On Wednesday, Open Court (CNN’s monthly tennis show which runs videos, news stories and features) published a story penned by Chris Murphy entitled ‘Down and out: The man who rescued Serena Williams.’ With a title like that, you know what you’re getting into – yet another piece of journalism that gives Patrick Mouratoglou too much credit for Serena Williams’ WTA dominance over the past 18 months.
There are just so many things wrong with this – not just this piece, but this entire narrative.
First, the piece itself. With his words, Murphy doesn’t portray himself as that knowledgeable about the last two years of Serena’s career. In his lead, he completely glosses over her pulmonary embolism and subsequent comeback in 2011. Instead, he chooses to use this blanket statement:
After an injury-blighted few seasons that saw her sink to 175 in the world rankings, Williams had hit one of the biggest troughs in her career.
‘Injury-blighted seasons’? Perhaps the understatement of the year.
Secondly, Serena wasn’t ranked 175 when she started working with Mouratoglou. She fell to that ranking when her Wimbledon points came off in 2011 – right after she began her comeback. She was technically on a 16-match winning streak coming into Roland Garros in 2012. She won Charleston and Madrid, as well as two matches in Fed Cup, before giving Li Na a walkover (not an official loss) in the semifinals in Rome. She came into Roland Garros ranked No. 5 and was the overwhelming favorite.
She had already gotten herself back in the top 5 before they were introduced. I wouldn’t necessarily call that ‘one of the biggest troughs in her career.’
Sure, her loss to Virginie Razzano in the first round was shocking, unprecedented and any other number of similar adjectives you’d like to call it. Apart from Roland Garros, her clay court season in 2012 was pretty immaculate. Against Razzano, she was in a dominating position and let it slip. These things happen.
Nonetheless, that match is what people remember, and that’s what gives birth to this story.
I’m not going to single out Chris Murphy for doing his job. He’s not the only person writing about this. As a result, I’d really like to know where the narrative came from in general. To say that she was languishing without big, strong Patrick guiding her is just ridiculous. She’s Serena Williams. She won a hell of a lot without him on her team, and she’d probably be doing the same without him there.
Oddly enough, it might actually be Serena herself who unknowingly contributes to it.
“For me to lose in Paris was really disappointing; I was really shattered. I didn’t leave my house for two days,” Serena told Open Court in this feature video. “I was just in a bad place, and it got darker and worse and worse.”
We all know about Serena’s tendency to over-exaggerate and even be a touch melodramatic. It seems as though her comments about that match and what transpired after it are always taken at face value. Should we really be expected to believe that a woman, who has come back successfully from multiple injuries; showed strength in overcoming the murder of her sister; survived said pulmonary embolism; and defied the odds in achieving success in general, had that much trouble moving on from losing one tennis match?
That leads me to the other issue I have with this piece: the use of the word ‘rescue.’ Would anyone ever say that Paul Annacone ‘rescued’ Roger Federer in bringing him back to No. 1 and to the Wimbledon title in 2012? Of course not. In what is now the twilight of his career, Federer would be appreciated for the champion that he is and how he found a way to make those things possible. Why can’t people say the same about Serena? She overcame adversity. Things like this are what the WTA’s ‘Strong is Beautiful’ campaign should really be about.
Mouratoglou is just a support figure for her both on (and off) the court, if you like to believe the gossip and rumors. It would be false to say that he hasn’t been a positive addition to team Williams, but that’s about it. Prior to joining her team, Mouratoglou and his team were more well-known for their failed coaching experiments; players including Laura Robson, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Yanina Wickmayer and Grigor Dimitrov all suffered up-and-down results while working with the Mouratoglou academy.
What has he actually done for her game? It’s been said that she’s added more spin to her forehand under his tutelage, but close observation makes me think that has been slowly evolving for a while. It’s also been said that she’s improved her movement and footwork; she’s always had these things, but also had a tendency to get lazy. She’s a champion, and champions are always tinkering with and improving their games.
If you follow Patrick on Twitter (@pmouratoglou), you can tell how much he enjoys the publicity. He’s constantly sharing links to these stories and features written about his relationship with Serena as well as telling the world how #proud he is of her after every victory. You just don’t see other coaches publicly reveling this much in their charge’s success.
He was in the right place at the right time. Just because their partnership resulted from an (im)perfect storm, doesn’t mean he ‘rescued’ her from the precipice of falling into oblivion. She’s Serena Williams, and a player of her caliber can make any coach look good.
Bernard Tomic is back at it, kids. Photos from Tomic’s 21st birthday extravaganza have hit the internet. Tomic, whose birthday is actually on Oct. 21, presumably waited until his holiday to celebrate reaching this milestone at the Gold Coast-area night club Sin City. A fitting place for the Australian to celebrate his passage into adulthood, considering he also is the proud owner of a yellow Ferrari with the license plate S1NC1TY.
The discovery of the photos comes just 24 hours after Lleyton Hewitt challenged Tomic to step up on the ATP Tour.
“He has his ups and downs throughout the year in terms of his results and he seems to get on a run for three or four weeks and then has three or four average losses for him. Bernard is obviously the next best player…he’s got to make the next transition now from 50 in the world to top 20 and hopefully top 10 and be a potential grand slam winner.”
After winning his first career title in Sydney in January and reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon, Tomic’s 2013 took a turn for the worse. On the court, he did not pass the second round in any of the ATP Masters 1000 events, lost his last five main draw matches and ended the year ranked No. 51. His controversial father and coach, John Tomic, was convicted of assaulting Bernard’s then-hitting partner Thomas Drouet in Madrid in May. The ATP banned the elder Tomic from all events in 2013 and will decide whether to lift the ban in May. He is also barred from entering the 2014 Australian Open.
Tomic has crafted quite the reputation for himself off the court in his young career, from standoffs with the police, traffic violations and….naked rooftop wrestling. On the court, he’s had his commitment questioned; the brothers McEnroe accused him of ‘tanking’ against Andy Roddick at the US Open in 2012, and Australian Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter called him ‘disgraceful’ during the period of their dispute.
179 photos will live in infamy on the internet forever courtesy of the nightclub’s website. They feature Tomic in varying stages of undress receiving lap dances from some women (who are, oddly enough, fully clothed) and posing with an oversized bottle of Belvedere vodka.
Here’s the thing. Is anyone really in the position to condemn him for going out and doing something stupid on his 21st birthday? Probably not. However, because it’s Bernard Tomic, it matters. Last year on Tomic’s birthday, a fight erupted between him and a friend which needed to be broken up by police.
Maybe next year, his friends can just buy him a cake.
With Victor Troicki suspended and Janko Tipsarevic still injured, it’ll be World No. 117 Dusan Lajovic who will be playing second-fiddle to Novak Djokovic when Serbia takes on the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup finals in Belgrade this weekend.
You’d be excused if you didn’t know who Lajovic was before today. I didn’t, and Zimbio certainly didn’t. With that said, we’re living in the digital age and are blessed with the gift of the internet. The combination of those things have led to this.
Five Things You (Also) Probably Didn’t Know About Dusan Lajovic
1) His ATP bio says that he started playing tennis “by accident” because tennis was the only sport available for his age group. If he wasn’t a tennis player, he’d be a soccer player. Totally shocking. His goal is to win a grand slam (Wimbledon), but his favorite surface is hard courts. Go figure.
2) He was a member of the class of 2012 at ATP University, which exists to educate players about…well, the ATP. (Duh.) Topics covered include rules and officiating, giving back, one-on-one media training, marketing the tour, nutrition and personal finances. He was even quoted in the press release!
“I enjoyed learning more about the rules and the relationship between players and the ATP, that the ATP is here for us and by giving our opinions we can make improvements. It’s a valuable program. We have been playing tournaments for so long but I didn’t know what the organization could offer to me and what I can offer to it.”
3) His Twitter handle is pretty boss. @Dutzee, as he’s known on the site, apparently stems from a childhood nickname. A cursory glance reveals he likes mangos, watching TV and USA Network’s Suits. No word on if he likes to eat mangos while watching Suits.
4) He hangs out with Redfoo. (Who doesn’t at this point, really?)
5) You can watch his only ATP-level win in the past 18 months in its entirety on YouTube. What a time to be alive.
He owns a 5-12 career record at ATP level, but is 35-16 in Challenger events this year and has won a title. He won’t be making his Davis Cup debut, as that came last year against Sweden. (Do I really need to say that playing FILIP PRPIC in a dead fifth rubber is an entirely different animal than playing Tomas Berdych in front of a sold-out crowd of his home fans? IN THE FINALS?)
I didn’t think so, but I’m glad we got that out of the way. (It totally is.)
Lajovic will take on Berdych in the often-critical second singles rubber on Friday, following Djokovic vs. Radek Stepanek. No pressure, right?
Filed under: WTA
When Simona Halep defeated Samantha Stosur 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 for her sixth title of the year at the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria, she closed the books on the 2013 WTA season. As the WTA heads into 2014, it will be missing two faces who became familiar to tennis fans over the past two decades despite never picking up a racket. Chair umpire Kerrilyn Cramer, who was honored by the WTA for her service post-match in Sofia, joined colleague Lynn Welch, who retired in April, in hanging up her khakis.
In a sport which boasts many larger-than-life personalities, its officials typically are the opposite. Possibly the most thankless position in all officiating in professional sports, tennis umpires put up with a lot. When forced to make a decision which puts them into the spotlight, they open themselves to criticism even when this decision is correct. The goal of most is to do their job, do it well and get on and off court without being noticed too much. While this may be true, if someone does her job well enough for long enough, she deserves to be recognized. Cramer and Welch spent decades doing just that.
During her 22-year career, Welch chaired five US Open singles finals, 12 major finals in total and the WTA Championships final in 2009. She worked hundreds of WTA events and 60 grand slams in total. She was the only American woman to hold a gold badge, the highest level an umpire can achieve, at the time of her retirement. She first attained that status in 2003.
Due to her no-nonsense attitude and distinctive voice, she developed a cult following of sorts, which gave birth to perhaps the most legendary video of all time.
Cramer, an Australian, began her officiating career as a hobby in 1988. After becoming a full-time official in 2001, she was promoted to gold badge status in 2008. She chaired the women’s singles final at her home major three times: in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Cramer had the distinction of being in the chair for two notable historical moments in women’s tennis. In 2006, she was a part of the longest tiebreak in WTA Open Era history. (The record still stands.) Nicole Pratt and Bryanne Stewart defeated Rennae Stubbs and Corina Morariu 7-6(5), 7-6(20) in the first round of the Bausch and Lomb Championships in Amelia Island.
“I’m just glad I was scoring in English. I can’t go past 12 in any other language,” she said after the match.
In addition, Cramer was the chair umpire for the third round match between Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo at Wimbledon in 2009, the first match played under the retractable roof on Centre Court.
With a combined 38 years of officiating experience, Welch and Cramer rose to the top of a profession where women once rarely found themselves. Georgina Clark was the first woman to umpire a grand slam final at Wimbledon in 1984, but the two were members of a gold badge officiating crew that consisted of just eight women to 20 men in 2013. With their retirement, that number is now down to six.
Thanks for your service, ladies. You’ll be missed.
In August of 2008, a little more than two months before Russia won the last of its four Fed Cup titles, there were six Russian women gracing the top 10: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Anna Chakvetadze and Vera Zvonareva. With a total of 15 players inhabiting the top 100, Russia was far and away the top power in women’s tennis.
In 2013, Russia is back in the Fed Cup final and looking for its first title since Kuznetsova, Zvonareva, Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova brought home team glory in 2008.
Five years later, they can’t even get a top 100 player to play.
The Russians, who’ve typically been spoiled by an incredibly deep bench for team events, remain scrounging around for four players to oppose the Italians in the 2013 Fed Cup final. The deadline for official team nominations is 10 days before the tie begins. With the final set to begin on Nov. 2, that leaves Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev less than two days to find himself a team. However, lineup changes can be made up to an hour before the draw is made on Friday, Nov. 1.
It’s an embarrassing fall from grace for a nation that was on top of the world just a half-decade ago.
Five years ago, the Russians boasted six players in the top 10. Currently, there are just six players in the top 100.
Maria Sharapova, who rarely features on the Russian squad in the team event, was ruled out early. The World No. 2 ended her season in August due to a shoulder injury.
The snowball got rolling on Oct. 8, when Vesnina told Russian news outlet Championat that she will not participate in the Fed Cup final. Instead, Vesnina has chosen to participate in the WTA’s Tournament of Champions in Sofia, held the same week. Vesnina qualified for the event on the back of her first career title, the International-level event in Hobart. She also added a Premier level title in Eastbourne in 2013.
Unfortunately, I cannot play in the Fed Cup final. It is the first time I have qualified for the Tournament of Champions in Sofia and plan to take part in it. For seven years, I have always given priority to the team and put it first…I have the opportunity to go to this prestigious tournament and finish the year in the top 20, and would very much like to achieve this…In our country, there are still players who can play. (original in Russian)
Makarova, Vesnina’s doubles partner, has been suffering from a wrist injury since a quarterfinal showing at the US Open. The pair is scheduled to compete this week in the doubles event at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, but numerous question marks surround the lefty and her health.
Maria Kirilenko, the Russian No. 2, is also on the entry list in Sofia courtesy of a title earlier this year in Pattaya City. Kirilenko participated in Russia’s first two Fed Cup ties this year, and played a key role in getting her country to the final. Kuznetsova reportedly turned down an invitation to play and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova confirmed to Vladas Lasitskas of sport-express.ru that she would be joining Kirilenko and Vesnina in Sofia.
With his top six otherwise occupied, Tarpischev may be forced to go outside the top 100 to find willing and able bodies.
Off of a quarterfinal showing at the Kremlin Cup as a wildcard, former top 20 player Alisa Kleybanova moved up 68 spots in the rankings to No. 186. Kleybanova, who missed most of the last two years recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has offered up her services to her country if necessary.
Speculation that a team consisting of Kleybanova, Daria Gavrilova, Margarita Gasparyan and Irina Khromacheva (combined ranking: 863) ran rampant on social media Monday. However, Gavrilova appeared to put the rumors, at least of her participation, to rest.
No. I'm not playing Fed Cup. I wasn't even considered as a national team player before Kremlin Cup.—
Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) October 21, 2013
In a later series of tweets, the 2010 ITF Junior World Champion blasted the Russian federation regarding the treatment she’s received from them in her transition to the professional circuit.
Although,if Russian federation was interested in my professional progress, I think they could try n help me n award me with a WC for KK.—
Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) October 21, 2013
For the record, Anastasia Bukhanko has played a total of four professional tennis matches in her career. Gavrilova received a main draw wildcard to the Kremlin Cup in Moscow in 2010, where she lost her WTA singles debut to Alona Bondarenko.
She hasn’t received one since.
Adding insult to injury? Following Sharapova’s withdrawal from the WTA Championships, no Russian woman will compete for the season-ending crown for the first time since 1997. For a country that held a vice grip on the WTA top 10 just five years ago, the odds are looking likely that they might not have a top 100 player suit up to fight for the only team trophy in tennis.
How times have changed.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, Tarpischev named his team for the final. Kleybanova, Khromacheva, Gasparyan and Alexandra Panova. The quartet has a combined singles ranking of 872.
Filed under: WTA
As far as professional athletes go, doubles specialists in tennis have it rough. Their craft is under-appreciated and unrecognized. For all the incessant noise regarding prize money in tennis, little of it has ever been targeted at raising prize money in doubles; a first round loser in singles at Wimbledon this year took home £23,500, while a first-round doubles loser only pocketed £7,750.
While a handful of doubles specialists are instantly recognizable, even the biggest tennis fanatics might have difficulty recognizing Sandra Klemenschits. By the numbers, the 30-year-old Austrian is little more than a journey woman; despite having won 39 doubles titles on the ITF Circuit, she had little success on the main tour. When she and partner Andreja Klepac triumphed in Bad Gastein on Sunday, the first WTA title for each woman, few batted an eye. For most 30-year-old players, their first title might be their biggest accomplishment to date. Not Sandra Klemenschits.
In January 2007, Sandra and her identical twin sister Daniela were both diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the stomach, a rare form of the cancer. The Klemenschits sisters had great success on the ITF Circuit, winning 20 titles together. In their brief time on the WTA, the sisters were runners-up at Istanbul in 2005 and reached the semifinals at Stockholm and Budapest later that year. They had never played in a grand slam main draw as a team and were forced to retire from professional tennis to focus all of their efforts on fighting their illness. However, the twins and their family had difficulty paying for their treatment, as their expenses were reported at $4,000 a month; to help, the WTA came together with the ATP and raised approximately $70,000 USD for the twins via player donations and a charity auction.
“It is great to witness players from both the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and ATP rallying to support the Klemenschits twins,” said Larry Scott, then-CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. “We wish the sisters the absolute best and hope to see them back on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour very soon.”
Tragically, Daniela’s cancer was more advanced than her sister’s and she passed away on April 9, 2008. After being pronounced cancer-free, Sandra made a return to professional tennis in July 2008. She won a title on the ITF Circuit that year, before going on to win 17 more between 2009 and 2012. In 2009, Sandra played her first grand slam in doubles; she partnered Aravane Rezai and the team lost to the fifth-seeded pair of Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama at the US Open. In 2011, she made her debut at Roland Garros and Wimbledon; that same year, Sandra made her first WTA final since her sister’s passing in Fes. However, she and partner Nina Bratchikova came up short against Renata Vorcova and Andrea Hlavackova.
2013 has been a career year for Klemenschits. She won the first grand slam match of her career at Wimbledon, also partnering Klepac. The pair also made the quarterfinals in Nurnberg and the semifinals in Budapest after they added her biggest title to date at a $100,000 ITF event in Marseille in June. In Bad Gastein, that all changed. The pair dropped a set in the opening round but didn’t lose one the rest of the way; their run that also included an upset of the third seeded team, Raluca Olaru and Valeria Solovyeva, in the second round. 280 ranking points more than halved Klemenschits’ ranking; she came into Bad Gastein ranked 181 and left at 77, a new career high. For Sandra, however, the win was much greater than a paycheck or a ranking.
“At match point, I was just thinking about Dani…After [she] died, I decided to never play tennis again, but then the tournament director of Bad Gastein offered me a wild card for doubles five years ago. It has been very difficult for me…to play tennis, since Daniela was my doubles partner for 15 years…You never know what tomorrow will bring…every day that you have, enjoy and live as if it were the last.” (Quote from Kleine Zeitung, in German)
After dropping her racket and tearfully embracing Klepac, Sandra looked up and pointed skyward. If you’d dare to guess, the Austrian sun wasn’t the only thing looking down on Sandra Klemenschits on Sunday morning.
Since Hawkeye was introduced in tennis in 2006, it has taken on an air on invincibility. How many times has a commentator erroneously proclaimed that a player should challenge, emphatically convinced from their position in the booth that the call is incorrect? As much as John McEnroe would hate to hear it, officials are more accurate than the punditry give them credit for. The technology? Not so much.
ITF rules state that any review system must be able to judge a ball in or out within a five millimeter margin of error (0.20 inches). Incorrect calls are fine, so long as they are not wrong by more than 10 millimeters (0.40 inches). Paul Hawkins, the godfather of Hawkeye technology, said that its margin of error of the current system averages about 3.6 millimeters (0.14 inches). The standard diameter of an ITF approved tennis ball is 67 millimeters; mathematically, Hawkeye has a 5% margin of error as it relates to the ball.
Hawkeye is not a live picture, nor is it accurate representation of the ball hitting the court. At its core, Hawkeye is an “officiating aid”; it is not meant to completely replace the role of on-court officials. It is nothing more than a digitally-generated representation of court conditions and where the ball landed based on its trajectory off the racket. It’s no coincidence that the marks on Hawkeye replays look very similar to each other, regardless of what type of shot is being challenged. On clay, the mark is an actual representation of the ball hitting the court. Each ball mark will look different based on what kind of shot was hit, whether it be a lob, overhead, etc. Occasionally, there is an argument about a ball mark or reading from the chair umpire, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t happen very often at all. One misinterpretation might be beaten to death, but it doesn’t actually mean it’s an epidemic. Even though the occasional ball mark will be misread by the umpire, the risk of that is statistically far lower than a margin of error of +/- 3.6 millimeters on every ball.
In a sense, implementing Hawkeye on clay would be ‘put up or shut up’ time for the technology and its manufacturers. The mark never lies and players, officials and fans can finally see for themselves how many calls were upheld or overturned when they really shouldn’t have been. Set the scene for the worst case scenario, and a very plausible one. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are playing in a Roland Garros final, late in the fifth set. Nadal’s shot is called out on a break point for Djokovic, and Nadal challenges. The technology rules the ball in, but there’s a clear mark showing that it is in fact out. There’s no evidence to suggest that the technology is more accurate than the mark, so what’s right? That might be an extreme example but a valid, and very real, concern. The chair umpire’s hands are tied and control over the match is more or less taken out of his or her hands. On the other side of the coin, the credibility of the technology as a whole take a hit. What happens then?
So why has Hawkeye passed the test for accuracy on hard and grass courts and not clay? Briefly, the ball does not leave a discernable mark that can be read on either of these surfaces. On a hard court, Hawkeye cuts down on arguments because players recognize that the mark there is not always the full representation of the ball. In addition, the lines are painted on both these surfaces; they’re flat, and allow for Hawkeye to gauge a more accurate reading. The lines on clay are not even. This is another one of the biggest reasons why Hawkeye on clay can’t work.
“We decided not to use Hawk-Eye on clay because it might not agree with the mark the umpire is pointing at,” now-retired chair umpire Lars Graf said in 2009. “Most clay courts now have embedded concrete lines that sit a millimetre above the surface. This means that a ball that nicks the line, and therefore is in, does not show up on the clay but would show up as ‘in’ on Hawk-Eye. That would cause a problem.”
The same goes for “Hawkeye” that’s in place for television replays. It’s not an official review and used for nothing more than the entertainment of the television viewing audience. If the technology hasn’t been authorized for official use on the surface, and its accuracy on the surface called into question, it’s irresponsible to even be showing these kind of replays.
If some kind of electronic review is to be implemented on clay, an entirely new system would need to be developed. While Hawkeye is a great tool, it has its flaws and has no place on clay in its current form. Reading ball marks on clay has nothing to do with the ‘purity of the game’ or ‘being stuck in the past.’ No one should be convinced that a Hawkeye replay is actually more accurate than reading a ball mark. Until the day comes that Hawkeye has zero margin of error, it won’t be. It’s simple math.
“As a player, you love Hawkeye,” Mike Bryan said earlier this week at Roland Garros. “You know that it’s right on.”
But is it?