By Maud Watson
In the Zone
Serena Williams was firing on all cylinders last week in Charleston, which wasn’t just bad news for the rest of the field – it was devastating. Serena showed no mercy as she demolished her opponents en route to the title, dropping a grand total of just three games in the semis and final. Though it was an absolute clinic by the decorated Grand Slam champion, it’s difficult to use as a barometer for how she’ll perform in Paris. For starters, near the latter rounds, she played above her head (even by her lofty standards), and that level for her has increasingly become the exception rather than the norm. Additionally, while there are few players who at their best can potentially hang with Serena at her best, it’s still worth noting that the currently hottest players on the WTA were absent. Finally, there’s the fact that the win is unlikely to have a substantial carry-over effect on Serena herself. She’s frequently shown she never lacks for confidence at any event, irrespective of how match fit she is, simply taking things as they come. So, congrats on a well-deserved 40th career singles title for the younger Williams, who reminded the world of what she’s capable of when her heart and head are in it, but one fantastic title win does not just yet a heavy favorite for Roland Garros make.
Riding the Momentum
Where Ryan Harrison failed to capitalize on his opportunity when named to the U.S. Davis Cup Team, John Isner continued to shine. Since upsetting Roger Federer in the team competition this past February, he’s continued to improve and surprise everyone, including perhaps himself. He delivered a much-needed win against Simon to pull the Americans even with France on the opening day of last weekend’s tie, and he clinched the victory with his triumph over Tsonga. He’s also being smart with his scheduling, choosing to sit out the optional Masters 1000 event next week in Monte Carlo in order to rest and get fit for the remainder of the clay court and following grass court seasons. As he continues this good run of form, he’s set to become the No. 1 American man sooner rather than later. Such an achievement would be a crowning moment for Isner as well as the USA, given that Isner has been one of the handful of Americans to consistently comport himself with class and dignity this season.
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario needs a crash course in public relations stat. We previously heard she was broke thanks to the mishandling of her finances by her parents, which has since been followed by rebuttal from her mother claiming otherwise. Now the “Barcelona Bumblebee” is upsetting her nation’s top female player by personally attacking Anabel Medina Garrigues during her announcement that Garrigues would not be part of her Fed Cup squad. As captain, it’s her prerogative as to who she’d like to select for the team, but there was no need to launch an attack against the Spanish No. 1. Her actions and decisions in recent months might suggest it’s time for the Spanish Tennis Federation to consider looking at a potential replacement. It’s a shame given what all Sanchez-Vicario has done in the sport and for her county, but recent behavior dictates that a review of her ability to be a leader at this point in time is in serious doubt.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be facing off in an exhibition on July 14, when they hope to break the tennis attendance record by filling all of the 80,000 seats in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid where the match will take place. The proceeds from the match will go to both the Real Madrid Foundation and the Rafael Nadal Foundation, which provide funding for programs aimed at disadvantaged children. It’s great to see two of the biggest names in the sport continue to give back (especially in the midst of a busy summer schedule), and while they’re going for an ambitious record, as one of the most exciting rivalries in the sport right now, they might just do it.
Mary Joe Fernandez is living in a dream world if she thinks Serena’s “heart is in Fed Cup, ” as Serena’s sudden patriotism is undoubtedly spurred on by her desire to play in the Olympics. Despite committing to her second tie this season, Serena will still need to get special permission from the Olympic Committee to compete in London. Sister Venus is looking to try and raise her ranking high enough to gain automatic entry for the London Games, but if she doesn’t, she’ll also require special permission to compete in the British capital. Where this may get messy is if another player – a player who has put in more time representing their country during the non-Olympic years – gets burned. It’s hard to vilify the Williams Sisters, who are just doing the same as other top pros this season and also have historically performed well in the Olympics. Still others will contend spots should go to those who have put in the time and who arguably could still medal for the USA (especially when factoring in Venus’ health liabilities). Of course, the ITF could just spare the U.S. and other nations, like Russia, this potentially ugly situation by doing away with the whole problematic Fed/Davis Cup participation rule, but hard to see that happening any time soon.
by Maud Watson
Despite the enthralling tennis that has been taking place in London, one of the biggest stories of the week has been Yannick Noah’s accusations that Spanish athletes are doping. Put bluntly, Noah’s comments couldn’t have been more idiotic for a multitude of reasons. First, if you’re going to accuse someone of doping, have some semblance of concrete evidence, because suggesting that other athletes suddenly appear stronger and able to significantly dominate out of nowhere is not going to cut it. Not to mention, has he taken a look at Tsonga or Monfils? They’ve no doubt achieved their builds fair and square, but there are many players who don’t cut as imposing of a figure as those two. Second, Noah put his own countrymen in an awkward position. Kudos to Llodra and Tsonga who took the high road and apologized to their fellow Spanish competitors for Noah’s comments. Finally, Noah’s solution to the problem was appalling. Rather than suggesting that authorities clean up the alleged abuse, he supports letting French athletes dope, ignoring the long-term health effects it could have on those athletes. The French Tennis Federation has condemned his comments, but they should also suspend him from any involvement with their Davis and Fed Cup teams as well as any media obligations. He cannot go unpunished.
There has been more than one upset this week in London, and there have also been some spectacular efforts from three individuals in particular. Props need to be given to Federer. True, he’d probably trade in his results this week for a major title, but he’s the only one of the Big Four who’s proven there’s still plenty left in the tank (and check out his total matches for 2011 vs. the other three, and you’ll see he’s played nearly as much). Then a big congrats to David Ferrer. He’s a bit like Davydenko in that he always seems to be overlooked. He’s played breathtaking tennis in London, however, and if this is any indication that he’s starting to find the belief against the biggest names in the game, watch out for him in 2012. Finally, hats off to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. After losing to Federer in three to start his campaign this year, he then produced top-notch tennis against Fish before taking it to Nadal when the chips were down to secure his semifinal berth. If they keep playing like this, we’re in for an exciting end to the last tournament of the season.
His overall match results at the ATP World Tour Finals may say otherwise, but Mardy Fish was one of the feel-good stories of the week. He said he was approaching the tournament with the attitude that he was just happy to be there, and that’s been evident in his whole demeanor. You can see how much it meant to him to qualify for this prestigious event, and the fact that he played that third round robin match, knowing he was already out of the running and carrying an injury, is nothing short of admirable. He also put together some fine tennis and had his preparation not been hampered by the injury, you can’t help but wonder if he might have won a few more of the key points and found his way to the semis. It’s hard to know whether or not Fish is capable of backing up his 2011 season next year, but it’s hard not to root for him to have another crack at London.
Awards Are In
The ATP Awards were announced at the front part of the week, and there were no real surprises. Djokovic took home honors for finishing No. 1 while Nadal received the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for his work with his foundation. Bogomolov Jr. was named the Most Improved by his peers, while standout Raonic was voted the Newcomer of the Year. But the most telling awards were perhaps those that were given to Roger Federer. Despite falling to No. 4 in the rankings and not winning a major for the first time in nearly a decade, fans still voted him their favorite player for the ninth consecutive time, a testament to the enduring quality of the brand of tennis he plays. He was also named the recipient of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award, as voted on by his peers, for the seventh time in eight years. For sure, Federer has had some less-than-classy moments in interviews following tough losses, but it’s nice to see that the sportsmanship award went to the top player who doesn’t feel the need to wear every emotion on his sleeve and doesn’t violate the time or coaching rules.
That’s what Roger Draper and the LTA are asking the British Government to do when it comes to their tax laws regarding athletes competing in Britain. Currently, athletes are taxed on prize money, appearance fees, and worldwide endorsements. While taking taxes out for prize money and even the appearance fees doesn’t seem unreasonable (though they are high), the tax on the endorsements does. Nadal, who brought the issue to a head earlier in the year, and any other athlete is right to complain and can’t be blamed for choosing to play at another venue that will allow them to take home more of their hard-earned money. The question is if the government will budge, or if they think that they can continue to get away with it. They’ve already granted some exemptions, such as to those competing in the 2012 Olympics, but it’s hard to imagine tennis players boycotting Wimbledon or possibly even the ATP World Tour Finals if not given exemptions just because of the tax laws. Fingers crossed Draper and the LTA can get the government to do the right thing in this scenario.