ALLEZing: Alizé Cornet, Caroline Garcia Win Things

Wherever Alizé Cornet goes, drama is sure to follow. After a storied junior career, she burst onto the WTA Tour as a teenager in 2008. She arrived with a bang both with her racket, qualifying and making the finals of the Tier I event in Rome, and in the press room. In a “Getting to Know You” interview at Roland Garros shortly after, Cornet provided this gem. 

Least favourite opponent?

Anna Chakvetadze, without a doubt. She put me down before our semi-final in Rome. She said that I was a good junior even though I was No. 30 in the world at the time. I was furious. And she doesn’t even say hello. She’s not a nice person.

(The interview has since been taken down. The world weeps.)

A year later, Cornet was one match, or more accurately, one point, from the top-10. Leading 5-2 in the final set against eventual finalist Dinara Safina at the Australian Open, the Frenchwoman failed to convert on two match points, including one on which her shot landed just centimeters wide of the sideline. 

From there, Cornet faded…and faded quickly. She ended 2009 ranked No. 50 in the world, slipped to No. 78 at the end of 2010, and ended 2011 at the wrong end of the top 100 at No. 89. She returned to the winner’s circle in Bad Gastein in 2012, in addition to finishing runner-up in Strasbourg. She took Victoria Azarenka to three sets twice at Grand Slams, and she finished the year at her highest ranking since 2008.

To start 2014, Cornet has been winning. A lot. She reached the semifinals at the Paris Indoors, stunned Serena Williams en route to a runner-up finish in Dubai and reached the second week at Indian Wells.

TL;DR: We’ve been getting plenty of reactions like this.

Last week in Katowice, Cornet’s flair for the dramatics appeared once again. After easing past Vesna Dolonc in the opening round, Cornet recorded three-set wins against Kristina Kucova, Klara Koukalova and Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the final. Undeterred by dropping a bagel set to both Koukalova and Radwanska, Cornet faced off against first-time WTA finalist Camila Giorgi in the last round. Giorgi, to her credit, had been making waves of her own on the other side of the draw.

Cornet led 5-3 in the second set before dropping four straight games as the oft-erratic Giorgi found her mark. Cornet bounced back by taking a 3-0 lead in the decider but then had another mini-slump as Giorgi won five of the next six games to take a 5-4 lead. Giorgi had a match point in the next game, but missed a backhand return long and Cornet held for 5-5. She would win the next two games to take the title, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5, in three hours and 11 minutes.

#aliz3 improved her record in three set matches to 11-2 on the year.

While her countrywoman thrives on the dramatics, Caroline Garcia is just the opposite. Despite possessing a big serve and potent groundstrokes, Garcia is decidedly “un-French” when it comes to expressiveness, histrionics or flashiness. What has plagued the younger Frenchwoman, like so many of her countrymen before her, has been mental fragility.

Up until now, Garcia’s one notable result to date came in the form of a match she lost.

You all know the story. A 17-year-old Garcia had Maria Sharapova on the ropes in the second round of Roland Garros in 2011, building a 6-3, 4-1 lead versus the eventual semifinalist.

Andy Murray sent the tweet heard ’round the world…

https://twitter.com/andy_murray/status/73775485980651521

….and Garcia lost 11 straight games to lose the match.

Garcia stagnated in the three years since, proving yet again that tennis is more mental than physical. She languished around the lower end of the top 100, lost countless matches from winning positions, most notably failing to convert on match points in two matches against Jelena Jankovic in Kuala Lumpur (6-7(6), 6-4, 6-7(2)) in 2012 and in Charleston (7-5, 6-7(10), 3-6) in 2013. In Acapulco earlier this season, she won back-to-back main draw matches at a WTA event for the first time in her career en route to a semifinal showing. She reached the third round in Miami and gave a struggling Serena Williams all she could handle before again coming up just short, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6.

While Cornet was putting on a show in Katowice, Garcia quietly took advantage of a wide-open draw in Bogota that was made easier when Sloane Stephens lost in the opening road to hometown favorite Mariana Duque-Marino. Nothing is straight-forward with Garcia, but her big serve and groundstrokes were nearly untouchable for the week in Bogota’s high altitude. She dropped just one set en route to her first WTA final to Montenegrin Danka Kovinic, before getting a shot at defending champion Jankovic in the final. Garcia exercised her personal demons against the Serb, calmly serving out the match and the title, 6-3, 6-4.

Cornet and Garcia will lead France’s Fed Cup team against a Williams-less United States on the road this weekend. Contrast, man. Contrast.

Things That Happened Since Vera Zvonareva Last Played a Singles Match

Zvonareva Vera3

Courtesy of a singles main draw  wildcard, and a wide-open doubles field, Vera Zvonareva has returned to us this week in Shenzhen. The former World No. 2 hadn’t played a competitive tennis match since a 61 60 loss to Serena Williams in the third round of the London Olympic Games on August 1, 2012.

Her true return to competition came on Sunday, as she and Olga Govortsova lost in the first round in the doubles event to Johanna Konta and Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, 61 26 10-8.

Her last singles match, however, was exactly 518 days ago.

Here is an [abridged] list of things that have happened since Vera Zvonareva last played a singles match.

  • Barack Obama was elected to a second term as President of the United States (Nov. 6, 2012)
  • The third official NHL lockout started (Sept. 15, 2012) and ended. (Jan. 6, 2013)
  • Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in the history of forever to resign (announced: Feb. 11, 2013 & took effect: Feb. 28, 2013) and Pope Francis was elected. (March 13, 2013)
  • THE CRONUT WAS INVENTED. Chef Dominique Ansel for Dominique Ansel Bakery copyrighted the name in May 2013.
  • St. James’ Palace announced that the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant (Dec. 3, 2012), mass world hysteria ensued, and Prince George of Cambridge was born. (July 22, 2013)
  • 30 Rock ended after seven seasons (January 31, 2013), COPS got cancelled by Fox after 25 years but moved to cable (May 2013), and people freaked out when Dexter (Sept. 22, 2013) and Breaking Bad (Sept. 29, 2013) ended simultaneously.
  • Andy Murray won Wimbledon, becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years. In case you forgot. (July 7, 2013)
  • “What Does the Fox Say?” was uploaded to YouTube (Sept. 3, 2013) and went viral.
  • The U.S. government entered the third longest shutdown in its history after Congress failed to agree on legislation for the fiscal year 2014, (Oct. 1st-16th, 2013)
  • Family Guy killed off family pet and beloved character Brian Griffin (Nov. 24, 2013)….and brought him back two episodes later. (Dec. 15, 2013)

Zvonareva used a protected ranking to enter the event, and will also be using her SR for the Australian Open. A favorite target of the tennis gods, the unranked Russian might’ve expected some compassion from her overlords after an injury-riddled 18 months.

Instead, she got this.

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No word on how Zvonareva reacted to her draw, but sources say it was something like this.

VeraZvonarevaTowel_2111722i

Zvonareva and Li will take the court in Shenzhen later today not before 1 p.m. local time.

Photos: AP

The Merits of “Home” Wild Cards

Olivia+Rogowska+2013+Australian+Open+Day+4+T7LefZ5hTbtl

Photo Credit: Zimbio & Graham Denholm/Getty Images AsiaPac

The tennis world was first introduced to Olivia Rogowska when she pushed then-World No. 1 Dinara Safina to the limit in the first round at the 2009 US Open. An 18-year old, Rogowska played with the reckless abandon one would expect from a teenager in her first professional season. Safina recovered from an 0-3, 15-40 deficit in the third set and escaped with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 win.

At the 2009 US Open, Rogowska was a wild card – a position she has since become quite familiar with in her five professional seasons. However, with a career-high ranking of No. 111, current ranking of No. 172 and career earnings of just $486,920, she’s received little career benefit from those handouts. With a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Kimiko Date-Krumm in the first round of the Brisbane International this afternoon, Rogowska’s WTA record as a wild card in Australia falls to 1-12.

Brisbane

2014: R1 – l. to Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 7-5

2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Monica Puig 6-2, 6-3

2012: R1 – l. to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4

Hobart

2011: R1 – l. to (Q) Tamira Paszek 6-1, 6-3

2010: R1 – l. to (2) Shahar Peer 6-3, 6-2

2009: R1 – l. to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-1

Sydney

2013: R1 – l to Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 6-2

Australian Open

2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Vesna Dolonc 5-7, 7-5, 8-6

2012: R1 – d. Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-1 | R2 – l. to (5) Li Na 6-2, 6-2

2011: R1 – l. to Evgeniya Rodina 6-3, 6-1

2010: R1 – l. to Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 2-6, 6-2

2009: R1 –  l. to (31) Alona Bondarenko 5-7, 6-3, 6-2

In addition, Rogowska has received the reciprocal Australian wild card at the other three slams three times. As a wild card at Roland Garros and the US Open, she has recorded an overall record of 1-3.

While this is not necessarily an indictment on Rogowska herself, her situation represents one that has become all too common. Players from the four Grand Slam nations have long been the beneficiary of nearly-unlimited wild cards when the opportunity arises, regardless of deciding factors including age, ability level and recent results.  Rogowska played out of her skin for a set and a half against a crumbling Safina nearly five years ago, and has ridden that result (of a match she lost) even since. Often, she’s continually placed in draws where she’s out of her depth and has failed more often than she has succeeded. As a result, she’s achieved little momentum in her professional career.

One Australian player who didn’t receive a main draw wild card into the Brisbane International is Ashleigh Barty. She received a wild card to the qualifying draw instead. Barty, the 17-year old wunderkind who reached three Grand Slam doubles finals last year with Casey Dellacqua, has struggled to make inroads in singles on the women’s tour. After battling past Cagla Buyukakcay 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the opening round, she defeated sixth-seeded Julia Glushko 6-3, 6-2 to move into the final round of qualifying. In the final round, Barty saved five match points in defeating Kiki Bertens, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two fairly young players (Barty, 17 & Rogowska, 22), two different situations. Even if Barty also loses her first match in the main draw, she would leave Brisbane with a lot more confidence and momentum than Rogowska.

With this not a unique situation, it becomes a question of whether or not the wild card system itself is flawed. Does a concept meant to give players an opportunity that they might not get otherwise end up doing more harm than good?

Twitter Reacts to the Return of the Tennis: A Poem

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the ‘net,

tennis fans ’round the world were getting their alarms set.

They had been told what was coming their way,

and all they had to do was wait for the 26th day.

With 2013 all but behind them,

they looked forward to 2014 with great anticipation.

No prediction too wild and no dream too small,

they had awaited this day eagerly, all through the fall.

It first began with the #men in Abu Dhabi,

and some tried to make an exho matter because of Andy Murray.

With the Scotsman still in one piece,

their excitement for the new season wasn’t looking like it would cease.

The tennis that counted began under the Australian sun,

and although they could see none of it, that didn’t stop their fun.

Dushevina won the first game, Begu served the first ace, and forehands and backhands (presumably) flew all over the place.

Crouched over their laptops and glued to their phones,

tennis fans got back on their horses from the comfort of their homes.

While few may understand why they do what they do,

they do it all together, with me and you and you!

Happy 2014 to tennis fans far and wide,

I’m glad we’re all together for yet another crazy ride.

Breaking Down the Changes to the WTA Rankings

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 6.50.44 PM

With the start of the 2014 tennis season just FIVE DAYS AWAY (help!), the WTA rankings will look a little bit different in 120 hours. Earlier this year, the WTA Board of Directors voted to implement changes to the ranking system. The new ranking points will be introduced over a 12-month period from the start of the 2014 season.

Straight from the horse’s mouth, the WTA website posted this press release to summarize the changes last week.

The calendar isn’t the only WTA fixture being renovated for 2014, as there will be some ranking point amendments for the new season.

Among the changes confirmed by the WTA are first round points at Premier Mandatory tournaments being doubled (from five to 10), qualifying points at International tournaments being increased and Grand Slam qualifying points being adjusted to lessen the difference between WTA Premier event qualifying points.

New points will be added only as 2013 results drop off, so the changes will be gradual.

The WTA’s intent with the changes is for a more uniform awarding of points from round to round and between tournament levels, while also striking an appropriate balance between WTA and ITF levels.

But what does that even mean?

Let’s take a look at the changes side by side.

Grand Slams

Old System | W: 2000, F: 1400, SF: 900, QF: 500, R16: 280, R32: 160, R64: 100, R128: 5, Qualifier: 60, Q3: 50, Q2: 40, Q1: 2

New System | W: 2000, F: 1300, SF: 780, QF: 430, R16: 240, R32: 130, R64: 70, R128: 10, Qualifier: 40, Q3: 30, Q2: 20, Q1: 2

Premier Mandatory - Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Beijing

Old System (96 Draw Singles) |  W: 1000, F: 700, SF: 450, QF: 250, R16: 140, R32: 80, R64: 50, R128: 5, Qualifier: 30, Q2: 20, Q1: 1

New System (96 Draw Singles, 48Q) |  W: 1000, F: 650, SF: 390, QF: 215, R16: 120, R32: 65, R16: 35, R128: 10, Qualifier: 30, Q2: 20, Q1: 2

Old System (64 Draw  Singles) | W: 1000, F: 700, SF: 450, QF: 250, R16: 140, R32: 80, R64: 5, Qualifier: 30, Q2: 20, Q1: 1

New System (64/60 Draw Singles, 32Q) | W: 1000, F: 650, SF: 390, QF: 215, R16: 120, R32: 65, R64: 10, Qualifier: 30, Q2: 20, Q1: 2

Premier 5 - Doha, Rome, Montréal, Cincinnati, Tokyo

Old System (56 Singles, 64 Q) | W: 900, F: 620, SF: 395, QF: 225, R16: 125, R32: 70, R64: 1, Qualifier: 30, Q3: 20, Q2: 12, Q1: 1

New System (56 Singles, 64 Q) | W: 900, F: 585, SF: 350, QF: 190, R16: 105, R32: 60, R64: 1, Qualifier: 30, Q3: 22, Q2: 15, Q1: 1

Old System (56 Singles, 48/32 Q) | W: 900, F: 620, SF: 395, QF: 225, R16: 125, R32: 70, R64: 1, Qualifier: 30, Q3: 20, Q1: 1

New System (56 Singles, 48/32 Q) | W: 900, F: 585, SF: 350, QF: 190, R16: 105, R32: 60, R64: 1, Qualifier: 30, Q3: 20, Q1: 1

Premier 700 – Brisbane, Carlsbad, Charleston, Dubai, Paris [Indoors], Stanford, Stuttgart & Premier 600 – Brussels, Eastbourne, Moscow, New Haven, Sydney

Old System (56 Singles) | W: 470, F: 320, SF: 200, QF: 120, R16: 60, R32: 40, R64: 1 Qualifier: 12, Q2: 8, Q1: 1

New System (56 Singles) | W: 470, F: 305, SF: 185, QF: 100, R16: 55, R32: 30, R64: 1, Qualifier: 25, Q2: 13, Q1: 1

Old System (32 Singles) | W: 470, F: 320, SF: 200, QF: 120, R16: 60, R32: 1, Qualifier: 20, Q3: 12, Q2: 8, Q1: 1

New System (32 Singles) | W: 470, F: 305, SF: 185, QF: 100, R16: 55, R32: 1, Qualifier: 25, Q3: 18, Q2: 13, Q1: 1

International - Acapulco, Auckland, Bad Gastein, Baku, Bastad, Bogotá, Brussels, Budapest, Florianopolis, Guangzhou, Hobart, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Katowice, Kuala Lumpur, Linz, Luxembourg, Marrakech, Monterrey, Nürnberg, Oeiras, Osaka, Pattaya City, Québec City, Rio de Janeiro, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Seoul, Shenzhen, Strasbourg, Tashkent, Tianjin, Washington DC

Old System (32 Singles, 32Q) | W: 280, F: 200, SF: 130, QF: 70, R16: 30, R32: 1, Qualifier: 16, Q3: 10, Q2: 6, Q1: 1

New System (32 Singles, 32Q) | W: 280, F: 180, SF: 110, QF: 60, R16: 30, R32: 1, Qualifier: 18, Q3: 14, Q2: 10, Q1: 1

Old System (32 Singles, 16Q) | W: 280, F: 200, SF: 130, QF: 70, R16: 30, R32: 1, Qualifier: 10, Q2: 6, Q1: 1

New System (32 Singles, 16Q) | W: 280, F: 180, SF: 110, QF: 60, R16: 30, R32: 1, Qualifier: 18, Q2: 12, Q1: 1

At first glance, the new ranking system still rewards players for winning tournaments (duh) and doesn’t really look all that different. However, players are playing for less points, as all totals except the champion’s have been decreased. The point inflation in the first week of slams has also been addressed nicely.

The WTA asserts that the changes will be implemented gradually, but there is no doubt that this new ranking system shortchanges players who have a lot of points to defend early in the season. Players with lots of points at the end of this season will keep the previous values on their ranking for a longer period of time.

One of the biggest improvements I can see is the (slight) increase in points for qualifying at International tournaments. Perhaps now, draws like this will be a funny memory.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 6.11.01 PM

It’s a start.

The Year Australia Fell in Love With Jelena Dokic

Photo credit: Zimbio & Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPac

Photo credit: Zimbio & Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPac

When Jelena Dokic arrived in Melbourne Park in January of 2009, all she had left was her story.

More than a decade removed from her professional debut, Dokic had been languishing around in proverbial limbo since dropping out of the top 100 in 2004. She fell off the WTA rankings following a 2007 season where she played just one match, a 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to Giulia Gatto-Monticone in an ITF $10,000 event in Rome, and earned $98. After cutting off all ties with her controversial father, Damir, and pleading Tennis Australia for help, Dokic recommitted herself and made a full-time return to competitive tennis in 2008. She won three titles on the ITF Circuit (including a 25K in Germany where she defeated Michelle Gerards 6-0, 6-0 in the final), and decided she was ready to test the waters at Grand Slam level once again.

She emerged from the round robin stage of the Australian Open wildcard playoffs with a 2-1 record and defeated Monika Wejnert in the final match to earn a spot in the main draw of the 2009 Australian Open.

Ranked No. 187, Dokic’s 2009 Australian Open campaign began on Hisense Arena against Tamira Paszek. Paszek was fighting her own demons, as just one year earlier, she participated in possibly one of the most dramatic matches in the history of the tournament on that very same court. In a battle of two-handed backhands, it was Dokic who prevailed over an opponent ranked 107 places higher than her in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

It was Dokic’s first win in a Grand Slam since 2003 and at the event itself in 10 years. To put it in context, Dokic was 15 when she had last won a match at the Australian Open. She had not yet defected back to her family’s native Yugoslavia, nor had yet she returned to her adopted homeland proclaiming herself truly Australian. Despite her rocky relationship history with her adopted homeland, as the match against Paszek went on, the Australians began to pull their support behind Dokic more and more.

“I don’t know when was the last time that the crowd was really like that,” she said post-match.

Dokic returned to Rod Laver Arena for the first time in eight years two nights later, when she faced off against No. 17 (and equally tragic tennis heroine) Anna Chakvetadze. In her player’s box sat only her boyfriend Tim Bikic and his brother and her new coach, Borna Bikic. That didn’t seem to matter for Dokic, because for the first time, she also had nearly 15,000 strong in her corner as well.

I came back I think two or three years ago to Australia, and obviously the crowd, I didn’t expect them to be on my side and to understand what happened seven years ago. You know, each year it’s gotten better and better.

After serving for the match at 6-4 5-3, Dokic proceeded to lose the second set in a tiebreak before rebounding to take the match 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. An emotional Dokic broke down in her post-match interview, recognizing just how much the crowd support meant to her.

To quote Maria Sharapova, Rod Laver Arena became Dokic’s home for the rest of the tournament as she battled her way through two more three-setters against No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 29 Alisa Kleybanova (two-part highlights here and here) to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since Roland Garros in 2002, when she played for Yugoslavia. It was her first final eight showing as an Australian since Wimbledon in 2000. Far from her peak fitness, Dokic consistently remarked how much the crowd played a part in pulling her through.

After rolling her ankle late in the third set against Kleybanova, Dokic’s fairytale run came to an end at the hands of Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals, 6-4 4-6 6-4.

In the five years since her magical showing Down Under, Dokic’s still been riding the roller coaster that’s defined her career. After finishing 2009 at No. 57, her highest ranking since 2003, she shot down the rankings just as quickly in 2010. She returned to the top 100 in 2011, won her first WTA title in nearly nine years in Kuala Lumpur and also reached the final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch before losing to Roberta Vinci. However, it was in 2011 that things began to unravel for Dokic. She struggled that season with mononucleosis, a hamstring injury and a right shoulder injury. It was a wrist injury that proved to be her undoing in 2012, one that required surgery.

Now unranked once again, Dokic will play her first competitive tennis match in 18 months today, again at the annual Australian Open wildcard playoff hosted by Tennis Australia. Her opponent in the first round? Jarmila Gajdosova, who’s looking to script a comeback of her own after being sidelined with mononucleosis herself for much of 2013.

“I think it’s always the same – the love for the game,” Dokic told The Australian. “I don’t think that ever changes…I don’t really care as much whether I win, whether I lose and how I play, I just want to be out there and have that feeling again of competing and being nervous and adrenaline and everything.”

Although all of Australia might not be watching when Dokic takes the court Tuesday in the shadow of Rod Laver Arena, whatever happens next is just another chapter in her story.

In Response to ‘The Man Who Rescued Serena Williams’

Patrick+Mouratoglou+2013+Open+Day+14+6vlVLyFhtpJl

Photo credit: Zimbio & Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America

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.

Calling “Time” On Their Careers

Photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images AsiaPac

Photo credit: Zimbio & Matthew Stockman/Getty Images AsiaPac

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.

Photo credit: Doug Starr, USTA

Photo credit: Doug Starr, USTA

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.

Sandra Klemenschits’ Day in the Sun

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.

In Defense of Ball Marks: Why Hawkeye on Clay is Unnecessary

Francesca-Schiavone-umpire-Gbg

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?