safina and Aggie beating her.

Posted by jb 07/30/2008 at 07:51 AM

interesting - i hadn't realized how er, passionate, people were about jelena becoming #1. to me rankings don't lie. If she's got the points, she deserves the win. #1 ranking isn't predicated on 'points AND having to win a slam'.

to me, you do well in a slam, you the trophy, the money and the points. then you play half the tourney's available, and lose a bunch of them, and you're not in contention for the #1.

you play well all year, consistently, and for 4 days in each of the slams you lose to someone better on that day, you still 'deserve' the #1 ranking.

it would be 'nice' if the winners of hte slams could hold themselves together long enough to accumulate enough points to be the #1, but sometimes it just doesn't happen; but its no reason to take it on jelena for daring to be more consistent that the 3 winners of this years slam. *shrugs*

oh, and if Kolya was #1, because the slam winners folded their tents, then yes, I'd say he deserved it also.

Posted by 07/30/2008 at 08:10 AM

Perfectly said jb.

Posted by Master Ace 07/30/2008 at 08:22 AM

Jb,
The bottom line is, whether people agree or not, Jelena Jankovic has put herself in position to be number 1 in the world with making quarterfinals or better consistently even though she is 3-8 against Top 10 in 2008 and made no Slam finals in her career. Jelena made the 2008 AO SF(Sharapova), 2008 FO SF(Ivanovic), and 2008 W R16(Tanasugarn). Maria and Ana won their Slams and Jelena played on an hyperextended knee and a hot player, whose favorite surface is grass and defeated Dinara to win s'-Hertogenbosch.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/30/2008 at 08:57 AM

the shellacking you mentioned at AO

Everyone, except for Ana in the first set, was shellacked by Maria at the AO including Davenport, Dementieva and Henin. Maria was on fire. What does that prove?

Federer received a worse schellacking by Nadal at the FO and then had a very competitve 5 setter against him two weeks later and his record is not that good overall against Nadal.

Jelena has beat Venus on grass. Can Henin say that? Can Ivanovic say that? Can Sharapova say that?

You can sight individual matches and yes Jankovic has a harder time against those with big serves in the top ten but I think that is because of her weaker serve, which she is aware of and trying to improve. And if there was a high note with the Safina match, Jankovic did actually serve some aces against Safina.

Barry: Did you see some of the matches at Eastbourne (Women's tournament - no top players were there) that were televised? They were pretty good including the final between Radwanska and Petrova.


Posted by Master Ace 07/30/2008 at 09:17 AM

Tennis Fan,
That final b/w Aggie and Nadia at Eastbourne was good. Nadia battling in that tiebreaker to force a deciding set.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/30/2008 at 10:00 AM

Now she has to worry about player like Safina and Aggie beating her.

I think this is a worry for all, not just JJ. However, JJ did beat Aggie this year at the FO, easier than I thought she would.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/30/2008 at 10:12 AM

How did this story get missed?

Road Map sends WTA tour in new direction

http://tinyurl.com/669d8g

Posted by Master Ace 07/30/2008 at 11:17 AM

Tennis Fan,
This will definitely be a HOT topic from now on.

Mandatory - IW, Miami, Madrid, Beijing
Top players are mandated to play

Next Five - Dubai, Rome, Cincinnati, Canada, Tokyo
Top players choose at least 4

Premier - Sydney, Paris, TBA, Charleston, Stuttgart, Berlin, Eastbourne, Stanford, Los Angeles, New Haven, Moscow
Top players choose 1 or 2 to complete their minimum requirement of playing at least 10 tournaments

Also, there are 35 International events.
If I read correctly, a top player can not compete even if they want to support their home country.

I can not wait until the USO when the WTA releases their 2009 schedule. Also, the Hamburg/ATP lawsuit will have its effect on the entire 2009 calendar.

Posted by Master Ace 07/30/2008 at 12:57 PM

James Martin thoughts on the WTA version of the USO HC season:


http://tinyurl.com/6m77hv

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 07/30/2008 at 02:34 PM

Am I correct in assuming that if top wta players want a grass warm-up, they all must compete at Eastbourne only?

Posted by Master Ace 07/30/2008 at 03:21 PM

Mr. and Mrs. D.,
Per my interpretation, I am afraid that the answer is yes but I forgot to add that some International Events will be open to all players if it is the event before a Slam.

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 07/30/2008 at 03:55 PM

Thank you Master Ace. This is all very interesting.


Posted by barry 07/30/2008 at 04:53 PM

Tennis Fan,

I missed Eastbourne, unfortunately. I like Aggie's ability to counterpunch, but she was recently overwhelmed (French? or was that Wimbledon?) and b/c my expectations were high, I was highly disappointed. She must have had a bad day at the office.

Nadia - if she had not had the misfortune of injury in May 2007, Nadia may have given Ana and Justine a run for their money, given her in-form clay court season pre-Roland Garros.

I've enjoyed watching a couple of matches with Navarro (Canary Islands? - beautiful backhand), and enjoy watching Elena play.

Perhaps it's just my bad luck, but I have seen many more compelling men's matches than I have women's.

Posted by C Note 07/30/2008 at 08:41 PM

I've already ranted about the new WTA Roadmap on my site. While I admire the WTA's efforts, me no thinks its gonna work.

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/30/2008 at 08:51 PM

Open Letter to James Martin, Tennis.com
In response to his Tennis.com blog on ESPN.com
Wretched WTA hard-court swing

How quickly we forget Kimmy and her largest payout in WTA history!

First of all, are you comparing apples to apples? No. It’s more like apples to peanuts.

Except for the slams and Miami, you cannot compare women’s tournaments to men’s and the top ten participation thereof.

In both systems there are levels based on prize money and points given. (Men – 3, Women – 4)

You can make very rough equivalents, but this is generally how it goes:

Master Series – 9 Events all Mandatory – everyone who qualifies must play – field is 56, Prize $$ ranges from $3,770,000 at Miami to $2,615,000 at Toronto and Cincinnati.
International Series Gold - $1,426,000 - Dubia to $769,000 - Memphis or 568,000 (Euros) Stuttgart depending on the exchange rate.
International Series – 713,000 (Euros) Queens Club & Halle to $464,000 Auckland or 326,000 (Euros) croatia

Note: the European tournaments are paid in Euros and the North American in US $$. Considering the exchange rate right now a North American Player can make out by playing European Tournaments but a European can be penalized severely for playing in the US. This also devalues the bonus money for the US Open Series – if you can qualify.

Tier I – Only one tournament is equivalent to the ‘Master Series’ with equal prize money, points and mandatory presence – Miami
All 8 other women’s Tier I’s fall far below ‘Mater Series’ events
Ranging from $2,500,000 - Doha, $2,100,000 – IW, the other 6 including Montreal are all at 1,340,000
Tier II – One is 1,500,000 – Dubai and One is 650,000 Stuttgart, all the rest are 600,000 including the US Open Series.
Tier III & Tier IV – $$ so low, it’s not worth mentioning.


Women’s US Open Series Tournaments
Rogers Cup Montreal, CAN $1,340,000,Tier I:
Money & Points to the Winner 181,980 – 430

Note: Last year there was an equivalent Tier I Tournament San Diego which is not on the schedule this year.

Stanford, CA $600,000, Tier II
Money & Points to the Winner 95,500 - 275

Los Angeles, CA $600,000, Tier II:
Money & Points to the Winner 95,500 - 275

Pilot Pen Tennis $600,000, Tier II:
Money & Points to the Winner 95,500 - 275

Men’s US Open Series Tournaments

Rogers Cup, Toronto, CA $2,615,000, Master Series
Money & Points to the Winner 420,000 - 500

Western & Southern, Cinci, OH $2,615,000, Mater Series
Money & Points to the Winner 420,000 – 500

Indianapolis, IN $525,000, International Series
Money & Points to the Winner 83,500 - 175
Los Angeles $475.000, International Series
Money & Points to the Winner - Don’t know prize $ down from last year
Legg mason $508,000, International Series
Money & Points to the Winner - Don’t know prize $ down from last year
Pilot Penn $708,000, International Series
Money & Points to the Winner - Don’t know prize $ up from last year – but more than the women that’s for sure

How can you compare top 10 participation in a Mandatory Master Series event to participation in Tier II events which falls somewhere in between a low international Series Gold and a high International Series event? You can’t. Therefore, the basic premises of James argument

“The U.S. Open Series is already halfway through for the women, and this much is clear: The WTA's top players could not care less.”

is invalid.

Are Roger, Rafa and Djokovic playing an International Series Event? No, they wouldn’t be caught dead at one. Does this mean they do not care? Probably, but it is also partly the system, they don’t get ranking points and they don’t need the practice.

“Last summer, the beginning of each week was often greeted with the announcement that top WTA players were pulling out of U.S. Open warm-up events.”

Are we not experiencing that with men this year? Would Roger, Rafa and Djokovic even be in North America without the Mandatory requirement? I don’t think so.

“At the Rogers Cup in Toronto for example, the Williams sisters, Martina Hingis, Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova all withdrew due to ailments like thumb, hip, knee and leg injuries.”

Yeah but Henin, Jankovic, Ivanovic, and Kuznetsova and various were there. Does that count? Henin won.

James did not define ‘top player’. Is that a top 10 player or is that Sharapova, the Williams’ and possibly Ivanovic, Jankovic?
I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it is the top 10.

Top 10 appearances - Women

Rogers Cup – Ivanovic #1, Jankovic #2, Sarapova #3, Kuznetsova (a late entry) #4, Dementieva #5, Venus #7, Safina #8 (formerly #9), Chavatazde #9 (formerly #8), Bartoli (was top 10 when commited) – only Venus out.

Bank of the West - Serena #6, Dementieva #5, Bartoi (was 9 or 10 when committed), (Davenport not top 10 but a draw none the less) – Dementieva, Davenport (legitimately) bowed out. Wozniack rose out of the ashes.

East West Bank – Jankovic #2, Serena #6, Safina #9, Hantuchova (was 8, 9 or 10 when committed), Davenport – Serena and Davenport bowed out legitimately. Note: If Serena would have pulled out earlier it probably would have been a Jankovic/Safina final. Picking up the story – Safina.

Pilot Pen – 1 Top 10 – See below – who will rise out of the ashes?


“As of this week, the highest-ranked player listed on the Pilot Pen Web site is No. 14, Agnes Szavay.”

James, did you really look at the Pilot Pen website? Because Radwanska’s name is there and she is the current #10. However, the WTA publication ‘Notes and NetCords’ which lists the upcoming schedules of the top 20 and Lindsay Davenport has Radwanska not on the schedule for this tournament. But surprise! Chavatazde’s name is there, the current #9. Even better, right? So sometime in the last two weeks Radwanska dropped out and was replaced by Chavatazde. Szavay is there yes, but so is Bartoli (I know your laughing on this one, however, when early commitments were made she was probably in the top 10), Pennetta – new to the top 20, Cornet and Kirilenko are there also. So 6 of the top 20 will be there. Like Radwanksa, Azarenka’s name is on the website also, (the current 16, who will soon fly right past Szavay in the rankings on her way to the top 10) but she is also out according to ‘Notes and NetCords’. Who knows what last minute person will enter, trying to get some game time in before the US Open after they are bounced out of the Olympics early.

Top 10 appearances - Men
Indianapolis – Blake #8 (An American), all others 25 or below. Simon rose out of the ashes.
Toronto - All committed – because they had to – no shows: Nalbandian, Federer?
Cincinnati – All committed – because they had to – no shows: Roddick Nalbandian & Wawrinka (the first week took its toll)
Los Angeles – Roddick #6 (An American and not in the Olympics) – Will he pull out? Next highest Safin #38 – a name but no rank
Washington - Roddick #6 (An American and not in the Olympics) – Will he pull out? Next highest #25 Jaun Martin Del Potro
New Haven – zero! Highest rank person I could find on the website #12 Verdasco, Next highest Tsonga – but we know he won’t be there. Why can’t he stay healthy?

“Meanwhile, most of the men compete in the key U.S. Open Series events (at least the ones designated as Masters Series). What's up with the women?”

Answered above. I think it’s easier sensationalize, cherry pick and dis, than to really look hard at what is going on. That’s what sells magazines right?

“The WTA has a long-term plan, dubbed the Road Map, which goes into effect in 2010, to address this problem. It's designed to fight player injury and fatigue, and reduce tournament commitments. Will this make players fresher and more inclined to support summer tennis in the U.S.? We will see. “
Yes we will see but it goes into effect next year not 2010.
Next Five - Dubai, Rome, Cincinnati, Canada, Tokyo
Top players choose at least 4 – Two of these events will be US open series events.
What is the likelihood that most of the top 10 (At least the important ones – Sharapova and the Williams’) are going to choose Canada and Cincinnati as 2 of the 4? I think very high. Very high indeed.
You know, after reading this article all I could think of was the US Open series commercial with Venus. You know, the one where she screams “Road Trip”. However, in my mind after this article, I replaced “Road Trip” with “Group Think”
Groupthink - The act or practice of reasoning or decision-making by a group, especially when characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to prevailing points of view.

Some negative outcomes of groupthink include:
• Not seeking expert opinion (the Tennis Magazine editors are suppose to be the experts)
• Being highly selective in gathering information – see above
Some symptoms of groupthink are:
• Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision or article or blog – see above
• Exercising direct pressure on others – James is the editor and chief of the Magazine – apparently he controls meal tickets
• Not expressing your true feelings – well I think he did that
• Maintaining an illusion of unanimity – Somehow, I don’t think this is an illusion
• Using mindguards to protect the group from negative information – I’m sure he won’t read this
Some solutions include:
• Using outside experts – How about checking with Master Ace?
• Using a Devil's advocate to question all the group's ideas – No, we can have one of those in tennis!
You know, as time goes on I have more and more respect and appreciation for Billie Jean King and the pioneering women of the WTA including the ones behind the scenes. What they must have gone through getting the WTA up andrunning when respect for the women’s game was not at such a high level it is today?
Just think, it is has been less then 100 years since all women in the US have had the right to vote. What was that struggle like?
Somewhere, Arlen Kantarian, the CEO for professional tennis for the USTA and the architect of the U.S. Open Series, must be on the phone with Yogi Berra. "Yo, Yogi, it's déjà vu all over again, my man."

Or maybe she is thinking, you know I got all those top players to star in the commercials, yet they are only playing one tournament and won’t qualify for the points so we won’t have to pay the millionaires the big bucks. Maybe we can use the money then to support Jane Doe who wants to be in the top ten someday. HOOORAY!

Rafa, like Rodger last year, will probably win the US Open series (and US Open), because he has to be here not because he wants to, and take an extra 1M home. Do you really think he dragged himself over here for mandatory tournaments so he could win and extra million? Maybe but not likely, but he’ll take the cash anyway.

Maybe they should find a way to give the money to the fans! That will jump attendance!

Or as in an earlier post change the series system to payouts or other rewards are more likely to make a difference. Maybe they should rack up penalities instead of bonuses and we can track who has to pay the biggest fine. And contribute the money to a worthy charity other than the players own tax saving charity!

Posted by Tennis Fan 07/30/2008 at 09:10 PM

"I missed Eastbourne, unfortunately. I like Aggie's ability to counterpunch, but she was recently overwhelmed (French? or was that Wimbledon?) and b/c my expectations were high, I was highly disappointed. She must have had a bad day at the office."

I think it was Serena on grass on a very, very, very good day. However, this type of experience is what makes players grow.

Posted by tfan 08/04/2008 at 11:18 AM

when you say jj dont deserve #1 because she didn't win gslam,
you are thinking wta should provide points only for grandslam events which is a nonsense.

Posted by roGER 08/13/2008 at 07:35 AM

I love JJ simply because she is so obviously having FUN when she plays tennis. She even smiles during the matches. She sometimes even smiles when she loses.

Her love of the game translates into actually entering and playing tournaments. Since that's one of the aims of the WTA, she fully deserves her No 1 status as a reward for that consistancy and loyalty to her sport.

Compare and contrast with pretty much all the other top 20 women.

No, she isn't No 1, but then does anyone else deserve to be No 1, if they aren't prepared to show up and play?

Posted by kamal 09/02/2008 at 06:51 AM

bonjour dinara safina Thanks for this post i merci teri fou...........?

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