Wednesday, January 16, 2019

NARRATIVES AND TALKING POINTS

The Spin Team


Remember her name.  I watched the first set on replay this morning and even though I knew she would give Tsurenko problems, to see her holding her own against a player who is known to frustrate opponents with her speed, Anisimova was just not having it.  A fantastic win for the youngster.  




There are some days when I am watching tennis that I really appreciate the commentary.  It can be quite insightful. If you are not familiar with the nuances of what is happening on court, it is quite exciting to watch a tennis match and hear experts give you information on the players and little tidbits of knowledge that helps to enhance your understanding of the game or particular players. If done well, commentary can make a match better.
Sometimes the commentary will get quite heated. It is always interesting to listen to commentators discuss how the sport is being managed. Who can forget Davenport’s recent critique of the WTA and how it always seems to be caught on the back foot when it comes to the changing face of the game?
All this is to say that unlike some, I appreciate commentators.  They do provide context (sometimes). While we go on and on about conflicts of interest in tennis, it can be helpful to hear their perspectives on why Player A is having such a difficult time against Player B. Commentators know more than they may be able to share but every now and then, their insights can be revealing.
Narratives always arise when commentators discuss a body of work for players.  There are some instances when that narrative focuses only on the bad behavior and leaves out the backstory that might provide context for that bad behavior.  As an example, every single time that Serena Williams steps on the court this year, the issue of her US Open dispute with Carlos Ramos becomes the talking point.  If they take the time to even talk about her issues at the US Open, there is never any mention made of the 2004 match against Capriati, which brought in the challenge system.  There is also never any mention made of her triumphant return to the winner’s circle in 2008 and the fact that the US Open is the tournament at which she won her first Grand Slam title.  Those could be valuable and helpful talking points, but they are never mentioned.  However, you will always hear these talking points about Serena: the 2009 foot-fault call, the 2011 hindrance call and the most recent one, the “diatribe” against Carlos Ramos.
The narrative of Serena and her issues at the US Open should include all of the talking points about her complete body of work at that particular event. Maybe then a discussion could be had about why Serena has no such issues at the other tournaments or majors. Perhaps a psychologist could be added to the booth to explore why the US Open has been such a challenge. Framed another way: why is the US Open a problematic tournament for the WTA's reigning slam champion? 
In comparison, the narrative around Sharapova is similarly selective but with an interest in providing a far more sympathetic picture.  Banned from the sport for 18 months for an anti-doping violation, the commentators have been at pains to try and mitigate this and spin it into an injury situation.  The fact that Sharapova has been out with an injury for less time than she was out for the anti-doping violation seems to have been lost on everyone.  Yes, she was injured.  That, however, is not the reason for her poor play since her return.  One could argue that as she is now prohibited from using Meldonium, that might be one of reasons for her poor play.  Yet, that never comes up. That assumption should be a part of the discussion about Sharapova’s fluctuating form. However, if you listen to the commentators, it’s clear that they have accepted Sharapova’s own defense of her use of Meldonium, rather than their own sports’ anti-doping body.  
I am sure that most commentators believe that they are being judicious when they discuss a player, but as we have seen from this year’s Australian Open, sometimes players have to take to social media to destroy the narratives and the talking points (see Bernard Tomic on Lleyton Hewitt and Nick Kyrgios on Roger Rasheed and company).
So, it’s noteworthy to see which players get the benefits of commentators holding back and which do not. Take Karolina Pliskova, who is now being coached by commentator turned coach, Rennae Stubbs.  Pliskova absolutely destroyed her racquet on an umpire’s chair and was fined.  If you are watching a Pliskova match, you never hear one word about that particular offence.  I have scoured the internet and can only recall one instance when Pliskova was asked about this behavior in public.  She actually celebrated her behavior and thought it was good for the game. Compare that to her own critical comments about Serena and you quickly begin to see that there is a double standard about what is good for the sport. 
I hope that commentators can be critical and complimentary about a player by bringing all the relevant talking points into their narratives. Focusing on only the negative or only the positive makes their bias fairly obvious to any thoughtful listener or watcher.  I can only hope for fair coverage, alas, that is not to be and probably will never be.

Day 4 is already upon us and Spin's Picks are highlighted in red

S. Halep [1] vs S. Kenin
A. Cornet vs V. Williams
C. Suárez Navarro [23] vs D. Yastremska
E. Bouchard vs S. Williams [16]

T. Bacsinszky vs N. Vikhlyantseva
J. Konta vs G. Muguruza [18]
C. Giorgi [27] vs I. Swiatek
M. Brengle vs Ka. Pliskova [7]

N. Osaka [4] vs T. Zidansek
L. Siegemund vs S. Hsieh [28]
Q. Wang [21] vs
A. Krunic
B. Andreescu vs A. Sevastova [13]

E. Mertens [12] vs M. Gasparyan
A. Potapova vs M. Keys [17]
S. Zhang vs Kr. Pliskova
V. Kuzmova vs E. Svitolina [6]

What to Watch:
Suarez-Navaroo v Yastremska - the  youngster has impressed me but I think the guile of the Spaniard will win on the day
Bouchard v Williams (S) - can the confident Canadian overcome the champion.  She will put up a fight but I don't think she is quite at 2014 level just yet 
Gaspartyan v. Mertens - I am picking Gasparyan in this one because I think she has a much better all around game than Mertens' previous opponent, Schmiedlova
Andreescu v. Sevastova - I like Andreescu.  Big hitter and really good game. Sevastova will have her hands full but I think she will use her experience and pull this one off

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

VINDICATION?

The Spin Team 

Image result for katie boulter
Katie Boulter - Great Britain

In case you missed it, today ESPN published an article where they did a bit of investigative journalism regarding Serena's claim that sexism was at the heart of Carlos Ramos' treatment of her at the US Open. 

According to the article, the journalists reviewed over 200 matches (100 men and 100 women).  They indicated that they were only able to view matches that had been broadcast on television.  Notwithstanding, the report is fantastic in the way that it shows the arbitrary way in which umpires do their jobs.  If you watch as much tennis as I do, (and if you are reading this blog then no doubt you do), then you will also agree with the premise that is expressed in the piece.  It makes for very interesting reading and I hope that the commentators on ESPN would perhaps review their talking points in relation to what happened at the USO. 

I did not get to see many matches from Day 2 but I did see Serena (looked fantastic) and I did see Keys' match.  I was quite disappointed with the Schmiedlova result as I thought she had been playing well since the latter part of last year.  Mertens stayed tough and did what she needed to do.  Venus Williams struggled through a third set.  I will no doubt need to watch that particular match to see just how much she had to fight through that one.  

I guess I will need to revisit the Azarenka situation at some point.  All I will say at this time is that it is hard to get your game where you need it to be after being away from the game for such a long time, and for the reasons that she was out.  It could not have been easy.  Siegemund is a very tough opponent for anyone to get, but especially someone who does not have a lot of confidence in her game at the moment. 

Simona Halep battled her way past Kanepi and a blister and Tomljanovic lost a winnable match. 

Day 3 sees the bottom half of the draw taking to the courts.  Spin's Picks are in red:


P. Kvitova [8] vs I. Begu
B. Bencic vs Y. Putintseva
L. Tsurenko [24] vs A. Anisimova
K. Boulter vs A. Sabalenka [11]

A. Barty [15] vs Y. Wang
A. Sharma vs M. Sakkari
M. Sharapova [30] vs R. Peterson
J. Larsson vs C. Wozniacki [3]

S. Stephens [5] vs T. Babos
M. Vondrousova vs P. Martic [31]
A. Kontaveit [20] vs A. Sasnovich
A. Pavlyuchenkova vs K. Bertens [9]

D. Collins vs S. Vickery
Z. Hives vs C. Garcia [19]
D. Vekic [29] vs K. Birrell 
B. Haddad Maia vs A. Kerber [2]


What to Watch

Bencic v. Putintseva - 2 fiery players with a lot to prove
Boulter v. Sabalenka - I am really loving Boulter's fight
Anisimova v Tsurenko - offence against defence and youth vs experience
Stephens v. Babos - former doubles partners going at each other 
Haddad Maia v Kerber - Haddad can crush the ball but Kerber will no doubt force the errors 

Monday, January 14, 2019

SOUNDING OFF


The Spin Team


Image result for astra sharma australian open
Astra Sharma

The Spin Team

The US Open ended in September 2018.  During that time many pundits have written copious articles about Serena Williams and to a lesser extent the winner of the tournament, Naomi Osaka.  Players have been asked repeatedly about their views on Serena and most of them have not shied away from giving their thoughts on whether the treatment meted out to Serena at the US Open was sexist.  As a matter of fact, they have agreed that the umpire was correct in his judgment and that Serena's behaviour brought the sport into disrepute.  These are the same players who toed the WTA party line when asked to give their views on Sharapova's doping issues. 

But that is not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about the lack of leadership in the WTA and how that seems to be impacting the game.  There is a video making the rounds of Lindsay Davenport speaking truth regarding the lack of leadership in the WTA.  Hopman Cup, the exhibition mixed doubles tournament that has been around for over 100 years had its final season this year.  This tournament is being replaced by the ATP cup.  Apparently, the powers that be, when coming up with this event, did not bother to check in with the WTA to see whether they would be interested in being a part of this event.  

In case you missed it, there are usually 3 events that commence the Australian Open swing.  Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney.  Starting next year there will be a 24-man team event which will foreshadow the AO swing.  These are all men's events.  Read more on the event here


As I understand it, the WTA events that take place in Brisbane and Sydney will still be happening, however, the women's tour was not asked to be a part of restructuring of the lead up events in Australia. From what Davenport has said, they had no idea that this was even happening. 

Unfortunately, this has been the story of the WTA for quite a number of years.  In 2007 when Venus Williams advocated for equal prize money, at no other point that I can recall (and I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong), has there been discussions with the women's Tour as it relates to scheduling or any other concerns that affect professional tennis.  If I recall correctly, it was said at some point in the not too distant past, that the women just waited until the men have reached out to tournament directors and advocated. Then they simply asked for the same thing as the men.

The most recent issue that the WTA has taken up has to do with changing the rules as it affects women who have taken time off to have a family.  One would think that an organisation that represents female athletes would have had these issues written into its governing rules, but not the WTA, apparently. I took the opportunity to look at the WTA website to try and see if I perhaps missed some important information regarding the various issues that have caught the Tour on its back foot. Based upon the leadership I saw; I can't say that I am surprised as to the reason why. 


There are 11 persons who sit on the WTA Board of Directors (including its CEO Steve Simon).  Of that number only 3 are women.  They are Lisa Graham, Vanessa Webb and Dianne Hayes.  They are all listed as Player Class director. I don't know what that means in the grand scheme of things, but it is instructive to note that there is not one person of colour on the Board of Directors on a Tour that has as much diversity as the WTA Tour.  The fact that there are only 3 women on the Board may also reflect why an organisation tasked with looking out for the affairs of women is always caught defending its decisions, which generally are never in the best interests of the women that it seeks to represent. 

In the 2018 WTA media guide, the members of the Players' Council are identified as: Azarenka, Konta, Stosur, Williams (Venus), Safarova, Boserup, Falconi and Erakovic.  Did you know their names as easily as you probably knew who represents the men? It also lists a Tournament Council who’s made up entirely of men. The Executive team does include some female representation, but as with every organisation, the executives on the front line generally follow the dictates of the Board of Directors. 

Perhaps the reason why the Tour seems always to be caught on the back foot is because the persons in power don't have the foresight to anticipate the needs of its members.  Maybe the time has come for a seminal change in the way the WTA organisation, tasked with providing oversight for female professional athletes, starts to do the job for which they have been tasked to do.

From the issue of court assignments at the Majors, rankings and seedings for women returning from maternity leave, and clothing designed for women having health issues, the WTA continues to drop the ball in relation to these and many others. Rather than censoring the free speech of the women on Tour, the Tour should turn an eye unto themselves and determine if they need to diversify those who lead the organisation, so they can anticipate and lead rather than simply respond to the changing environment for women’s tennis.


It is always the simple things that tell the story.  One of the reasons why the men’s game is so damn popular and people can identify male players and they get lots of press coverage is because people can actually see them.  I missed the Ostapenko match last night and I just went to ESPN to catch it on replay.  Of the 43 matches that are currently listed under replay, 27 of those are men’s matches.  If people can always see what you have to offer, it creates an interest in what you are offering, but if the only time we get to see a player like Sakkari or Ostapenko is when they make it to the later rounds of an event, then the WTA is not doing its  job.


Day One Reflections

Julia Georges served for the match and lost to Danielle Collins in what was a nail biter of a match.  Whether it was the heat, her opponent or just Georges being Georges, the fact remains that Georges is one of those players with unfulfilled ambitions, a la Lisicki.  All the game in the world but mental game goes completely off the boil. 

I saw Sharma for the first time last night and I am impressed.  Interesting to see how she develops over the next few years. 

Ostapenko continues to disappoint.  I am not quite sure what else can be written about her really dismal performance since winning the French Open.  Maybe it was indeed a fluke win?

Caroline Garcia struggled in her match against Ponchet.  Her compatriot Mladenovic was literally annihilated by Donna Vekic.  Neither woman seems quite as invested in their tennis as in recent years and perhaps this can be attributable to the fact that there seems to be a lot of issues going on off court, or perhaps they have reached the zenith of their tennis and now require outside forces to perform a reset.  They both deserve better, especially Mladenovic, from their tennis. 

Spin's Day 2 Picks and what to watch are below:-


S. Halep [1] vs K. Kanepi - not sure which draw god Halep has offended but she continues to get her nemesis. Hopefully she would have learned something from her prior experiences, but I don't believe so. 

S. Kenin vs V. Kudermetova

A. Cornet vs L. Arruabarrena
V. Williams vs M. Buzarnescu [25]

C. Suárez Navarro [23] vs C. Burel
S. Stosur vs D. Yastremska
E. Bouchard vs S. Peng
T. Maria vs S. Williams [16]

D. Kasatkina [10] vs T. Bacsinszky
N. Vikhlyantseva vs V. Lepchenko
J. Konta vs A. Tomljanovic
S. Zheng vs G. Muguruza [18]

C. Giorgi [27] vs D. Jakupovic
I. Swiatek vs A. Bogdan
M. Brengle vs M. Doi
K. Muchova vs Ka. Pliskova [7]

N. Osaka [4] vs M. Linette
T. Zidansek vs D. Gavrilova
L. Siegemund vs V. Azarenka
S. Voegele vs S. Hsieh [28]

Q. Wang [21] vs F. Ferro
Z. Diyas vs A. Krunic
B. Andreescu vs W. Osuigwe
M. Barthel vs A. Sevastova [13]

E. Mertens [12] vs A. Schmiedlova
L. Zhu vs M. Gasparyan
P. Parmentier vs A. Potapova
D. Aiava vs M. Keys [17]

D. Cibulkova [26] vs S. Zhang
Kr. Pliskova vs A. Blinkova
V. Kuzmova vs K. Kozlova
V. Golubic vs E. Svitolina [6]

Lots of tasty matches in this side of the draw.  The following matches should bring some amount of excitement:-

Zhang v. Cibulkova 
Sevastova v. Barthel
Schmiedlova v. Mertens (come for the backhands)
Hsieh v. Voegele (Hsieh is the better version of Radwanska)
Williams (V) v. Buzarnescu (because its Venus)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

JUXTAPOSITION - MURRAY, GIMELSTOB AND TENNIS

The Spin Team

In a few hours 64 men and women who have honed their skills for much of their lives take to the courts in Melbourne Australia to compete for the men’s and women’s singles Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.  I am really looking forward to the first Slam of the year and will be cheering from the comfort of my living room as play gets underway later today.


However, there are 2 things that have happened in tennis in recent times which begs me to put on my keyboard warrior mantle and “talk” about it.  A few years ago, Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times did a piece on female athletes and their decision to resist bulking up.  The nuances of the article were lost on many people.  I recall that there was one word that came up in our discussion on the Realz podcast and that was juxtaposition. The placement of the discussion of Serena’s muscles and the comment of Radwanska’s coach, “It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10,” said Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds. “Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.” Putting these two things together said far more than the text about what was to be valued in women athletes.

It is now 2019 and I can’t help but see the juxtaposition of Andy Murray’s retirement announcement and the continued elevation of Justin Gimelstob on the ATP Player Council.  The loss of one and continued rise of the other in tennis is just bad optics. The silence from the tennis media about Gimelstob is even worse.

Murray, long lauded by tennis media for his style of play, his penchant for speaking out in support of women’s tennis and given a pass for most of his career for his on-court behavior, as just Murray being Murray, is leaving the sport as a result of constant pain in his hip.  While I may have had issues with Murray’s on-court behavior on a few occasions, I never really sat down to watch his matches, so I was never been exposed to his behavior for long periods.  However, I have appreciated his standing up and speaking out in support of the women’s game. For that, he deserves all the accolades that he is getting.

On the other hand, there is Justin Gimelstob, allowed to keep his job, after saying this about Anna Kournikova. “She’s a bitch," "Hate's a very strong word. I just despise her to the maximum level just below hate." “If she’s not crying by the time she walks off the court then I did not do my job." Asked if he would ever have an affair with her, he said: "Definitely not. I have no attraction to her. She has a great body but her face is a five. I really have no interest in her … I wouldn’t mind having my younger brother, who’s a kind of a stud, nail her and then reap the benefits of that.” (credit "The Telegraph")

Recently, Gimelstob has been embroiled in an allegation of domestic violence against his wife and a restraining order is now in place.  In addition. Mr. Gimelstob is also facing charges of assault against a male acquaintance. At the same time, Gimelstob has remained on the ATP Player Board, after a failed vote to have him removed. The current World No.1, Novak Djokovic, is toeing the party line by stating that the allegations are just that … allegations.

Throughout Justin’s legal saga, none of his colleagues at Tennis Channel, or indeed in the tennis media have spent any time discussing this issue in the same way they spent time discussing the motor vehicle accident involving Venus Williams and the subsequent civil trial. For Venus, it too was an allegation of wrong doing. Where was the silence until the facts were known?

When you consider the hand wringing of tennis media when Serena Williams does something that is considered unsportsmanlike, their silence about Gimelstob’s obviously destructive behavior speaks volumes. The hypocrisy from the tennis punditry is blatant for all to see.  There have been instances of violence emanating from the men’s Tour and the quickness with which the media is ready to excuse the poor behavior of these male players, while at the same time calling for people like Serena Williams to be banned from the sport is reprehensible. 

Clearly, the powers that be have failed to see the juxtaposition of who wins and loses in tennis. We lose Andy Murray who flew the flag for his country and for women’s tennis as high as it would go.  Who sometimes during the course of his career showed his heart and his love and hate for this sport and who at all times left it all on the court. Yet, keep Justin Gimelstob, a man who never accomplished much in his professional life, except for what he gained through the accomplishments of women. We see what the ATP is willing to forgive or nurture, and to what it is willing to turn a blind eye or fail to imitate for the better.

I am not surprised, but I am disappointed.

Spin's Picks and What to watch on Day one is below.  Enjoy the tennis.

P. Kvitova [8] vs M. Rybarikova
I. Begu vs A. Petkovic
B. Bencic vs K. Siniakova - toss up 
Y. Putintseva vs B. Strycova [32]

L. Tsurenko [24] vs E. Alexandrova
M. Niculescu vs A. Anisimova - the youngster impressed in Auckland 
K. Boulter vs E. Makarova - impressive losing performance against Serena at Hopman Cup. 
A. Kalinskaya vs A. Sabalenka [11]

A. Barty [15] vs L. Kumkhum - may potentially prove to be a blockbuster of a match
E. Perez vs Y. Wang
A. Sharma vs P. Hon
M. Sakkari vs J. Ostapenko [22] - if Sakkari is on her game this will not be an upset, howver, if Ostapenko finds her 2017 French Open form and her backhand ... watch out

M. Sharapova [30] vs H. Dart - If Sharapova is still having shoulder issues then an upset will be in the making.  If Dart is healthy she can play her way to victory. 
S. Cirstea vs R. Peterson - 2 players with great games but lots of injury issues. 
V. Lapko vs J. Larsson
A. Van Uytvanck vs C. Wozniacki [3]

S. Stephens [5] vs T. Townsend
O. Jabeur vs T. Babos
M. Vondrousova vs E. Rodina
H. Watson vs P. Martic [31]

A. Kontaveit [20] vs S. Sorribes Tormo
K. Flipkens vs A. Sasnovich
M. Puig vs A. Pavlyuchenkova
A. Riske vs K. Bertens [9]

J. Goerges [14] vs D. Collins - could be an upset on this one. 
Y. Bonaventure vs S. Vickery
B. Mattek-Sands vs Z. Hives
J. Ponchet vs C. Garcia [19]

D. Vekic [29] vs K. Mladenovic
P. Badosa Gibert vs K. Birrell 
B. Haddad Maia vs B. Pera
P. Hercog vs A. Kerber [2]

Popcorn Matches to Watch
Hart v. Sharapova
Barty v Kumkhum
Georges v. Collins
Vekic v. Mladenovic (which Kiki will show up is always an adventure)
Sakkari v Ostapenko
Putintseva v. Strycova (bring your beer to this one)
Bencic v Siniakova


Friday, January 4, 2019

NEW YEAR ... NEW BEGINNINGS?



Happy New Year Everyone.

The tennis season has started in much the same way that it ended.  Discussions surrounding Roger Federer and Serena Williams.  Not necessarily in that order but usually juxtaposed when discussions arise as to their impact on the game, whether it be negatively or positively.  I won't really join that discussion, except to say that I absolutely loved the mixed doubles match between them at this year's Hopman Cup and clearly tennis fans worldwide loved it as well. 

Each year as the tennis year starts fresh, I am always amazed at the interest of tennis fans on the other side of the equator.  The love that these fans show to tennis always makes me wonder what drives that love.  I have been watching matches in Auckland and Brisbane and the turnout is usually very good.  The interest that they show after a spectacular point is usually appreciated and they come out decked out in their colours to support their players. 

I look at the faces of the fans and their is rapt attention being paid to what is happening on court and they are really invested in the outcome of the match.  The rapturous applause as Serena Williams made her way to the court for her singles and mixed doubles match was good to see.  In the same way that the packed stands for Venus' match in Auckland was also a welcome sight.  Venus speaks clearly about the love that is shown to her in Auckland and is the reason why she keeps coming back.

Ever since I have been watching tennis, I can only recall 3 instances when either Williams Sister was met with disdain in Australia.  The first concerned Serena's 2010 match against Justine Henin, and her 2003 match against Kim Clijsters.  For Venus it was her match where she had to withdraw after playing a few points (I can't remember the name of her opponent). 

It struck me that perhaps the reason why both Venus and Serena and indeed why sportspeople are welcomed in this part of the world is because the public itself has a sporting tradition.  From rugby, to football, to tennis, persons from the land Down Under take sports very seriously.  They believe in recognising those athletes who have honed their skills and perform at the highest level.  I believe that is the reason why someone as seemingly abhorrent as Margaret Court continues to enjoy accolades.  These accolades were afforded to her as a result of her work on the court and it is perhaps the reason why no one is in any hurry to see Margaret Court arena renamed. 

Compare the behaviour of spectators at the Australian Open to those at the US Open.  At the US Open there is the constant chatter, the clacking of knives and forks and the general lack of attention that is being paid to professional athletes as they perform.  No doubt there are tennis fans who come for the tennis, but they are usually pushed to the side as corporate spectators, who are there to be seen, hog the spotlight. 

As the new tennis season gets  under way let us first and foremost remember that the men and women who play this sport are professional athletes.  They entertain us, and for that we need to give them the respect they deserve. 

The Spin team is hoping to write more about tennis and there are even plans to attend a few tournaments (more on that as the year progresses). 


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

THE RETURN OF SHARAPOVA

by The Spin Team


I tried my best not to post anything about the return of Maria Sharapova to the WTA Tour. However, as I follow tennis fans and reporters on social media (interchangeable, I know), I cannot help but feel compelled to offer my own thoughts. I wanted to explore the evolution of my feeling through Sharapova’s press conference about her doping violation, ITF hearing, WADA hearing, and subsequent “victory” tour, after having her 2-year ban reduced to 15 months. 

I have surveyed all sides taken on Sharapova by listening to podcasts and reading a range of articles. Unfortunately, I believe she should not receive wildcards into any tournament, nor should she be given any preferential treatment upon her return. 

WILDCARDS

The rules as written by the WTA provide for tournaments to afford wildcards to players.  The fact that Stuttgart chose to give a wildcard to a player returning from a doping suspension is a slap in the face of other players. Some players from the host country deserved a wildcard to aid their ranking and to defer the financial costs of competing.  Sharapova, a multi-millionaire, did not and does not need a wildcard.  The granting of the wildcard demonstrates that Sharapova still requires a leg up in order to compete, much as she did when she used a prohibited substance to gain an advantage over her opponents. 

Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome have all offered wildcards to Sharapova to compete in their tournaments.  As of the time of writing this article, the FFT is set to announce whether they will be providing a wildcard to Sharapova to play the main draw of the French Open and the AELTC to play Wimbledon.

THE “VICTIM” VICTORY TOUR

One of the things that Sharapova has done since WADA reduced her anti-doping ban is go on a “victory” tour where she posited the view that she was a victim of the cruelty of the ITF. She suggested that she was on the receiving end of a witch-hunt because of jealousy from her peers and her wealth. It was a slap in the face to the ITF and the WTA. 

THE WHITEWASHING OF A DOPING BAN

This week, the Tennis Channel took the opportunity to encourage fans to purchase subscription to TC Plus by advertising the ‘Best of Sharapova’.  In addition, they are also showcasing her Grand Slam wins.  There have been numerous articles written by so-called journalists espousing the greatness of Sharapova. The WTA, never to be left behind, has opined that her return to the Tour is good for tennis.

Lest folks forget, this is the same Sharapova who never took a position on anything unless it benefited her brand.  She is the Ivanka Trump of tennis. When Russia was being accused of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, Sharapova remained silent, held her Russian flag high and proudly represented Russia at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  When issues relating to equal pay were being dealt with, she recused herself from the conversation, except when it suited her to take credit.  Who can forget her stance of not participating in WTA promotional events because it conflicted with her practice schedule?  

The WTA has done a disservice to the women who fought long and hard to be seen as equals with their male counterparts.  From the battle to have the Tour recognized, to getting sponsors in the early years, to even going so far as to pay the women who compete on the Tour a salary, the WTA has a long history of being in the forefront of representing women in sport, and indeed, women everywhere.  It was therefore an embarrassment to have someone of the caliber of Billie Jean King embrace Sharapova during her doping ban, as if what she had done was not egregious. 

Even worse, for whatever reason, and surely for publicity purposes only, Sharapova participated in an exhibition event with the current Olympic gold medalist, Monica Puig during the time that she was serving her ban. The Olympics, for better or worse, are about clean athletes competing against each other.  The fact that the whole Russian Federation was banned from competing in the 2016 Olympics made the exhibition match between Puig and Sharapova all the more distasteful. 

Moreover, Sharapova’s agent, Max Eisenbud, the man who was going through a divorce and therefore neglected to read the list of banned items from WADA and hence forgot to inform his client decided to cast aspersions on perennial top 10 players, Caroline Wozniacki and Aga Radwanska by calling them journeymen.  The last time I looked, I didn’t see WTA ask Mr. Eisenbud to apologize to either woman for his comments. 

I am sure that Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome are all agog over the money that they will be making once Sharapova steps on the court.  There is no doubt that there will be fans in the stands to cheer her on.  That is the way of life and the power of money, but just for a moment, I would have hoped that in the same way that Wayne Odesnik, Barbora Strycova, and Martina Hingis were made to earn their way back to the game, Sharapova would have been asked to earn her right to be called a star in the sport of tennis.  

ILIE NASTASE

Ilie Nastase said some things during Fed Cup to Jo Konta.  He also said some things about Serena’s unborn child.  I will not repeat what he said, however, for just a moment I really want to call out the hypocrisy of tennis. 

A few years ago a former player turned pro and a Hall of Famer was accused of rape.  One of his victims filed a lawsuit accusing him of raping her while she was in his charge.  The case meandered through the courts and if it was not for a certain journalist, many of us would not have known about it.

There were calls for his removal from the Hall of Fame and it was only after a petition was circulated and pressure was made to bear on the Tennis Hall of Fame that he was removed.  During this time, many of the players, who are now retired, remained silent.  Once he was removed and the charge against him was proved, those who knew of his behaviour decided to speak out.  What made them wait so long?  Why did no one speak out when these young women were being assaulted?  It is the same question I have of Ilie Nastase. 

Pam Shriver stated that he once asked her if she was a virgin.  Every year during Wimbledon or any of the Majors, there is Ilie Nastase sitting in the Royal Box or the executive suites.  The camera focuses on him and we are told about his legacy and his fiery personality. We are also regaled with stories of his volatile behaviour, which apparently made for great tennis commentary.  It was only after he abused a player publicly and tennis fans spoke out against it that all of a sudden Nastase is a pariah in tennis.  

Why must we wait until we have a victim before we start ostracizing those in the tennis world, legends or not, who consistently abuse their positions? Tennis is a sport that I truly love, but I wish we didn’t adopt the Omerta code (code of silence) when it comes to opening the doors to the deep, dark and nasty secrets that go on behind its closed doors. 



Saturday, November 26, 2016

THE END OF AN ERA

by Karen 

I grew up in Jamaica.  I am Jamaican through and through and I love my country dearly, but there was a point when I was a child when I hated living in Jamaica.  I also feared what my country had become, most of which was due to what I learned from listening to my parents and seeing for myself what I had to go through. 

In the 1970s I lived in West Kingston.  I went to the local primary school and the ruling party at the time was the PNP. Michael Manley who was then the Prime Minister in Jamaica adopted the maxim of Democratic Socialism.  It wasn't quite capitalism and it wasn't full on communism.  His friends during this time were Russia and Cuba and there was a steady stream of both in Jamaica. 

They ostensibly (mostly the Cubans) came to build schools (Jose Marti still stands as well as GC Foster College) and they sent their doctors, teachers and nurses to care for us in our schools and hospitals in Jamaica.  Most of our teachers, doctors and nurses had left Jamaica and the talk at that time was the last person leaving Jamaica, please turn off the lights. 

Most of the moneyed class in Jamaica left, and with them leaving, most of the money in Jamaica.  Companies locked their doors and things as we knew it in Jamaica were drawing to a halt. 

The media did a good job of telling the story from the views of the opposition. There were rumours that those of us who had houses (and my dad had just bought a house in Portmore) would have to share our houses.  Food shortages were now a regular thing and it was not unusual for us to have as our Sunday dinner dumplings and banana rather than the traditional rice and peas.  Rice, flour, sugar, condensed milk and many other basic food items were scarce.  As I got older I understood that it was because of our country's relationship with Cuba and that the USA (instigated by the CIA) were responsible for the food shortages. 

In 1980 when the USA backed JLP came to power, food shortages became a thing of the past and we could finally get American apples once again (not that we ever needed it). 

As I got older and became a bit more enlightened, I started to read more about that time.  I found out that Fidel Castro, along with Michael Manley was instrumental in the tearing down of apartheid in South Africa.  I learned about the freedom fighters in Angola.  I listened to the songs of Bob Marley, especially WAR which spoke about the tribulations of peoples in Africa and I became more conscious. 

I have always been on the fence when it came to Cuba.  On the one hand I believe in free and fair elections and for democratic rule.  I don't like authoritarian figures (hence my dislike of the GOP and Donald Trump).  However, one of the things that Cuba has done under Fidel Castro is to be a voice for the voiceless (controversial I know).  He spearheaded the movement that has now led to a free Southern Africa.  Cuba under Fidel Castro ensured that a young girl like me in Jamaica could have a nutritious lunch every day at school. 

It has been said that most of the people who left Jamaica in the 70s and took their money with them flew to the Cayman Islands and established businesses here.  They helped to set up the offshore industry which has made Cayman profitable.  Meanwhile, Jamaica suffered. 

It is interesting that most of the Cubans who left Cuba when Castro took power are themselves the rich elite who set up businesses in America and made it their life's work to oppose that regime.  I am sure that with the election of Trump and the death of Castro they are probably dancing in the streets. 

Yes, Castro was controversial.  Yes, he was a dictator, but at the end of the day, one cannot deny that in his mind and heart he had his fellow man's interest at heart. 

May he rest in peace.