Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Who Will Stay Calm and Be Well in Indian Wells?

So, how's your week been going?



Now can we finally get back to... hmmm, what's it called again? Oh, yeah. Tennis.

Not that it matters, of course, since it's easier for the masses to spin drama and controversy, thinly veil long-held animosities with so-called definitive statements without any real base of knowledge and take the golden opportunity presented them to disparage, question, accuse and -- because it's "fun" and, more importantly, easy "click bait" -- attempt to incidentally sully the reputation and soil the veracity of any and all words and accomplishments of a WTA athlete suddenly thrust into the eye of a specific storm partly, but not solely, of her own making.

Often times that previous paragraph could be used to reference the latest cooked-up "controversial" moment surrounding the careers of players like Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka, but this time the seal has been broken on the mother lode of a decades-worth of deeply-held gripes and jealousies, personal paybacks and attacks dressed up to resemble defenses by "fans" of certain opponents who really don't need those sort of "friends," as well as an overall, oh, what would you call it? Oh, yeah, "joy" in some corners that an athlete who has expertly managed to stay above the fray for over a decade may have something even remote resembling feet of clay.

How sweet, fresh meat. "Give me a generous portion -- and make it a primo cut, dude."

Maria Sharapova's act of admitting on Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open for a drug called meldonium, which she said she's been taking for ten years for numerous health issues (personal and family history-related) but didn't become a banned substance until January 1 of this year, in two short days has, as is typically the case, put the WTA in the headlines that the tour is routinely shut out of over the course of the sports year when something other than lazy jumping to conclusions, armchair psychoanalysis and attempted character assassination are trumped (small "T") by the "chore" of having to actually watch matches, cover results or just about anything that might revolve around the burden of having to know virtually anything about the topic at hand.

You know, sort of like running for the Republican nomination for president in the United States. Who needs any knowledge when you can shout the loudest?

Some have posited that Sharapova's failed drug test will "change women's tennis forever." Yeah, maybe, but not in the way so many may be hoping... err, I mean suggesting. Silly me. It's so difficult to tell the difference when the usual anti-WTA suspects start spouting, you know? If anything, this week simply cements the general sports and news media's propensity to shrug off the actual sport in question and instead report on the women's tour as if it's an ongoing episode of "The Real Non-Housewives of the WTA," complete with weekly scandals, climbing-over-the-table fights and petty arguments. Because, you know, how else are "we" to cover a women's sport -- even the most successful and lucrative one on the planet -- in a way that everyone (read: people who follow men's sports) can relate to?

And the perfect irony is that this all occurred on a Tuesday that was also International Women's Day. Or maybe it's not so ironic, after all, actually.

The Sharapova failed drug test is the perfect Wild West story for the internet sports age, fit to be framed in any way, shape or form by any Tom, Dick, Jane, Harry, Bob, Carol, Ted or Alice. Who cares if what anyone says is unerringly right or unacceptably wrong -- and, make no mistake, no one will EVER know the ENTIRE story, or if we do some will still twist it so that it continues to fit into their petty, self-serving scenario -- when raising eyebrows and/or putting a new (or old) target on blast is so much more pleasantly time-consuming.

Pity it doesn't actually work like that. At least not totally. Sharapova will always carry a little of the sting of the past few days no matter how things turn out.



If for nothing else because it pulled the curtain back on a whole host of individuals and entities who delight in trying to poke holes in her story (even going so far as bemoaning her being "allowed" to get ahead of and "control" the story by making her announcement before the unfiltered release of the news of the test was made public, as if she doesn't have that right) or who'd rather remain silent than show even the slightest compassion in a difficult situation (at least Serena Williams, who knows something about being publicly assailed, stepped up and offered some form of support... there may be no love lost there, but there's also no need to pile on). Oh, and did I mention the cowardly sponsors and business partners (hello, Nike, Porsche, and TAG Heuer) who callously choose to run for cover at the fight sight of a "fine print" speed bump?

"You mean you might not be a cash cow for us this week or for a short period of time? Ummm, who are you again? Have we ever met? Next!".

Or how about those individuals who quickly jump to the defense of those business partners/cowards with nakedly-revealing-their-lack-of-current-knowlege comments about such actions being smart because a 28-year old Sharapova is "old" and they're seizing the long-desired opportunity to "cut ties" before she's some sort of washed-up version of her younger self because, you know, "she always loses to Serena" and "30 is ancient" in tennis since thirtysomething (or nearly so) players never win anything in the sport these days. Well, if you don't count the last six slams (and 12 of 15) on the women's side, and a men's tour dominated by a handful of players aged 28 to 34, that is.

But why bother with facts? Such as the "minor" one that Sharapova is as much of a force is business off the court as she has been on it over the years.

What we do know is that the medicine that Sharapova has been taking was perfectly legal in the eyes of the sport for ten years, just as it was ten weeks ago. In all, she played FIVE matches with the substance in her system less than a month after it was deemed "unlawful." Less than a blip and, in truth, inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. In a right-thinking sports world -- which, unfortunately, doesn't actually exist -- she wouldn't be suspended at all, would be moderately fined, docked prize money and rankings points and we'd all go about our business. But, of course, that won't happen. Sharapova will be suspended, just as other players who have tested positive for doctor-prescribed/administered or accidentally ingested newly-banned substances have been.

While, in my opinion, the whole testing issue is a farce -- as I have been for a very long time, I'm of the mind that no substances should be banned from competition, and only testing for illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin and such should ever be administered, and then solely as a means of looking out for the health and well-being of the athletes, as agreed to by each sport's players' unions or equivalent bodies -- the rules are the rules and Sharapova, as she rightfully admitted as she took full responsibility (even if, on some level, she could have spread around the blame around to her what-am-I-paying-you-people-for? team), has run afoul of them. My fear in the matter is that the governing agencies will choose to "make an example" of her and attempt to punish her more harshly than others in similar circumstances in an effort to avoid any accusations of "favoritism." Call it akin to "pulling a Tom Brady," i.e. something similar to the NFL's "Deflategate" attempts to overly punish the New England Patriot quarterback for a minor and inconsequential offense that has resulted in something less than a slap on the wrist and minor fines in previous cases with other teams and individuals.

Barbora Strycova was handed down a six-month ban in 2012-13 after testing positive for a stimulant, while Marin Cilic appealed down a longer suspension to something of similar length not long ago, as well. Either way, while a 2-4 year ban (it'd be ridiculous if the attempt is made to stick that on her, but it's something which Sharapova obviously fears if her "I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance" comment is taken as the pleading-for-mercy attempt it appeared to be) is "possible," something in the range of a 3-9 month suspension (still ridiculous under the circumstances, but more par for the course) would seem to be more likely. Either way, it seems a good bet she'll miss the Olympics.

Some may question the believability of a world-class athlete failing to check the list of the newly-banned substances in the days before the start of a new season, although it's happened before, or that a control-freak like Sharapova would ever NOT have three or four levels of "security" to prevent such things from occurring. It's a valid point, for sure. But, well, it would seem that that's either truly the case or she crazily believed that her urine was somehow immune to the testing that would detect the newly-illegal drug in the urine of another player not named "Maria Sharapova." Now, Maria's tennis career precluded her from pursuing a chemistry or medical degree... but she's a smart woman, and I doubt that she takes her cues from something akin to the sort of pseudo-science that has spawned the anti-vaccination lunacy in her adopted U.S. home. So...

And, remember, "control-freak" Sharapova once put her trust in a team of medical professionals who, despite so much being at stake, managed to misdiagnose a shoulder injury that nearly ended her career. It seems fairly obvious an easily-avoidable mistake was nonetheless made by one of the most famous athletes in the world. She can't be both a devious, decade-long "cheater" (as some would so dearly love to dub her, and have tried to do this week) AND someone careless/cavalier enough to continue to knowingly take a drug that was listed as being newly banned in an email sent to her just a few weeks earlier. It makes no sense, of course... but, no matter, in the closely-held fantasies of some she's exactly that, I suppose. Deceitfully at fault on one hand, and arrogant or cavalierly so on the other.

Isn't it lovely when the human mind can equivocate so brilliantly, and blindly?


Speaking of which, one of the dark alleys this story has managed to turn down has been to shine an exasperating light on the perpetually eye-rolling Twitter feed of a former world #1 with a checkered past who has chosen to spend far too much time trying to pick apart Sharapova's words and actions and accuse her of "cheating for ten years" despite the fact that the "cheating agent" in question has actually been banned for closer to ten days. On Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America," though, the Hall-of-Famer-in-question's tweet was placed directly opposite on the screen next to a supportive and reasoned response from Martina Navratilova about what seems like an "honest mistake" by the Russian, as if the sources were in any way equal and/or had the same, hmmm, let's just say "maturity," sense of decency or public decorum. Most people watching GMA likely only know the multiple slam-winning former "American sweetheart" from a decade or two ago rather than as the current Twitter hawk whose eyeroll-worthy online rants usually make her sound like someone this side of a crank living on the side of a mountain who's locked up in a shack with the feds at the door while she's screaming something barely intelligible about not giving up her gun until they pry it from her cold, dead hands.

But why consider the source when it's easier to simply dump the preaching/accusations at the feet of a few millions viewers who don't know any better. Typical.

As for whether or not the Latvian-produced drug is FDA approved or not... really? The U.S. Food and Drug Administraton will approve anything if the big pharmaceutical entities push and pay hard enough, and would surely have relieved us all of the whole "steriods era" hand-wringing in American team sports had the drug companies been able to find a way to dip their grubby hands into the money pool and found a way to make "performance-enhancing drugs" (PED's) profitable on their end before anyone was told they should be "outraged" about them in the 1980's. Gauging the value of a drug solely on whether it's FDA-approved is like judging a "playoff" to be a legit "playoff" only if the USTA is the organizing body of said "playoff." Whether a drug is approved by the FDA, or not, is only a fact. Nothing more, nothing less.

Personally, I take Sharapova at her word about this all being a big mistake. But, honestly, I couldn't care less even if that wasn't the case.

We're all (or most) adults here, and there. If someone wants to take something that might harm them later, it's their choice and there should never be any "bans" for it. In my eyes, the notion of "PED's" are a myth in most all respects, as everything an athlete does in preparation for their chosen sport -- be it training regimens or diets, or using "banned" or non-"banned" substances that help improve blood flow, recuperation or energy levels -- is, in fact, a "performance-enhancing" effort. Hence, what is so-called "illegal" today was "legal" a few months ago, as will be the case with something else that is fine today, but won't be a year from now. It's all interchangeable, or eventually will be. If a human body is capable of attaining a certain physical level or condition with the help of a legal and/or banned drug than it is an achievable athletic condition, and there is nothing "artificial" about it. So be it.

But, hey... that's just my opinion. Everyone else can be the arbiters of everyone else's personal responsibility and individual body decisions if they wish, I guess. It's just not in my job description as a fellow human... but I do reserve the right to judge those who seek to judge others, though. Who watches the watchers and all that jazz, right?

But, hey, at least we now know that whenever Sharapova DOES choose to announce her retirement it won't be at a press conference held at "a downtown L.A. hotel with a fairly ugly carpet."



That's good to know. Really.

In fact, one could make a case that that little off-hand nugget of information was arguably the most significant news of the week in this whole mess, no matter what anyone else says.



A year ago, Serena Williams returned to Indian Wells after a fourteen-year absence. Well, with Venus returning to the event this time around, what I said last year holds up pretty well. So, why not use it all again? Updated and amended a bit to reflect the moment, of course:


Yes, for the first time in fifteen years, Venus Williams will be in Indian Wells, officially closing out the remaining half of the personal boycott by both Williams Sisters -- despite threats of fines and ranking point penalties over the years -- that began after Venus withdrew from an all-Williams semifinal in '01. At the time, if you remember, one stupid line of thought was that Richard Williams was directing the results of matches between his daughters and deciding behind the scenes who should advance. See? The desire to personally attack even the WTA's good stories is something that some have traditionally never been able to resist.

In that atmosphere, Serena was booed loudly when she took the court for the final (which she won over Kim Clijsters), and was sometimes met with derisive calls from the crowd during play, as well. In the awards ceremony, she was booed still more. A few weeks later, Richard claimed that racial slurs were directed toward his daughter from the stands. Both Sisters stood by the event boycott until Serena announced in February '15 her decision to return, which she did a month later. Ironically, she was ultimately forced to retire from her semifinal match last year, and she smartly took to the court before the match to personally address the fans, explain her decision (due to a knee injury) and promise to return in '16.

She has, with Venus along with her. Of course, the Sisters could meet in the quarterfinals.

So much has changed since Serena and Venus both last set foot in the California desert with rackets in their hands. Setting aside the fact that it was still six months BEFORE 9/11, just looking at the WTA rankings at the start of the '01 Indian Wells event produces a bit of a flashback shock. For example:

The Top 5 featured four Americans:

1. Martina Hingis, SUI (#1 again at the moment, but in doubles -- and looking to defend her '15 title w/ Mirza)
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Venus Williams, USA
4. Monica Seles, USA
5. Jennifer Capriati, USA (back when she didn't make you roll your eyes)

There were five U.S. women ranked in the Top 10, and seven in the Top 20. These singles rankings were current:

8. Amanda Coetzer, RSA
9. Anna Kournikova, RUS (the top Hordette in singles, and doubles -- at #3)
10. Serena Williams, USA

The Belgians were rising:

19. Kim Clijsters, BEL
21. Justine Henin, BEL (see below!)

And the early pioneers of the 2000's Russian Tennis Revolution were inching upward...

11. Elena Dementieva
28. Elena Likhovtseva
58. Anastasia Myskina (Paris was three years away)
67. Nadia Petrova
72. Lina Krasnoroutskaya (oh, pity lamentably lost career of Lina K, who'd reach the RG QF a few months later)
353. Vera Zvonareva, RUS (at sweet 16)
672. Dinara Safina, RUS (at 14)
915. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (at 15)

Meanwhile, this past weekend's ITF challenger champ Dayana Yastremska was still two months away from celebrating her FIRST birthday.



Other news aside, today (Tuesday) was also a GOOD day we all knew was coming, but it was still nice to see the confirmation become official as the Original Face of Backspin has been elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame.



Congrats La Petit Taureau. Looks like there will be TWO versions of Justine Henin Day here at Backspin HQ in 2016.





**INDIAN WELLS FINALS - since 1997**
1997 Lindsay Davenport d. Irina Spirlea
1998 Martina Hingis d. Lindsay Davenport
1999 Serena Williams d. Stefi Graf
2000 Lindsay Davenport d. Martina Hingis
2001 Serena Williams d. Kim Clijsters
2002 Daniela Hantuchova d. Martina Hingis
2003 Kim Clijsters d. Lindsay Davenport
2004 Justine Henin d. Lindsay Davenport
2005 Kim Clijsters d. Lindsay Davenport
2006 Maria Sharapova d. Elena Dementieva
2007 Daniela Hantuchova d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2008 Ana Ivanovic d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2009 Vera Zvonareva d. Ana Ivanovic
2010 Jelena Jankovic d. Caroline Wozniacki
2011 Caroline Wozniacki d. Marion Bartoli
2012 Victoria Azarenka d. Maria Sharapova
2013 Maria Sharapova d. Caroline Wozniacki
2014 Flavia Pennetta d. Aga Radwanska
2015 Simona Halep d. Jelena Jankovic
[doubles champions - since 1999]
1999 Marthina Hingis & Anna Kournikova
2000 Lindsay Davenport & Corina Morariu
2001 Nicole Arendt & Ai Sugiyama
2002 Lisa Raymond & Rennae Stubbs
2003 Lindsay Davenport & Lisa Raymond
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual & Paola Suarez
2005 Virginia Ruano Pascual & Paola Suarez
2006 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
2007 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
2008 Dinara Safina & Elena Vesnina
2009 Victoria Azarenka & Vera Zvonareva
2010 Kveta Peschke & Katarina Srebotnik
2011 Sania Mirza & Elena Vesnina
2012 Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond
2013 Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina
2014 Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai
2015 Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza

**MOST INDIAN WELLS FINALS**
6...Lindsay Davenport (2-4)
3...Steffi Graf (2-1)
3...Maria Sharapova (2-1) *
3...Kim Clijsters (2-1)
3...Martina Hingis (1-2) *
3...Caroline Wozniacki (1-2) *
2...Martina Navratilova (2-0)
2...Serena Williams (2-0) *
2...Daniela Hantuchova (2-0) *
2...Mary Joe Fernandez (2-0)
2...Monica Seles (1-1)
2...Ana Ivanovic (1-1) *
2...Jelena Jankovic (1-1) *
2...Amanda Coetzer (0-2)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (0-2) *
2...Conchita Martinez (0-2)
--
* - active




INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA USA (Premier Mandatory $6.134m/hard outdoor)
15 Final: Halep d. Jankovic
15 Doubles Final: Hingis/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina
16 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Kerber
=============================

=ROUND OF 16=
#1 S.Williams d. #15 Errani
#10 V.Williams d. #5 Halep (the DC will face either King or qualifier Townsend first)
#3 A.Radwanska d. Vandeweghe
(Q) Kr.Pliskova d. #29 Lisicki (which Pliskova will last longer?)
#7 Bencic d. #9 Vinci (toss-up)
#4 Muguruza d. #13 Azarenka
#21 Stephens d. Kasatkina
#14 Ivanovic d. #2 Kerber

...Stephens and Bouchard could face off in a very interesting, whose-cup-is-REALLY-half-full? 2nd Rounder. AnaIvo? Yeah, that one makes me nervous.



=QUARTERFINALS=
#1 S.Williams d. #10 V.Williams
#3 A.Radwanska d. (Q) Kr.Pliskova (buying a lottery ticket here rather than going with Kvitova or Keys)
#4 Muguruza d. #7 Bencic
#21 Stephens d. #14 Ivanovic

...fifteen years after the fact, Serena vs. Venus finally happens in Indian Wells.

Hmmm, the first step for Kvitova?



=SEMIFINALS=
#1 S.Williams d. #3 A.Radwanska
#4 Muguruza d. #21 Stephens

...can Garbi hold up -- physcially and/or mentally, after a slow start in '16 -- this long? If she can, maybe she DOES know everything. Will Future Sloane don the hat? Maybe she should take things slowly...



=FINAL=
#1 S.Williams d. #4 Muguruza

...unfinished business. For Garbi, to be continued.




=DOUBLES SEMIFINALS=
#1 Hingis/Mirza d. #6 Garcia/Mladenovic
Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe d. #5 Makarova/Safarova

...The Dreamers have a rough draw, with Dellacqua/Stosur in the 1st Round and either Kasatkina/Vesnina (who ended their 41-match streak) or Muguruza/Suarez-Navarro in the 3rd. The mismatched doubles teams continue in the bottom half, as a returning Safarova (w/ Makarova, no longer playing with fellow '15 finalist Vesnina) could face usual doubles partner Mattek-Sands (w/ Vandeweghe) in the semis. Of course, that's only if the all-Bannerette duo can take out the #2-seeded Chans in the 2nd Round.

=DOUBLES FINAL=
#1 Hingis/Mirza d. Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe

...Hingis/Mirza celebrate their one-year anniversary by defending the first title they ever won together.

By the way, I'll be posting a mid-I.W. update next week, as well.


As for the men...

=Round of 16=
Djokovic d. Lopez
Thiem d. Tsonga
Dimitrov d. Verdasco
Isner d. Nishikori
Cilic d. Gasquet
Wawrinka d. Goffin
Raonic d. del Potro
Murray d. Monfils

=QF=
Djokovic d. Thiem
Isner d. Dimitrov
Wawrinka d. Cilic
Raonic d. Murray

=SF=
Djokovic d. Isner
Raonic d. Wawrinka

=FINAL=
Djokovic d. Raonic




Before I go, here's ATP Backspin's Galileo West with his take on the women's and men's draws:


=ROUND OF SIXTEEN PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #24 Pavlyuchenkova
#10 V.Williams d. #5 Halep
#3 A.Radwanska d. #16 Kuznetsova
#8 Kvitova d. #23 Keys
#7 Bencic d. #17 Svitolina
#13 Azarenka d. #4 Muguruza
#6 Suarez-Navarro d. #21 Stephens
#2 Kerber d. #18 Ka.Pliskova

...Serena is back and while she may be in questionable form, she is always the percentage play. Mladenovic will trouble her a little but she won’t drop a set until the semi-finals. I trust A-Pavs a tad more than Errani. This draw is a great chance for the Russian to continue her rise. Peng returns here, too. I love a sentimental pick and Venus returning, combined with a soft draw, are too much for me to resist. Petkovic and Makarova are both dangerous but Halep will grind to the quarters, where Venus comes through against the inconsistent 5th seed. Cibulkova is back and could run right into Radwanska. Aga will be fine with this draw, though. Her opponent is either Sveta or JJ and I’m a sucker for an ambitious Sveta pick. This has been well documented and it continues. Hey, at least I’m going with seedings. Neither Keys nor Safarova look like going on a run, but home support could be a vital factor.

Kvitova should be good enough to outmuscle the other big-hitters here. Lisicki looks dangerous, but we aren’t on grass here. Bencic’s form will continue here. Gavrilova and Robson will be dangerous. Svitolina will get past Vinci but no further. Garcia versus Mchale is a great first round. This quarter is crazy. Azarenka, Wozniacki, Stosur and Muguruza. Azarenka is going to explode at several events this year. Could this be one of them? Bouchard and Pironkova lurk here, and Timea is there for the taking. I choose to put faith in Stephens, though not enough that I think she’ll beat CSN. Goerges versus Giorgi will involve fireworks in the bottom quarter. Pliskova over Ivanovic seems a new brainer and Kerber is Kerber. But she's still looking for her for first tour win since she won in Melbourne.

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #10 V.Williams
#3 A.Radwanska d. #8 Kvitova
#13 Azarenka d. #7 Bencic
#2 Kerber d. #6 Suarez-Navarro

...Venus could take a set, but that’s the only question mark in this match. Serena has stopped Venus a lot recently, especially when the elder Williams was just getting hot. Radwanska struggles mightily against Kvitova, but Petra is so inconsistent that she isn’t a reliable semi-final pick at all. Aga will get to the semi-finals unless Petra can find consistency. I’ve picked Azarenka and now I have to roll with it. If she gets going, she’s going to do really well. But can she get it going? And Kerber has had the Spaniard’s number this year.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #3 A.Radwanska
#13 Azarenka d. #2 Halep

...Predictable again, I’m afraid. Williams will tear Radwanska apart again. What else is new? Radwanska has no weapons whatsoever. She’s using pistols to try and kill the Terminator. And Azarenka has a 6-1 head-to-head advantage over the German. She lost the last match, but she will win this one.

=FINAL PREDICTION=
#1 S.Williams d. #13 Azarenka

...I don’t think I need to say much here. Williams is just too efficient in finals for the Belarusian.


=DOUBLES SEMIFINALS=
Hingis/Mirza d. Garcia/Mladenovic
Chan/Chan d. Babos/Shvedova

=DOUBLES FINALS=
Hingis/Mirza d. Chan/Chan

...losing just a single set all tournament.


Now, the men:

=ROUND OF SIXTEEN PREDICTIONS=
#1 Djokovic d. #14 Bautista-Agut
#11 Thiem d. #7 Tsonga
#16 Simon d. #4 Nadal
#9 Isner d. #5 Nishikori
#8 Gasquet d. Mayer
#3 Wawrinka d. #15 Goffin
#6 Bedych d. #12 Raonic
#2 Murray d. #24 Kyrgios

...Youzhny and Gulbis lurk. Could it be the Russian’s last trip here? Nothing to fear here for Novak, but the Spaniard Agut has shown a knack for reaching his seeding. Sock and Querrey will be dangerous with home support and seeding protection, but Thiem is on a roll right now. Tsonga is neither here nor there, unless Gasquet is by his side. Zverev and Verdasco are dangerous here, but Simon is too consistent not to make it. Dimitrov hasn’t shown enough thus far. And Nadal is not a top ten player right now, but he is still Nadal. Anything could happen.
This is one of the tournaments where Isner always shows up. Put that with a home crowd and a recent win away in the Davis Cup and he’s dangerous. Paire is here, too, but picking him is impossible. Kei will make the fourth easily.

Dolgopolov, Troicki and Cilic are the other seeds in this quarter. Enough said. Kyle Edmund could make a run here and so could Fritz, but I think the seeds hold firm. Berdych has Del Potro, then Bellucci or Coric. Then he has Raonic. And then he has Murray. Not fun at all. Almagro is hanging around, too, in this loaded quarter. Murray will be fine. But how does one predict Kyrgios versus Monfils? I think on the big stage Kyrgios is king. He will make it to the fourth round, despite hitting on the Mayor’s wife, robbing a bank and donating his stolen money to the poor. Throw in some aces, as well. And a profanity that causes the commentators to say ‘sorry if you heard that.’

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Djokovic d. #11 Thiem
#9 Isner d. #16 Simon
#3 Wawrinka d. #8 Gasquet
#2 Murray d. #6 Berdych

...One day Thiem will beat Djokovic. But I suspect it won’t be any time this year. However, this does bring back memories from when Djokovic lost to Haas in the desert a few years back. If or when Nadal loses, the draw opens up. If Isner goes on a run, he is going to beat whoever comes out of that quarter. For Ritchie there will be no Wimbledon magic this time round. If Stan is going on this kind of a roll, he’s going to get past Gasquet. This could still be the match of the tournament. Berdych never beats Andy, plus he has a difficult draw. Expect a breaker but Murray to win.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Djokovic d. #9 Isner
#3 Wawrinka d. #2 Murray

...Isner could upset Djokovic again, but he is not the percentage pick here. He may well take a set but the Djoker will have the last word. I cannot stand the thought of another Murray versus Djokovic final. Blrgh. Boring, predictable and unwatchable. So let’s hope Stan pulls it out.

=FINAL PREDICTION=
#1 Djokovic d. #3 Wawrinka

...Novak will win this tournament barring injury or a freak occurrence. But this should be an entertaining romp nonetheless. Look for the up-the-line backhand from Wawrinka to be key again. Also watch out for the Djokovic serve to the Wawrinka forehand, particularly down the ‘t.’


And I’m out. Thanks all. See you soon!


All for now.

26 Comments:

Blogger Diane said...

What you said.

And bravo to you for saying it. I dread going to the gym today because, at this point, I don't want to talk about it, but others may not go along with that.

Wed Mar 09, 12:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks. ;)

I waited a while to let it stew before getting into it so that I could at least try to throw as such of it into a pot at one time as I could while still trying to include the basics. I really don't want to have to continually go back to the story.

Yeah... thankfully, there's a pretty big tournament to play. SOME people might actually choose to cover it. The rest of us will at least have something new to pay attention to.

Wed Mar 09, 01:16:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo Sutherland-west said...

Great post Todd, reflecting my thoughts exactly. Classily handled by Sharapova who nipped this in the bud. It's being played on her terms now. It's none of Serena's business but she responded tactfully when asked. I wonder if when Serena calls it quits we'll still pick the same winner for tournaments? I wonder, too, when I will lose faith in Azarenka ;) [Incidentally, we picked the top half almost identically.]

Wed Mar 09, 10:04:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

I get what you're saying regarding the event overshadowing actual tennis... but at the same time, this *is* a newsworthy event. Not the speculative articles and character assassinations, but the fact that it happened...and the many impacts that the event has (on Maria, on her sponsors, on her team, on not only Russian tennis, but Russian sports; on the Olympics; on the rules; on the tour/peers; prior titles??; etc.). I mean we're talking about *the name/brand/face* that ppl hold as the standard in women's sport.

It's not a non-story...ala tennis australia and USTA forgetting what surface they decided 100 years ago; and how players who play Davis Cup are saints who sacrificed their first born to play the event. Even match fixing wasn't that newsworthy since no hard facts were presented or players named.

However, you would think that tennis media would try to focus on other things since other media will be aggressively attacking the sport.

----------------------

So is Chris Evert the only "tennis great" that went through her career without scandal? Or was Chris and Jimmy's breakup considered very scandalous? Or something else?

----------------------

It's amazing how much Maria has grown on me. I didn't recognize her greatness when I was younger. She wasn't the most athletic and she didn't play creatively so I kind of underestimated her.

But her coming back from injury really made me appreciate and recognize her greatness. I just remember watching her slog through 3-setter after 3-setter with no serve. Prior to that, I thought that she got lucky against "better" players...but watching her do that repeatedly and then coming out on top, she really won me over.

And as I grew older, I also started to recognize other things about her that made her great -- primarily her professionalism -- and my respect for her increased. She and I are only a few weeks apart in age, and as I made mistakes in life, I realized that she hadn't/didn't...it made me appreciate her other skills.

I still feel a bit funny about her PR announcement since I think it was a message crafted by her team, the tour, and her sponsors...but I *do* hope she gets a reduced sentence so that she can continue to play and compete. It's fun to watch her compete.

Only she could have so much clout -- she can move markets -- and that just speaks to her greatness. Who else can do that?

Wed Mar 09, 10:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

You know another thing that I found interesting out of this whole story was that the sponsors might save money because Sharapova won't be able to meet playing minimums. Everyone else probably already knew that, but that's a detail I did not know about. So when the commentators ask why do ppl play injured or why are ppl always injured...well that's a huge cause. Of course they'll play when it's not just prize money that's at stake but much bigger pools of endorsement revenue.

Wed Mar 09, 10:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, my point really wasn't that the Sharapova story was overshadowing the I.W. event, just that the actual tournament provided a respite from the overanalysis of an obviously "newsworthy" story in a sport that the general media bends over backward to avoid actually covering unless a salacious spin of some kind can be put on the coverage.

This particular situation allows the coverage to be especially lazy, really. A star, drugs, a looming suspension, a former #1-ranked player turned crackpot (not just on this story -- JC's twitter feed was a disaster area long before the last few days). The only thing missing was a sex scandal angle and ALL the bases would be covered.

It just brings out the worst in everyone. (And sometimes proves the classiness of others: see Kuznetsova's recent tweet.)

In truth, the next newsworthy beat in this story will only come when the sanctions are announced, and even then it'll probably only be the first step in THAT process.

I suspect that if things had been different in terms of media and how things were covered back then, Evert would have had a few more instances of "interest" since she's often joked in recent years about how she wasn't nearly the "innocent angel" that she was portrayed to be back then. ;)

Hmmm, interestingly enough, though of course I always liked to point out much of the hypocrisy in her coverage by the sports media at the time, I'd say that Clijsters got through pretty much unscathed in her career.

Wed Mar 09, 10:47:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

"I'm the kind of person who is looking after perfection all the time, which doesn't exist for sure. But I see it as a good thing that there's something not complete in my career, so I can accept that. I gave everything I had in my career."

This is SUCH a Henin comment. :) She's so deep.

Wed Mar 09, 10:48:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

G-
It'll be a WHOLE NEW WORLD is so many respects when Serena is no longer in the mix. It'll almost be like a whole new sport, it seems.

Of course, the vacuum will also allow the chance for other new players to become real stars.

Still, you sort of wonder if it might take a few Serena-less seasons before someone could get big enough to even partially fill that void.

Wed Mar 09, 10:51:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

E-
I'm thinking rather than a second Henin Day (her birthday is the first) this year, it might just have to be more like an Henin Week.

But maybe I'm just in an overcompensating mood at the moment! :D

Wed Mar 09, 10:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

T-
You might as well make LPT Backspin POY, too! :)

Have a good night!

Wed Mar 09, 11:03:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo Sutherland-west said...

Eric- I really hope you and I are still around when Henin's children dominate. Todd will finally, finally be able to wax lyrical about a Henin again [ditto me for Fed's kids]

Also, if Svitolina wins a slam then Henin will be the angle. On that note, can we have Clijsters coaching someone please. Bouchard could be interesting.

Wed Mar 09, 11:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Did you all notice: S Hsieh / S Peng (TPE/CHN) in the Indian Wells draw?

Maybe there's hope for Errani/Vinci yet... I figured they would have paired up again by now for the Olys...

And what is up with Townsend and Vekic...they both make it through qualifying to lose winnable first rounders...

Fri Mar 11, 03:32:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Eric--also, Jans & Rosolska together again in IW

Fri Mar 11, 10:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

E-
Well, at least in Townsend's case, she'd actually had to win eight matches just to reach that 1st Rounder. First, in the pre-qualifying event, then in the actual qualifying. I think she sort of finally ran out of gas. But it's still a great result for her after a year+ of very few bright moments.

Fri Mar 11, 04:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Karen Williams said...

To say I am disappointed by the stance you have taken Todd is putting it mildly. I don't really care that the drug that Sharapova had been taking for 10 years and was considered legal, it is the fact that the drug is now illegal, she was warned 5 times that this is going to happen and she basically ignored every warning. That is privilege beyond measure. You say that you love this sport. Really? You love this sport so much that you could not be bothered to read the wallet cards provided to you by the Tour or the 4 other notices that were sent out by both WADA and the ITF?

I hold no brief for Ms. Sharapova, however, as more and more information is obtained, one can't help but think that the sentiment amongst the players right now is that Sharapova was a doper. She has brought women's tennis into the spotlight in the most negative way imaginable. She was one of the star faces of women's tennis and she has damaged it. We can all spin it any way we like but the fact remains that if this had been Serena (and we have all seen how the media and commentators reacted when she had a cut on her foot & when she had that episode at Wimbledon), there would have been calls for her to be stripped of all her titles.

People will never admit that but I have been writing about this sport long enough to know that right now Ms. Sharapova is being treated differently than any other athlete who has been caught doping. We have to look no further than Odesnik, Cilic, Troicki & Strycova.

As tennis fans we owe a duty of care to our sport. We need to take a stand when our sport is being damaged, whether from outside forces or by the very players who we pay to watch play this sport. Sharapova's doping offence should be condemned by all reasonable tennis fans because her excuse does not hold water.

Fri Mar 11, 04:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Strycova had a doping incident?

Venus's moment brought tears to my eyes!! (I know I'm too sappy!) She should have gotten the night match!

Fri Mar 11, 10:38:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

So many seeds lost today :/

Vandeweghe / Mattek-Sands seems like a really compatible team. They're both such jocks. The other teams won't be able to handle so much confidence and swagger coming from the other side of the court.

Fri Mar 11, 10:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Vania is playing with a lot more spin and power. Her racket face also looks huge. I don't think she's used to her new play style...and the desert conditions are making the balls fly...

So many errors.

Fri Mar 11, 11:24:00 PM EST  
Blogger Karen Williams said...

Yes Strycova had a doping violation for weight loss tablets.

A final thought on Sharapova's privilege is her so called letter to fans today in which she basically implied that unlike other players she did not hide her doping offence behind an injury excuse.

Yeah,so much for loving the sport

Sat Mar 12, 12:37:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree, Karen. As I noted, my stance on so-called “banned” substances is pretty clear, and in my eyes it’s even less of an issue -- no issue at all, actually -- when it comes to a period of time when the drug in question wasn’t even on the condemned list.

That said, as I noted, the rules are the rules and she tested positive for a currently banned substance and must/will be suspended because to do otherwise would be unfair to any other player -- both before or after this incident -- who faces the same or a similar situation. Whatever the specifics of the Sharapova case, and who bears the most responsibility for the lack of action taken with an upcoming test looming, not to mention the debatable aspects of whether the drug should have even been banned in the first place (its inventor doesn’t believe so), that situation is one that should not and, one would hope, would not have even happened had someone, including Sharapova herself, taken their necessary responsibility seriously enough in the closing weeks of 2015. This was an entirely avoidable “scandal.”

I will say that I totally agree with you on one thing -- that if Serena were at the center of this same story she’d most definitely be experiencing an ever bigger blowback and likely far, far more ridiculous and absurd attacks and accusations would have occurred. That would have been a story that would have given birth to a situation with even more ugly undertones, for the sport and everything else... and I would have written essentially the exact same opinion (even stronger, actually), only with the defense being on Serena’s side. Honestly, I don’t even want to speculate on how bad that would have been, just because of the overload of naked bigotry it would have dragged out into the light. And we’ve surely got enough of that going on at the moment away from the sports world as it is.

Because of that, in an odd way, it’s better that Sharapova was placed in this situation than Serena, for everyone involved. Surely, Sharapova being involved in this case has and will be handled differently just because she’s a monstrously larger figure in the sport than any of the players you mentioned. In this case, Sharapova’s fame cuts both ways. On one hand, the amount of attention on the case in no way compares to the others (as many likely barely even know of those cases, as Eric noted there about Strycova, who I mentioned in the post). On the other hand, she still may well escape a long suspension for the same reason (though, we’ll have to see about that). As far as sponsors go, there is a certain “goodwill” in many corners -- though obviously not as many as she might have thought, especially from longtime backers -- that Sharapova has developed over the years that very well might provide better cover at some point, once the initial furor dies down, that others (including Serena, unfortunately) probably wouldn’t enjoy.

All I can say for some players who express anger/accusation toward Sharapova (including people like Nadal and Murray, to a some degree, and most assuredly Mladenovic) is that I hope they never get tripped up by a test -- even over something that they may have accidentally ingested in an otherwise seemingly innocuous product or prescribed medication -- because by taking a rock solid and glaringly accusatory stance in this case they will have no reason to expect anyone to give them an ounce of benefit of the doubt later.

Sat Mar 12, 12:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I want to add to what Todd said: Yes, if it were Serena, there would be the ugliest of racism, but there is already bigotry now--many of the attacks on Sharapova have to do with her being female (attacks on her appearance and persona, plus name-calling, that would never be applied to a man). Mostly, though, what disturbs me is that by making this about "what if it were any other player?" Sharapova is cast as an object of projection, and is robbed of her humanity.

Also, the cries of how delicately she's being handled would be amusing if they weren't so far from reality. Her main sponsors dumped her without hesitation. So-called journalists--using totally erraneous information (as they always do)--have casually slimed her or even attacked her. Commentators have been especially vicious, and have also reported distorted "information."

I was one of the people (Todd was another) who write about tennis who stood by Serena during the U.S. Open disaster, though I didn't say everything I wanted to say because I didn't think it was my place to comment on aspects that I believe Serena didn't want discussed in public. Then also, I was appalled not only by the (double) bigotry, but also by the total disregard for fact (on both "sides"). When these things happen, we see how irresponsible "journalists" are, how filled with vitriol commentators are, and how quickly people grasp onto to anything that supports their psychosocial agenda.

Finally, banning a long-used substance that affects Eastern Europeans (the great majority of them Russian) right before the Olympics--with 99 positive tests so far--is a subject that should be of interest, but apparently isn't.

(Theoretically, if Sharapova could get a retroactive TUE, she would not be suspended. Retroactive TUEs have been granted in the past. I doubt, of course, that this will be the case, nor am I advocating that it should be because I don't pretend to have all the facts.)

Sat Mar 12, 12:12:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Sam Sumyk is dangerously close to strike 3...

- strike 1: leaving azarenka
- strike 2: bouchard's sophomore slump
- strike 3: mugu...

Sat Mar 12, 07:14:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

At least he had Vera :) I miss her, too.

Sat Mar 12, 07:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger Karen Williams said...

Todd and Diane, you know I love you guys with all my heart and I credit both of you with piquing my interest in players that I would otherwise have ignored. As such, I have to agree with Todd when he says we will have to agree to disagree on this issue.

Tue Mar 15, 08:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hey, Karen. Well, friends can't always agree on everything, right? (That wouldn't be very interesting anyway, I guess.) I'm sure we'll line up perfectly on a different issue soon. ;)

Tue Mar 15, 10:51:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

All respect from this end, too :)

Fri Mar 18, 05:33:00 PM EDT  

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