All’s Well with Serena

So Serena Williams has decided to return to Indian Wells after a boycott that has lasted some 14 years. The ugly scenes from that day were brutal. Serena was so young and what she went through during the final must have affected how she saw tennis and perhaps the world.

I think she was right to boycott the tournament after the way she was treated. I cannot begin to imagine how an American crowd could treat one of their own citizens in this way. Their behaviour towards Serena, Venus and their father was vile, racist and shameful. The primarily white upper middle-class crowd almost seemed to revel in attacking the family for their own pleasure. It was pack mentality.

The fact Serena has decided to return demonstrates her courage, bravery and grace. Let’s face it, she doesn’t the prize money or hassle. She is facing her demons head-on and showing that she is above the racists. In my opinion I believe some of her defensive and at times aggressive behaviour on court towards umpires and lines people as well her her emotional outbursts can be traced back to the pain of this day. I think she feels a ‘me against the world’ mentality and I don’t blame her after what she went through. By returning to the place of her trauma she is demonstrating how she has grown as a person. I think competing at Indian Wells again will be cathartic.

I just hope that her reception is warm, respectful and without prejudice. Whether that will happen, though, remains to be seen.

For those who aren’t familiar, here is the what happened:


Double delight

The Bryan brothers are awesome. The record books prove that they are the greatest doubles team of all time. Yet they don’t get half as much of the credit or publicity they deserve. Some argue that doubles isn’t as exciting as singles and therefore less fans are interested. I disagree. I defy anybody to watch one of their matches and not be a doubles convert. In addition they do a huge amount of work for charitable causes and know the importance of interacting with the fans.

I think the ATP should promote doubles more or even have a doubles only showcase. Perhaps having three sets at slams is a good argument if it encourages more of the top players to participate in the doubles. It’s great to see players like Fognini and Bolelli taking it seriously and winning the Australian Open. Maybe this will encourage more of the top 50 men to follow suit.

It’s fair to say that the Bryan’s are the stars of the doubles tour and tennis is lucky to have them. I do worry that when they eventually retire there won’t be any ‘stars’ to take their place and promote doubles and tennis so well. They are unique and will be remembered long after they hang up their racquets. Haven’t seen them in action yet? Go.

Just don’t try this at home.

Fed (c)up of the status quo

The first round of the Fed Cup kicks off this weekend with multiple ties taking place across the globe. This makes for lots of awkward time differences and results to process. It does attract many of the top players and is in principle a great event.

However, together with the Davis Cup, the scheduling should be vastly improved.
Instead of multiple ties punctuating the calendar the events should be run be more like a World Cup of tennis. If the events occurred over a one week period this would also help the players. The Fed and Davis Cups require a lot of commitment and adds pressure in an already packed season. I don’t think they should be run as a combined event as both tournaments deserve equal recognition.

It would also be much easier for fans to engage with a one-off tournament. The best option would be to have the events sometime between the Australian and the French. I would propose that whoever won the last year’s tournament hosts the next. I suggest eight countries play in a knockout formula. The quarters and semis would be contested over 3 rubbers (2 singles, 1 doubles if needed) and the final a 5 rubber (4 singles and 1 doubles) tie. This would mean that the tournament is much more streamlined and far easier to follow.

However, lesser tennis nations should also be represented as the Fed and Davis Cup provide great opportunities. It could be run as a premier league type event with three divisions. Each year the one team with the lowest points from the previous year’s tournament gets relegated and the winner gets promoted.

Entry into each of these groups should be based on the singles rankings of the top four singles players from each nation the previous year. This isn’t ideal but it would be too hard to quantify doubles rankings as people don’t always play with their compatriots.m

Let me know your thoughts!

Attitude is everything

So Andy Murray has lost his fourth Australian Open final. That’s … quite an achievement. Today was a huge opportunity squanderd. Novak wasn’t at his best and if Andy had played like he did in the semis he could have won. He played too defensive, the second serve was slow and his attitude left much to be desired. Thinking of blaming Amelie? Think again.

I’m 99% sure she didn’t give him these pointers. He chose to play and behave like that.
There is an argument that if Lendl was in the box he wouldn’t dare employ the childish attitude. However he is twenty seven years of age. By now he really should have grown out of these teenage temper tantrums without a ‘f** Czech’ (stay classy, Kim) babysitting him.

The fact Novak felt a bit off is no reason to spiral into mental decline. I think Amelie is a great coach and Andy is obviously comfortable with her. However, she is not a sports psychologist and cannot be held responsible for his attitude.

Yes Novak has more natural talent than Andy but this stat really brings home the golf in their mentality.

The reason he has lost more Australian slam finals than any other man in the Open era cannot solely be blamed on the fact he was playing during the so-called ‘golden era’. Yes he is marginally the runt of the litter talent-wise in the big four but his attitude and on-court antics are worlds apart from Roger, Rafa and Nole. If he isn’t careful Andy’s legacy may be tainted by his failure to thrive in Slam finals.

Kim’s attitude, on the other hand, has been exemplary.

Forza Fabio!

He’s done it, Fabio Fognini is a grand slam doubles champion. The fogna is definitely one of the more colourful characters in the ATP tour! I think this win might help his confidence in singles going forward too. He’s seen now that on the biggest stage he can perform and keep his cool.

Everybody handles stress different. Playing a tennis match is stressful. Some like a good old grunt, others a ‘come on’ and Fabio, well, gets a little overexcited.
For the most part Fognini is harmless. He seems quite immature but his heart is in the right place.

Of all the fogna drama this Wimbledon incident is perhaps the most amusing:

I do feel sorry for Mahut, though. I hope one day he too can call himself a grand slam doubles champion.

Note to Wimbledon: give Flavia and Fabio a mixed doubles wildcard.

I want to thank Maria, not Jehovah.

Maria Sharapova is one classy lady.

Her speech today demonstrated that. No sob-stories or self indulgence. It is right that she is the most endorsed female player on tour because she conducts herself and represents the sport better than anybody else.

Today’s match demonstrated her talent, strength of character and fight. She came close to a decider and who knows what would have happened.If she wants to beat Serena in the future she needs to find a way to return her serve better. She also needs to treat every serve she plays as a first one. Yes this may mean more double faults but I’d rather see her lose games this way then seeing a weak second serve get the treatment every single time.

Doubtless she is devastated but the way she handled herself on court today should give her the confidence that she’s not just a fantastic tennis player but an impeccable ambassador for the sport.

The cult of snark

Tennis fandom is a strange beast. You have your folks who occasionally enjoy watching tennis on the TV, super-fans who dedicate chunks of their week to their favourite player, random twitter fans like myself and then the wannabe journalists.

This final group is the most curious. The tennis twitter community has become an online version of high school. You have your tennis ‘in crowd’ who appear more concerned with their own popularity than the action between the lines. The ones who, without formal journalistic training, possess a sort of terrifying self-belief in their humour and talent that they tweet and blog with more gusto than the salaried hacks. One gets the sense these tweeters are more preoccupied with how other members of the ‘in crowd’ will judge their supposedly hilarious side-eyed glance at the tennis world rather than their dedication to the sport. In short, they put themselves before the players and the stories. Big mistake. Nope. It is not about you.

This group seems to rely like sheep on one common tool: snark. No profit-conscious editor would employ somebody who uses this style. Ever. Why? Because it gets boring VERY quickly. Sorry to burst your bubble but if that’s all you’ve got, try again. Editors need to employ people who have a good rapport with players and who show respect and deference to the game. Reporters should ideally be anonymous. The material should shine through more than the person writing the stuff. Yes there are a few writers who started off as bloggers but that ship has sailed, stop trying to copy their journey and get your own angle.

Ironically, what all these tweeters and bloggers are doing is counter-productive. If everybody is doing the same thing, that crowds the market, making it much harder for individuality to prosper and for potential editors to see what it is you add. In addition, by emulating the style of already established writers you are making their fan-base and power in the business stronger. This in turn reaffirms to editors that what they are doing is great and there is no need to give new people a shot. Doh.

Why not try and emulate journalists who employ good clean writing instead of making cheap digs at players? Tennis professionals are humans, too. They aren’t there for some keyboard snark warriors to pick apart. Yes I know it is done in a light-hearted way but it gets boring and repetitive. Analyse their game style not their fashion sense or idiosyncrasies. Maybe think how you would feel if somebody constantly joked about you before tweeting your supposedly hilarious analysis.

And don’t even get me started on those who try to intellectualise tennis…

Game changer

Below are ten things I would like to see changed about the sport. What are your suggestions?

1. Three set men’s matches up to the quarters stages of slams.

2. Davis and Fed Cups to be formatted as one tournament block rather than at random weeks in the year.

3. The medical time out rules cleaned up.

4. A longer off-season.

5. World Team Team to disappear forever.

6. IPTL to do the same.

7. More fan-run websites. The tennis island is good but there is room for others.

8. Less player box shots from the camera people during matches.

9. On-court coaching for the men too.

10. An even longer grass season.

Off-season? What off-season?

We all need a chance to re-charge our batteries and get away from what we do on a daily basis. Except for tennis players it seems. This year more than ever the off-season has been punctuated by exhibitions. The iptl dragged on and even today players are at bizarre exhibition tournaments rather than completing training blocks. The already too short off-season should be a time to regroup, sharpen the skills and rest. I hope the quality of tennis won’t be compromised in the early part of the season. It probably will be, though.