Archives for May 2020

Jennifer Fights for Her Life Grab Women’s Crown

Jennifer Capriati

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

FROM PARIS (2001): With a smile that reached all the way around the Seine, Jennifer Capriati celebrated the most important title of her career after she willed her way past Kim Clijsters 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 in a nail biting final at Roland Garros on Saturday.

“I was fighting to the end, for my life out there. I just wanted to  win so bad,” Capriati said of two hour and 21 minute sweatfest. “Afterwards, it just all paid off, all the fight. I’m really happy and relieved.”

Sharing seemingly never-ending hugs with her family after a gut-wrenching victory over a more than game opponent, Capriati lit up Roland Garros by beaming toward to sky.

“It doesn’t seem real,” said Capriati to her mother Denise after winning her second straight Grand Slam title.

“It is real,” replied Denise. “You won it with your big heart.”

Capriati dedicated the victory to fellow player Corina Morariu, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy in a Florida hospital for a rare form of leukemia.

“I just wanted to show that my heart is with her,” Capriati said. “We’re all players. It really hits home when something like that happens.”

A heavy favorite entering the contest, a nervous Capriati was completely out of sorts in the first set, becoming distracted by the chair umpire’s microphone  and complained loudly to her.

“I can’t play that microphone,” she said to the umpire. “Are you kidding me? Turn that thing off. Don’t you have a switch?”

According to her mother, Capriati became tense last night while watching television and seeing one of her mentors, Chris Evert, saying that she was favorite to win the title and it was her time to shine in Paris.  Unlike last year when she never entered an event the favorite, Capriati is now widely considered the best player in the world.

“The expectations were on her,” Denise said. “After what Chrissie said, she gave me a look and I knew that she was affected. Everyone was expecting her to win today and that’s not easy.”

Unlike in her previous matches, Capriati was unable to dictate play early, as she moved slowly and dumped numerous groundstrokes into the net. The 18-year-old Clijsters dominated the first set, running beautifully and and keeping her hard groundstrokes deep. Capriati committed a whopping 25 unforced errors in the set and said she was upset by a l
arge contingent of vocal Belgian fans.

But after changing rackets down 0-1 in the second set, Capriati regrouped and began to stand in more confidently in the neck-breaking rallies. Even though Clijsters wowed the crowd with her retrieving abilities, she was unable to control her huge forehand at key moments. Capriati broke her to go ahead 3-2 when Clijsters hit a forehand long and held on to win the set when the Belgian missed a forehand down the line.

While the first two sets were error strewn, both attacking baselines raised their games in the third set. Capriati broke Clijsters to open the set with by bashing away a forehand volley, but the 18-year-old broke her right back when Capriati dumped a backhand.

Both players served extremely well in the set, with Clijsters moving her serves all over the box and confusing her foe and Capriati  frequently jamming Clijsters with hard serves into the body. At 6-6 and deuce , Clijsters tried to sneak in a drop shot, but it fell into the net. Capriati then broke her to 7-6 when the teen missed a backhand.

But Capriati was unable to consolidate the break when she committed  series of shaky errors. “I couldn’t watch. I felt like I was having a heart attack,” said her brother and hitting partner, Stephen.

 Clijsters was two points from the match on a two occasions, but never could control the center of the court. Serving at 9-9, the Belgian started out sloppily, double faulting and committing a bad forehand error. Capriati gained a a break point and quickly cashed in, emphatically circling a ball mark three times after Clijsters missed a forehand down the line to go up 10-9.

But the 24-year-old Floridian against couldn’t hold, when Clijsters passed her with a forehand that clipped the net cord and bounced over her shoulder.

However, Capriati made another charge, breaking her younger foe with a decisive overhead smash. She convincingly served out the match, winning it it a seeing-eye inside-out forehand winner.

“I just watched and prayed,” said Denise. “But she worked through it. I  knew she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. In the last game, she finally said, ‘I’m going for it,” and she did.”

The No. 4-ranked Capriati’s resurgence from a once burnt out teen phenom who left the tour for nearly four year’s to hottest player of 2001 is a remarkable story.

“She has the confidence and will, the motivation and desire,” said Stephen of hsi older sister, who also won the ’01 Aussie Open. “She can beat anybody right now. If she can beat the best players on the biggest stage, she’s the best.”

Jennifer, who reached the semis here as 14-year-old, said that while she was growing up, she could never imagine holding up the trophy on Philippe Chatrier Court.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” she said. “I never thought Roland Garros. Maybe I thought this would be the hardest one or the last one for me to win. I was having chills up there thinking about it.”

OUR FIRST STORY:, in Paris at Roland Garros

Pete Sampras, French Open, Roland Garros 2001

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

FROM PARIS (2001): Having the glorious distinction of being the reigning Wimbledon champions means little in Paris other than being fortunate enough to have a gaggle of British journalist ask you whether you are planning on taking wildcards into Queens or Nottingham. Pete Sampras and Venus Williams discovered that quickly this year at Roland Garros; Venus, after she was bullied by Barbara Schett in the first round, and Sampras, when he was unable to uncork a bottle of white wine named Galo Blanco in the second round.

Sampras had perfect conditions this year to rid himself of the plague of Sisyphus in Paris  — hot, dry temperatures and only a little breeze. He had a great draw and actually followed his coach’s game plan to the tee – come in at all costs, run around your backhand and take a lot of chances on the return. 

But Sampras is nothing on clay when he’s not serving well and his forehand is sporadic. He is without a weapon. First, he barely got by No. 250-ranked Cedric Kauffmann. Then his serving performance against Blanco was one of the worst he has ever put on and he made a decent but not great player’s backhand look like Bjorn Borg’s during his prime. Sure, Blanco passed with precision, but it wasn’t as if Pete was making him guess much on his service games or was hitting deep approach shots.  The winner of a record 13 Grand Slam titles again failed to put together back-to-back wins at Roland Garros for the fourth successive year.  “It’s very frustrating, I knew what I had to do in that match and I just have to give him credit,” Sampras  said. “He came out with some clean passing shots. He had me on my heels and dictated all the baseline points. He just played better than I did – plain and simple.” 

Agassi zeroed in on Pete’s problems. “It’s straight fundamentals. It’s never been easy for a game like Pete’s to do well here. He’s great at turning an entire point around with one shot. On clay, you know, you can’t. You have to fight off three or four (shots) then slowly turn the point around, then slowly finish it. A guy like Alex) Corretja will slide to the forehand and buy himself a lot of time for the shot selection. Pete on the other hand will run to the ball, slam it, then slide. All that is doing is giving him much less time.  There’s nothing that you could teach Pete that’s going to make it any easier.” 

Blanco joins the list mediocre players who have taken down the dirt-challenged Pete in Paris: Gilbert Schaller, Ramon Delgado, Thierry Champion. Sampras will be 30 next year when he arrives at Roland Garros and even if he says he has many years to left to try to take the French title, you just don’t see aging serve-and-volleyers do well on the dirt anymore. Sampras may be the worst all-time great to ever comepete at Roland Garros. All of Open-era legends did better here – Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Edberg, Borg, Lendl, Wilander, Courier. Sampras would be better off taking his mind off the clay and zoning in quickly on the grass. He is titleless in ’01, having an awful year and is in danger of finishing the year out of the top-10 for the first time since ’89. He needs to take the fast train to London, find a pub, down a few pints and remember just what kind of player he is supposed to be.

Venus is another question all together. Williams was humbled 6-4, 6-4 by the Austrian powerhouse Schett, rendering her dream of grabbing the No. 1 ranking from Martina Hingis in the near future mute. “I just had a very, very rough day,” said Williams. I wasn’t playing normal.”

A confused Williams appeared to have her thoughts elsewhere, as the muscular Schett ate up her weak second serves and exploited her shaky forehand with blowtorch returns and a wicked forehand. Considered by many to be the tour’s hardest hitter, Williams frequently found herself on the defensive, unable to control the center of the court nor read where Schett was going with her shots. The Austrian also served effectively, stretching Williams out with a biting slice serve and occasionally running flat serves down the middle that left Williams flat footed. “It was my groundstrokes,” said Williams, who committed 43 unforced errors. “I couldn’t keep a ball in. I was making quite a few errors for no apparent reason.”

Williams did manage to fight off three match points in the contest’s final game, but unlike numerous times in the past, Schett didn’t seize up and Williams couldn’t pull herself through. 

Venus has played sparingly this year, but did win the Ericsson Open, devastated the field in Hamburg on clay and then was upset on dirt by Justine Henin in Berlin. She has never performed well here and why she thought that playing two clay court warm-up events was enough preparation for her stated to desire to win Roland Garros this year is confusing. She needed more preparation to find her footing on the clay and to be able to groove her groundies. The 20-year-old believes she has been playing enough. “I never dreamed it would turn out like this,” Williams said. “Normally I turn it around but today it wasn’t there.”

The Compton Crusher is not going to win a Grand Slam by using the retreat as her most common tactic, which was her main strategy against Schett. She’s now essentially in the same position she was last year, approaching Wimbledon with two bad losses in her last two Grand Slams. Can she repeat her 2000 performance and grab glory at both the All-England Club? Not if she brings the same attitude that she did to the court against Schett.

The big 8 players: Who is improving now?

Andy Murray

With no one playing tournaments due to the coronavirus, the question is: Are they are improving, on court and off court? The great thing is that it has been almost two-and-a-half months at home, so they can heal any injury issues. 

At this point, they feel very good with their legs, knees, arms, backs, etc. Actually tennis players are rarely 100 percent healthy because they are playing all the time. They play month after month, from January all the way into November. Basically, the entire year. 

A schedule of tournament after tournament means too much wear and tear. For the foreseeable future, this isn’t going to change on the ATP and WTA tours.

Right now, all the players have said that they want to come back ASAP, because they miss it. 

Of course they do, because the reason why they managed to reach the top 10, top 100 and top 200 was playing constantly, learning how to hit the ball properly.

But, as the top players say, they always have to improve. No one is perfect. Here are eight players who are great, but what are they currently doing to get even better? 

Novak Djokovic
The Serb can crack his backhand, forever. His serve, his returns and speed is outstanding and his forehand is much better than when he started. However, he has to flatten out his forehand and nail it down the line. Get rid of the spin.
Rafa Nadal
The Spaniard is so efficient, with his heavy and hard forehand, his deep returns, his first serve, and volleys. Plus he has lot of confidence when he gets to the net. However, his backhand is O.K. — which is much better then he started winning his first Slam in 2005 — but it can fall short, and he needs to nail it cross-court.
Roger Federer
The Swiss can do so many things: his phenomenal forehands, his tricky serves, his intelligent returns, and he bangs down so low that he can kiss the net. He has won 20 Grand Slams, which means that right now, he is the best player ever. However, while he has improved his one-handed backhand, he still needs to leap on the ball and hit it close to the lines. If he is going to upend Nadal and Djokovic, who have beaten Federer many times, the 38-year-old has to take a huge amount of risks to win one more Slam.    

Andy Murray
Yes, Brit Murray hasn’t played much over the past two years because he was seriously hurt and he almost retired. But the three-time Grand Slam champion is a darn good player. If he can become healthy again — which will be very difficult — then, at some point, he can reach into the top 10 again. The 33-year-old loves watching tennis, playing tennis and thinking about tennis. That is his life, at least or now. For him to go deep again, he cannot continually grind it out, the way he used to. He has to go for his shots pretty early or he can become wounded once again. 
Ash Barty
The Australian No. 1 Barty has won a Slam at Roland Garros. Since she returned a few years ago from a try at cricket, she became much better month after month, with confidence and more court sense. She has a tremendous variety, and she is so steady. However, she needs to improve her serves, especially her second serve. Or else, players will attack and knock her way back in the court. 

Bianca Andreescu

Serena Williams
She has the best serve, forehand and backhand, But Serena needs to come in more at the net and put the ball away. She is 39 years old and just getting older. Can she can win one more Grand Slam? When will she do it? Does she still have the mental strength to take a slam final? I have no idea, but she can do it, and finally retire with a phenomenal 24 majors.
Sofia Kenin 
At the start of this year, the American won the 2020 Australian, her first Grand  Slam. She is very strong, young, and she pushes herself forward with huge swings. She took down Ash Barty and Garbine Muguruza to win it. She can be very combative, her forehand has a lot of spin, and she slaps her backhand. But she can be inpatient If she wants to become No. 1, she has to clam down. But she is already on her way there.

Bianca Andreescu 
The Canadian is young. But, last year, when she rose up quickly, she nailed so many winners that it was so clear she would reach the top 10 immediately. She did, because she was never afraid and she won the 2019 US Open, blasting everyone. She does get hurt a lot, which is not good, but hopefully she can figure it out. If she is going to improve, she needs be more consistent in the rallies.

A marriage made in quarantine

WTA Tour/ATP Tour merger?

By staff writers

Roger Federer started (restarted) the conversation. Now the debate is on.

Last week, the most TV commentators said that they were all in favor of an ATP Tour & WTA Tour merger. In a sense, that would be wonderful, but even if they make the effort, it will take years to complete.

They should start right now to pull it off ASAP, while the coronavirus has managed to stop all play. For months. With the players not playing each week all over the world, they might have talked about it only occasionally. Then, they couldn’t sit down and have a real conversation. But right now, they cannot get on a plane or play matches. It was time to “Stay at Home.’”

So now, because of that, they can really discuss the issues, perhaps for the first time ever. That is exciting and very real. No B.S., just talk and see if you can really figure it out.

After Federer threw out his now famous tweet suggesting the merger, Nick Kyrgios retweeted, wondering if he or others had consulted with ATP players. But, there are more votes siding with the merger. So far, both tour leaders have said they do see enough merit in the concept to explore it. Positive responses came from obviously Billie Jean King (who proposed the idea when the tours were born) and Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza. There are two votes, from the men’s side: Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

Here’s a quiz:

• I am a fan of men’s tennis only.

• I am a fan of women’s tennis only.

• I am a fan of tennis, both genders.

What answer do you think would prevail? No doubt that “both genders” would win hands down. The tennis world agrees.

The tours should merge, gradually. Why? Because most tennis fans watch both tours. Sure, the ATP gets more attention and some fans are more focused on the men. But, TV ratings show that interest in women’s tennis is growing: cited a ESPN report that the 2018 Wimbledon women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber drew a 2.1 rating, peaking at 2.4 during the final quarter. The men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson was “0.9, down from 1.5 in 2017 and the lowest since ESPN began broadcasting the finals in 2012.” Agreed that Anderson — who is a very nice person off court — but that doesn’t have great star power. But, Kerber doesn’t have the clout, however, the famous Serena has.
The entire tennis world is coed, except for the pro tours. National governing bodies regulate boys’ and girls’ junior tournaments and follow through into adult championships. In the majority of college tennis, schools have men’s and women’s teams, some lead by one coach. The ITF also oversees both genders.

So, why is there a split into ATP/WTA when players get to the highest level?

Let’s look at history. The world of the 1970s was in a vastly different place when it came to acceptance of equality between the genders. In the famous Battle of the Sexes between King and Bobby Riggs, the admitted “sexist pig” Riggs was able to flout his disregard for King’s talent. While King went along with the promotion, there was no doubt that this was not just a battle on the court. Following the emergence of a strong women’s lib movement in the 1960s, King’s goal was not to defeat Riggs as to prove that women can roar, and win.

The ATP was established in 1972 and the WTA was established in 1973. Is there any doubt that there was no “separate and equal” or even equal at that time, in tennis or the world in general. The tours were not comparable, in star or financial power. As James Brown sang, “It’s a Man’s World.”

Now we are in 2020. When women and men compete in the same tournaments, equal pay is expected. While the dominance of the Big 3 in the men’s game has helped keep the ATP Tour ahead in the public eye, Serena and Venus Williams and a cast of top players can draw larger TV ratings.

There has been a comparison to the golf world where men and women’s tours are different. Men and women golfers (in almost all tournaments) don’t play on the same golf course at the same time. But, in tennis, men and women regularly compete at the same location at the same time. Plus, at the Grand Slams, they play mixed doubles together.

There isn’t much discussion about the merger in conjunction with the Slams and the top tournaments where men and women already compete together. But, the question is around the lower level pro tournaments: Should a merged tour always have both genders at the same facility at the same time?

We see two different paths.

Play together

The Tennis Channel commentators like Lindsay Davenport have backed the concept of a merged tour means merger events. While there are many positives to this approach, there are challenges.

Currently, men and women play at the same time at many events: the four Grand Slams, Brisbane, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Eastbourne, Washington, Cincinnati and Beijing. And a few more. However, in 2020, the ATP has 63 events, and the WTA has 69 events. If some of these tournaments have both fields, will all of the tournaments survive? Who will stay and who will go?

Can these lower-level tournaments fit an event during a week? For example, at the beginning of April, the women have Stuttgart and Istanbul, and then the men have Houston and Marrakech. How would you merge those fields? Will there be enough courts together? In Houston, there are enough courts for the men’s in singles and doubles, but if you throw in the same thing with the women, that means double of everything. That is almost impossible.

Play apart at smaller tournaments

Many smaller tournaments (ATP 250s and WTA Internationals) play in facilities that couldn’t accommodate twice the players and matches at the same time.  Besides tennis courts, the tournament would need to find twice the hotel rooms and more volunteers. Is that financially possible, especially for these tournaments that have to pay player appearance fees to offset small purses?

The unique arrangement used by Tennis Canada – playing during different weeks – could work for the smaller tournaments. One solution is to run women one week and men right after. Then the tournament could keep up temporary stands, concessions and sponsor booth. Staff, volunteers, officials, etc. would be onsite for two weeks, instead of one.

So, a merger doesn’t have to mean a combined event every week at every city.

The final analysis
We have learned that the Winston-Salem Open [which is the week before the U.S. Open begins] has tried to get a WTA event merged into their tournament. But, the ATP shot it down. The ATP is in a position of dominance and they will need to use a real financial motivation to give up the top spot.

We hate to down to the nitty, gritty, but: It’s all about the money. If tennis can grow, if more fans will watch in person and on TV, then there will be some movement here. For the long-term good of the sport, serious work should continue to make this happen.

Because a tennis fan is a fan of all players, male or female.

Bring it on.