Friday, June 01, 2012

RG.6- Love and War in the Time of The Radwanska

History sometimes turns on the smallest of events and individuals. At this Roland Garros, it might have been Brad Gilbert. For, let it be known, his was the mouth that (might have) saved the world.

If The Radwanska's Plan had been under the radar through this slam's early days, Gilbert managed to expose it the other day. When he went public with the notion that Petra Kvitova might be about to be upset by Urszula Radwanska in the 2nd Round, a totally preposterous notion that The Rad didn't think anyone would take seriously enough to repeat, a light was shone on The Radwanska's sinister machinations. Maybe if the player linked to the false information, whispered by one of The Minions into the ears of Gilbert and, likely, others too prudent to repeat it, hadn't been named Radwanska, this little moment would have slipped by unnoticed. Instead, it put everyone on alert. While the long, convoluted lead-up to Eva Asderaki's "role" in the departure of RG fave Serena Williams the other day hasn't been inextricably linked to A-Rad's press room attacks on the noise made by two other players in particular -- not so coincidentally, the only two players ranked above her -- the same couldn't be said this time. Gilbert's notions were so crazy that they almost literally SMELLED suspicious.

The Rad's test of Gilbert's loyalty seems to have totally backfired. Sometimes, even The Radwanska reaps what it sows. On Day 6, the blowback got personal, too. With A-Rad coming off her domination of Venus Williams in the 2nd Round, she met up on Friday with '09 RG champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. And the Russian wiped her out (hmmm, could the "Kuznetsova Curse" gene that Sveta carries be some sort of Radwanskian Kryponite? Interesting.). Kuznetsova jumped to a 5-0 1st set lead, and never looked back, winning 6-1/6-2. So, ever since Gilbert and The U-Rad Incident, THE Radwanska has seen A-Rad lose her blood relation sidekick, get knocked off in doubles, and now this. It would seem that The Plan is kaput.

Well, unless there are a few sleeper agents still out there doing The Rad's bidding after the original war has been lost. Of course, I guess there IS also the possibility of The Rad acting like an imprisoned mob boss and controlling things from a distance, keeping It's hands clean in order to avoid the repercussions that would occur should It's sinister Plan be tracked back to the doorstep of It's dark lair. Still, it would seem that we can all now take a breath and sleep tonight, content in the knowledge that we -- and the players of the WTA -- are safe from The Radwanska.

Unless we don't really understand the TRUE nature of The Plan, that is. (Ooh, did anyone else just feel a chill run up their spine?)

Could it be that The Plan was never about getting Agnieszka a slam title? The Radwanska is such a complicated opponent, every angle MUST be covered until proven otherwise. So, consider this: while A-Rad was able to be more than humbled ON the court, it's possible that The Radwanska will still have a hand in what remains of this Roland Garros. Could it be that The Rad is actually selfless, and The Plan is actually about getting A-Rad's good friend Caroline Wozniacki, or even her short-lived doubles partner Angelique Kerber (who came back from a set down to defeat Flavia Pennetta today), into the winner's circle? Putting The Radwanska there, as well... by proxy? Just to prove It could do it.

Or maybe it's just an anyone-but-Vika-or-Maria situation. Aha! Now there's The Radwanska that we know and "love"... err, I mean LOVE.

(I didn't mean anything by it, Great Radwanska. I promise. For Tennis Gods' sake, have mercy on me. Please!)

...aside from A-Rad's loss, it wasn't a good day otherwise for The Radwanska, either, if It's looking to find a way to keep Vika or Maria from lifting the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen next weekend. Once again, The Rad's actions had unintended consequences, as maybe the double dose of Vika and Maria (due to Sharapova's Day 5 match being pushed to Day 6 because of the Mathieu/Isner 5:41 match) today proved too much for A-Rad herself to overcome, while The Radwanska's greatest foes were given an additional confidence boost.

Maria Sharapova, finally playing her 2nd Rounder, destroyed her second straight opponent, defeating Ayumi Morita 6-1/6-1. After outdistancing Alexandra Cadantu 18-0 in winners in her double-bagel 1st Rounder, the Russian put up a 22-1 advantage in the category today. If you don't want to do the math yourself, that an overall 24-2 advantage in games, and 40-1 in winners.

Elsewhere, the Belarusian Brawler won out over Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4/6-4.

...after such wonderful past matchups as their dramatic 3:16 classic at last year's U.S. Open and the 2:47 follow-up in Indian Wells a few months ago, the Samantha Stosur/Nadia Petrova clash today had the potential to be something special. Except that it wasn't. Leading 6-3/4-3, Stosur committed a bad forehand error that gave Petrova a break point that might have turned the match. But rather than crumble and let the contest slip away (as she might have done a few seasons ago), Stosur buckled down to hold, confidently gesturing to her team in the players box afterward, then broke Petrova to win 6-3/6-3.

Oh, Nadia. I did all I could.

...Ana Ivanovic met her natural slam end on Day 6, as well, losing to Sara Errani 1-6/7-5/6-3 after having started out the day looking like she was ready to begin to at least attempt to assume the RG mantle left her by Justine Henin's surprise retirement back in the spring of 2008. Throughout the early match, Chris Fowler and the like were having a grand old time singing her praises on ESPN2 as she raced to an "insurmountable" ONE SET LEAD. But, as anyone who's seen Ivanovic play over the four years since her '08 title run in Paris, it was WAY too early to make any declarative statement about her play in the match. When it comes to AnaIvo, there is ALWAYS a lingering sense that she is struggling to stay a step ahead of the Grand Slam Reaper. She's waged nothing but a losing battle in this contest for years, and today was no different. As the match began to slip away, from the vantage point of a 6-1/4-4 AnaIvo lead, the pattern was clear, whether the ESPNers wanted to appropriately foreshadow the end result or not.

AnaIvo is one of few European tennis stars that ESPN2 manages to give the time of day (just listen to Michael Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption" when her names comes up). Quite possibly it's because she's one of the more beautiful women's tennis #1's ever. Maybe it's just because, like a certain Belgian who shall remain nameless, it's just because the actual tennis ESPNers take to her personality. Whatever the heart of the reason, AnaIvo today was treated by the commentators like, well, an American player, as Fowler & Co. tended to want to make excuses for her loss AFTER the match, after having downplayed her opponent, and eventual conqueror, Errani DURING the contest.

While I'll give Mary Joe Fernandez credit for fighting against the tone her colleagues seemed intent on setting, it was clear that Errani's talents were being largely brushed off during the commentary of the match. While they would probably never admit it, to call a player a "claycourt specialist" -- as Errani often was on ESPN2 today -- IS American tennis shorthand for "she's really only good on this stuff that the Americans can't play on, so don't think she's REALLY all that great." It's the very definition of a backhanded compliment. Fact is, while Errani IS more proficient on clay than any other surface (she's won three CC titles in the past three months, just one more than the four indoor hardcourt titles that the Serb has won in the four YEARS since she won RG), but she ALSO reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January, as well.

That's something that Ivanovic hasn't done on ANY surface in the now sixteen slams she's played since she won in Paris in '08.

...hmmm, I didn't really think Serena would stick around to play the WHOLE Mixed Doubles competition since she was out of the singles so early. Turns out, she won't have to. Oh, she DID play with Bob Bryan. But their partnership lasted a grand total of one match, as they lost today to Gisela Dulko & Eduardo Schwank by a 7-5/3-6/10-6 final score. Ah, more time to rest and get ready for the grass court season.


Sloane Stephens. I've pretty much said it before, and I'll pretty much say it again.

The 19-year old, improving-almost-every-time-out woman was the first to advance to the Round of 16 today with her win over "Last Pastry" Mathilde Johansson. She'll next face Stosur. But, as usual, it's all the non-tennis things about the Bannerette that lead me to believe that, if she ever wins anything big, she's going to "take over the world" (via appearing on every single talk show available, and making all sorts of new fans in the process).

The megawatt smile (perfect for a late night spot on Leno or Dave). The sparking on-air personality (hey, Sloane -- how'd you like to co-host "The Talk" or "The View" for a day?). Tweets like the one she had the other day: "You look good, you feel good. You feel good, you play good. You play good, they pay good." She's just an American sports superstar waiting to happen, as she'd join Sharapova as the two most-marketable female athletes on U.S. television. A true crossover presence that might just keep the sport alive and well in the States once the Williams Era is actually over. And maybe even kick it up a notch, for that matter.

At this point, I'll even give her a "pass" for saying that she thinks that the way her idol Kim Clijsters plays is "just about perfect," since the WAY she plays is one of the few things that has never really been as issue around here when it's come to KC over the years. Hey, we're GOOD now, though... of course, that's a whole lot easier when she's not playing. Haha.

-- Tennis Channel's new "Chicks on Bricks" segment, where Mary Carillo and Rennae Stubbs stand around and "shoot the bull" about whatever topic that seems interesting... though I would love a better title, and maybe it shouldn't be inserted into the telecast whenever the network COULD be showing EITHER #1-ranked player in the world, both of whom were on the court when the short segment debuted today.

-- Even Patrick McEnroe calling Djokovic's attempt to win four straight slams as a potential "NoleSlam." Maybe it'll win out, after all. Of course, Nadal might have a say in all this.

Speaking of P-Mac, an interesting little moment occurred during the coverage of the Tomas Berdych/Kevin Anderson match, as McEnroe read the statistical notes provided him by the ESPN2 crew, which gave the career five-set record for Berdych. After reading it, McEnroe, "That can't be right. He has to have played more than that. Somebody check that out for me" (or words to that effect). A few minutes later, he got the correct stats. Finally, proof that someone at ESPN2 actually pays attention to what they're saying, and that the people behind the scenes sometimes need to be kicked in the butt so that the on-air talent doesn't dispense incorrect info. Not that there was ever any doubt about that before today.

...and, finally, as always at a slam, no matter how well she plays on clay, Anabel Medina-Garrigues' time in the draw is limited. After notching two wins at this Roland Garros, she was finally dumped out by unseeded Petra Martic today. Okay, here's where I'm obliged to once again note that AMG is STILL linked in history with Anna Smashnova as the only players to ever win double-digit WTA singles titles but never reach a slam Final 8. There, that's another Daily Backspin slam ritual checked off the list. By the way, this was AMG's 40th career slam. The Spanish vet, who'll turn 30 in July, reached the 3rd Round in Paris, meaning that she's accomplished that feat at three consecutive slams -- a career-best run of slam consistency, by the way. Her career slam match record now stands at 42-40. Only 193 wins behind another 30-year old -- Roger Federer. All right, I KNOW that was unfair.

Keep on fighting the good fight, AMG.

#1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #15 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
Sloane Stephens/USA vs. #6 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#26 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS vs. #21 Sara Errani/ITA
#10 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. Petra Martic/CRO
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #22 Andreas Seppi/ITA
#18 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#3 Roger Federer/SUI vs. (LL) David Goffin/BEL
#9 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG vs. #7 Tomas Berdych/CZE
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

0 - W
0 - RU
0 - SF
0 - QF
3 - 4th
12 - 3rd (w/ 2012 AO & RG)
9 - 2nd
16 - 1st

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #1q Kiki Bertens/NED d. Annika Beck/GER 6-1/4-6/9-7
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Virginie Razzano/FRA d. #5 Serena Williams/USA 4-6/7-6(5)/6-3
FIRST WINNER: #6 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Baltacha/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Mona Barthel/GER (lost 1st Rd. to Lauren Davis/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (1-5 in 1st Rd; A.Cadantu double-bageled & 18 total points)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARDS STANDING: Claire Feuerstein/FRA, Melanie Oudin/USA & Irena Pavlovic/FRA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Mathilde Johansson/FRA (3rd Rd.)
IT: Nominee: S.Stephens
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Spanish women, S.Kuznetsova
CRASH & BURN: #5 Serena Williams/USA (lost 1st Rd. to Razzano/FRA; led 6-4 & 5-1 in 2nd set tie-break; was 46-0 in career slam 1st Rd. matches)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #1 Azarenka (down 7-6/4-0, BPs for 5-0 to Brianti in 1st Rd.)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Nominees: Razzano/FRA, Schiavone/ITA & Sharapova/RUS

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Blogger Zidane said...

I loved Kuznet's motto, written on her arm: "Pain doesn't kill me. I kill the pain." Maybe it will lead her into the footsteps of Oudin and Stosur's approaches to success. Unfortunately, Kuznet being Kuznet, she might as well crash down against Errani...

Sat Jun 02, 04:17:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

The olympics are confusing me again... Can't Sloane, Vania, and Varvara all pass Venus in the rankings? So if two or even all three get enough points, wouldn't Venus be out? The news is making it seem like only the fourth spot on the us team is up for grabs. But venus isn't in the clear yet especially since she didn't do that well at the French.

Sat Jun 02, 02:22:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I think, Eric, that Sloane and Varvara would have to win their quarterfinal matches at Roland Garros in order to qualify.

Sounds odd, doesn't it, saying "Sloane and Varvara" and "quarterfinal matches at Roland Garros. They've both had such fine runs so far.

Sat Jun 02, 05:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Thanks for that info Diane. Where did you see that?

So Vania would get the short end of it...because if she doesn't make the roster in singles, they're not going to give her the doubles spot since it would be the perfect, drama-free way for the Williams Sisters to be the second doubles team.

Yes, I'm really glad that Sloane, McHale, and Varvara are doing well. I think the dearth of US Players in the Top50 is because our culture kind of encourages people to be super stars. And once people realize that they might not be that Top10 talent, it's tough to keep grinding.

I really like McHale (and Vania and now Varvara) because she might not have that top10 talent, but she's level-headed and keeps grinding away. I hope that she continues to enjoy her journey and process and can reap the rewards and have her "moments".

It's very motivating for me as a fan (and fellow journey-er in my own life) to see these types of players receive the dividends of their labors. And I'm glad that the tour and the media takes interest in them and promotes them. I wish they would do it for more players.

Zidane - I really like Kuzie's quote too.

Sat Jun 02, 05:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Oh and to go off of what I was saying before...I think you see the top100 filled with players from other countries because being a tennis pro is the best option for them in terms of money and opportunity. Someone was saying that the Tunisian player on the ATP earned 35k at the French Open and that was 8x the average annual salary of his countrymen. So of course, he would be a tennis pro even if he struggles to stay in teh top100. Grinding pays dividends for him.

In America, being a tennis pro isn't necessarily the only option that people have...not to mention the cost of living is if you find that you are a grinding pro and barely breaking even, then there are many other professions you can, and perhaps should, do.

Sat Jun 02, 06:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

That said, if you tried to put together a list of the most visible female athletes in the U.S., the majority of them would probably still be tennis players.

Sat Jun 02, 06:52:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I would have to disagree with your last comment, Eric. The rule you describe for the Tunisian player applies to North Americans and Europeans as well. I'm not saying there are no cases that apply to your illustration, but in most cases, playing tennis is, for the tennis player, the best profession they can do to make money and launch their career.

You see, most athletes (any sport, really) invest most of their time in their sport. Very few have university degrees or rich cultural or intellectual backgrounds, which makes their options for other high-earning professions very limited. There is a reason why most players, once their career is over, end up developing fashion-related careers (women, at least) or stay around tennis instead of launching high-earning "American Dream" careers. Not that these are demeaning. But such post-retirement careers reflect what these players have gotten to know and master in their life thus far. Therefore, part is, yes, since they know these sectors better, their expertise in these fields has a lot of value. Another part is, could they, or would they want to, work in another profession? I think the answer, in most cases, is no.

I am not bashing, it is simply a logical conclusion: to spend the necessary amount of time and personal investment to develop a high-level tennis career, time being scarce by nature, they have to make sacrifices in other interests or personal investments.

As well, tennis players who can keep around a 100 ranking (women) or 200 (men - there is still a lot of discrimination in tournament earnings between men and women in lower-to-mid-level tournaments) would make more money than by working in mid-level income jobs. Which, again, by the lack of technical or professional educational background for many of those players, is not even a given.

Canada having few tennis players, I guess we get to know our lesser-ranked players more than Americans do. Stéphanie Dubois, for instance, has no game to ever compete at a high level, and she is fully aware of it. At best, she can be ranked in an average of 80-120 positions. But she keeps on playing: what else could she do? Everybody she knows, except her family, plays tennis or is somehow tennis-related. Plus, she gets to travel, which she likes. And continuing playing tennis now will help her eventually getting a tennis-related job once she retires. Likewise, Sharon Fichman momentarily stopped playing tennis a few years ago. She was tired and wanted to check for other life interests. She quickly realized that her life had spanned around tennis since she was a child, and that continuing in this trajectory was the best thing she could do. Frédéric Niemeyer was never ranked in the top 100. Yet, in a 12-year professional career, he earned over US$500,000. Not counting sponsors. Was there any better financial alternative?

A top-player like Vaidisova, who won enough money in her short tennis career to become financially independent, is actually in a better position to retire early from tennis and do something else than a player struggling to stay in the top 100, most of whom have no better financial prospects would they retire and go back home. Even in Canada and in the US.

Again, there can be exceptions. And yes, these exceptions are probably more likely with players coming from rich countries. Yet, the rule that tennis is most likely the best and only professional path remains, I think, the same for all players, whatever their country.

Sat Jun 02, 07:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Eric--sorry--I don't recall :(

Sat Jun 02, 08:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Zidane - Thanks for the feedback! And for the insight into the finances of the Canadian players. And no worries, I wouldn't post anything at all if I feared alternative opinions. :)

I agree that personal choice is a factor. If you don’t like to do anything else, then of course, you would stick with tennis...for as long as your body and finances holds out. But I think most tennis players are pretty capable people and would be able to get through college – I believe several actually get online degrees while playing – and have the option of pursuing other avenues (with the same net payout). I mean what are people like Jamea Jackson and Ashley Harkleroad doing these days?

Sun Jun 03, 12:15:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...


Regarding finances...

I guess my impression is that for a tennis player to break even, they need to make quite a bit of money… I was reading that although Coco Vandeweghe (average pro) made 180k either in 2010 or 2011 from playing, after covering all her costs, she had actually barely made anything. The article didn’t specify exactly how much she had left, but I took “barely” to be around 20k. And so while 180k is a lot of money, if you aren’t able to save any of it and if your career ends when you are around 30 years old, I think that there are definitely other professions with low barriers of entry (i.e. accounting or teaching or construction or maintenance work, etc.) that players can pursue and make more net income since their cost will be lower (no travel costs, no entourages, etc.).

I think that average pros do make a lot of money, but it’s deceptive how much is actually theirs since they’re basically independent contractors. It’s not like there’s a team (NFL, NBA, Baseball) that distributes a salary to them and takes care of all of the organizational side.

But three things I don’t really know much about and would change my perspective are: 1) how much average pros make from sponsors; 2) how many subsidies players receive from national tennis organizations; and 3) how much people can make in non-playing tennis-related careers (in fact, I don’t really know what those careers would be besides coaching or perhaps hitting partner…the high-paying commentator jobs go to the legends of the game).

For example, if I’m the Tennis Channel, I’ll need someone to check facts for me. But, I don’t need an ex-player to do that. And I don’t need to pay a premium for that job either.

If you have any knowledge about that, I would love to hear it.

Sun Jun 03, 12:16:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Hmm, interesting aspect about Vandeweghe that I hadn't fully thought about: paying the team. I don't know for American players, but Canadian players don't really have a team surrounding them (except Raonic, but I guess it is closely related to the fact that he earns enough now to cover the expenses of a team), so I didn't consider that element. For instance, Wozniak's recent successes are partly based on her father's retirement from his own job; he can now travel with his daughter and help her on her day-to-day basis. Dubois' part-time coach is paid by Tennis Canada. Etc. Therefore, I hadn't really included this element in my calculations. I guess it might have some impact.

I don't have much answers to your first two questions because they are mostly case-by-case instances. But you're right, we would need to know this information before making any individual conclusion.

As for the third one, I can imagine a few: personal coaching (either to other professionals or amateurs - Niemeyer coached Raonic for a while), TV work, tournament organization (here in Montréal, Richard Legendre, a player in the 1980s I think, now director for the soccer team Impact, first made his name as director of Montréal's then Canada Cup - now the Rogers Cup) and probably a few more that don't come to my mind. Again, I guess that for TV work, my Montréal perspective can be flawed. As we have our own French TV channels, there is a particular need for past Québec players to work on the coverage (Hélène Pelleter, Mélanie Marois, Sébastien Lareau). Yet, even in regular circumstances like in the US, I can imagine past players to become regular sports announcers or regular journalists covering the sport in sportsnews. Stephens, for instance, would make an excellent sportsnews announcer.

Still, I stay under the strong impression that, for most professionnal players from developed countries, who are around the rankings that I previously mentioned, a tennis career is financially the best decision they can make. I expect, for instance, that for a 100-ranked player, 1) and 2) cover the "professional expenses".

Sun Jun 03, 03:13:00 AM EDT  

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