Thursday, 28 October 2010

WTA Championships: “Badabing-Badaboom”


I’m not completely sure what to make of the WTA Championships so far.


Both JJ and Demmie stunk out the outermost districts of Doha with their openers: matches that lead to reports of JJ collapsing in the locker room and Demmie tweeting sombrely how she was  “going to learn from that and play a better match next round”.




They both managed to do just that (though JJ still went down in straights to Kim the way we all expected her to) - Demmie’s currently embroiled in the first three setter of the week with Stosur – easily the most competitive match we’ve seen (not that that’s saying very much).


Despite starting out thinking otherwise, I’m now questioning whether JJ should indeed concede her spot to the 1st alternate in the way many are calling for her to – she’s clearly not at her best this week, but why shouldn’t she continue to play if it’s at least as competitive as it was with Kim? She did earn it.


Bepa is, on the face of it, faring well (2/2 without dropping a set - yay) and the Williams’ absence presents other players I’d like to see do well (Vika, Franny, Stosur…) with a sizeable working opportunity to do some damage.


Also, Stosur just did for Caz – in straights – something that should (and does) fill me with glee….not because of any latent antagonism or Wozenfreude I might still entertain, but because she calmly and very cleanly hit through Woz – and in doing so, didn’t let her off the hook in the way all too many players have been willing to this year.


Then there’s this:


Caroline Wozniacki lost to Sam Stosur Wednesday. Maybe it was rust on Wozniacki's part, but it seemed more like great hitting from the Aussie—as much as we love to see craft in tennis, it’s pretty much helpless in the face of power. If you can only learn one, go with the latter.
Still, Wozniacki is proving to be a player—like, yeah, you know who, the ATP’s current No. 1—who bears repeated viewing. You see things in her game that you didn’t notice the first or second or third time around.

-- Steve Tignor,


He goes on to ruminate at length on her retrieval skills, in particular the way she runs down the drop shot.




Nothing wrong with any of this….well actually there is: I object in the strongest of terms to the use of the word ‘craft’.


I’m sure it takes a certain amount craft to elicit an error from your opponent (which is mostly what Caz is about), but by equating the two, Tignor has surely committed one of journalism’s cardinal sins: using domain-specific language in a non-specific, fuzzy way.


The problem with the word ‘craft’ is that it has a very specific connotation in the minds of most denizens of the tennis world.


Like it or not, for most people, sanitised notions of ‘craft’  will always be inextricably linked to a rainbow-coloured, all-court fairyland of idealised nostalgia – featuring Justine Henin (1.0) , a panic-stricken Amelie Mauresmo struggling to close out matches and, to a lesser extent, the more genteel, “lady-like” net play of the 70s and 80s – which wasn’t nearly so pretty nor so crafty as most people like to think it was.


I haven’t much time for those who like to dismiss Woz as a “pusher” – but she’s about as crafty and nuanced as last years telephone directory.


If anything you would have thought that title belongs to Stosur with the way she used her eye-watering blend of slice, kick-serving and power-play from the back of the court to badabing-badaboom Woz off court.




Kim is certainly the best of the bunch, but as we saw yesterday with her double-fault-diarrhoea, has a worrisome propensity to be at her uber-stinking-worst when she’s not at her uber-glittery-best.


There’s still time Vika.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Voodoo Dolls for all Life’s Disappointments


1) WTA rebranded



Meh. It looks a little too Samsung-like if you ask me. Or like a regional broadband provider.


The old url – the one which you might comfortably fit all of Aesops fables in -- has gone too.


I take it Sony Ericsson are about to jump ship?


2) Federer d. Mayer 6-4 6-3 to win the ‘If Stockholm Open’




I’m no pimply nosed DC Comics enthusiast. BUT  I KNEW I’D SEEN THAT TROPHY SOMEWHERE BEFORE.


To date this year, Fed’s won a Slam, a Masters-1000 and, now,  a 250 event. Should he win the 500 event in Basel, the box set will be complete.


The last time he did that was back in 2006 – when it wasn’t presumably “all about the Slams”. And now, if you don’t mind, Superman wants his career memorabilia back.


3) Troicki d. Baghdatis 3-6 6-4 6-3 to win his maiden ATP title at the Kremlin Cup.




Viktor’s too good a player not to have a single title to his name. A handy reminder that even in this rarefied year of Career Slam excellence there’s an entire zombie-eyed subculture willing and waiting to get their name engraved on just one of these things – however proletarian it might seem in the grand scheme of things.


Moscow is the only event I’ve seen where players get to accessorize quite so freely: winning here earns you not one but two trophies, an expensive watch, a flower bouquet and a $170K cheque in prize money.


Not only that, but had Viktor won doubles with Janko later on in the day (they fell 7-6(8) 6-3 to Dimitrov/Kunitsyn), he’d have two of every one of those.


4) Also in Moscow, Azarenka d. MariaKiri 6-3 6-4




Happy to see Vika winning again.


Though, to be honest, I’d settle for a semi/quarter if it meant a guarantee she’d not come out flat in Doha next week.


I had her down for a breakthrough before Caz – which she sort of made good on by winning Miami last year (even if it was against a limping mummified Serena).


And were it not for Serena, she may even have made more of an impact at the Slams (she has been especially unlucky in this respect).


Still, it’s been pretty meagre since then by her standards. Next week’s a chance to put all that right. With not a Williams in sight.


5) So according to Tennis Magazine, “the biggest disappointment of 2010” is…


Dinara Safina.


Never mind that her back complaint meant she spent the better part of the year either severely compromised or out of action altogether.


It’s also wholly at odds with the type of press Ivanovic got during her little fall from grace – which was all about “what she must now do” to reassume what media-lovey-doves presumably thought of as her rightful place at the top of the game.


Newsflash: Ana played fantastically well, but still only won a Slam because Henin had retired that very month and because the Williams, quite frankly, haven’t been a factor at RG for a long time.


It’s a credit to her that she managed to do what neither Dinara or JJ were able to by taking advantage of that window of opportunity, but only the most feral of AnaKads will try and make much more of it.


And if you really want to talk disappointments, then how about  Marin Cilic? Who’s been practically extinct since winning Zagreb back in Feb this year. He has, in fact, made only one Masters QF in the last 12 months – and that was in Paris last year.


But he’s won Zagreb right? So that’s ok.


6) Roberta Vinci d. Julia Georges to win her 3rd WTA title in Luxembourg.




Voodoo dolls trump alien eggs any day of the week in these ‘ere parts.


Quite simply the most grotesque artefact ever awarded to anyone, anywhere. 


What exactly were they thinking?


Quite apart from anything else, it’s the sort of “thing” (what would you call it?) that might have been used as a prop in “The Wicker Man”.


I wouldn’t want to play Roberta now either. You might lose a limb. Or a family member.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Shanghai: “Remains of the Clay”


Just a moment to reflect on those I’ve jinxed, written off or otherwise cut-down in their (sub)prime.


And those whom I missed out should not feel themselves hard done by – your time cannot come too soon.


Everyone has hidden talents.


And last week I really went to town with my own.


So we’ve seen the one where you rankle Fed into a McFlurry of Long-Shanks with your mere presence on court. Show us another trick.




For what it’s worth (quite a lot as it happens), you’re now the proud owner of 6 Masters titles – the most any player’s ever won without bagging a Slam itself: if you were a WTA player, now would be the moment we’d take you out to be flayed and dismembered – or, if you’d prefer it, the other way round.


The tennis media does both – to the soundtrack of your choice, and at no extra charge.



Nevertheless, Muzz turned out to be the only top five player to play consistently to his ranking all week. I know that word’s virtually taboo these days. All the same, no one else was up to this most devalued of key performance indicators. And he did it without a coach. Again.


I’m not even going to attempt to defend the debauched way in which I went about throwing water on the idea that he could create any sort of a stir last week.


Not just in the finals, not even against Jo-Will-He-Wont-He.


No, I charted the precise geography and thermodynamics of Muzz’s expected downward spiral with nothing less than Hawkeye exactitude – all before he’d struck a single ball – all before I’d seen him strike a single ball, which, as it turned out, wasn’t before the final.



If I’m subject to a self-imposed gagging order in that respect, then I figure there’s not all that much left to say.


Except, if that’s “all” it takes to get you play to your ranking Muzz, I know what I must do.


Say all you want about the pissy, schoolboy-errors with which Fed flounced his way out of the final - the fact remains that it was he (not Djoko or Robin) that made the final and that it’s him (rather than Muzz or Djoko) back at world #2 (again).




A gross-out spectacle it may have been (and it was), but that’s now four out of four Masters finals since Madrid (and a win in Cincinnati) - so much for it “only being about the Slams”.


It probably is the twilight of his career, but it’s worth remembering how you still get burnt if you venture too close to a dying star.


Up until the semis I had thought Djoko was the best player of the week (mostly through idle hearsay it must be said) .


He had, after all, only just gone and won in Beijing (in a delayed Monday final - a win here would have meant, amongst other things, being the only man to ever win two titles in  one week).


As it stood then, either one of Fed or Djoko might have lifted the trophy:  it wasn’t just me that thought that 1st set of the Novak/Fed semi was the performance of the week from both men.




But nooo, I had to go the whole spit-roasted hog and pronounce that match a virtual final – it’s winner being, in my eyes, the most deserving of the title itself, certainly more so than those two miscreants contesting the other semi.


Poor sods – they never had a chance.


Well now. Here we all delightfully are in the blessed heart of darkness itself.



This one was such a splenetic mess, I’m almost inclined to exonerate myself of any and all blame. Sauron himself could not have said or done anything to make this any worse.


Describing this as a tennis match would be like speaking of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ as a Merchant/Ivory production.




In my defence, it’s the season ending, indoor swing – which should, by rights, be Big Rob’s best chance at winning just about anything – it also happens to be when my virile rooting interests are at their most prurient.


Alack Rafa. When you were overwrought by Gilly-Glopez in Bangkok, we turned a blind eye to your malfeasance, blaming it on the capricious whim of destiny, the spiritually sanctioned “law of averages”.


Coming into this, I dared suggest you might actually be beginning to find yourself on a surface, and at a time of the season, we normally reserve for big-swinging reprobates.


Yet, for every step Jurgen took in, you haplessly gave way - for every ball he took on the rise, you shunted one back hopelessly short. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and it’s really not all that surprising with the year Jurgen had been having.


All the same, it shows you can still be beaten on this surface (by a relative lightweight on aggression alone) – despite being uninjured, despite being relatively fresh and exuding so much confidence there’s a very real danger of it being re-classified as a banned substance.


Not content with desecrating the legacy of individual players, I turned my hand, now, to clay court tennis itself.


Did I pay attention to the fact that Daveed Ferrer had only just cracked the top ten?


I did not (although in my defence, neither, it seems, did anyone else).


Only to see a poor-man’s-Daveed snuff out Rafa’s conqueror before coming unstuck against Muzz in the semis. Still, it’s worth nothing that it was Pico, rather than Dasco, Wawa or indeed Rafa, that made it out of that section of the draw alive.



For what it’s worth, I still think that clay-court tennis best functions as a cultural remnant of it’s heyday back in the late 80s and 90s- just like Merchant/Ivory productions of the same period.


But that shouldn’t mean clay-courters don’t hold their own alongside big-budget, all court tennis – however little might “remain of their day”.



Friday, 15 October 2010

Shanghai: “Paradise Lost”



Well if  ever you wanted concrete proof of how exactly “Paradise is Lost” and of the utter fragility and “Unsustainability of Excellence”, then today provided it in spades.


Jurgen didn’t play a bad match per say, it just wasn’t a patch on yesterday’s performance and allowed a far more passive (if more resilient) clay court specialist back into too many points.




I have the highest respect for Pico, whom I like to think of as something of a poor man’s Ferru (with better hair).


And I fully accept he has just as much of a right to a fanbase as either one of  Rafa or Fed– even if it is mostly down to the hair.


But I also think that his style of play is something of a dying breed. For better or worse, what we once thought of as “clay court tennis” is even being phased out on clay courts themselves by the type of pace that Robin should have employed successfully against Federer only hours later.


Instead, Sod came out (and went out) fully flatulent. And it wasn’t pretty (flatulence rarely is).


Fed said afterwards: “Even top 5 players have bad days [like this]...surprising Robin couldn't even get hardly any aces in".



Never was a truer word uttered.


In fact the only reason this didn’t happen, is that Fed, quite wisely, did just enough to get through (Which, as it turned out, didn’t actually need to be very much – God knows what would have happened if Fed had gone to town).


I almost wish he did.




Ashamed to say it, but I haven’t managed to watch a single one of Muzz’s matches.


He always seems to breeze through matches I don’t see. But not, sadly, vice versa. I’m guessing there’s some kind of a quantum paradox going on there.




Like some strange modification of Schrodinger’s Cat, that precludes him from winning matches unless they take place in a confined arena, are completely untelevised and seen by precisely no one - the instant someone observes a ball being struck is when things begin to unravel.


Does such a match even take place, philosophically speaking, if no one sees it?


In any event, his recent flameouts mean I’m less hopeful of his chances here than I am of Fed’s or indeed Djoko’s, who I’ve heard, is playing better than anyone else at this event.


Which probably makes it right that those latter (best) two should both meet in the semis, if not the final – and the winner of that match should, by rights, go on to win the title.


Most likely, however, one or both of  Schrodinger’s Cat and the “Theory of Unsustainable Excellence” will intervene.


And we’ll see one of Muzz or, dare I say it, Pico walk away with the trophy.


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Shanghai: “Vindicated”.



You might expect me to feel vindicated given how loudly I’d been pontificating about how Rafa’s participation in both Bangkok and Tokyo mightn't be the best thing in the aftermath of Flushing.


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You’d be right. I do.


Feel free to compose 15th century couplets praising me in the comments section below. I’ve hired a couple of minstrels to relay them in the great medieval banquet I’m hosting in my honour .


 5cc2a5878b7341cfadbad4712d1af6cc4944c3ffd2c0ee0f70bc67ae8656ef84-getty-tennis-chn-atp-masters   1d7f8b24578544b68953e825688dd795


There is, however, another possibility: that the very same thing would have happened, had Rafa done nothing more strenuous than a spot of fishing and the odd pillow fight with Xisca in the month, or so, after winning in Flushing.


That according to the law of averages he was actually due a loss, a real high-profile one (piddly events like Bangkok don’t count), given he’d seen the quarters or better of every event he entered this year.


Couple that with Jurgen playing what he described as “the match of his career” (“I could hit winners from [sic] any shot”) and it suddenly seems that much more plausible.


Playing like that, I can see Jurgen beating any top five player – including Fed. Like the man said though, you don’t often manage that, let alone against the very best.


Won’t stop me rooting for him to qualify for the WTF (over say NANDO, or BERDMAN).




According to the sales blurb, Fed’s shirt is supposed to be lavender (some people have even taken to referring to it as “purple”).


Maybe it is - under UV-lighting (As an interesting aside, I rather like the idea of having all sorts of weird subliminal sh*t UV-encoded on it – stuff to get in his opponent’s head – stuff to project power – sneering at the haters – whatever he wants. Just consider the possibilities for a moment).


His opening matches haven’t been especially polished, though that’s arguably exactly what’s needed at this point. He peaked early against Sod in NY and just look at how that turned out.




Sod always worries me when he plays Ferru – there’s no reason on paper he should be troubled by him and yet he somehow always is. Not today, thankfully – a straights win there means we get a re-match of Flushing.


Can we get a leeedle late-season surge going dya think Sod? Would that be too much to ask?


(Images: Getty)


Monday, 11 October 2010

Shanghai: So What Have We Learnt, Gentlemen?


1) Just what is Rafa so pumped about?


Being Rafa of course. Silly question.





If the Asian Swing really is a “swing”, then Rafa’s the kid that always takes things too far by pushing your 7 year-old self so high up, you end up crying.


I don’t suppose I’ll ever completely understand why playing these piddly events means so much to a guy that’s just written history. But then isn’t that exactly what Rafa’s all about? Barely stopping short of non-metaphorical cartwheels after beating a qualifier in round two of an ATP 500 event? Don’t ever change.


I might be wrong about this, but it’s almost as though he’s relishing the feeling of being able to play with the total abandon that must arise from being, a) injury free and b) able, therefore, to deliver his level best on a surface not traditionally considered “his bag”.


What all this means is that he’s got “nothing to lose” in the truest sense of the phrase: not in the way, say, Oscar Hernandez might have “nothing to lose” when he takes to court against Fed; not even in terms of ranking points (virtually none to defend until next year).


Perhaps this might be the best chance his career ever offers him of winning the WTF - the one title that eludes him. God knows what will happen if he wins in Aus.


Needless to say, this is both hugely problematic and profoundly dispiriting news for the rest of the tour.


I’d be be doing cartwheels too.


2) How good is Djoko’s Calculus?


If tennis was A-Level Maths, then  Djoko just went through a point of inflexion at Flushing.





I don’t think for a minute that he’ll repeat those highs right away, but I really don’t want to believe that was just a one off .


Personally I think it’s perfectly natural to have a slight dip in trajectory after such a defining performance before readjusting to a renewed sense of your self worth.


But he does SO need a good showing here: he’s got all those points to defend in Paris.


3) How much can ‘The Cone’ help Fed to “get it together”? “Get what together”, exactly?


In some ways, Fed’s in the same kind of “what now” transition Djoko is. The difference being that whilst Djoko’s Flushing performance was a step up from the way he’d been playing of late, Fed’s is more business as usual - which means that he’s mostly kept it together and (perhaps more importantly) hasn’t had any real WTF results (Baggy/IW perhaps the oddest loss, and yet take a look at what he had to say).





That gusto totalling of Sod in the gustiest conditions we’ve seen this year was as good as anything we’ve seen since the final of Melbourne (if not better given the wind).


I realise this will go down as one of his two worst Slam years since 2003, but it’s worth noting that it required three career-defining performances from top ranked players to bring that about – not something he’ll want to see repeated, but not nearly the catastrophe suggested by the column space devoted to doom-mongery.


Worth also mentioning that whilst I think input from the Cone will be invaluable over the coming months, I stand by my original assertion that his role will be (and should be) more about quietly nudging Fed back into reoccupying that mental space that wins Slams - renewing that sense of confidence that he can, indeed, beat everyone, dominate even the way he says he can (telling, that he chose  “dominate anyone” over “everyone” – not even he would claim to be able to dominate the way he did in 06-07).


Less important will be the need to “come to the net”, “to mix things up”, or any one of the manifold tired technical enhancements being touted as this years “silver bullet” solution to his “problems” (if you can call them that).


The tour moves on, players develop new weapons, so it is, of course, critical to keep your finger on the pulse and to understand how best to refashion a gameplan to respond to that.


It’s one thing to say that “Rafa has a beefier serve now, so I need to be ready for that”.


Or that “Djoko is clearly returning more fearlessly from the back of the court - I definitely ought to be prepared for that”.


Or that “Muzz is undergoing something of a career-tailspin, in a bit of a funk right now, so maybe I can bully him a little and profit from that”.

And yet, I can’t help feeling that a player like Fed, or indeed Rafa is less about mere technicalities, than they are about their formidable presence and belief: the belief that they really are, naturally, a superior order of being on the tennis court – in, of course, the most inoffensive way imaginable.


4) Where’d it all go wrong for Muzz?


*Grits teeth*


I want to say good things - hopeful things. It’s just that they don’t seem to accord with the narrative right now.





It wasn’t so much that he went out to Wawa at Flushing – it was the miserable, vacuous way in which he did. And there weren’t even any answers forthcoming from the post-mortem.


I didn’t follow Beijing very much but from what I gather, things weren’t considerably different against Ljuby.


Can you do us all a favour and appoint a coach already? A Coach-shaped cut out will suffice until you find a real one – something, anything to direct all all those death stares and verbal refuse at.


For one thing, I really don’t think he’s the “going it alone” type.


What was perhaps most concerning about the Flushing loss was the lack of any real diagnostics in it’s aftermath – Muzz was at a loss to explain his lack of energy and even went on to say he “might never win a Slam”.


Nothing hugely irresponsible about that – even the top players are more likely not to win a Slam than they are whenever they enter one. But being in the top four since 2008 and one of the esteemed few that has a winning record against Fed and Djoko and a not too blemished one against Rafa either, you’d think he’d have a less instinctive measure of his own self worth – though perhaps not, given that that presser was given less than an hour after the match.


In any case, get on to it Muzz, and soon. I have this horrible vision of you being drawn to play Phillip Kohlschreiber in the not too distant future with no one in your box and Miles Maclagan in his.


I agree: let’s not go there.


5) And the Others?


» I’m trying not to read too much into Sod’s loss to Fed at Flushing.


The wind was wreaking havoc, Fed was playing his best tennis of the year – looking back at it now, it was never really going to happen.


But I have to raise an eyebrow when Sod goes down in straights to Daveed Ferrer.


There’s also the uncomfortable fact that despite his recent success over Rafa and Fed – he’s now lost to both of them in their most recent respective Slam encounters.





» Davydenko: Remember him? Actually defending points here and, of course, at the WTF next month.


» Too early to diss Berd very much. A first round exit at Flushing is certainly a shocker – though it’s worth remembering how very new it all is to him. If he flames out early here or in Paris, or at the London WTF (assuming he qualifies), we’ll talk.


» Don’t expect too much from Delpo until the middle of next year. And then maybe only after that. But you already knew that.


» ARod is infected with the passive, top-ten, grinderman bug -- that had hitherto plagued only Novak – until further notice. I almost think less of myself for not expecting very much from him in what’s left of this year.


» Daveed Ferrer is  a top ten player – I keep having to remind myself of that. Don’t expect him to give anything less than his insolent, blue-collar, overachieving best to make the most of it.


» Mikhail Youzhny has a shot at end of season glory of some kind – and should by rights be made president, of something.


Saturday, 9 October 2010

Consistency over Quality?


One last post on the rankings kerfuffle and I’ll drop it. Promise.


I only return to it because this article did the rounds on twitter in the moments leading up to that pivotal Woz/Kvitova match.


I loved it. Not because I agree with all of it (I don’t), but because it attempted to provide a real workable alternative to the current rankings system instead of what you normally hear, which is endless bitching about “consistency over quality” without, I suspect, even understanding what that means.


It also raised a number of interesting points, some of which I confess were completely new to me.




As I think I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I’m not one of those that think the rankings system is in urgent need of a makeover. And I don’t have much time either for the “consistency over quality” brigade (CQB), not, at least, in the reductive terms they like to present their case.


You can certainly argue, as many have, that the system rewards players who play consistently throughout the year. I must have missed the part where this is an outrage, but, in any case, you can also argue that had Serena or any other one of the big guns played even the minimum acceptable quota of tennis throughout the year (hint: not doing so is at least as much of an outrage), we wouldn’t even be having this debate.


It was the same when Dinara made the top spot and I’ll be darned if I change my tune now simply because I don’t think so highly of Caz as I do of Dinara.


It’s not that I don’t think that it stinks that a player that’s made only a single Slam SF this year should be allowed to supplant one that’s won two (although worth noting Serena hung on to it for a full 12 months).


But the CQB argument, in it’s essence, amounts to saying that the top players should be allowed to get away with playing just the Slams – and I’m afraid I simply don’t buy that. If that’s true, then why have a “tour” at all?




After reading the article, on balance, I still don’t think the current rankings system is to blame – after all many of the criticisms it raises are equally true of the ATP and I’m yet to see anyone quite so up in arms over that.


All the same, it does make a rather good case that the system would benefit from a certain “nip & tuck”, if not a complete makeover.


1) They really used to reward beating the top ranked players with quality points?


That’s news to me, I confess. Although I doubt I ever took much notice.


The credibility of the women’s ranking system began plummeting after 2003 when the tour stopped awarding quality points. This system saw players receive more or less points depending on the ranking of the players they defeated. For example, a player who defeated the World’s No. 1 and 2 players to win a title would get more points than a player who won an equivalent tournament but whose best-ranked opponents were No. 19 and No. 20.

[Wozniacki’s] won most of her matches against lowly-ranked opposition. During 2010, she has defeated just two Top 10 players, and astonishingly has not even faced a player ranked in the Top 5. In fact, until her defeat of Maria Sharapova in the fourth round in New York, her collective win-loss record against Sharapova, Clijsters, Serena and Venus Williams and Justine Henin—currently the five most successful active players on tour—was a staggering 0-10.



The puritan in me loves this idea. On the other hand, it also smacks of the type of state regulation and bureaucracy most governments around the world are keen to be seen to be distancing themselves from.


I can certainly see how it might be perceived as overly manipulative and intrusive. Also, why should the top ranked player be penalised for not having anyone ranked higher than them?


2) The old WTA ranking was actually the mean ranking points accrued across all events played that year.


Didn’t know about this either. It would certainly solve the “consistency over quality” problem. Overnight.


Up until 1997, the WTA Tour also used to divide a player’s ranking points total by the number of events she had played, effectively preventing players from accumulating thousands of points simply by playing a lot.

A player like Wozniacki has benefitted enormously from the current system. She has a whopping 24 events currently counting in her ranking, considerably more than most other Top 20 players.


And yet, again, it’s not a device currently used by the ATP either. No one’s died as a result. No one’s ranked beyond their worth or measure either.


3) The ATP question.


…since the ATP Tour debuted its current system in the early 2000s (it has been altered in minor ways since then but remains essentially the same), there have been few arguments. The current Top 4—Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray—are indeed the best four players on the planet in the past year.


Agreed. Though, again, this has rather more to do the ordered nature of the tour and the quality of the players involved than the rankings system being employed – bet things would be largely unchanged if we used the WTA system.


4) Why do WTA runners up and semi finalists get more ranking points than their ATP counterparts?


Male and female Grand Slam winners each receive 2000 points. But the WTA Tour awards finalists 1400 points, while the ATP Tour gives the equivalent player only 1200. Female semifinalists are awarded 900 points, but male semifinalists receive 720. And down the line it goes. The same applies for Masters events—the points are halved, but the same difference in point ratio and structure exists. Dinara Safina was able to reach No. 1 after reaching two Grand Slam finals in 2009. Under the men’s system she would have had 400 points less in her total, and may not have hit top spot without actually clinching a major title.


This escaped my notice. I guarantee you’d have heard from me sooner had I known.


No way on earth is this justifiable. Certainly not with everything we’ve heard on equal prize money.


Moreover, it’s exactly the kind of ammo WTA haters will use to claim they’re being peddled a mediocre product, or that the WTA is in the business of rewarding mediocrity.


You wouldn’t think of awarding WTA Slam winners more than 2000 points, so why the disparity further down the chain?


5) If you rank the women using the ATP system, it turns out that surprisingly little changes, although the difference between Serena and Caz increases considerably.


First things first: The WTA rankings system is an absolute pig to navigate and understand. Try it.


Distilled down to it’s bare essence, players score on their best 16 results of the year, which are made up of:


a) The 4 Slams (2000 pts), 4 Premier Mandatories (1000 pts) and the SEC (assuming you’re eligible to play them).


b) Top 10 players are further required to play at least 2 Premier-5 events (900 points). Top 20 players must include their best 2 Premier-5 events should they choose to play them.


There’s a whole amalgam of other rules, but these are what I understand to be the most relevant.


Fortunately the ATP is a lot less complicated.


A player’s ranking is comprised of a total of 18 events (19 if you qualify for WTF) made up of the 4 Slams, 8 Masters-1000s plus:


(i) The best 4 ATP-500s + the best 2 other events (250s & Challengers) if you’re a top 30 player, or


(ii) The best 6 events (with up to 4 ATP 500s) if you’re not a top 30 player.



And here’s what happens if you rank the women according to the ATP (Premier Mandatories and Premier-5s take the place of Masters-1000s):



Serena Williams remained atop the rankings, but increased her lead over Wozniacki to 1500 points (compared with the 1,000 that separates them now). There would be far less chance for Wozniacki to overtake Williams until at least after next year’s Australian Open. And that’s only if Williams doesn’t play. Under the WTA system, the Dane could reach No. 1 by year’s end.


Clijsters moved from No. 5 to No. 3, ahead of both Venus Williams and Zvonareva. She sits just 200 points behind Wozniacki, and unlike the Dane, has no points to defend between now and year’s end. Being ranked No. 2 or 3 paints a more realistic picture of Clijsters’ stellar season.


Francesca Schiavone swapped places with Sam Stosur, ranking No. 7 ahead of the Aussie’s No. 8. Most people would agree that Stosur has had the better year, but this is a great example of how the ATP system rewards winning major titles. And that’s what has separated Schiavone from Stosur in 2010.

Maria Sharapova rose three places to No. 12, her superior performances in several Masters-level events helping her leapfrog several players.



Two immediate observations:


a) The biggest shift has arguably occurred where it matters most: in the gulf that’s opened up between Caz and Serena.


This is, after all, the front line of the dispute, and in that sense it’s been quite instructive having Caz (with her 23 tournaments and only one Slam SF) right behind her polar opposite (Serena has 14 tournaments, 2 Slam wins).


b) Apart from that, not an awful lot has changed. I know people will say Kim has hopped up a couple of places as has Masha, but it’s still not quite the wholesale transformation the CQB like to have us believe it would be.


Worth also nothing that Kimmie is still ranked behind Caz – the reason being that she’s only played 13 events, not that the systems full of crap.





» The current rankings system does indeed reward consistency more than it’s ATP counterpart


No way of avoiding that the blokes are contracted to play 12 “big league” events out of a total of 18 - for the women its a mere 8 of 16, after which they’re free to pic’n mix from Challengers, International events, 250s and so on.


Even so, this is nowhere near the corrupting influence it’s being presented as.


» The maximum number of events that make up a WTA player's ranking is capped at 16.


The CQB like to pretend that it’s possible to incrementally build up your ranking by playing an outlandish number of events like some great towering inferno. Completely misleading.


Woz is indeed free to play, say, 25 events a year – though only the best 16 of these will count towards her ranking. And after you take out her contractual minimum of 4 Slams, 4 Premier Mandatories and 2 Premier-5s – that leaves only 6 events within which she might choose to, say, swap out a 1st round exit at a Premier $600K event  (worth 1 ranking point) with a win worth 140 ranking pts she might have had at an International event.


That certainly gives you more chances to increase your ranking – but it shouldn’t be confused with incrementally building up your ranking by playing event after event after event.


» Only when you subject the system to the extreme case of quantity being literally juxtaposed with quality (as it is with Woz being ranked just under Serena) does it begin to produce debatable results that, like some X-rated flick, “some viewers might offensive”.


And it is only “some” – you might justifiably argue that holding on to the top spot for 12 months having only played 14 events is long enough.


In any case, it’s far likelier these incongruities are the result of injury and selective participation on the part of the elite.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

“Arise Sunshine, and kill the Envious Moon”







 d7e5dfd1831740e3af86557147dd6d0e-getty-103893276ms028_2010_china_o d7dbde7f92c2dc647a623a491f81490d-getty-tennis-wta-atp-chn


No seriously.


I don’t remember Dinara or JJ receiving a presentation or this much publicity when they made the top spot  (correct me if I’m wrong) – they’re clearly not the media darlings you are. But while I may have some remaining pent up ire at the media about that, be assured that none of it is directed at you.


  576d737f8a3f62679bee6e2002f4d07c-getty-103893276ms031_2010_china_o 0643a25e95b9754b6e49e11342962152-getty-tennis-wta-atp-chn


You remained healthy whilst others succumbed to heat exhaustion, fractured joints and bad breath.


You played way more than the requisite number of events whilst others found reasons not to play their minimum quota.


And, whatever anyone else might say, your game does at least appear to be headed in a more aggressive direction – which, after all, is at the root of what seems to offend so many people.


In other words, you did everything required of you and are still getting shat upon for succeeding in a rankings system hordes of haters can offer up no way to fix – if indeed it is broken (I don’t think it is). That, in particular, is usually enough to get me on board.




For all of that (and more) you deserve any and all accolades coming your way. And you deserve the number one ranking too.


I’ll probably be back on your case if you falter in your quest to

increase the number of winners you hit over the course of a match – I only counted one in the first set – Kvitova hit 24 UFEs, familiar story?


And you really need to attend to that Slam record of yours against the very best if you expect to be taken seriously as a top player. Who knows, you might even find you don’t need to play as many events as a result (a good thing by the way).


But I think you already know that.


So for now, let there be sunshine for 72 hours. Caroline sunshine.


Uninterrupted, as I say, by Kanye West styled cameos on who “the real number one” is or should be.


…and let it “kill the envious moon”.


No agenda. Promise.


(Images: Getty)


Monday, 4 October 2010

The “second best” world number one.





1) Delpo lost. Twice.


UPDATE: Delpo lost 6-3 6-0 to Feli in the opening round of Tokyo. Most of what follows (written after his loss in Bangkok) remains valid.


He came. He played. He served 16 aces. He lost. In straights. To a guy that should, by rights, be in a different weight division.


His wrist still appears to be intact. “Perfect” even.


"I'm just happy to be back on the circuit and I hope I get better and better. I need to work hard to get back into the Top 10.

"Of course I would love to be back there soon. The most important thing for today is my wrist - and it's perfect. I hope to play five or six more tournaments between now and the end of the season. We will see how it goes."


Still, part of me wishes he’d been exposed to more than just two sets - a couple of rounds would have been ideal: we’d get a chance to form a real opinion on his game, but more importantly be assured he can survive the demands of back to back, if not back to back to back to back, matches.


Delayed reactions are a bitch - and then you die. Or at least your ranking does.


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-- Caz won Tokyo and will, if she makes the Beijing quarters, be crowned world #1


Just so you know, and you probably already do, you’ll not likely live to see the day I root for Caz. So I suggest you stop holding your breath.


This is less about wanting to sneer as it is about feeling strongly enough to take an ideological position against her style of play – the way you might against, say, fox hunting.


There’s probably a certain type of “steely-lite” about her for which, I guess, she deserves credit and she’s certainly not shy of hard work.


It’s just that, as far as I’m concerned, that approach has no business winning Slams.


The number one ranking? Different story altogether.


Let's face it, the hunt for major titles and the No. 1 ranking aren't what they used to be, partly because the two efforts are no longer as closely related as they once were -- especially on the WTA side, where Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic recently held the No. 1 ranking without having won a major event. The "even a blind pig finds an acorn sometimes" approach seems to have become something of the norm, which is partly why a nice girl like Wozniacki can be so cavalier about her pending ascent to the top spot.

Maybe that No. 1 ranking isn't all it's cracked up to be, which is a theme that Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafa Nadal and others have hammered away at for years. It's often taken as a disingenuous position, reflecting a desire to ward off pressure. But at times like these, I'm more inclined to take seriously the claim of those players, that they have only one goal -- to win major tournaments.

It follows that being ranked No. 1 is actually the second prize in tennis. Looked at that way, second prize is about to be awarded to a truly deserving candidate on the WTA side.

-- Peter Bodo, ESPN



You can probably count the number of times I’ve agreed with Pete on one hand – of a worn old fingerless glove.


Though there’s no way out of conceding that, with this particular article, he’s right on the money.


I get that for some people the #1 ranking symbolises greatness, history and the type of gravitas we associate with Serena, Henin and the like.


I also get, therefore, that these people will object (and not always conscientiously) to a system that enthrones the Slamless at the expense of the enSlammed (twice over) with every cell in their body


A “system” gone to pot – that must, like any other malevolent autocracy, be brought down, as they say, “by any means necessary”.


Personally, I’ve never had a beef with it, even when it sees the #1 ranking going to a Slamless, wonderless workhorse.


And I’m not about to begin now, however many foxes Caz might skin in the process.


The trouble is that, at some point, we have to somehow quantify all that “greatness” and “gravitas” they’d like to see embodied in the #1 ranking.


And try as I may, I can’t fault using a rolling week on week measure of your performance over the past 52 weeks.


In an ordered universe (like, say, the ATP) the top dogs dominate, the nearly-men nearly make the cut, the also-rans also run, Bambi’s mum never dies and we’re all home in time for croissants and ‘The Antiques Roadshow’.


If the WTA persists in a culture of chaos brought on, in part, by injury, but also it must be said, a policy of selective participation by it’s top players, that’s no reason to blame the rankings system, nor, for that matter, to call for it to be rewired (rigged?).


I’ve heard many arguments in favour of barring players from the top spot if they haven’t won a Slam (that sounds too much like rigging an election and is, in Software parlance, what we call a “hack”) or weighting the rankings further in favour of the Slams (newsflash: they already are).


None of them persuade me very much.


And yet, something’s clearly rotten in the state of Denmark.


Which is why I quite like Bodo’s temporary rebranding of the #1 ranking as “the second prize in tennis” and, should she make it, why I’ll be happy to think of Caz as the world’s (second best) #1 ranked player.




-- Rafa’s loss to Garcia Lopez




And yet, it’s worth remembering Federer’s “Volandri” moment of 2007 followed a period of unprecedented success.


So not that much of a shocker then. In fact, very much the law of averages.


In any case, I’m more interested in why Rafa’s reverted to his back-to-back-to-back-to-back scheduling of old.


Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai may be worth millions in appearance fees. It’s not “smart scheduling” by any stretch of the imagination.


We started using that phrase when Rafa dropped Barcelona (all of ONE tournament) from his schedule earlier this year.


The only “smart” thing about it now is that it smarts


Has anyone asked Rafa’s knees what they think?



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