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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
‘Merica (and Pam) met Yulia Putintseva in week one. It did not go well.
If two pushers play a 71-shot rally in the middle of the night, and no one is around to shed tears of pain, is it still offensive?
“I wanna have good communication with the fans.”
Trick shots FTW. Well, except when you don’t.
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.
The weather was the real story on day four at Melbourne Park; players were put to the test in brutal conditions, with temperatures reaching 106 F around midday. Fans sought cover in the shaded areas of the show courts, and many of the outer courts were devoid of spectators who sought relief from the heat. Players were shaded by umbrellas and treated with bags of ice on changeovers, and even umpires and lines people were instructed to keep themselves hydrated.
Later, many of the players spoke about the difficulties of adapting to the conditions.