Sunday, December 03, 2017

2017 WTA Yearbook

As the latest term comes to its natural end, we here at Backspin Academy choose to send our students, benefactors and emotional supporters back out into the world with something for them to savor and hold dear as they remember their campus experiences from the past year.

And that time has come once again.

Our Beloved Backspin Academy

Of course, due to the well-known-by-now oddities in the BSA election process, this year we were forced to suspend the usual election year festivities, rallies and, ultimately, results. So, for as long as they wish, *last* year's office holders will continue to "unofficially" maintain their status until further notice. Everyone affected are to be assured that all relevant documents will continue to be stored in the Navratilova Hall of Records along with the rest of the Academy's historical evidence.


But, have no worries. 2017, as viewed from a coveted seat on the rooftop of Henin Hall, was still a rather lively year. Luckily for us, the BSA School for the Performing Arts has stepped up, along with our top sponsor, to fully commit the time, effort and funds necessary for the production of our annual Yearbook, as well as this December's three-day Festival of Ideas weekend. The notable works of some of the most talented members of the campus community will be exclusively honored in this year's keepsake, along with a rundown of the schedule for our well-regarded "Carl TALKS" lecture series which will be a key part of the festival alongside our new, star-studded BSA creative arts showcase featuring all varieties of student-produced films and plays.


As always, we're very proud of our student body and faculty, even if some of them disappoint us on occasion. The BSA environment is one that embraces sincere attempts at redemption, and our arms are always open to reconciliation with even some of the more wayward members of the community. But even if such evolution never becomes a reality, we are committed to finding alternate ways to coexist. The BSA campus is a large one, and there is room for everyone, for we never lose hope.

So, away we go...

First off, we'd like to thank the BSA Bookstore (now with a redesigned website!) for its support and sponsorship of this year's Yearbook.

The shelves and storerooms are stocked with all sorts of items that can fill an urgent need, or maybe even inspire a new one. If you get the chance when you're on campus, drop by and have a look (you never know which familiar-faced student might be working behind the register!).

Here's a quick look at some of the bestselling items...

Students and visitors alike love our specialty t-shirts, which we wear proudly all over campus (and sometimes even abroad!)...

A few of our current and former students became authors over the past year, and anyone can obtain their work in the bookstore. Meanwhile, another of our more versatile students had a particularly brilliant idea to utilize her photography to produce a coffee table book about drinking coffee at various tables around the world. Our award-winning children's series offered up two new titles in 2017. Additionally, we've been forced by a scurrilous lawsuit to stock the controversial book penned by the head of the French tennis federation, but only in the French-language text version (though we *do* have one particular student who is willing, for a fee, to read the book aloud for any purchaser in one of the 27 or so languages she claims to speak). We look at these terms as a "win," as the original lawsuit attempted to force *all* visitors to buy a copy, or else forfeit the opportunity to buy any bookstore item ever again.

Our top student this year has seen all sorts of sights, often from rather dangerous -- but beautiful -- positions. Someone suggested that the views might work rather well in puzzle form and... voila!

All sorts of things occur in the lives of our students, both on campus and off. The BSA Bookstore is the one-stop shop for all their needs. And for those of you with a yen for collecting memorable (and rare) items, we stock *all* the campaign buttons for this year's Student Council President election race that never took place. Get yours while supplies last.

We delight in offering some choice, personally-designed items meant as keepsakes for some of our more popular students' friends, family, fans and otherwise. The Bookstore tries to meet every need, however specialized...

As usual, our students are much in demand around the world. Apparently, just the appearance of *one* of them on a magazine cover is often seen as an exceptional editorial choice. Naturally, the bookstore stocks as many as our shelves will allow (talk to us if you want to special order a copy of something we don't carry)...

Over the years, we've come to expect our creative students to document their lives through music...

From classic toys to posters commemorating classic past events, the Bookstore on Dokic Drive strives to stock at least one item that will tickle the fancy of *every* visitor...

And, of course, we'd be remiss to not acknowledge with heartfelt anguish the passing of one of our favorite individuals, and an Academy presence for years. Jana Novotna left us recently, but her will, smile, humanity and good natured personality will never be forgotten. There are reminders of her all over grounds, from the longtime Novotna Nook in the library on the East Campus to the newly-constructed HanaJana Center on the West, as well as in the song that persists in all our ears when we think about the last time we saw her. We will offer a remembrance poster as a free gift to all shoppers, and 25% of all Bookstore profits will be donated to her favorite charity for as long as we breathe the crisp campus air. RIP, Jana.

Our students and visitors always tell us that they truly enjoy our award-winning "Carl TALKS" lecture series, affectionately named after the most unique personality on campus (well, technically, he lives with his STILL growing family -- no, Carla isn't pregnant again, but the couple has taken in Carl's troubled nephew Pete -- in a comfy cave just off the Academy grounds).


Here's a preliminary look at the jam-packed schedule for the HanaJana Center during BSA's three-day Festival of Ideas this December. We're excited to announce that Venus Williams will be serving as our Mistress of ceremonies!

"POJD!" - Petra Kvitova
"Applying the Art of Decoupage to a Tennis Career" - Elina (Patience is My Co-Pilot) Svitolina
"I'm Back" - Victoria Azarenka [POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE]
"I Don't Care What People Think Anymore" - Caroline Garcia
"Do You Know What I Did Last Summer?" - Sloane Stephens
"Third Time's the Charm" - Martina Hingis
"Do You Know My Mommy?" - Alexis Olympia

"Is it an athlete's job to inspire? Inherently what I think athletes do at a top level inspires people, but each person takes that responsibility differently." - Venus Williams

"Making Everything Bad Suddenly Okay" - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
"How to Insult Friends and Inspire Unprincipled Unpleasantness in People" - Kristina Mladenovic
"The Fine Art of Bannerette Whispering" - Kathy Rinaldi (with an "Introduction to Pastry Whispering" from Amelie Mauresmo)
"It's a Yes" - Casey Dellacqua
"Smiling Through the Pain, Eventually" - Bethanie Mattek-Sands
"You May Not Know Me... but I'm pretty awesome." - Aliaksandra Sasnovich

"I'm Just Glad To Be Here (but winning is heaps cool, too)" - Ash Barty
"French Tennis Fascism for Dummies" - Bernard Giudicelli
"Clay, Me & My Knee: A Rewarding and Ultimately Crazy Journey" - Laura Siegemund
"Bueller... Bueller... yes, you in the back -- [INSERT APPROPRIATE NAME ON DAY OF TALK]" - Sascha Bajin
"I'll Accept Playing Second Fiddle, But That Doesn't Mean I Don't Get to Solo on Occasion" - Anastasija Sevastova

"What I will say about sport, I think why people love sport so much, is because you see everything in a line. In that moment there is no do-over, there's no retake, there is no voice-over. It's triumph and disaster witnessed in real-time. This is why people live and die for sport, because you can't fake it. You can't. It's either you do it or you don't." - Venus Williams

"When the Toughest Year is the Best Year" - Simona Halep
"Enjoying the Game in a Way That it Hurts" - Barbora Strycova
"It's Not You, It's Me (but I'm still moving on)" - Angelique Kerber
"It Wasn't You, It was Me (and dad)" - Caroline Wozniacki
"It Wasn't You, It was Me (I think), So We're Still Good" - Garbine Muguruza (w/ follow-up Q&A with Sam Sumyk)
"Leave the Racket, Take the Tortellini" - Sara Errani

"I Wanted to Be a Maria, But Now I'll Settle for Being a Harkleroad" - Genie Bouchard (w/ a follow-up chat by Ashley Harkleroad: "Leave Me Out of It")
"When A Sister Understands: Taking Advantage of the Opportunity of a Tennis Lifetime" - Chan Yung-Jan
"Dealing with Future Expectations That Will Now Scrape the Sky (and don't call Me "Jelena" -- that's my mom), Pt.1" - Alona Ostapenko (w/ Pt.2 coming in 2018)
"#MeToo" - Anne Keothavong (w/ Johanna Konta) [online chat]
"Nighttime is the Right Time for Fighting" - Madison Keys
"Having Your Historical Imprint Systematically Removed From the Public Record By Your Successor" - Mary Joe Fernandez (w/ an introductory primer by Barack Obama)
"Are You Ready For Me?" - Aryna Sabalenka
"What She Said" - Serena Williams
"Preventative Medicine, Smart Body Management Recuperation & Recovery, & You" - Sabine Lisicki
"Across How Many Decades Are Shadows Cast?" - Beatriz Haddad Maia
"I"m Not Sure Why I'm Here (I think someone just wants to announce my name)" - Eliessa Vanlangendonck
"Remembering Jana" - a tribute by Martina Navratilova

"People relate to the champion. They also relate to the person also who didn't win because we all have those moments in our life." - Venus Williams

"POJD! (closing statement)" - Petra Kvitova

Since its founding a short while ago, the works produced in association with the Backspin Academy Center for the Performing Arts have seemingly grown exponentially in both quantity and quality. We're positively bursting at the seams with pride and a desire for the vast array of talent on campus to be recognized and celebrated. This winter's Festival of Ideas will allow the entire campus community, as well as the general public, to experience the breadth and scope of our students' creativity in one big three-day gulp. A select number of live plays and films will be featured throughout the weekend, for 24 hours around the clock (be sure to catch all the 5 a.m. performances -- you won't regret it, as everyone will be served breakfast in their seats immediately after the final curtain!), followed by a red carpet affair which will precede the opening of our very first, star-studded presentation.

[HINT: click on images for inspirations]

Our original plays and musicals will be performed at the fabulous JJ Center for Dramatic Arts, on the stage of the glorious Li Na Theatre...


For some, nothing beats the heart-pounding excitement of a live performance, and the festival caters to such tastes. Naturally, there will be *many* opportunities to bask in the thrill-of-the-moment throughout the upcoming three-day celebration...

Meanwhile, our film and television festival will once again take place at the high-tech and oh-so-comfortable Sugarpova Cineplex...

This year, we're pleased to include a production from our remote all-male academy...

Meanwhile, our top G.P.A. student was busy over the past year, appearing as the lead in *two* different -- very different, in fact -- films...

A young lady from Latvia took the campus by storm in 2017, quickly becoming a BSA favorite. Naturally, everyone wanted her to appear in their latest production in order to "hop on the Alona train." She jumped at her many new opportunities, developing a keen eye for the sorts of roles that will appeal to herself as well as her new fans...

Meanwhile, our award-winning top Spanish student went a more classic route...

After years of starring in the long-running "Many Faces of Caro" production, our resident Dane made the leap to the big screen this year...

The Czech contingent at the Academy have always been at the forefront of the campus goings-on. This year was no different, as both heartwarming and edgy films appeared with Maidens as their stars...

Our sole Siberian-born student/benefactor jumped at the chance to put a whole new spin on a timeless classic. It's been called "a delightful, sometimes bawdy, romp"..

The process is *always* important for our top Ukrainian student, and she finally decided to sign up for a BSA production in 2017, quite simply, because she felt "the time was right." We can't wait to see what she'll do NEXT year.

Antagonists have always played important roles in film, often with certain performers developing a knack for the perfect portrayal of a "type" that doesn't generally go down as the story's "hero." But when you play the "black hat" so well...

And, with superhero movies all the rage, you knew it *had* to happen...

In a late edition, we've added the premiere of the recently-rediscovered, long-awaited production that's been withheld from public view for too long (after first being announced in our year-end rundown a few years ago)...

[original 2014 poster]

As far as the television production part of the festival...

Good news! We're proud to announce that our award-winning "Better Call Bencic" series will return in 2018 with an all new, much-anticipated season after a longer-than-we'd-wished-for production hiatus.

The big three-day weekend will also see the much-anticipated debut of all new episodes of some of our *other* most-beloved series, including a well-known show *now* with a whole new star...

And *the* show that everyone is always talking about the day after a new episode airs is *finally* producing new material...

Of course, the BSA arts community does not discriminate. Student-produced works, art house fare and mainstream big budget international productions are given equal time throughout the year on the screens of the Sugarpova Cineplex. For those who wish to take a break from our exclusive productions to enjoy a few hours of Hollywood-style fun in a different setting, there will be fine additional entertainment choices.

We truly hope our first (of many?) Festival of Ideas will leave everyone satisfied, as well as with an appetite whetted for still more in 2018.

And, finally, we're always striving to broaden the experiences of everyone who graces the BSA campus. This year we even introduced a Remote Tour Guide Series featuring one of our most unique students. It was quite the hit!

When Petko goes to an art museum, every masterpiece is fair game...

And, thus, we arrive at the end of yet another year, as soon our thoughts will be overtaken by the ideas and notions that will shape the NEXT twelve months.

Who will reclaim a leading role on campus, or further grow their current influence? With the slate clean, everyone's grade point average will once again be 0.0 as 2018 begins, after all. Who will break out of the pack and become a new star? Someone will, of that we can be certain. One year from now, we will know all. Today, though, we are a-sea in the darkness.


If we knew the answers ahead of time, we'd miss out on all the fun.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Remembering Jana

Has it really been nineteen years since Jana Novotna transformed from a player best remembered for her defeats on the tennis court into one who best represents the resiliency of the human spirit that can be found in the world of sport? That day at Wimbledon -- July 4, 1998 -- can still be brought back to glorious life in the mind's eye and heart with a single image. One of many, of which there are quite a few, that either show Novotna crying tears of sadness, or tears of joy.

Both represent the incredible journey that the Brno-born, serve-and-volleying Czech experienced over the course of a 14-year playing career marked with so many frustrating lows that they would have devastated a lesser individual. But not Jana. Those moments inspired her, and ultimately others, to continue to try again. And again. And again. She never gave up, when so many others might have. Finally, after countless seasons of perseverance, Novotna lived her childhood dream of becoming a grand slam singles champion. And, as it turned out, all the failed attempts made the accomplishment even more meaningful than it might have been had it occurred years earlier. It didn't come easily for her. She had to earn it. And, boy, did she.

It was that drive that produced not just a grand slam singles champion, but one in doubles and mixed, as well. Many times over. Overshadowed in all the discussion during the back-half of her career about whether she'd ever shed her "choker" label and became a true "champion" was the fact that she was one of the most athletic and versatile champions of her or any other generation. Her '98 win at SW19 was a big factor, but her induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005 would never had happened had she not already been a true champion in virtually every other area of the sport before she finally was in the one way that she's now best remembered. Ironically, after being lessened in the eyes of many for so long before she won Wimbledon, her eventual win is now one of the most iconic moments in the history of the tournament that holds tightly to and reminds others of its past far more often than any of the other slams.

Sometimes good things do come for those who wait.

Today was a sad day for Backspin. Often, individual athletes represent periods of one's life, or at the very least explain the early connections you have to a sport that sustain your interest in it for the rest of your life, as you maintain a constant search and rescue mission for ideas, thoughts, moments and notions that remind you of why you started paying attention in the first place. For me, Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, undersized but scrappy and, ultimately a Super Bowl champion and MVP, assumed that role when I was a child. I was in attendance at the game in which his leg was famously snapped in two, ending his career in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game. When he was carted off the field, I made a point to watch him go until he was gone, consumed by the darkness of the RFK Stadium tunnel from which he'd never again exit as an active player. I just knew -- felt it, really -- that that was a big moment, and I couldn't not see it through until the bitter end. Later, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter acted for me as the representation of how an individual's will, force of personality (by way of leading by example) and inability to ever give anything less than their best can lift and sustain an entire empire, whether it be on a baseball diamond or otherwise. Nestled right in the middle of those periods, for me, was Novotna.

With the announcement of her death on Monday due to cancer at the horrifyingly young of age 49 -- 49... come on, she was going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her Wimbledon title next summer -- it sort of feels as if there's now an empty room in my tennis memory where Novotna use to reside. She's *still* there, and always will be, but now the area emits only respectful silence. At some point, the memories of her will be reclaimed by the joyous feeling of watching her win Wimbledon, then replace her tearful moment with the Duchess of Kent with another with a entirely different, deeper meaner. But, for the moment, to every Novotna memory is attached a touch of sadness of what, and who, has now been lost.

Oh, I'd been a great fan of others tennis players before Novotna (Becker, Mandlikova, etc.), as well as after (Dokic, Henin, Azarenka and others). But there was something about her that struck me, right from the start. Maybe it was the smooth way she moved around the court, as if prowling and waiting for her opportunity to move toward the net that got my attention and caused me to root for her to succeed. But it was her oh-so-human frailty, as well as strength -- and, really, doesn't a player have to display some of both at some point to *truly* be beloved? -- that made me *need* her to do so. If she had never achieved her goal she would have represented something else entirely, but that she did instilled even the utterance of her name -- "Jana Novotna," with or without the Czech accent -- with a sense of hope, accomplishment, determination and the belief that, yes, never giving up really *can* make all the difference in the end.

That's not a bad legacy to leave behind, if you ask me.

While I followed Jelena Dokic's complete career, for example, more closely, I'd have to say that Jana was the player with whom I experienced the most deeply felt defeats and successes. The reason I now call Simona Halep the "Heart of Backspin" is because the Romanian's mental push/pull, struggles with confidence and nerves, and, ultimately, the overcoming (some now, hopefully some later) of it all with a moment of total triumph most closely makes me feel the way I did watching Novotna's long battle against herself before she finally rose above. The moment her Wimbledon title became a reality still ranks as my favorite moment ever in tennis, and maybe in all of sport. For a long time, I even had the newspaper headlines and photos from the following day framed on my wall. Tonight I found it. The paper has yellowed, but the memory is still fresh.

And while she's gone now -- seeing her in those annual slam Legends matches, I;d thought the pleasure of having the old memories bolstered by a few smile-inducing new ones would last quite a bit longer -- she'll always have a place in tennis history, as well in this Backspinner's heart. There, as well as on the lawns of the AELTC, is where she'll live forever.

I already miss you, Jana.

While Novotna's career pre-dates Backspin, I've always tried to make a point of talking about her whenever the moment deemed it appropriate. Usually, it's been in spare comments about lost leads or a player fighting through loads of adversity to finally come out on top. But, being how things are around here, I *have* on occasion constructed moments during which I could give her her due.

In 2011, I put together my personal "All-Time All-Backspin Team" of favorite/important players. Naturally, Novotna was on the First Team. Here's what I said about her then...

" Oh, did someone mention fighting against adversity? Yeah, well, Novotna pretty much set the template for being her own worst enemy, but coming out on top in the end. At first, I became attached to Novotna's career around 1990 because I loved her net rushing game. I've even tried to employ her much-loved backhand chip approach shot on the court in my own "tennis" game over the years. But once the Czech imploded and blew a big lead on Centre Court against Steffi Graf in the '93 Wimbledon final, then broke down in tears on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent, she morphed into something else entirely -- the centerpiece of an ultimate quest.

Sometimes investing anything in such a player turns out to be one long whole-lotta-wrong moment (see Ms. Petrova), but every once in a while you get a "Novotna moment." Five years after her biggest failure, just one of many "smaller" ones in her career (I mean, when "pulling a Novotna" can refer to failing to win a match when you have a 5-0, 40/love lead on match point, you know you've got issues with choking that even Heimlich couldn't find a way around), the Czech rose once again at Wimbledon and won the '98 title. I still consider it my favorite sporting moment, because the decade-long trek to get there made her ultimate she's-no-Hall-of-Famer-without-it victory oh so much sweeter.

Truthfully, if Novotna had won Wimbledon in '93 she might not have risen to the place in my personal hierarchy of players where she ended up residing. The experience of losing "with" her had made the difference. Interestingly, on the same day in June '99 that Novotna returned to SW19 to bask in the glow of her '98 title, (fellow First Team member) Dokic burst onto the scene with her match against Hingis. The torch was passed. But that wasn't all... it was also the same day that (fellow First Team member) Boris Becker returned to the courts at Wimbledon after a brief retirement. "

This year's "Backspin Court of Appeals" ranking the best players to never reach #1 brought a more recent look back at Jana...

" While she maybe doesn't quite measure up to inclusion in this mix (or maybe she does), Backspin all-time fave Novotna's Hall of Fame career is worth highlighting.

One of the last true serve-and-volley players, her journey to her lone slam title was one of the rockiest -- and, finally, most rewarding -- in recent memory. (If Simona Halep ever wins a slam, her course would nestle in somewhere behind her, but not *that* far back.) Thing is, her path was quite close to being oh-so-different, as while she rightfully developed a "choking" reputation, she didn't "fail to show up" in her slam final appearances, unlike some of the players under consideration here. Novotna had good showings in her first three slam finals, going three sets against Hall of Famers Seles, Graf and Hingis (a combined 36 major wins). She was a set up vs. both Seles and Hingis, and led Graf 4-1 (with a GP for 5-1) in the 3rd set at Wimbledon in '93 before her infamous collapse. She was that close to piling up four slams wins, and one wonders if she'd gotten her maiden title in her first final appearance if she'd gone on to claim several more.


To her everlasting credit, the Czech was never mentally defeated by her losses, and continued to come back time and time again until things finally (eventually) went her way just months before she turned 30. She had seven years with SF+ slam results in an eight-year stretch, and was a success in all areas of the sport. Her 24 singles titles were joined by 76 in doubles and four more in mixed. She's a twelve-time slam doubles champ. She did her singles high ranking (#2) one better by reaching the #1 spot in doubles, and was part of the 1988 Czech Fed Cup championship team. As Novotna aged, she got better. Prior to her '98 Wimbledon run, she claimed the '97 WTA Championships crown, and went 18-6 in her final twenty-four singles finals (after going 6-10 in the first sixteen). While her overall marks vs. the likes of Graf, Hingis and Davenport weren't good by any stretch, she was 11-10 vs. Sanchez Vicario, 5-1 vs. Pierce, 4-0 vs. Capriati, 3-1 vs. Venus Williams and 4-4 against Seles. "


Back in 2005, Novotna was inducted into the Hall of Fame. While I didn't have any sort of week-long celebration as I did before Justine Henin's enshrinement in 2016, I *had* to mention it as that summer's Wimbledon (naturally... since the two are forever entwined) was coming to a close...

" You only get to have your favorite player inducted into the Hall of Fame once, and so is the case with Backspin's all-timer Jana Novotna this week at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. The very picture of perseverance after years of close calls (and outright chokes -- even if Jana wouldn't ever admit to it), the Czech serve-and-volleyer finally won the Wimbledon title in 1998... a win which was essential to her being elevated to such an honor this week.

Oh, and Novotna and Tracy Austin actually won the Wimbledon 35+ Women's championship last week (Novotna will be playing in a doubles exhibition, along with fellow inductee Jim Courier, in Newport on Sunday). Jana looks fit and happy. Which begs the question... at 36, isn't she young enough to compete in the REAL action? She's a former doubles #1 (and singles #2) with an affinity for the Wimbledon grass... sounds like a familiar recipe for a comeback, doesn't it? Maybe that's just hope talking, though. "


As always, Jana inspired hope. She still does.

Novotna's HOF Enshrinee Page: here
The HOF's article today on her death: here

All for now.