Monday, March 05, 2012

Wk.9- Euthanizing the 'Roo

Someone call a vet. There's a metaphorical 'roo that needs to be euthanized. Stat!

Well, a certain Increasingly-More-Irrelevant Dane has managed to inject herself into the Backspin tennis conversation again. Oh, don't worry, though. It's not because she's actually done anything grand on the court. Tennis Gods forbid. In fact, she didn't even play last week. She did manage to break an "unwritten rule" recently, though, when she actually had the audacity (or maybe immaturity, or ignorance... all would apply) to call into question a certain all-time tennis great's "overly critical" commentary designed to, in the Former-#1-in-Question's words, "stir everything up."

After Martina Navratilova's recent, though hardly unique, critiques of the game of Piotr's Daughter, and casual comments -- again, none that haven't been shouted louder and more often from other corners of the tennis world -- about her not being looked at as the "true" #1 during her time atop the rankings, surely not with Serena Williams and/or Petra Kvitova (or, as it's turned out, Victoria Azarenka) still breathing air, the Blonde Right-Hander decided that the problem to address in this whole equation wasn't her game, her coaching, or even her opponents. No, it was the 18-time grand slam champion, considered by many to be the best female player ever, whose "bonafides" should be questioned. "I would never say Martina was #1 when there was no one playing, or that she was the best when no one was playing," said the Dane, trying her darnedest to say what she was thinking -- or had heard others in her inner circle say -- without actually taking responsibility for saying it. Even as a hypothetical argument comparing Navratilova's reign over the sport in any wild-assed way to her own, Denmark's Own's comments are guffaw-inducing.

As was noted in Bruce Jenkins' SI piece, the depth in today's game is likely better than it was 20-30 years ago, but, I'll add that much of that has come because of the advances in racket technology and training. But, as for the top of the sport? Whatever Midge's aims were, her comments only served to cause her to appear immature ("I know you are, but what am I?"), ignorant of her sport's history, and make it easier to knock HER, not question Navratilova or her opinions. Hmmm, with this sort of thinking, maybe the Slam-less One should think about a career in politics -- her line of attack would fit right in with the current crop of Republican presidential candidates here in the U.S.. Maybe she and Rick Santorum could talk about what their definition of "snob" is. It would be quite entertaining, I suspect.

A defense isn't really needed, but needless to say, Navratilova had more than a little competition. Evert. Court. Goolagong. Wade. Austin. And, later, even Graf and Sanchez-Vicario and the like, players that Navratilova battled fairly successfully into her mid-to-late thirties. All those "nobodies" are Hall of Famers, and Martina stood up to (and often surpassed) them all. Oh, yeah, by the end of her career, Graf had her number. But Patrik's Sister often loses to players from Germany, too... only they're slam-less fringe Top 10ers, not 22-time major winners. Six of one. Half a dozen of another, I guess. Or not.

Yale's Tennis-Playing Mascot really should have kept her mouth shut. But, no matter the lack of progress of her endless stream of ever-more-obtuse attempts to defend herself, tall tales created to shut down lines of questioning or attempts to be "funny" in order to curry favor with potential critics has helped her achieve, she seems psychologically unable to simply sit back and let her play do her talking. The Apple of Piotr's Eye has shown an amazing ability to not allow criticism to roll harmlessly off her back, or fight back with better results and/or less-desperate critiques of her critics that would allow any inherent hypocrisy in their stances to shine true -- ala a certain Belarusian. Instead, Rory's Girlfriend has continually displayed a hard-headed stubborn streak that virtually defines the old, humorous-but-close-to-fact definition of insanity as being "the act of repeating the same action over and over again and expecting a different result." When she was #1, she said she should change nothing about the game that got her there, but came up short in grand slams and/or against the very best players. As she's been overwhelmed in the rankings (a failure to sufficiently reclaim most of her Indian Wells championship points from a year ago over the next two weeks might knock her out of the Top 5) and fired a "coach," she's come back with her "why repair something that's not broken" line of thinking from a week or so. And now this.

It's really sort of funny -- funny "haha," as well as funny "weird" -- that Anna's Daughter has chosen to single out Navratilova's criticism above the vast chorus of voices that have spoken out on her time at #1 over the past couple of seasons. Remember, this was the same Martina who, even after her comments last year, was still willing to work with the Dane to help further develop her game and a more aggressive on-court mindset. That teaming never happened, and instead The Family went with the Mystery-Coach-That-Likely-Never-Existed, then the Actual-Coach-Who-Should-Have-Known-Better (aka Ricardo Sanchez), who, after walking out on long-time charge Jelena Jankovic, got a pink slip two months later, as Family Father tried to pin his daughter's disappointing AO loss on the "confusion" of having too much coaching in too languages. Not that it really mattered who, or in what tongue or tone, the instruction came. A player has to want to improve in order to do it. Obviously, that time has not yet arrived. Resting on laurels, even after the laurels have been kicked out from underneath you, is apparently the current plan of action, with no alteration of said plan on the horizon for Denmark's First Tennis Family.

Actually, though, I guess I should "thank" the Dane. Ever since Kim Clijsters righted her career ship and I came to respect 2.0 far more than 1.0 ever would have deserved, I've missed having such a "living-in-a-bubble" player whose own words and actions -- and, usually, results -- made it so easy to rake them over the coals on occasion and not feel the slightest bit of guilt about it. Maybe that's changed for good, though. It's not a totally-sailed ship. But we are getting close to pulling up anchor and setting course for another long, acid-tongued, eyebrow-raising adventure in Backspinland.

S: Sara Errani/ITA def. Flavia Pennetta/ITA 5-7/7-6/6-0
D: Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) d. Dominguez-Lino/Parra-Santonja (ESP/ESP)

S: Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE def. Petra Martic/CRO 2-6/7-5/4-1 ret. (exhaustion)
D: Chang/Chuang (TPE/TPE) d. H.Chan/Fujiwara (TPE/JPN)


...I think I may know where Carl has gone. At least last week, he might just have been in Acapulco cheering on Errani. How do I know? Well, going into Week 8, I'd picked Errani to win the title in Monterrey, only to have her lose in the semis. This past week, I didn't repeat the pick, having the Italian going out in the SF. Over the weekend, not wanting to disappoint her sudden cavefan, Errani not only won the singles title -- the third of her career, but first since '08 -- but the doubles, as well. The 24-year old, this past Australian Open's "Ms. Opportunity" for her Francesca-esque QF run (and Doubles runner-up & Mixed SF results), notched nice wins over Irina Falconi, Edina Gallovits-Hall, Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta to get career title #3, ending her string of three straight losses in singles finals over the last few seasons. I guess Carl and his unending grudge -- which I thought have maybe been put behind us after our little Christmas eve "moment" -- IS capable of some producing SOMETHING good.
RISER: Petra Martic/CRO of the "other" Petras on tour, 21-year old Martic had what might have turned out to be a career-defining week in Kuala Lumpur end up making her something of a victim of circumstance. Things went well early on, as she took out a contingent of Asian woman -- Erika Sema, Kurumi Nara & Peng Shuai -- before having her SF match delayed until Sunday because of rain. Against Jelena Jankovic, the Croat saved a match point and won a three-hour three-setter, but then was forced to play the final against Hsieh Su-Wei just a few hours later. She won the 1st set, but when the Taiwanese vet pushed things into a 3rd, Martic was operating on borrowed time. Down 4-1, she finally retired due to exhaustion and heat illness. Ultimately, she walked away from Week 9 with her first-ever appearance in a tour singles final, but one has to wonder if her accomplishment might have been far bigger had things played out just a bit differently in the skies above Malaysia.
SURPRISE: Ximena Hermoso/MEX & Marcela Zacarius/MEX
...Mexico doesn't exactly have a rich tennis history, but these two ARE beginning to put their nation on the sport's map. Hermoso began to put up some good ITF results a year ago, winning two titles. As a main draw wild card in Acapulco, the world #382 showed she's capable of more. She pulled off an upset of Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, and pushed Magdalena Rybarikova to three sets in the 2nd Round. Earlier, qualifying wild card Zacarius had taken out Aravane Rezai.
VETERANS: Flavia Pennetta/ITA & Roberta Vinci/ITA
...while Sofia Arvdisson seems to be more than at home in Memphis, Pennetta appears to enjoy Acapulco quite a bit. In reaching the singles final there this weekend, her second '12 final, the Italian has now reached the deciding match in her last seven appearances in the tournament, accounting for nearly a third of her twenty-two career finals. She's won twice (2005 & '08) in Acapulco, but didn't get title #3 this time. She did put up wins over Arantxa Parra-Santonja, Arvidsson (oddly enough), Mariana Duque-Marino and Irina-Camelia Begu, though. Meanwhile, Vinci, the event's #1 seed, reached the singles SF, but made more noise by joining with Errani to win a second consecutive doubles title a week after claiming honors in Monterrey. The pair are the third multiple-title winning team in '12.
COMEBACKS: Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE & Eleni Daniilidou/GRE

...a few weeks ago, 26-year old Hsieh Su-Wei hadn't reached a tour singles SF since 2001 (when she did it as a qualifier in Bali). Then, again as a qualifier, she ended her 11-year drought by reaching the Final Four in Pattaya. Last week in Kuala Lumpur, once again as a qualifier, the world #124 had an even better (and fortunate) run. Wins over Anne Keothavong and Casey Dellacqua got her into the QF, where she received a walkover from top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who'd been forced to play two matches the previous day due to rain delays. After outlasting Eleni Daniilidou in her second semi of '12, she advanced to her first-ever tour singles final. On the good side of karma yet again, she faced off with Petra Martic, who'd just finished playing a three-hour three-setter with JJ earlier in the day. The Croat retired in the 3rd set, handing the Taiwanese vet her first-ever title. While Greece's Daniilidou wasn't able to advance to her first final since 2008, the 29-year old didn't need to call for any "austerity" measures to get her through the week, either. Her wins over Sania Mirza, Jarmila Gajdosova and Olivia Rogowska were more than self-sustaining.
FRESH FACES: Karolina Pliskova/CZE & Kristyna Pliskova/CZE
...a week ago, Kuala Lumpur was told to be on the lookout for the Pliskovas. For the most part, everyone was prepared to fight the twin Czechs off... but they got in a few shots of their own, too. After both made it through singles qualifying, they got a pair of 1st Round wins, as well, as Kristyna knocked off Iryna Bremond, while Karolina took down Chang Kai-Chen. Their singles journeys ended a round later -- with losses to Peng Shuai and A-Rad, respectively, for Kristyna and Karolina -- but the combined forces of Pliskova/Pliskova (which has already claimed two ITF crowns in '12) rebounded by advancing all the way to the doubles semifinals.
DOWN: Piotr's Daughter/DEN
...something of a threshold has been broken: she doesn't even need to play to qualify for this award. Martina's "quality over quantity" rules apply, I suppose. Speaking of Navratilova, it should be noted that she arrived in the U.S. after her 1975 defection and became a, in her words, "junk food junkie." Her talent wasn't compromised, as she became a slam champion and reached #1 in '78. But she didn't rest on her laurels. Navratilova has credited former women's basketball star Nancy Lieberman for "turning my career around in 1981." "She sternly lectured me that I was wasting my talent, needed to work harder than ever, and give tennis total commitment," said Martina. "Thanks to her burning me, I did." Navratilova became the best-conditioned athlete in the women's game and, along with fellow Czech Ivan Lendl, helped revolutionize the way tennis players train. The very best leave no stone unturned, and Navratilova was made to realize that. As of now, the Dane hasn't yet met "her own Nancy." Speaking of Martina (again), I guess I should mention her being on the cast of the new season of "Dancing with the Stars." It's SUCH a Martina thing to do. She may never become anything close to a good ballroom dancer, but she will surely work as hard as she can to improve at it every day. It's a signature move for Martina -- it's fearless. Or, at least, while she MAY fear the whole dancing thing, she won't let it keep her from trying. It's interesting that Chris Evert -- who DWTS has been after for years, as well -- has consistantly said that SHE doesn't have the guts to attempt to do the show. Martina does, though. At the very least, I just hope she pulls it off better than Monica Seles did a few years ago. But, whatever the result, she wasn't afraid to try something just because it's out of her comfort zone. I don't think you have to look too deeply to see how that trait helped to make her the champion she was, and still is. Which leads me back to the Dane once more. I almost noted her recent Rolex print ad a few weeks ago, but held back. I'll bring it up now, though. Describing her, it reads: "Champion. Fighter. Tireless Spirit. The Next Generation of Legendary. Her Path to Extraordinary Covers Every Square Inch of the Court." It should be noted that her 2010 Rolex ad opened with the additional line, "Metoric Rise. And the Game to Rise Higher." That line is no longer included in her print ads for the watch maker. I guess Rolex knows something The Family doesn't. She may no longer be #1, but she DID get to see what a #1 looks like over the weekend. In Miami with Rory McIlroy, she saw him overcome a late charge by Tiger Woods to win a tournament and rise to the top spot in golf for the first time. If Mcllroy knows what's good for him, he won't be like his GF and decide that he should stand pat and not work to continue to become better. He surely understands that "improvement" doesn't necessarily mean "repairing something that's broken." Meanwhile, Ricardo's Short-Lived Pupil heads north to Madison Square Garden early this week (getting her $ now, since they likely won't be calling for her services as often in '13) before flying cross country to California for the start of her Indian Wells title defense attempt. Sounds like good preparation. They have courts on airplanes, right?
ITF PLAYER: Maryna Zanevska/UKR
...Zanevska, 18, has been lurking in the background for a few years now. She was never a HUGE junior star, but she did manage to grab a pair of slam Girls Doubles crowns a few years ago. She's been winning small ITF events since 2009. This weekend, she walked off with her second 2012 challenger crown in as many weeks with a win in the $10K in Bron, France. In completing her back-to-back title dance, the Ukrainian took down countrywoman Anastasiya Vasylyeva in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Chalena Scholl/USA
...the 16-year old American claimed the title in the Grade 2 Uruguay Bowl, defeating (in a rare turn of events) an actual tennis-playing female from Brazil in the final, Beatriz Haddad Maia.

1. Acap Final - Errani d. Pennetta
So, the tour went to Mexico and the Italian Fed Cup team had their own little party. Three of the four semifinalists -- including Roberta Vinci -- are FC teammates, leading to this all-Italian battle, the first single nation singles final on tour in '12.
2. KL 2nd Rd - Rogowska d. Dokic
Well, make it 18-of-19 events over the past year in which Dokic has failed to advance past the 2nd Round. The defending champ, who won her first tour title in nine years at this event a season ago, saw her ranking plummet from #76 to #118 today.
3. KL QF - Hsieh walkover A.Radwanska
KL Final - Hsieh def. Martic 2-6/7-5/4-1 ret.
because of rain delays, A-Rad was forced to play two matches the day before her scheduled match-up with Hsieh, then ended up backing out of it with an elbow injury. Martic only had a few hours of rest after her rain-rescheduled SF with Jankovic turned into a rain-delayed three-setter earlier in the day on Sunday. I hope Hsieh gave a shout-out to Mother Nature for her first career title.
4. Acap Doub SF -- Dominguez-Lino/Parra-Santonja d. Dulko/Suarez
Dulko and Suarez haven't won anything yet, but their early pre-Olympic results as a doubles team are producing some nice results.
5. Acap SF - Pennetta d. Begu
Begu won the tour's "Most Impressive Newcomer" award for 2011, and entered this year as seemingly the most likely first-time singles champ to be crowned in 2012. It still might happen, but five other players have beaten the Romanian into the winner's circle for their maiden title through the season's first nine weeks.
HM- KL 1st Rd - Jankovic d. Garcia 7-6/4-6/7-6
KL SF - Martic d. Jankovic 6-7/7-5/7-6
all this work, a pair of rain-interrupted three-hour matches (more than making up for the QF walkover win she received from Ayumi Morita), and all JJ got today was a computer ranking 70 points lower than it was at this point last week. Maybe Hsieh Su-Wei will send her a thank-you note? I mean, after she sends one to Mother Nature,of course.

1. KL Doub 1st Rd - H.Chan/Fujiwara d. Hsieh/Hsieh 6-4/2-6/10-8
KL Doub SF - H.Chan/Fujiwara d. Pliskova/Pliskova 5-7/6-2/11-9
Chan Hao-Ching, who reached the Pattaya doubles final with her sister a few weeks ago, joined with Rika Fujiwara to take out a pair of tennis-playing siblings en route to the Kuala Lumpur final last week.
2. KL 1st Rd - Craybas d. Y.Sema 6-4/1-6/6-4
KL 1st Rd - Martic d. E.Sema 4-6/6-4/7-5
while the Pliskova twins managed to get 1st Round singles wins in KL, Yurika and Erika Sema weren't so fortunate.

Hobart - Mona Barthel, GER (age 21, #64)
Paris - Angelique Kerber, GER (age 24, #27)
Bogota - Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP (age 19, #174)
Monterrey - Timea Babos, HUN (age 18, #107)

Mona Barthel, GER (0-0) - Hobart (W)
Angelique Kerber, GER (0-1) - Paris (W)
Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP (0-0) - Bogota (W)
Tatiana Panova, RUS (0-0) - Bogota (L)
Marina Erakovic, NZL (0-1) - Memphis (L)
Timea Babos, HUN (0-0) - Monterrey (W)
Alexandra Candantu, ROU (0-0) - Monterrey (L)

Mona Barthel, GER - Hobart (W)

Auckland - Flavia Penneta, ITA (L / L)
Bogota - Alexandra Panova, RUS (L / W)

#174 - Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP - Bogota (W)
#118 - Alexandra Panova, RUS - Bogota (L)
#110 - Alexandra Cadantu, ROU - Monterrey (L)
#107 - Timea Babos, HUN - Monterrey (W)

9...Flavia Pennetta
6...Roberta Vinci
4...Francesca Schiavone
1...Alberta Brianti

**2012 MOST SF - BY NATION**
5 - Germany, Russia
4 - Belgium, ROMANIA
NOTE: 23 nations have filled 56 SF spots (31 filled 228 in 2011 season)

3...Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
2...Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE

With the pair of two-week events coming up over the next month, the Backspin posting schedule gets a little twisted. As far as the next two weeks, there'll be a "To Live and Be Well in Indian Wells" post in a day or two with my tournament picks (and the first appearance of Carl "fill-in" Carla's a-little-less-anger-filled predictions). Next week, along with a few mid-Indian Wells and ITF/Junior awards, I'll follow up last year's "All-Time Backspin Team" listing of my personal favorites with the antithesis of adoration -- the "All-Time Anti-Backspin Team" listing the players who've grated my nerves the most over the years (or who are just starting to do so lately... hint, hint). Also, before then, I'll re-post the updated "All-Backpin" list, with a few new comments and/or retractions.

All for now.


Blogger Karen said...

Todd, I must be on the few people in tennis land who actually agrees with Wozniacki defending herself, and especially against Martina. For one I think Martina has not been unbiased in her commentary of Wozniacki, seeing that she has been pushing hard for Petra to be #1 and perhaps still thinks so. In addition to that when you can meet the same player 22 times in GS finals, there is a lack of depth in your sport. You only have to look at the ATP right now to see what I am talking about.

As to the coaching issue, I am sure I read somewhere that Martina intimidated that she was never approached by the Wozniacki family to coach.

Finally, it would do Martina and others of her ilk to stop using their positions (well earned in fact) to tear down today's players. The view from the commentary booth these days in terms of the critique on the women's game, leaves this fan with a bitter taste in the mouth all the time.

The so called legends of the game need to take a page from a true legend. I am yet to hear Billie Jean castigate the women in today's game in the way that I have heard people like Lindsay, Martina and others do. It is about time that some players started fighting back. Good on you Caroline. Keep it up.

Tue Mar 06, 04:38:00 PM EST  
Blogger Karen said...

And another thing... why is Martina immune from criticism? Why is it the fact that Wozniacki has not won a Major a sign that she should not defend herself against her critics. From where I am sitting, the last time a potential Hall of Famer defended herself against critics she was thought to be arrogant and not showing respect to the legends of the sport.

I can distinctly recall a couple years ago when Woz ascended to #1 how many accolades and praise she got because of her consistency and professionalism. So what if she has not been able to win the big ones. We were told then that that should not be a reason as she supported the Tour etc., unlike the ones who were winning the big ones (read Serena).

The women in my view are unfairly criticised. When it is not grunting, it is shrieking, they are referred to as girls, their emotional stability is questioned time and again. Enough already.

Tue Mar 06, 04:43:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Caroline Wozniacki has been given no favors by the media, in that--no matter how much she carries on--commentators nearly always tend to say "Oh, she never argues with the umpire" (she argues with the umpire more than anyone on the tour, now that Stubbs is gone), "Oh, she never shows any temper" (she's angry a lot of the time), "Oh, she's so engaging" (actually, much of it sounds like a script, and it's very hard to get her to answer questions), etc.

Not that any of this would really matter too much if she were holding up big trophies. Most of us enjoy, or at least, tolerate, the eccentricities of the various top players. But she isn't winning the biggest tournamnents, and now she's become somewhat of a manufactured character because of the way the media operates (I don't have to explain that).

I think Wozniacki was built up beyond what was realistic, and now she's being torn down with her own help. I actually suspect worse than that, but I don't want to go all psychological in this small comment space :)

Tue Mar 06, 05:02:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Just a few things...

I don't have any problem with the Dane defend herself, but criticizing a person who is paid to offer their opinions is just a cop-out, honestly. First, she denied that any criticism of her game was warranted because she was #1. Now that she's not, it's the criticizers that are at fault. Over the past year-plus, she's shown an increasing lack of maturity when it comes to any of the legitimate critiques she's received. And the whole "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?" line of reasoning she's now going with is just another step down that road. Once the real pressure of being #1 -- the pressure to win the big ones -- hit her, the cheery exterior that once seemed so refreshing has looked more and more like a facade.

Of course, I was kidding (a little) about the "audacity" of a player criticizing Navratilova. She can surely be criticized. Somehow, though, I doubt that she'll see fit to bat the volley back at the Dane. The working gears of the tour are already doing that for her.

I'd actually have used the point that the fact that just a few men have won so many recent slams proves that just because a few players dominate it doesn't mean that the competition is wanting, but that those players are just that good.

I don't know if there was ever an official approach to Navratilova about coaching (I believe that there was something about not being able to come to financial terms that's been brought up, but, really, I've come to question any bit of news that's linked in any way to The Family), but she mentioned more than once that she was willing to listen. I think the whole coaching/not coaching situation probably led to the Dane's little outburst, as I'm sure MN has been bad-mouthed within The Family in recent months.

I think Rory's Girlfriend (and, before her, JJ and Safina) were the major cause of recent bad-mouthing of the WTA, and it's been because they weren't looked upon as being "worthy" of being #1 because they were never the "favorite" when it came to the slams, where a world #1 SHOULD be the top contender. There's always going to be sexist commentary, but much of it in recent years has been because the top-ranked players have so often shown themselves to be so small in the biggest events that count the most. It'd be the same story in any sport in which the top-ranked (or perceived best) players/teams aren't also the championship winners. The only way that gets shut down is for said player/team to actually win.

Oh, if everyone could be like Billie Jean King. That's probably a little too much to expect of too many humans. Too many nice commentators would be a bit hard to take, anyway. :)

Oh, Diane... always leaving a little extra tucked into the ol' tennis bag for safekeeping, huh? :D

Wed Mar 07, 12:26:00 AM EST  

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