Saturday, August 18, 2018

Halep and Bertens to play for Cincinnati title

photos by Daniel Ward

Tomorrow at 2 p.m., world number 1 Simona Halep will try for the third time to win the singles title at the Western and Southern Open. Standing in her way is Kiki Bertens, whose game has been on fire on every surface all season.

Halep holds a 3-1 record against the Dutchwoman, but the Kiki Bertens of 2018 is not the Kiki Bertens of even a year ago. Always a fierce competitor on clay, Bertens has turned into an exceptionally fierce competitor on all surfaces. By the same token, Halep, the 2018 French Open champion, has now fully embraced her number 1 status, and is playing superior tennis.

Bertens has been knocking off top 10 players left and right. Can she knock off the top one, or will Halep be too much for her?

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--bye
round 2--def. Ajla Tomljanovic
round 3--def. Ashleigh Barty (16)
quarterfinals--def. Lesia Tsurenko
semifinals--def. Aryna Sabalenka

round 1--def. CoCo Vandeweghe
round 2--def. Caroline Wozniacki (2)
round 23-def. Anett Kontaveit
quarterfinals--def. Elina Svitolina (5)
semifinals--def. Petra Kvitova (8)

A last look at the final four

Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens, Simona Halep, and Aryna Sabalenka all put on a great display of althleticism and clever tennis today at the Cincinnati semifinals. Here's a look at them in action (all photos by Daniel Ward)

Simona Halep reaches her third Cincinnati final

photo by Daniel Ward
World number 1 Simona Halep reached her third Western and Southern Open final today when she defeated the unseeded Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 6-4. And while the scoreline may seem routine, the match was anything but. Sabalenka, perhaps the up-and-comer on the tour right now, played the same fearless tennis against Halep that she has played throughout the tournament. Her huge serves and her willingness to go toe-to-toe with Halep in hitting groundstrokes kept the match exciting from the beginning.

Aryna Sabalenka (photo by Daniel Ward)
Cracking 114, 116 and 117 mph. serves like it was nothing, Sabalenka gave Halep plenty to do from a retrieval standpoint. And Halep, who likes to tell us that she is "strong on the legs," was up for it. In the end, the world number 1 was too savvy for the Belarussian upstart, but what an entertaining match it was.

In her post-match press conference, Sabalenka said she was angry with herself--that she realized she was waiting for Halep to make errors, rather than being as aggressive as she needed to be. But watching Sabalenka crack a 116 mph. serve at match point gives one the belief that the young player will take her lesson seriously.

Tomorrow, Halep will play Kiki Bertens to determine who will be the 2018 champion. This is Halep's third time to be in the Cincinnati final. If she wins, it will be her first Cincionnati title. In 2015, she lost to Serena Williams, and in 2017, she lost to Garbine Muguruza.

Kiki Bertens defeats Kvitova, reaches Cincinnati final

I just put on my best walkin’ shoes
I got myself and honey, that’s good news
Gonna try, try to be happy now
Meslissa Manchester, "Be Happy Now"

photo by Daniel Ward
Unseeded? No problem. Kiki Bertens, who has been on fire all season, did a repeat of her Rogers Cup feat today and took out 8th seed Petra Kvitova in the Cincinnati semifinals. The Bertens breakthrough this year has been huge. Not only is she more confident and positive--she's decided to take her well-established clay court acumen to every surface on the tour. This expansion included the Dutchwoman's making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

The will be Bertens' third final of the 2018 season (she won in Charleston). Bertens credits her turnaround in attitude--she felt very discouraged at the end of 2017--to making a conscious decision to think and feel differently. Just like that. In doing so, the Dutch star tapped into one of the most powerful methods of effecting change, whether you're a tennis star, an artist, an executive, or simply a person surviving on the Earth.

Petra Kvitova (photo by Daniel Ward)
Today, Bertens had some help from her exhausted opponent. The long matches finally caught up with Kvitova, and the sudden change (back to hot) in the weather aggravated her asthma. The good news, Kvitova told us after the match, is that she has made sufficient interventions with
her asthmatic condition so that it isn't as great a problem as it used to be.

The match was fun to watch. Even tired, Kvitova was causing people in the stands to gasp. The Czech's fitness was on display again and again as she ran for balls that looked un-returnable and converted them into winners with a combination of stretch and touch. Her drop shot from the baseline may have been the shot of the match.
Kiki Bertens (photo by Daniel Ward)
But, even after winning the first set, Kvitova ultimately wasn't able to keep up with Bertens, who had
to "play her way into" the match. After being dominated in the opening set, Bertens got tuned in with her serve, which helped her quite a bit. Her stats looked good: She hit 23 winners to 21 unforced errors, and hit 10 aces.

Bertens' 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory sends her into the final against either world number 1 Simona Halep or the unseeded Aryna Sabalenka.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Fab Four are ready!

clockwise, from top left: Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens, Aryna Sabalenka, Simona Halep (all photos by Daniel Ward)

We're down to the final four in Cincinnati. They played in rainy conditions, they waited--and waited-- for the rain to stop; a couple of them played two matches in one day. Tomorrow, they vie to see who makes the final.

World number 1 Simona Halep had to play twice today. In her first first match, she defeated Ash Barty 7-5, 6-4. In her quarterfinal, she defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 6-1. The Rogers Cup champion will next face Aryna Sabalenko, an unseeded upstart from Belarus who has been going after top players. So far, in Cincinnati, she has knocked out Jo Konta, 9th seed and 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova, 6th seed Caroline Garcia, and 13th seed Madison Keys.

Her match tonight against Keys marks the first time that Sabalenka has won in straight sets in this tournament. She's an exciting and confident player, and we should expect a good match.

Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova has reached the final four, having played her most dramatic and exciting match today, against Elise Mertens. Kvitova, who is seeded 8th, will face the unseeded (please don't let that fool you) Kiki Bertens. Bertens, once known as a clay court specialist, has torn up that script and has become a threat on every surface. She gone after the top 10 in a way that must surely make her one of the last players that anyone wants to see on the other side of the net.

In the meantime, both the number 1 and number 2 seeds were knocked out of doubles today. French Open and Wimbledon champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova were defeated by Elise Mertens (the busiest woman in Mason today!) and Demi Schuurs, and Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic were defeated by Lucie Hradecka and Ekaterina Makarova.

Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow, so there will most likely be more interruptions.

They call her "Dr. Buz"--they call HIM "Dr. Buzz"

This is Mihaela Buzarnescu, whose story we all know. Shoulder and knee injuries, and subsequent surgeries, forced her off of the tour for two years. During that time, she earned a doctorate at Romania's National Academy of Physical Education and Sport. This year, Buzarnescu won her first WTA title, a premier event, in San Jose, California. Also this year, she reached the round of 16 at the French Open, upsetting Elina Svitolina along the way.

Because of her academic status, Buzarnescu has earned the nickname, "Dr. Buz." 

This is Ziggy Stardust, one of my cats, though he no longer lives with me. Because of his agility and speed, we always thought that--when we weren't around--he was showing off on the tennis court. Even as a kitten, he had a very loud purr, which earned him the nickname, "Dr. Buzz." This nickname because even more appropriate when he began "tending" wounds and sore places on my body.

Dr. Buz and Dr. Buzz--"pickup" doubles, anyone?

Kvitova defeats Mertens in a long, grueling roller coaster match

player photos by Daniel Ward

The first set of Petra Kvitova and Elise Mertens' quarterfinal match, played on The Grandstand at the Western and Southern Open, looked like it was going to be all Kvitova--unless, that is, you knew anything about Mertens. Down 0-4, the 15th seed came to life and fought back until the set was even at 5-all. Kvitova then got a break and was able to serve our the set.

By this time, Mertens, confident that she had found her game, went up a quick 3-0. It was a mirror image of the first set: Kvitova caught up, but this time, Mertens got the extra break and won the set 7-5.

By the time the third set rolled around, it was anyone's guess as to who would advance. Kvitova won that set 6-3, but she had to fight--just as she had fought the entire match--through deuce after deuce, because Mertens was relentless. The match took two hours and 42 minutes to play, and there were 15 breaks of serve. The weather was very pleasant throughout, making it a perfect match to watch.

The Barking Czech will next face either Elina Svitolina or Kiki Bertens.

The Cincinnati quarterfinals are set

world number 1 Simona Halep (photo by Daniel Ward)
It took a while, but we finally have a quarterfinal draw for singles in Cincinnati. Here's how it looks:

Simona Halep (1) vs. Lesia Tsurenko
Madison Keys (13) vs. Aryna Sabalenka
Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Elise Mertens (15)
Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Kiki Bertens

Halep has now played eight straight matches since she began her title run in Montreal. There have been multiple rain delays and changes conditions. She did receive a medical timeout a couple of nights ago, but has shown no other signs of wear and tear. All the same, it's fair to wonder if--at some point--some type of fatigue will set in.

Win or lose, Tsurenko has had a good tournament, taking out both Ekaterina Makarova and the defending champion and world number 7, Garbine Muguruza.

Keys got her second win over Angie Kerber yesterday, and now faces another big hitter in Sabalenka. Sabalenka is on a roll in Cincinnati, where she has already shown the exit to Jo Konta, 2016 champion and 9th seed Karolina Pliskova and 6th seed Carolina Garcia, who held a match point in their third round contest. The Belarussian has had to go three sets in every round, which is never helpful to any player. On the other hand, she possesses healthy doses of both grit and confidence.

The cooler weather has been a boon to Kvitova, but the humidity, if it intensifies, could be a problem. Kvitova has never played Mertens before, which could create some discomfort. A lot of this will have to do with serving: Both players possess very good serves (though different kinds of serves), and both can be inconsistent with their serves.

Perhaps the most interesting of the four matches will be the one to be played by Svitolina and Bertens. They have played each other once, in 2016, on a hard court. It went to three sets, and Svitolina won. But this is a more aggressive, more confident Bertens than we saw two years ago. No longer a threat just on clay, the Dutchwoman is looking good on all surfaces. Speedy Svitolina, however, can given any player headaches on the right day.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Elise Mertens advances to Cincinnati quarterfinals

photo by Daniel Ward

Elise Mertens' 2018 season continues to gain momentum in Cincinnati, where--today--she defeated 3rd seed Sloane Stephens and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open. Mertens has a really good serve, not that fast and powerful, but often placed with precision. She weathered a first set tiebreak, in which each player had chances to take the set, but it was Mertens who grabbed it with a 10-8 score. The second set was easier for her, as she elevated both her first and her second serve, and won the match 7-6, 6-2.
Petra Kvitova (photo by Daniel Ward)

Mertens' next opponent will be a woman whom she has never played--Petra Kvitova. Kvitova, who defeated Serena Williams Monday night, played an efficient match against Kiki Mladenovic, whom she defeated 6-4, 6-2. After the match, the Czech star said that she wasn't that pleased about her serve, but was very happy with her returns. (Asked what she did during the many long rain delays, Kvitova said that she "slept, read, ate--nothing.")

Another player whose winning ways were on full display today was Arnya Sabalenka. Sabalenka, already the victor over Jo Konta and 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova, went a step farther today and took out 6th seed Caroline Garcia. In each of her Cincinnati matches, Sabalenka has lost the first set. Her next opponent will be Madison Keys, who had her second victory over Angie Kerber tonight.

Madison Keys (photo by Daniel Ward)
Kerber was totally dominant in the opening set, winning it 6-2. The second set was much tighter, and went to a tiebreak, in which Kerber lost her way. Toward the end of the final set, Keys broke the German star (and 2016 runner-up), and went on to win the match.

Lesia Tsurenko also had another good day. After taking defending champion Garbine Muguruza out of the tournament yesterday, she beat Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets today.

Simona Halep (photo by Daniel Ward)
Two matches left over from last night were also completed today, with world number 1 and top seed Simona Halep defeating Ajla Tomljanovic, and Amanda Anisimova defeating Petra Martic.

There was hope that today would be a catch-up day after yesterday evening's rain, but it didn't work out that way. My much anticipated doubles clash between the world number 1 team of Krejcikova/Siniakova and Mertens/Schuurs could not be played.

In fact, it's raining as I write this. Anett Kontaveit and Kiki Bertens are in a second set (Bertens won the first), and two doubles matches had commenced.

It's a rainy morning in Cincinnati


It's probably a good thing for Simona Halep, but not so much for the rest of us, that the rain is coming down in Cincinnati, and--more important--in Mason. Last night, after both Halep and her opponent, Ajla Tomljanovic, took medical time-outs, their match was suspended because of rain (it had also rained a lot earlier in the day).

When play stopped, Halep was up 4-3 in the third set. The physical (and undoubtedly, mental) rigor of the world number 1's last several days have no doubt taken a toll on her, as they would on anyone. If Halep defeats Tomljanovic, she'll have to play yet another match today, in order to do rain delay catch-up.

The other match that was interrupted last night was the contest between Amanda Anisimova and Petra Martic. When play was suspended, Anisimova was up 5-4 in the first set, with a set point on Martic's serve. The delay certainly isn't a gift for Anisimova.

There is likely to be rain on and off throughout the day today. The question, of course, is: how hard will it come down? Rain like what we had yesterday causes long delays because it takes so long to dry the courts.

One of the biggest matches scheduled today puts Angie Kerber against Madison Keys. Kerber is 7-1 against Keys, and 6-0 against her on hard courts. Kerber's last hard court victory against Keys occurred in the quarterfinals of this year's Australian Open.

Petra Kvitova returns to the courts today, and will play Kiki Mladenovic. Kvitova is 5-1 against Mladenovic; they last met in the 2018 St. Petersburg final, which Kvitova won, 6-1, 6-2.

Mladenovic, with partner Timea Babos, is also scheduled to play doubles today. However, the doubles match to watch today is the quarterfinal that features top seeds Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova and 6th seeds Elise Mertens/Demi Schuurs. The Czechs--who won both the French Open and Wimbledon--are on fire, but so is Schuurs, and having Mertens as a partner is a plus.

The early evening singles match is of interest because it features two "clay court specialists" who are turning out to be something more. At least one of them, Kiki Bertens, has already proven that she can be a terror on other surfaces, too. Her opponent, Anett Kontaveit, has already defeated two good players--Barbora Strycova and Maria Sakkari.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Lesia Tsurenko rains on Muguruza's parade

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion

The umpire said "Game, set, match--Tsurenko." Then, no sooner than the handshake was finished and the defending champion had walked off the court, the clouds dumped heavy rain all over the Western and Southern Open. 

Was it falling on Garbine Muguruza's head like a memory? Probably, but maybe not like a new emotion.

It was cloudy and a bit dark when the match began. I was sleepy and exhausted, so I assumed that I was projecting my own state onto the event. It wasn't just that, however. The match was a languid ordeal that never really caught fire. There were some nice rallies and some good shots. Muguruza, when she was switched on, was--as always--a joy to watch. 

But there was just something dark and cloudy about the entire affair, despite Muguruza's kit, which cheered some of us.

But let me stop here and give credit to Lesia Tsurenko, who didn't allow the sight of the defending champion to take her off of her own mission. The first set, won at 6-2, belonged to Muguruza, but anyone who watches the tour regularly knows that--with certain players--that doesn't "mean" anything. In the second set, the defending champion started to mugu around the court, hitting fourteen unforced errors, and letting a suddenly precise Tsurenko take over. The Ukrainian player took that set 6-4.

The third set looked like the script for the expected plot. Muguruza regained her momentum and accuracy to go up 3-0. Soon it was 4-1, and then it happened: Tsurenko was able to break back, and at 4-all, the writing wasn't yet on the wall, but the wall looked like it might crack. Tsurenko served for the match at 5-4 and double-faulted, which is often a sign that a lower-ranked player has the match-closing blues, but Muguruza couldn't take advantage. A shot into the net and then a long forehand ended the match, and Tsurenko walked away into the rain with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Muguruza made 43 unforced errors in the two-hour contest. Afterwards, she conceded that she hadn't played at the right level, but that she was controlling the match before her opponent came back, "so I'll take that." 

Garbine Muguruza brings a strange kind of inconsistency to the tour. She loses when we think she should win, and then--sometimes, when we don't necessarily expect it--she wins the biggest prizes in the sport. When she's "herself," she plays with a fluidity that we rarely see. Other times, she loses in her first round at a Premier 5 event.

As for Tsurenko, she'll next face Ekaterina Makarova (my most memorable player from last year), who defeated Alize Cornet in straight sets in the second round.

Myrtle McAteer--Cincinnati's first champion

In 1899, a new tennis tournament emerged in Cincinnati--the Cincinnati Open. The Open was played at the Avondale Athletic Club (now the site of Xavier University), and featured both female and male players. All matches were best of three except for the finals--singles and doubles--which were best of five. The surface was described as "elastic clay and brick dust."

The singles champion in 1899 was Myrtle McAteer of Pittsburgh, who--at the time--was 20 or 21 years old, and was the reigning U.S. doubles champion.  In the final, she defeated future Hall of Fame member Juliette Atkinson of Brooklyn. McAteer and Atkinson also won the doubles title that year, defeating two players from Cincinnati. The crowd for the final day of play was estimated at 2,000.

McAteer's prize was a Brookwood vase, valued at $100. For their doubles achievement, McAteer and Atkinson were awarded a three-piece Silver Berry set.

The next year, McAteer won the U.S. National Championships (now the U.S. Open). In 1901, she won a second doubles championship at the U.S. Nationals.

McAteer died in Los Angeles in 1952, at the age of 74.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On her eighth try, Karolina Pliskova defeats Aga Radwsanska

For 2016 Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova, winning the first set against Aga Radwanska was a big deal; in her seven failed attempts to defeat the Polish star, Pliskova had never taken a set. Today was different, though, as the Czech player needed only to two sets to banish her opponent. Pliskova said, after the match, that she liked her chances from the beginning, partly because this was Radwanska's first hard court match since her return from injury in June. Also, Pliskova said that she liked the conditions: "'s flying, it's pretty fast, so I felt like there was no wind, so it was perfect for me today."

 Pliskova has begun working with Rennee Stubbs, who she describes as "always positive." They are going to work together for the rest of the season and then re-assess. Pliskova indicated, however, that she's leaning toward continuing their contract. Asked whether Stubbs' influence has caused her to feel more positive, Pliskova said: "Look, I've been around her like, four days, so it's not much, but actually I feel positive, and I beat Radwanska for the first time in my life!"

Pliskova said that "I think maybe Tomas (Krupa) sometimes wanted too much from me and I just was not able to do it...." She added that "I feel like he's a little bit negative; I am also negative."

Regarding the tendency of Czech players having Czech coaches, Pliskova responded, "I'm done." She also concurred, in that wry, Pliskova way, that she'd "used them all up," and there weren't any more Czech coaches she could hire.

Maria Sakkari beats Naomi Oksaka and advances to Cincinnati second round

On a cloudy, but very hot, day in Cincinnati, Maria Sakkari and Naomi Osaka met on the Grandstand court for an hour and fifty-minute backhand blitz, from which Sakkari emerged the victor. Both women are big hitters, and both have (perhaps not "typical" of big hitters) athletic flexibility. The latter was put to good use, as both players kept the ball as low as they could (and yes, a lot of balls went into the net).

Not surprisingly, both hit more unforced errors than winners. The difference, though not great, lie in both offense and defense. Sakkari wound up with an impressive first and second serve win ratio of 80/69. And she saved the only two break points against her in the match (Osaka saved seven of nine).

Sakkari won the first set 6-3. Osaka's serve, especially her second serve, improved in the second set, and there were some close calls for her opponent as Osaka forced break points. The set went to a tiebreak, in which Sakkari saved three set points and won the tiebreak 10-8.

After the match, Sakkari said she thought she'd played a great match and that she'd served really well, especially when Osaka had set points. Asked to consider how her belief in herself had changed, she reflected on how having played the same top players more than once has helped her, and she has improved in her consistency.

Sakkari said that her lack of height and big power has caused her to use every tactic she can to win matches. "My goal," she said "is to become a very solid player." She named Kim Clijsters as the player she most admired when she was growing up.

Sakkari said that working with Thomas Johannson has helped her, partly because "he inspires me." She said that they understand each other, both on and off the court, and that is what makes the relationship strong. She also said that she was very inspired by the success of her countryman, Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom she considers a role model. Sakkari said that the two of them "look after each other."

Asked to reveal some things about herself, she said "I can tell that I'm a nice person, I'm polite." She also said that if she weren't a professional tennis player, she would "for sure be an athlete, I don't know what kind of sport."

The young Greek will next face Anett Kontaviet, another young player of considerable talent. Sakkari and Kontaviet have played each other three times, twice on hard courts and once on clay. Sakkari won both of the hard court contests in straight sets.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Top players take a seat at the round table in Cincinnati

The top players did their round table discussions with the media in Cincinnati today, and they didn't disappoint. Defending champion Garbine Muguruza said that in both San Jose and Montreal, she didn't feel that her injured arm was in the shape that it should be in, and that she's had to learn more patience. Muguruza said that she was utilizing both rest and treatment to heal her arm, but that she was also training, and "trying to be more wise."

The Spanish star said that experience has helped her a lot. For example, how she dealt with not defending her French Open title helped her to deal with not defending her Wimbledon title. She said that she has gotten much better at letting go of a feeling or a reaction and moving on.

Muguruza also talked at length about sports psychology, saying that--while the extra pair of ears and the advice are helpful--it's also sometimes difficult to discern whether a clinician truly understands what a player goes through.

(As a mental health specialist, I find this argument flawed. Not every one of us has had the experience of every other one of us, but we have all experienced the same feelings. Also, a good clinician knows appropriate interventions to use for just about every person/situation.)

Elina Svitolina had an interesting thing to say about the new shot clock. She has noticed that she has plenty of time to spare. " I can take my time more....I think I'm really, really quick. Sometimes I don't even make a decision where I'm gonna serve next, so now...I can take my time."

Asked about her new, more slender, physique, Svitolina responded to concern that lost muscle mass might affect her game. She said that this is an experiment--that her team wanted to try something different, and that she and her team will assess the outcome. She added that "I think I'm on the right path already."

The 5th seed went on to talk about how she has learned to stay in the present. She said that she had to start changing her mentality when she made the transition from junior to playing on the regular tour. "I had to be ready to compete with women...Everyone is really focused on each point."

Montreal champion Simona Halep, looking remarkably fresh after a grueling week in Montreal, said that she's now better able to manage the pressure of being the world number 1. After acknowledging her turnaround after her coach, Darren Cahill, stopped working with her for a while, Halep said that another thing that has helped her mentally has been her work with a psychologist. "She makes me feel like I'm able to do some things, to change some things. Finally, she gave credit to her team for pushing her "past my limit." And then she added, in that self-deprecating way of hers: "I'm not perfect."

Caroline Garcia told us about what it was like to be a teenager and have her father as a coach. Not surprisingly, it wasn't always easy. She said that the things she needed to hear were perhaps more painful coming from a parent than a regular coach. Garcia also talked about the tour's depth. "You can see it's getting more and more athletic. ...Every match is very tight, and it doesn't matter, the rankings, there is some good fighter on."

Asked about the shot clock, Petra Kvitova had a typically deadpan response: "Actually, I'm fine with it. I got a time violation already--but I don't think it was my fault."

Kvitova said she was "trying to have a Plan B, and I think it's paid off this season already. She said that sometimes, it's taken her some time to know when to shift to Plan B, but "mostly, it's clicking."

The Czech star was realistic about the pitfalls of being an offensive player. "That's where the bigger hitters have the problem, because they need to hit one, two, three balls more--which is kind of stressful for us sometimes, though. You know, when you see the opponent is still running and putting the balls back when you just wanted to have the winner, and it's just not coming, so that's probably why we make mistakes...."

She went on to talk about the difficulty of competing against exceptionally talented defensive players: "Well, it tough to find a balance, playing those great players. Well, you just need to still kind of put the pressure, but you need to find a balance, but sometimes it's really tough when you are not really clear in the mind and you don't really know what's happening on the court--it's a bit of a mess. Just talking from my side."

Wimbledon champion Angie Kerber said that she still needs some time to fully realize her achievement in London, but that her post-victory time was better after Wimbledon because she has learned when to say "yes" and when to say "no."

For the last six months, the German star has been working on making her game more aggressive. She also changed her serve a little bit, she said.

"You know, I think it is also life, how it was with my tennis," Kerber said in response to a question about making the transitions from a glorious 2016 to a not-so-memorable 2017 to winning another major in 2018." She looked back at the arc of her career, and all those years prior to 2016, a year that she says would be "impossible" to repeat. She said she learned a lot in 2017, and it was helpful to her.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The dark side of being a fan

Two and a half years ago, I wrote about what it means to be a fan. My main points (for those who want a summary) were that we can be overcome by the beauty of a player's game or athleticism, we can be inspired by a player's personal struggles, or we can conveniently project our own insecurities and other uncomfortable feelings onto players. This last process can make it easier for us to carry our own pain (my favorite players are scared, insecure, anxious, fill-in-the-blank, too!), but it can also make it easier to lash out at them rather than examine the motives behind our very strong feelings.

In most cases, I suspect that real fans are emotionally involved because of all of these things. Athletes are living metaphors for everything about life: working hard, sacrificing, developing skills, overcoming obstacles, taking risks, handling defeat. Their inspiring behaviors are larger-than-life, and their losses and embarrassments are, also. And both are very public, exposing players' vulnerabilities to the world.

There's also a dark side of fandom. The Nadal camp vs. the Federer camp is a good example of enthusiasm run amok, with some fans on both sides finding it "necessary" to insult the other camp (and player) at every opportunity. But it happens in women's tennis, also. There are--it should go without saying--always people who attacks WTA players because of their race, and of course, there are many ATP fans who attack the entire women's tour because it is composed of women, a gender which they consider inferior and not capable of playing "real" sports.

Bigotry is the worst kind of fan behavior, but it isn't the only aspect of "dark" fandom. On social media, players are attacked by fans who are big on opinion but extremely short on fact (something we know a lot about here in the USA). Expressing strong opinion without having the facts is not only intellectually lazy--it's mean-spirited. It may also represent a need to have an "enemy."

And then there are the fans who absolutely insist that your favorite player must be compared with theirs. And you know where this scenario goes--their favorite is "better." Or the fans who can't resist making snarky comments about players who are not their personal favorites.

And then there are the fans who cannot tolerate personality styles with which they are not personally comfortable. Here's the thing: If there weren't a lot of different personality styles on the WTA tour, the tour would be a lot less interesting. Alize Cornet's theatrics may not be your cup of tea, but so what? Simona Halep's tendency to get angry on court may not be your style, but so what? Alona Ostapenko's extreme expressiveness may not appeal to you, but--so what?

Finally, there are intense verbal attacks made toward players who slump or choke or don't appear to make progress with strengthening their weaknesses. This, I can assure you, is pure projection on the part of fans. (It's also about sports betting, yes, but that isn't the subject with which this post is concerned.) Are we disappointed when players exhibit stunning errors or weaknesses? Yes. But becoming enraged and delivering attacks or posting insults isn't about the player--it's about the "fan."

The WTA, as The Backspinner describes it, is "the most interesting tour in the world." Why waste our time and energy using it to project our own dark and uncomfortable feelings, reject what we don't understand, or insist that we are "right" and that we are on the "superior" team?