NOTE: Attacking The Net was created this year to cover the major tournaments, with the possibility (no guarantees, though…) that it could cover more of the tennis calendar in the future. This blog will go largely dark for the next month.
You’ll get post-tournament wrap-ups on the Monday morning after the Canada and Cincinnati tour stops, the main steppingstones to the U.S. Open. You’ll see regular coverage of the U.S. Open beginning on the Monday before the tournament begins. Some historical pieces will begin the lead-up to the Open, followed by draw analysis and a viewer’s guide just before day one on Monday, August 25.
Following the U.S. Open, you’ll get a Sunday (September 14) wrap-up of the Davis Cup semifinals, featuring Roger Federer and Switzerland against Italy. The other semifinal is between the Czech Republic and France. – MZ
10 – “LISICKENING”… THE RULES, NOT SABINE
The sport of tennis lacks central governance, which makes it hard to address persistent problems in a fluid and effective way. Yet, one of these months/years/decades, tennis has to arrive at a reasonable consensus on how to deal with medical timeouts. Last Tuesday in the fourth round, Sabine Lisicki took a medical timeout down break point in her own service game against Yaroslava Shvedova.
Those who don’t follow tennis religiously, or who don’t follow both the written and unwritten rules of the sport, should know that medical timeouts cut deep for many in the global tennis community. The codes of tennis (this pertains to unwritten rules more than written rules) create an expectation that a player, if suffering from what can loosely be referred to as “generalized pain and discomfort” as opposed to a “severe and abrupt traumatic incident” such as a fall or some similarly sharp jolt to the body, should soldier through to a changeover if at all possible. A player should also not make an opponent wait to serve by taking a timeout, either. Before one’s own service game or at a changeover — that’s when medical timeouts can be stomached by the stewards of tennis, especially its old-school contingent.
Australia, a nation with a rich tennis heritage formed by the likes of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Lew Hoad, Tony Roche, John Newcombe, and others, is considered one of the more “old-school” tennis nations. It is not surprising, therefore, that Australian Darren Cahill, regarded by many in the American tennis community as the best analyst on ESPN, spoke out clearly and eloquently about the medical timeout issue.
The thing to appreciate in particular about Cahill is that his remarks took great care to note that Lisicki was playing within the rules. Cahill was not taking a shot at the player. He was taking a shot at the lack of a better rule and policy structure for the sport. As was the case with Victoria Azarenka’s handling of her 2013 Australian Open women’s semifinal against Sloane Stephens, a player did NOT cheat. A player exercised gamesmanship, playing within the rules but exposing the flawed nature of them. Gamesmanship is not the same as cheating. In cases of gamesmanship, the rule structure — not the player — deserves blame and scrutiny, not to mention cries for reform. Hammering the player for making use of bad rules? That’s not really productive or fair.
Players are competing for many extra hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the prestige associated with making the semifinals or finals of a coveted tennis tournament. Maybe you would take the high road and not exploit bad rules — good for you (seriously). Yet, don’t hold it against another player when s/he plays within the rules and shows how bad the rules are. That’s not the player’s fault; that’s the rulebook’s fault and, by extension, the sport’s fault.
There are other issues tennis has to address. Enforcing time violations is one. Tournament scheduling in the event of rain delays is another. Coaching violations is another. Will someone do anything about any of these issues? The sport has to find the political will to govern itself to a greater and more effective degree.
9 – SERENA WILLIAMS: DOUBLES EDITION
The story of how and why Serena Williams was allowed to play a doubles match when she plainly didn’t feel well is one of the great mysteries to emerge at this Wimbledon.
Let’s be clear here: This is not something over which Serena deserves criticism. This is a team issue and, more generally, a matter of policies regarding the health and wellness of players. So many bizarre or worrisome (or both) rumors and reports swirled around Serena and her odd relationship with coach Patrick Mouratoglou over the past week that it was hard to keep track. Confusion, clutter and clamor reigned in Serena’s camp. Life can be that way sometimes. Yet, what was seen in the 15 minutes just before Serena left the court with Venus in that doubles match was so alarming, even frightening, that the leadership community in tennis needs to formulate additional standards for the taking of a court in a match.
What should those standards be? That’s what must be discussed and then hashed out.
8 – ADIOS, CARLOS
The Li Na story started so brightly in 2014 with an Australian Open championship. Li’s deuce-court serve to the wide corner of the service box did so much damage in that tournament. Coach Carlos Rodriguez had seemingly given Li the extra tools needed to be a better, more consistent player. When Li made the Indian Wells semifinals and the Miami final, it seemed that her season was on the right track.
However, after a quarterfinal loss to Maria Sharapova in Madrid, Li — the No. 2 player in the world — was never really the same. An early flameout at the French Open was embarrassing, but at Wimbledon, Li gained a dream draw with Serena, Sharapova, and Simona Halep all safely in the other half of the bracket. Li’s inability to win even one of two tiebreakers against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round showed how little belief she has in her game these days. She and Rodriguez have parted ways.
Once again, Li — despite winning a second major this year and no longer being a one-hit wonder — has reinforced her longstanding reputation of being an extremely volatile performer. Now, though, she doesn’t have one of the big names in coaching to guide her through the rest of the year. Did you expect this at the end of March? If you did, you should be in Las Vegas, making bank on all sorts of prop bets.
7 – NIGHT TENNIS AT WIMBLEDON?
On Friday night and Saturday night of week one, Wimbledon ran into problems with matches that ran past 9:30 p.m. local time. Players could barely see. Matches were suspended on a show court at one point in time, but not suspended until 20, 25, 30 minutes later on an outer court that enjoyed a slightly greater degree of inflowing natural light.
When should a match be suspended on account of darkness?
Should all matches at a tournament be suspended at the same time by direction of the tournament referee?
Should Wimbledon get lights to deal with this problem?
These and other issues were written about in greater depth and detail here at Attacking The Net. These issues need to continue to be explored by the All-England Club and by Roland Garros, which also lacks light structures and therefore can’t play true nighttime tennis.
6 – MURRAY AND NADAL: DIFFERENT KINDS OF DEFEATS
Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray both failed to join Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the gentlemen’s semifinals, but their losses could not have been more different.
Nadal played a solid match against Nick Kyrgios, getting broken only once and forcing the 19-year-old Australian to hit 70 winners and 37 aces, many of them in extremely tense scoreboard situations. Nadal didn’t touch the heavens with his level of play, but he was hardly — as the Brits would say — “rubbish.” Kyrgios played a special, special match, especially for someone at his age with his lack of match-play experience on the ATP Tour.
Murray, on the other hand, proved to be a ghost against Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. Murray put up a brief fight in the second set but faded at the end of that set’s tiebreaker. Don’t blame coach Amelie Mauresmo for Murray’s failure to get out of bed. That’s on the athlete. The match with Dimitrov was not decided by tactics. Murray has not made a major final in 2014. He’s fallen to No. 10 in the world, which means that he must scramble to get into the top eight and avoid a particularly (potentially) nasty draw at the U.S. Open.
Nadal showed other top players how to bow out of a tennis tournament gracefully. One couldn’t say the same for Murray in an on-court sense. The 2013 Wimbledon champion did take his loss with admirable grace and class. Now, though, he needs to bring a higher level of quality to the court, especially his forehand, which was limp and listless against Dimitrov.
5 – THE OLD AND THE NEW
This Wimbledon featured the rise of the Young Guns, yes, but it also witnessed a few golden moments for the longtime laborers on tour. In the men’s tournament, Dimitrov and Kyrgios were joined by Milos Raonic as young party-crashers whose futures look brighter than ever. However, on the women’s side, 28-year-old Barbora Zahlavova Strycova made her first Wimbledon quarterfinal after years of relative failure on tour. Another Czech, 27-year-old Lucie Safarova, made her first major semifinal. In the men’s tournament, Marin Cilic — almost 26 — made his first quarterfinal at SW19. It’s one of the better stories in tennis: Those who toil for years and years on tour finally get the second-week publicity and fat tournament paychecks they’ve been pursuing for such a long time.
4 – EUGENIE BOUCHARD:
THE NEXT TEBOW/MANZIEL/SHARAPOVA MEDIA MONSTER
The parallels to Maria Sharapova, even though she didn’t win Wimbledon this past Saturday against Petra Kvitova.
The flood of “Mean Girls”-style stories meant to create drama in the larger media ecosystem.
The continuing receiver of publicity in the United Kingdom’s Sunday tabloids, even though she was drubbed, 3-and-love, in the ladies’ singles final.
The object of the Women’s Tennis Association’s designs and affections, a product of the way marketing works in the present day and age.
Eugenie Bouchard, the brand and the off-court persona, is a marketing edifice at this point. Surrounded by stuffed animals, calling herself a princess, showing little concern for what goes on beyond her insular and not self-manufactured world (it’s created mostly by others) — these are products of image-makers. This is an encouraged strategy to a certain extent. This is not Eugenie Bouchard, the actual person underneath the veneer of the Marketing-Industrial Complex. As has been the case with Sharapova, we might not see the real person for quite some time; we’re likely to have a hard time knowing where the media image ends and the real person begins.
As was the case with Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel — two sports stars covered to a ridiculously excessive extent by ESPN — Bouchard is already encountering her own fair share of loathing and criticism from many tennis fans, when — in reality — the tennis community is reacting more to the odious and corrosive forces that have rushed to surround her in light of her rapid rise on the WTA Tour.
Plenty of fans have the good sense to separate hatred of the player from hatred of media and market-based forces. This is true. Many, however, don’t (or at least aren’t yet able to make that distinction).
Don’t blame Bouchard for what’s happening, much as one never should have blamed Tebow or Manziel for a lot of forces that they didn’t really initiate or insist on. Human beings in their early 20s aren’t fully formed and shouldn’t be expected to be, either. You remember when you were 20, 22, 24 years old — you didn’t have all the answers, even though you might have thought you did.
Novak Djokovic — just to offer an example — was a rough-edged and combative (though still often charming and engaging) figure at age 20. Were some of his antics off-putting? Certainly to some. However, let’s not look at 20-year-olds as statesmen or stateswomen — pro tennis players shouldn’t be held to those kinds of standards, at least not at the beginning of their careers as they try to make sense of a lot of overpowering and bewildering forces. Djokovic — who reacted so beautifully to his Wimbledon title on Sunday, epitomizing how to win with class and grace — has become a true ambassador for tennis, not just in Serbia but across the globe. He grew up, and any open-minded tennis fan should have been willing to allow him to grow up.
Can we do the same for Bouchard?
If she’s still behaving like this at age 26, yes, it will reflect poorly on her.
How about, though, we give her these next five or six years to gain the perspective that the vast majority of 20-year-olds (especially in a world of celebrity and immense pressure) simply aren’t going to have?
3 – ROGER FEDERER: FACING FEARS, FOILING FOES, FABULOUSLY FORGING FORWARD
The true winner of the gentlemen’s singles title was and is Novak Djokovic, but Roger Federer won so much by coming in second, as was the case with his silver medal at Wimbledon during the 2012 London Olympics.
Federer’s ability to once again become a factor on tour was genuinely thrown into question last year, when back issues and an accompanying loss of confidence led to a miserable summer on clay and hardcourts. Federer’s second-round loss at Wimbledon occurred because his opponent, Sergiy Stakhovsky, played out of his mind. When Federer squandered more than a dozen break points in a fourth-round U.S. Open loss to Tommy Robredo, however, the storm clouds that were present on that muggy afternoon in New York also hovered over Federer’s tennis existence.
There was indeed a dark and ever-present drama attached to Federer’s career in a way that never quite applied to his 2010 and 2011 decline. During those two years, Federer was still a regular presence at major semifinals. The second half of the 2013 season was something altogether different and far worse.
Federer’s ability to rediscover his game — a development helped by choosing a larger racquet and regaining physical health — rates as one of the more inspiring stories on tour this year. Wimbledon cemented that rise, magnifying the feats of a man who might still have the ability to create another magic moment at a major tennis tournament before he’s done.
2 – PETRA KVITOVA: THE VILLAGE PERSON
While Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur show no signs of channeling their talents into a second major, Petra Kvitova has managed to do just that. Conditions in the air (temperatures, smog) and on the ground (slow red clay) hurt Kvitova at the other three majors, but the quiet of the Wimbledon village, combined with its lawns and occasional, cleansing rains, gives Kvitova a sanctuary. She said that Wimbledon is indeed a home for her. She might not win elsewhere on tour, but she now has the look of a player who is going to win four or five Wimbledons before she’s done. Even if that doesn’t happen, the act of backing up one major with another has changed the way she should be viewed.
1 – NOVAK DJOKOVIC: AGAIN, THE BEST SURVIVOR
Novak Djokovic is a player who is a master of the art of surviving. Djokovic rescues himself from bad patches in all sorts of matches. He can look so disjointed, agonized, and generally unsettled for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. However, after one or even three of these segments over the course of a full match, Djokovic typically raises his hands in victory following the handshake at net. He’s done this so many times that it’s become second nature.
However, the one place where Djokovic had lost his grasp of the survivalist arts was at the majors. Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray (even Roger Federer once, in 2012, at Wimbledon) fended him off in the business-end stage of a major over the past two and a half years.
Sunday, though, Djokovic once again survived a final showdown in a main-event battle that separates good players from legends.
Djokovic’s career is already a legendary one. Now comes a period of a few years in which the Serbian superstar will try to go from “Tier-2” legend status to “Tier-1,” in the company of the Federers, Nadals, Lavers, Borgs, Samprases, and others.