Ever since the debacle of the now infamous ESPN article, Sloane Stephens has been making headlines, but ultimately for the wrong reasons. The Spin will not attempt to recap the words spoken by Sloane, but suffice it to say, we are sure that going forward she will think long and hard before giving her views on matters that are outside of tennis.
Usually, when a player from whom much is expected has regressed, the media is quick to jump on the reasons why. Tennis fans however are ultimately fans of the game, and for a lot of us who play the game at a recreational level, we can usually see the flaws in the games of the pros, even more so than those who cover the sport. Tennis fans can be brutal and they will take to social media like the Monday morning quarterbacks that they are analysing a player’s game and deconstructing what went wrong and what said player should have been doing in order to win a particular match.
However, with Sloane there is one thing (or is it more than one) that tennis fans have all agreed on, her backhand is awful, her footwork is non-existent (especially on the back hand side), she prefers to use her athleticism to win points rather than going after her shots and she has a really poor attitude on court when things are not going her way.
When news broke that Sloane had hired Paul Annacone to coach her, many tennis fans wondered why such a high profile coach, and why someone who was more known for coaching players who already had an attacking style of game. Well, I think our questions have been answered during this BNP Paribas Open.
I watched Sloane’s match against Ana Ivanovic, and it is amazing what a new coach can bring to the table in a short time. Sloane’s backhand will never be a thing of beauty and she will always continue to use her athleticism to win points, but it was great to hear squeaky shoes coming from Sloane’s side of the court. Squeaky shoes on a hard court is a sure sign that a player is taking adjustment steps and this can only be achieved if said player has been working diligently on footwork and movement during practice sessions. In addition, I like that Sloane is now hitting more top spin shots, as against moonballs to keep herself in points. Her volleys need a lot of work (as do most people who play tennis), but it was good to see her take the initiative during points and move forward with authority to put away volleys. I am also very happy with her on court demeanour. In her match against Ivanovic when she faced multiple break points that I was sure that I would start to see slumping shoulders and the defeatist look in her eyes. These were nowhere to be seen, and even though she would get broken on a few occasions, her play on the big points made me realise just how much I want her to succeed.
I want Sloane to succeed not because she has been anointed the heir apparent to the Williams Sisters, but because it will be good for American tennis if young children of colour realise that the Williams Sisters were not an anomaly, and that they too, with a bit of hard work and dedication can become the next best thing.
I am really looking forward to Sloane’match against Pennetta later today. Sloane does not tend to do well against players who make their living with their movement and foot speed. It will be interesting to see whether she will come out aggressively against Pennetta and maintain that aggressiveness throughout the match or whether she will have ebbs and flows. This is a perfect opportunity for Sloane to get to her first Tour final and I for one will be very happy if she does that.
Odds and Ends
Has someone complained to Tennis Channel that their commentary team does not reflect the viewing public? Why else is Lisa Leslie, she of WNBA (basketball for those who don't know) fame doing commentary at the BNP Open. Ever since I got Tennis Channel in 2006 or thereabouts I have often wondered why were there no persons of colour as part of its commentary team. I have always wondered what went into decisions to have someone in the commentary booth. Is it someone's knowledge of the game, did they have to have prior experience as a player or what. During the Grand Slams, tennis fans are always happy to hear the dulcet tones of Chanda Rubin in the commentary box. She is flawless, never talks during the points, does not Monday morning quarterback, and she always has inciteful comments to make about the game. Compare that to Justin Gimelstob whose every comment is one where viewers have to have dictionary.com opened in order to figure out just what it is he is meaning to say, and can we please get away from the "linear shots" comment.
I know I am in the minority, but I don't like Mary Carillo doing tennis commentary. I dislike her even more when she is paired with Lindsay Davenport. It always seems to me that they are calling the matches especially of today's women players with something amounting to disdain. Capture that with Carillo's commentary during the 2005 Australian Open final when Lindsay would lose 6-0 in the third to Serena Williams. The tone of her voice was almost as if she was about to cry for poor Lindsay, and don't get me started on her comments during the 2005 Wimbledon Championships.
Camila Giorgi is a player to watch. She has been a player to watch for quite some time. If she could only learn the meaning of the word consistency and apply it to her game, she would never have to qualify for a tournament ever again. That being said, tennis fans (and that means those of us who follow the lowly ITF events) know Giorgi because of her tennis. The rest of the tennis watching public came to know her because of an article written by Jon Wertheim which spoke about her alleged debts to alleged sponsors. This week at the BNP Open a reporter (and that term is used loosely) went in on Giorgi about her alleged debts. I thought it was a bullying tactic and something that Giorgi did not earn. Her play against Pennetta in my view was a reflection of what she had to endure the previous day and may have impacted her play. I am hopeful that if the allegations about her debt situation are true that at some point it will be dealt with and in private.
Finally, Carillo said something recently that was quite illuminating (yes she does that from time to time). She asked the question why was more not being made about Halep's rise to the top 10. She said that if Halep was a US player, tennis would have been throwing money at her just for even getting to a final. She asked Lindsay, what gives. I can't recall the response that Lindsay gave, because it was more of a non-response, but the question needs to be asked, why is Halep who has achieved so much not being given the recognition that someone like Bouchard, Stephens and Robson, who together have 0 titles and 2 WTA finals amongst them.