Miami Nice: The Ultimate Test
For two weeks every year, the WTA tour takes its collective talents to the shores of Miami. This year, of course, it arrives with quite a bit of baggage trailing along behind it. Hopefully, the beach won't be littered with too much remaining debris two weekends from now.
There are a slew of questions worthy of examination and anticipation as we await the answers that will emerge from the Miami Open. Can Serena Williams maintain her dominance of the event as she seeks her ninth title, and her first of any kind in seven months? Can Victoria Azarenka become the first woman in eleven years to sweep both the Indian Wells and Miami titles? Can Angelique Kerber recover from her post-Australian Open dip in results? Can '15 finalist Carla Suarez-Navarro back up her unexpected performance one year later?
Of course, not that any of that will be talked about much, at least not in the opening stages of the tournament.
Well, either that or we tell time by just waiting for the latest bomb to drop from the mouth of someone associated with the sport, then watch the fallout as it all plays out ad infinitum for days thereafter, even if we've already had the same discussions (just with different names attached) over and over again through the years (and decades). One might make the case that any news -- even bad news -- is good news, as tennis has surely been in the headlines a great deal lately, a big change from the usual environment where it is often deemed "irrelevant" for all but (maybe) eight weeks (but not really that many) a year by much of big media. Yeah, I know, that's a big stretch... but I did say that one could "make the case."
At some point, though, even that ceases to be a possibility. We're about one more new/bad headline away from that moment right about now, I'd say.
Indian Wells began with the chatter about Maria Sharapova's failed drug test, a plot point that was finally replaced by Azarenka's comeback title run and the rekindled hope for a renewed, season-long Vika/Serena rivalry. Naturally, it was almost immediately hijacked by a double-whammy of sexist claptrap. Kicking things off was I.W. tournament director Ray Moore's asinine comments (obviously spoken quite often in private, considering how easily he publicly gave up what he really thought with little prompting) about the women's game, it's "attractive" players and how the WTA's athletes should get on their knees and be thankful for Roger, Rafa and the ATP.
As bad -- though old -- as that sort of story is, it might have been quickly wiped away had world #1 Novak Djokovic not thrown an even older match onto the fire by touching on the just as (or maybe more?) worn-out subject of equal pay for men's and women's tennis (something previously thought at least partially put behind the sport -- which links both tours, essentially and supposedly making them "partners" -- after a long fight for well-earned prize money equality at the majors).
Venus Williams arguing for equal pay for female tennis players back in 2005... pic.twitter.com/ayUE61Mbhi— BreatheSport (@BreatheSport) March 21, 2016
While Djokovic might be able to cobble together a semi-legitimate case when it comes to the money that the ATP tour generates, he sort of lost his ability to speak from a position of leverage as soon as he started talking about women's "hormones" and the like, which pretty much caused any other point he might attempt to intellectually make on the subject to be sullied with absurdity and the sort of ideas that prop up the condescending myth that male sports are "better" and "more important" simply for the fact that men are playing them, while the same game when played by women is just a case of "girls doing their thing."
Naturally, we shouldn't be surprised by such thoughts. They've been around for ages, and won't die out in our lifetimes. Nor should we be shocked by the inability of major tennis organizations to adequately respond to such situations, not with the incestuous nature of a sport that sees former I.W. tournament director Steve Simon become WTA CEO, then his longtime friend Moore replace him in his previous position in I.W. and Simon being hardly-shockingly reluctant to quickly burn the sort of personal bridges necessary in order to do what someone in his position SHOULD do. Such issues run deep in these parts, in all corners. Remember, tennis is a sport where players' personal coaches also commentate on those players' potential opponents on television, USTA employees moonlight on ESPN with friends with their own USTA ties who refuse to address many of the issues that individuals without such close ties would be able to be more honest about, and the WTA tour enters into a virtual deal with the devil (TV coverage looking for a "hook") by allowing on-court coaching that unwittingly also provides the damaging optic of "fragile" female players unable to think for themselves who have to call on their male "protector" to "show them the way"... thereby making it that much easier for male power players (and players themselves) in the sport to look down upon the women's game (and its athletes) and believe it perfectly fine to talk about how they should "get on their" knees and give thanks to the men who "carry the game."
It's a cycle that ultimately causes the sport to eat it own tail, never fixing the things that are broken nor removing and/or replacing many of the individuals in the positions of power who have the influence to captain the sport toward a better future.
Anger After Official Says WTA Players Ride on ‘Coattails’ of Men,-what a mess-Moore totally blew it, & Novak-really? https://t.co/se2WCfMxYI— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) March 21, 2016
As we stand, even as the story has mushroom-clouded and made all of tennis look ridiculous, Moore is still employed as the I.W. tournament director. That really says it all. An Indian Wells boycott in 2017 will continue to be talked about, as well, as will the WTA's relationship with the event be questioned. Want to bet whether or not anything ever happens on either front? We'll see.
Raymond Moore steps down as CEO and Tournament Director of the BNP Paribas Open https://t.co/r1ZViL2dhs— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 22, 2016
Hmmm, better late than never, I guess. Of course, when you set the bar so low we all end up having to start digging out with shovels to get over it, don't we?
Djokovic and others will continue to attempt to spin the belief that the men's tour is somehow more worthwhile, too, though I expect he'll see the error in his ways one day. Maybe about the time, if he ever has a daughter, when she asks her dad why she can't make the same amount of money as her brother Stefan for doing the exact same thing. Faced with her quizzical expression, he'll have to come up with something more substantial to say than to tell her that maybe cutting gluten from her diet will make her forget all about that.
"Now go play with your dolls, or have a tea party... or whatever it is you girls do."
Oh, and lest we forget...
Also, it should be pointed out that "applauding" -- as SI's Jon Wertheim did on Monday -- players such as Kiki Mladenovic for "going off-script" rather than adhering to the WTA's "talking points" about the Sharapova case doesn't really help the situation, either. Dubbing someone a "cheater" for doing something that wasn't forbidden, based on the Pastry's comments, because Sharapova wasn't "polite" to her is never something that should be commended, whether it provides you with good copy or not. Period.
I'm just sayin'.
(That's the sort of thinking that allows billionaire egomaniacs to get within the eyelash of the White House.)
**RECENT MIAMI SINGLES FINALS**
2005 Kim Clijsters d. Maria Sharapova
2006 Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Maria Sharapova
2007 Serena Williams d. Justine Henin
2008 Serena Williams d. Jelena Jankovic
2009 Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams
2010 Kim Clijsters d. Venus Williams
2011 Victoria Azarenka d. Maria Sharapova
2012 Aga Radwanska d. Maria Sharapova
2013 Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
2014 Serena Williams d. Li Na
2015 Serena Williams d. Carla Suarez-Navarro
**REACHED BACK-TO-BACK I.W./MIAMI FINALS**
1991 Monica Seles (L-W)
1994 Steffi Graf (W-W)
1996 Steffi Graf (W-W)
1999 Serena Williams (W-L)
2000 Lindsay Davenport (W-L)
2000 Martina Hingis (L-W)
2005 Kim Clijsters (W-W)
2006 Maria Sharapova (W-L)
2012 Maria Sharapova (L-L)
2013 Maria Sharapova (W-L)
**MOST MIAMI SINGLES TITLES**
33...Serena Williams (2015)
16...Monica Seles (1990)
**MIAMI SINGLES FINALS**
10..Serena Williams (8-2)
7...Steffi Graf (5-2)
5...Chris Evert (1-4)
5...Maria Sharapova (0-5)
4...Venus Williams (3-1)
3...Monica Seles (2-1)
3...Gabriela Sabatini (1-2)
3...Jennifer Capriati (0-3)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
2...Kim Clijsters (2-0)
2...Martina Hingis (2-0)
2...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (2-0)
1...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-0)
1...Martina Navratilova (1-0)
1...Aga Radwanska (1-0)
1...Kimiko Date (0-1)
1...Lindsay Davenport (0-1)
1...Elena Dementieva (0-1)
1...Justine Henin (0-1)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Anna Kournikova (0-1)
1...Li Na (0-1)
1...Chanda Rubin (0-1)
1...Carla Suarez-Navarro (0-1)
1...Judith Weisner (0-1)
1...Natasha Zvereva (0-1)
2005 Kim Clijsters (W)
**MIAMI SINGLES FINALISTS...**
[without grand slam final appearance]
1990 Judith Weisner
1995 Kimiko Date
1996 Chanda Rubin
1998 Anna Kournikova
2015 Carla Suarez-Navarro
[without grand slam title]
1990 Judith Weisner
1994 Natasha Zvereva
1995 Kimiko Date
1996 Chanda Rubin
1998 Anna Kournikova
2008 Jelena Jankovic
2012 Aga Radwanska (W)
2015 Carla Suarez-Navarro
**RECENT MIAMI DOUBLES CHAMPIONS**
2005 Svetlana Kuznetsova & Alicia Molik
2006 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
2007 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
2008 Katarina Srebotnik & Ai Sugiyama
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova & Amelie Mauresmo
2010 Gisela Dulko & Flavia Pennetta
2011 Daniela Hantuchova & Agnieszka Radwanska
2012 Maria Kirilenko & Nadia Petrova
2013 Nadia Petrova & Katarina Srebotnik
2014 Martina Hingis & Sabine Lisicki
2015 Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza
**MOST MIAMI DOUBLES TITLES**
2...Martina Navratilova/Pam Shriver
2...Jana Novotna/Helena Sukova
2...Jana Novotna/Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
2...Jana Novotna/Martina Hingis
2...Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur
1985 Martina Navratilova & Heinz Gunthardt
**PLAYERS WITH BOTH I.W. & MIAMI SINGLES TITLES**
[active, won I.W. but not Miami]
[active, won Miami but not I.W.]
**WON I.W./MIAMI IN SAME SEASON**
1994 - Steffi Graf
1996 - Steffi Graf
2005 - Kim Clijsters
**MOST TITLES AT SAME TOURNAMENT**
12...Martina Navratilova (Chicago)
11...Martina Navratilova (Eastbourne)
9...Steffi Graf (Berlin)
9...Martina Navratilova (Dallas)
9...Martina Navratilova (Washington, D.C.)
9...Martina Navratilova (Wimbledon)
NOTE: Serena Williams (8 in Miami)
MIAMI, FLORIDA USA (Premier $6.135m/hard outdoor)
15 Final: S.Williams d. Suarez-Navarro
15 Doubles Final: Hingis/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina
16 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Kerber
Eight-time Miami champ Serena Williams doesn't have a cakewalk in the top half of the draw, as her quarter alone also features Andrea Petkovic, '06 champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova. The top's bottom quarter includes, at the top of the list, Aga Radwanska (hmmm... vs. Giorgi in the 3rd Round?) and Simona Halep (hmmm... vs. Kasatkina in the 2nd Round? Stephens in the 4th? Aga in the QF? Sheesh.).
Meanwhile, I.W. champ Azarenka comes into Miami sporting one of the biggest recent disparities in terms of seeding and actual ranking at a big event -- #8, but the #13 seed -- due to the lateness of her rise. But the draw still worked out rather well for her. She's in the bottom half, so a rematch with Serena can't come until the final, giving her a legit chance to become the first woman in eleven years to sweep the IW/MIA swing in the same season. A Round of 16 clash with Garbine Muguruza could be interesting... if the Spaniard decides to show up and play anywhere close to the level she should, that is.
#6 Carla Suarez-Navarro, a finalist in this event a year ago, comes in after having skipped out on the desert in order to deal with her ankle injury. If she can get past CoCo Vandeweghe in a possible 2nd Rounder, she might be able to open up a little breathing room.
#1 S.Williams d. #21 Petkovic
#12 Svitolina d. #8 Kvitova
#3 A.Radwanska d. #19 Bacsinszky
#5 Halep d. #20 Stephens
#24 Konta d. Vandeweghe (fresh off Konta being first Brit in Top 25 in 29 years)
#13 Azarenka d. (WC) Gibbs
#7 Bencic d. #9 Vinci
#2 Kerber d. #17 Ka.Pliskova
...save some room on the plate for the possible Kerber/Pliskova and Bencic/Vinci or Bouchard Round of 16 entrees early next week.
#1 S.Williams d. #12 Svitolina
#3 A.Radwanska d. #5 Halep (another semi for Aga!)
#13 Azarenka d. #24 Konta
#7 Bencic d. #2 Kerber
...Henin gets to test out that "don't lose the match BEFORE the match" idea on Svitolina?
#1 S.Williams d. #3 A.Radwanska
#13 Azarenka d. #7 Bencic
...can Aga get a set this time?
#1 S.Williams d. #13 Azarenka
...without the pressure of Indian Wells, Serena should prevail. Oh, but if she wouldn't... hold onto your seats for a wild spring and summer.
By the way, there'll be a mid-Miami update next week, as well.
All for now.