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.
We now know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that this was completely
staged invented…actually, I really don’t know what to call it. Granted, much of this entire farce was put forth by Stephens herself, but Serena wasn’t totally innocent either.
”She’s like one of my really good friends,” Stephens said at the start of the year. “Everyone thinks she’s so mean, but she’s like the greatest person ever. We’re just young kids together. We never take anything too seriously.”
“I noticed Sloane I think years ago at TeamTennis maybe four years ago,” Serena said prior to their match in Melbourne. “I saw her in the locker room. She was another black girl. I was like, ‘Hey!’ That’s when I first noticed her. ‘What up, girl’?”
We never take anything too seriously. Oh?
After beating Bojana Jovanovski in a heated fourth round match in Australia, Stephens said that Serena told her “she should make more noise on-court” in her post match interview. We all know what happened next; Stephens defeated an injury hobbled Serena in three sets in the quarterfinals and quickly became the next media darling of American women’s tennis. Granted, since that match in Melbourne, Stephens is 2-8 while Serena is 15-1 with two titles.
Well, if Brisbane and Melbourne cracked the framework, then the perfect empire came crashing down on Friday when Stephens’ incredibly candid interview was released in ESPN: The Magazine. In it, the American #2…well, completely tears Serena a new one.
Some of the juiciest quotes are as follows:
“I’m annoyed, I’m over it,”she says of the Serena comparisons. I’ve always said Clijsters is my favorite player, so it’s kind of weird.” She attributes the media hype over her relationship to the star to “just being African American and they want to link to something.”
“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia…And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.”
Her mom tries to slow her down, but Sloane is insistent. “Like, seriously! People should know. They think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”
The interview peaks when Stephens recounts an incident from when she was 12, the first time she had seen Venus and Serena play in Delay Beach during Fed Cup. Her mom took Stephens and her brother to the tie to see the sisters play, and the family waited to try and get autographs.
“…I waited all day. They walked by three times and never signed our posters…I hung it up for a while. I was, like, devastated because they didn’t sign it, whatever, and then after that I was over it. I found a new player to like because I didn’t like them anymore.”
It’s like this. The “mini-Serena” angle gave the mainstream sports (non-tennis) media, particularly in the United States, a reason to focus on tennis. Stephens’ win over Serena in Australia was the best thing she could’ve done for them…and the worst thing she could’ve done for everyone else. It was the changing of the guard, they said. The “new American hope” had arrived, they said. “Little Serena” was here to save us from the death of American tennis, they said.
“For the first 16 years of my life, she said one word to me and was never involved in my tennis whatsoever,” says Stephens. “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal that she’s not involved now. If you mentor someone, that means you speak to them, that means you help them, that means you know about their life, that means you care about them. Are any of those things true at this moment? No…”
I offer: “They want the next great American player.”
Stephens says: “They want another Serena.”
Why Stephens and Serena (albeit briefly) felt the need to cater to this delusion rather than just be straight about their professional, competitive (lack of a) relationship from the get go remains a mystery to me.
Rafael Nadal has been back on the ATP for three months, and it’s like he never left. Nadal is 21-2 on the year with three titles including decimations of the fields in Sao Paulo and Acapulco and a run to his third Indian Wells title on his “least favorite surface.” Nonetheless, Nadal currently sits at No. 5 in the ATP rankings with little opportunity to make a dent in the list due to massive numbers of points to defend from 2012. Even prior to Nadal’s defeat at the hands of Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, snapping his streak of eight consecutive titles, the discussion about whether or not Roland Garros should bump Nadal up to a higher seeding has run rampant.
Guy Forget, a member of the Roland Garros seeding committee, first stated that it would be a shame to see Nadal and Djokovic potentially square off in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
“The rules state the grand slam events have the right to change the seeding regarding the situation of the players. Wimbledon has done that in the past,” Forget said. “I would not find it illogical to change the seeds.”
As if the continuing speculation wasn’t enough, John McEnroe threw his opinion into the bullring on Tuesday. In an interview with tennis.com, McEnroe made his feelings known on the subject in a way that only he can.
“Let me put it to you this way: I guarantee you that none of those four guys, as great as they are, want to see him in the quarters,” McEnroe said. “Quite honestly, I would seed him number one. I’d seed him number one, actually, because I think he deserves that. I think the other players deserve it.”
“Certainly, you can’t even possibly question if he should be [seeded] ahead of David Ferrer, as much as I respect him, or for that matter even Murray on clay,” McEnroe said. “Djokovic is the only one, given his accomplishments on clay, that you could possibly make an argument deserves to be seeded ahead of [Nadal]…I don’t know that they [the Roland Garros seeding committee] are willing to change the seedings at their event.”
Personally, the whole idea of changing seedings at slams has always been ridiculous. Wimbledon has a track record of this, notably bumping Maria Sharapova to the 24th seed at the 2009 event; Sharapova was on the comeback from shoulder surgery at the time and was ranked 59th in the world. There’s no doubt that Nadal and Djokovic are the prohibitive co-favorites to lift the trophy at Roland Garros; however, in a sport where ranking and the benefits that come with a certain number are so critical for 99% of its players, altering of seedings just seems to trivialize the others’ accomplishments.
Take McEnroe’s example of Murray and Ferrer. If the argument is to seed Nadal above them both due to the gulf in clay court prowess and accomplishments, then the same argument could be used to seed Ferrer above Murray. Murray hasn’t reached a semifinal on clay since Roland Garros in 2011, and many do not consider him one of the four best players in the world on clay. If Roland Garros is going to change the seedings to “show respect” for Nadal’s accomplishments, then where do they draw the line? Do his accomplishments matter more because he’s won 11 major titles? Does that not show him preferential treatment?
If Nadal wants to win his eighth Roland Garros title, the odds are great that he’s still going to have to defeat two of Murray, Federer and Djokovic to get there. Considering his combined head-to-head record against them on clay is 28-5, does it honestly matter the order in which he does it? Considering the history of unpredictability in Paris, it’s almost as likely that he’ll instead need to navigate a draw Wawrinka, Monaco and Amagro to reach the final. On the other hand, if Djokovic wants to win Roland Garros and complete the career Grand Slam, it’s almost a sure bet that he’ll have to beat Nadal to do it. If he loses to Nadal, and it doesn’t matter when, the entire point is moot anyway.
It’s up to the draw to decide, and no one or nothing else.
I love Fed Cup for a variety of reasons. The team camaraderie, the endless drama and its ‘three times a year’ status makes it a unique experience compared to the grind of the tour. When reviewing the results yesterday, however, I discovered something that makes Fed Cup even more awesome. The Fed Cup website archived PDF, printed files of every match scorecard from the World Group Semifinals, World Group Playoffs and World Group II Playoffs.
After making my discovery, I freaked out about it on Twitter. A lot.
Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter know about my penchant for anything officiating related, and I had never seen a scorecard from a professional match before. It’s obviously one of the things you’re taught at officials’ school, but it’s pretty cool it see it in practice.
One of the chair umpire’s numerous responsibilities in a match is to keep track of the official scorecard. The chair umpire records points, games and sets on a scorecard in a seemingly complicated series of shorthand markings. The chair umpire signs the scorecard at the end of the match and then delivers it without delay to either the chief umpire or the referee; it is taken as an official record of everything that occurred in the match. The failure of the chair umpire to sign and deliver the scorecard does not invalidate the match, making tennis different from the other scorecard sport: golf.
(An interesting anecdote: in 2008, Ivo Karlovic allegedly set the record (at the time) for most aces in a match at Roland Garros in a five-set, first round loss to Alejandro Falla. The official tournament statisticians gave Karlovic 39 aces; however, the chair umpire, Louise Engzell recorded only 35 on her scorecard. The previous record (to that point) of 37 was set by Andy Roddick in 2001. The tournament came to the conclusion that Engzell was correct and her card held more credibility than the tournament statistician, but he continued to be credited in certain circles with 39 aces, not 35. The official ATP statistics, taken from her scorecard, list him with 35.)
I received a lot of feedback on Twitter about scorecards and the majority of people that I heard from seemed to be confused as to how to read one. As a result, I’ve decided to take an official scorecard from this weekend’s Fed Cup tie and break it down step by step. I’ve chosen to break down Petra Kvitova’s 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win against Sara Errani in the World Group Semifinals.
Before going to court, the chair umpire (here, Mariana Alves) is expected to fill out as much of the basic match information as possible, including the name of the event, player names, his or her name, first ball change and other relevant information.
Following the coin toss, the chair umpire finishes the top portion of the scorecard by indicating who won the toss and the choice made. Here, Kvitova won the toss and elected to receive; had she deferred the decision to Errani, the ‘x’ would’ve still been next to Kvitova’s name, but the choice would’ve been written next to Errani’s.
Keeping scorecard marking to a minimum allows a chair umpire to keep play continuous and spend more time watching players, coaches, spectators, etc. for possible code violations and carry out his or her other responsibilities.
Once the order of serve is established, the serving sequence is listed in the left-hand column of this particular format of scorecard. Kvitova chose to receive, so Errani is listed first and so on.
NOTE: This archived format is the digital version of the official scorecard that’s used by the ITF. In a paper scorecard, the server’s initials are placed on the left side correlating to the side of the court (usually the chair umpire’s right or left) that the serve is coming from. You can find that full scorecard here, but I’ve included parts of what it looks like here. I marked the “Server’s Side” column in red.
For the serve, aces are marked with A’s, double faults with D’s and missed first serves with a small dot mid-line. A slash mark is placed in the the corresponding box to the player who wins the point. The score on the card is read just as the score is announced; the server’s points are marked in the top box (first), while the returner’s points are recorded on the bottom (second). In the first game, Errani held to 30 and was forced to hit second serves on both the 15-30 point and 40-30 point to hold. Therefore, the score progression was as follows: 0-15, 15-15, 15-30, 30-30, 40-30, Game Errani.
Breaks of serve are indicated by an ‘X’ through the game number in the column entitled GAME (see first scorecard) and are marked via a shaded box in the scorecard above. Errani broke serve in the second, fourth and eighth games of the first set, while Kvitova broke serve in the seventh. The start time and end time of the set, as well as the final score are noted accordingly.
Chair umpires are also required to make note of what are called “significant events’ on their scorecards. These include injuries and medical timeouts, bathroom breaks, cramps, toilet breaks and detailed information regarding code violations. These are particularly important for code violations, as they help in determining a player’s fine afterwards. Each of these statistics are recorded in the appropriate table on the official scorecard.
In the Kvitova-Errani match, Alves issued a time violation to Kvitova at 2-3*, 40-30 in the second set. The violation is marked with the date, time, score and specific nature of the violation. Here, it is recorded under the scoresheet for the second set.
At the end of the match, the winner’s name along with the final score are recorded separately. The time the match began, the time it ended and the duration of the match are all recorded by the chair umpire, who then signs the card and lists his or her certification.
Those who follow women’s tennis know that Anastasia Rodionova’s reputation far precedes her. In fact, when you Google her, this happens:
Here is a player who has only been ranked as high as 62 in singles on the WTA and has never won a title. She has never made it past the third round of a grand slam, and has a losing record at three of the four majors. (The US Open is the exception, where she’s 7-7.) As a result, the Russian-born Australian is far more well-known for her antics on court than anything she has actually achieved. The laundry list is quite long, but here are some of her highlights.
In Cincinnati in 2007, Rodionova was defaulted. Contrary to popular belief, defaulted does not mean retired. It means…defaulted. Up against Angelique Kerber in the first round, Rodionova allegedly became angry about the German’s vocal supporters. Frustrated after losing the first game of the third set, Rodionova smacked a ball in anger up and over the wall in front of the stands where the fans were seated. No one was injured but tournament referee William Coffey defaulted her for unsportsmanlike conduct.
After being defeated by Rodionova at Wimbledon in 2010, Svetlana Kuznetsova refused to shake her hand. Afterwards, Rodionova said, “I don’t know, I guess she was just disappointed. It doesn’t really bother me.” Kuznetsova then tweeted this:
hey guys !thank u very much for all the support!it was crazy yesterday,and yes once again I DO NOT REGRET about not shaking the hand—
Svetlana Kuznetsova (@SvetlanaK27) June 25, 2010
After a loss to Frenchwoman Mathilde Johansson at the 2012 French Open, Rodionova refused to shake the umpire’s hand and claimed that line calls had benefitted the Frenchwoman. Unsurprisingly, she was booed off the court.
Flavia Pennetta said in her autobiography that she would like to fight Rodionova, after she and partner Cara Black used some choice vocabulary to describe Pennetta and partner Gisela Dulko. Andrea Petkovic also addressed Rodionova’s questionable sportsmanship in an interview, where she stated that Rodionova once told her to “go back to smaller tournaments where she belonged” during a match.
However, Rodionova was full flight today during her 64 67(4) 76(3) loss to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Charleston; the match lasted three hours and 42 minutes, making it the longest WTA match of the 2013 season. Despite her long and storied history, this match was truly the microcosm of Rodionova’s career.
If only she knew.
Great to be back Charleston!—
Anastasia Rodionova (@arodionova) March 29, 2013
If only we knew.
She yelled at officials, threw things, yelled at the WTA trainer, threw tantrums. Twitter reacted accordingly.
Rodionova served for the second set against BMS twice but eventually takes it in the tiebreak.—
Steven Mills (@StevenMtennis) April 01, 2013
Rodionova was down 15-40 for a double break, but has recovered back to 3-3. BMS 7/20 on break points.—
David (@ovafanboy) April 01, 2013
An injured and angry Rodionova throwing things and laying into the WTA trainer. Nasty—
Matt Cronin (@TennisReporters) April 01, 2013
Still trying to figure out what's Rodionova's injury.—
(@Ratazana) April 01, 2013
A hobbling Rodionova holds for 5-4 in the third, then yells and throws things as the trainer tries and fails to treat her on the changeover.—
Fog Mountain (@fogmount) April 01, 2013
"CALL THE FREAKING BALL!" -Rodionova—
David (@ovafanboy) April 01, 2013
UPDATE: Look, there’s video! It’s not a bad way to spend 30 minutes of your life, considering the rest of us spent almost four hours.
In 2012, arguably her breakout season, Angelique Kerber played 21 tournaments and two Fed Cup ties; out of her 85 singles matches, she played 23 three-setters, which equates to 27%. She’s made a name for herself over the past 18 months by grinding out wins, even when not playing near her best.
However, Kerber’s been dealing with overstressed disks in her back since a fourth round loss to Ekaterina Makarova in Melbourne, which forced her to withdraw from Germany’s Fed Cup tie with France this past weekend. On Tuesday in Doha, she dropped her opener to countrywoman Mona Barthel, 61 62. For the majority of the match, Barthel was hitting an average of 20 km/h bigger off the ground than her countrywoman, who missed many short balls in the net; Kerber looked a step slower, and this is crucial for a classic counterpuncher who relies on her movement. This is especially true for Kerber as an individual, for whom clutch shots on the run and lethal down the lines are a trademark.
Of course, health and fitness play a part in this result. Kerber probably should take more time off, but I bet she won’t; she did not defend her Premier level title in Paris last week (which was coincidentally won by Barthel), has a title in Copenhagen to defend, a semifinal in Indian Wells, a quarterfinal at Roland Garros and a semifinal at Wimbledon on her ranking. When you play, and win, as much as Kerber did in 2012, it’s difficult to be out for any extended period of time. I do give her credit though for staying out there and playing until the end, on a day when Yanina Wickmayer, Varvara Lepchenko and Maria Kirilenko all retired in their Doha openers with injuries.
Kerber’s ‘I’d rather be anywhere else but here’ attitude when the going gets tough is, for some, part of her charm; unlike many others, she tends to channel that negative energy, turn it into positive and use it to help her play better. However, for the most part, we have yet to see that fire this season; when things have gone wrong in matches she’s lost, she seemed resigned and almost defeatist. In addition, Kerber’s game, much like her countrywoman Andrea Petkovic’s, is not fluid and free-swinging. This might cause both to be more prone to injuries than others.
While it’s still too early to tell how Kerber will perform for the rest of 2013 if or when she gets healthy, we’ve heard the story of players who overplay in order to rise up the rankings, and it coming back to hurt them later, before. And all too often.
Fret not, people of Australia – it’s now safe to take the roads again.
Tomic, who was granted a
stay of execution a 12-month one point license for good behavior after his “hooning” incident in an obnoxious orange BMW (which he later sold), was caught speeding at 78 km/h in a 60 km/h zone in an even more obnoxious yellow Ferrari (with the license plate S1NCITY on it) Tuesday. As a result, a $220 fine was levied against him and he lost three points on his license, leading to its suspension.
I find this incredibly entertaining. After simultaneously proclaiming himself the next GOAT and begging us to take him seriously for his tennis at the Australian Open, he goes and does this barely two days later.
As if his behavior wasn’t already offensive enough, he’s also single-handedly trying to bring cutoffs back in.
Bernie, since you’re not going to be using that Ferrari for a while, I heard a certain Sergiy Stakhovsky is still in need of one.
Filed under: ATP, Australian Open, Bojana Jovanovski, Dramz, Rantin', Sloane Stephens, WTA
I always tell myself that I’m never going to get involved with the two most ridiculous debates in tennis, grunting and equal prize money, but just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
Let me preface this by saying this is not going to be a rant about the aesthetics of grunting. Some find it annoying, while others, such as myself, aren’t bothered by it at all. That’s completely acceptable; I’m not here to force my opinion on others, nor would I appreciate others forcing their opinion on me. However, I am here to address facts.
It is because of this that I felt the need to write this, against my better judgement; despite the fact that this non-issue has already been beaten to hell and back, the commentary on it points towards another, even more glaring issue in tennis.