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Owning It: Vandeweghe Versus Putintseva

During many a Real Housewives reunion special, a middle-aged, mildly affluent woman sits in a tight, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress (I’ve watched a couple in my day), and tells another similarly dressed woman to take responsibility for her actions. In other words, “own it.”

With this sort of cartoonishly glamorous set up unfortunately missing from the tennis world, it can be difficult to keep track of the daily drama, on both a macro (the game’s elite) and micro level (everyone else). Like those sage Bravo producers, we can often bow to clips conclusively showing Juan Martin del Potro dissing Andy Murray’s mother, or Jelena Jankovic imitating compatriot Ana Ivanovic’s signature fist pump.

But just like those bastions of reality television, it is almost always what happens “off-camera” that stirs up the most controversy. As a New Jersey housewife would probably say, “the fewer witnesses, the better.”

In tennis, nothing breeds isolation quite like a rain delay. With troubling forecasts predicting rain through early next week in Europe, qualifying matches in last minute warm-up tournaments like Brussels were driven indoors to ensure the event reaches completion. One such match was ripe for drama, rain or shine.

In one corner was 21-year-old CoCo Vandeweghe. A former US Open girls’ champion, the young American made a dream run to the Stanford finals last summer. Since then, however, she has struggled to reign in her high-octane game, and coming into Brussels had yet to win back-to-back matches this year. Granddaughter to a former Miss America, Vandeweghe’s senior career has been largely played under the radar, but she has had a “princess” moment or two, as evidenced by her twitter account.

Her opponent likely needs no introduction: the “delightfully offensive” Yulia Putintseva. After pushing Serena Williams to a tiebreak in Madrid, the teenaged Kazakh suffered a potentially soul-crushing loss in Rome, failing to convert a 5-1 final set lead to Madrid quarterfinalist Anabel Medina Garrigues. But whether you’re throwing drinks on someone at a party or playing a tennis match, it helps to be a little bit delusional. Shrugging off her fourth three-set loss (three of them from a set up) of the year, Putintseva crushed her first two opponents, including an equally offensive (though arguably less delightful) Michelle Larcher de Brito.

Playing on a surface that mitigates her weapons and exposes her suspicious movement, Vandeweghe had been surprisingly comfortable in Brussels, and took a tight first set from Putintseva with only one break separating the two. From there, Putintseva went on a tear, winning 12 of the next 14 games, and broke the big-serving American five times for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory.

But it was after the match where the drama (allegedly) reignited.

With no one reporting more than the score of “Brussels QR3 Vandeweghe/Putintseva,” Vandeweghe took to Twitter to enlighten the public to that which many already consider to be obvious:

https://twitter.com/CoCoVandey/status/336491458251091968

From there, CoCo outlined an exchange following the match’s conclusion where the victorious Putintseva allegedly told her, “You are a terrible player only serve. I win all the rallies.” The American went on to accuse Putintseva’s father/coach, Anton, of not only condoning, but also “clapping” as his daughter made these biting observations.

Hours later, Putintseva popped up on Twitter herself, at first to nonchalantly express her satisfaction at qualifying for the main draw, then to give us a “No comment,” re: CoCo. Elaborating for a fan, she said,

https://twitter.com/Yulka1995P/status/336576876623577088

which appears to imply whatever occurred was a two-way street. But why many flocked to Putintseva’s support in the immediate aftermath of this bizarre incident was the same reason why reality TV fans love Nene Leakes and Caroline Manzo: Putintseva appeared to take ownership of what many would consider a gauche act of gamesmanship. In its own way, that was breath of fresh air in a sporting world that can often feel stilted and devoid of cadence. It keeps us from our own delusion that everyone on the Tours is there to make friends. Because they’re not, they’re here to win.

And thus would have ended this episode of The Real Tennis Players of Brussels, until Putintseva took to Twitter again early this morning. After tacitly accepting Vandeweghe’s version of events, she made a complete about face when asked about the incident directly:

https://twitter.com/Yulka1995P/status/336721573585223682

In barely 140 characters, the teenager took her ownership, and sold it back to the American, who has already rallied support from the American media.

Is Putintseva a cult hero for telling it like it is, or a spoiled brat deflecting blame? Is Vandeweghe a victim of needless trash talk, or a bully for inciting an angry mob on an 18-year-old? For a Tour that peaked in the late 90s because of exchanges like these, it might behoove us all not to ask too many questions, sit back, and “watch what happens.”

IS “B” FOR “BORG” OR FOR “BOSTON” OR PERHAPS FOR “BRUINS”?

Bjorn Borg played his first match in the United States in 10 years Thursday night at the $150,000 Staples Champions Cup, part of the global Champions Series tennis circuit. He beat fellow Swede Mikael Pernfors 6-2, 2-6, 10-8 (Champions Tie-breaker).

It is interesting to see Bjorn playing tennis with a Dunlop tennis racquet – as opposed to the old Donnay racquets from all of those matches all of us remember so well (or have seen on YouTube if you are of a younger generation). You can’t help but notice the huge “B” on Bjorn’s shirt that he played in on Thursday. Does it stand for “Boston?” Since as a Swede, he grew up playing hockey and patterned his two-handed backhand after a slap shot, perhaps the B stands for “Bruins” as in the Boston Bruins, the NHL squad from Boston? Well, “B” stands for Bjorn or Borg and it is part of his Bjorn Borg line of clothing that is immensely popular in Europe. The Bjorn Borg line of underwear is available in the United States and is tremendously comfortable if you haven’t worn them.

Let’s hope John McEnroe can beat Mats Wilander Friday night so Borg and McEnroe can duke it out in the semifinals of the Boston event – for old times sake.

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DOES YOUR IMAGE ON COURT AFFECT SUCCESS ON COURT?

By Melina Harris

Hey guys, we’re suffering from yet another bitingly cold snap in London and I thought to myself as I sat down to write my column today; what topic in tennis could serve to warm me up? I couldn’t help but be magnetically drawn for some strange reason to Feliciano Lopez discussing his first ATP tour victory in 2004 in Vienna on YouTube while researching for inspiration and it lead me to thinking about the inextricable link between sex appeal, attractiveness and success on court. I began to ponder, being an individual sport, how much does your image affect your success on court? Does it give you a psychological advantage over your opponent? Is image everything, as the Nike slogan once suggested?

Andre Agassi recently admitted in his autobiography ‘Open’ to wearing a hair piece during matches as ‘every morning (he) would wake up to find another piece of (his) identity on the pillow.  He revealed that the thought of losing his hair piece, which had mysteriously gone walkies off his infamous head during a shower on the morning of the 1989 French Open final and had to thus be pinned to his head, was of more importance than losing the actual match, which he did. The world pondered the technical reasons for his loss, when really it was the psychological fear of losing his sex appeal that caused his failure. Indeed, Agassi’s hair was part of his whole identity on and off court; he admitted with hindsight that the hair piece was a ‘chain’ holding him back and it wasn’t until Brooke Shields suggested he shave his head that he began to feel differently. Agassi’s hairpiece is undoubtedly symbolic of the huge impact of sex appeal on a player’s performance and earning potential.

Although Lopez dispelled the ‘looker’s curse’ by winning his first ATP tournament last week, scorcher, Anna Kournikova (one of the most searched for sports stars on the internet) was unable to prove her critics wrong by failing to ever win a WTA singles title, but she sure as hell helped raise the profile of women’s tennis and her earnings through endorsements must have softened the blow a little. In an interview for the Times of London in 2002, she seemed jaded by the constant questions regarding her super model looks. After a first-round loss at Wimbledon (when all the press was concerned with was her outfit) she was famously rattled by a journalist asking ‘how hurtful is the perception that you are all style and no substance?’ and whether she should consider playing at a lower level. Reflecting on that experience she commented to the nervous journalist, ‘Hey, there is nothing I can do to change people’s minds. If they want to see me that way, they will. Sometimes, when I do great, it’s, ‘Oh, after all she can play’. Or ‘Finally she shows more than her looks’. I mean, please! I really don’t pay much attention to that. I have a million other things to worry about.’ Could that pressure and constant focus on her looks have hampered her career? Or was she simply not good enough? But more importantly, did the WTA care as millions of men tuned in and paid for tickets to watch the blonde bombshell bend over?

What particularly annoys me is how I doubt Lopez has ever been asked after yet another disappointing loss; do you think it’s due to your six pack and beautiful eyes? Does looking in the mirror put you off your game so much, that like Narcissus you are so entranced by your own beauty that without realizing your opponent has passed you down the line?

I doubt it very much and let’s be honest; I’d be researching until next winter to find such a quote! I found it intriguing how the WTA seemed to be more proud about three of their stars, Maria Kirilenko, Daniela Hantuchova and Tatiana Golovin appearing in swimsuits in Sports Illustrated last year than say the successes of the Williams sisters on court. Although the WTA didn’t actually organize the shoot, the day the issue was released, the tour sent e-mails to the media about their appearance and posted the release on their website along with a scantily clad photo of the three players. CEO and Chairman Larry Scott commented, ‘We were proud of what happened with Sports Illustrated and our girls being in there…over time that has become a sought-after opportunity by a lot of celebrities and a lot of athletes. Making it into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is sort of a litmus test of your popularity.’ He even went so far as to say, ‘we had three players in there, not necessarily three of our biggest current stars, and it made an important statement about women’s tennis, and the popularity and the attractiveness of our athletes. From that perspective, we were proud of that and promoted it.’ Perhaps the girls’ charity work could have featured more highly Mr. Scott?

What kind of image are the WTA promoting to aspiring young female players? Don’t worry; as long as you’re hot enough to appear in Sports Illustrated then we’ll be proud? It’s interesting that the players they chose to appear in the magazine have had nowhere near the success of say Venus Williams or Justine Henin on court. Perhaps they’d allow them to feature in the proposed tennis world cup but only on the condition that they play in their bikinis?

However, I doubt we’d all be upset if say Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Feliciano Lopez were to strip for Men’s Health magazine but I’d be very surprised if the ATP posted this on their website as the proudest moment of the men’s game.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Wimbledon videos: Llodra crashes while Haas plays a “qualifier”

Also enjoying Wimbledon as much as I do?  Strawberry and cream, sunny weather and Michael Llodra crashing into a ball girl. Yah I was watching this on YouTube while enjoying my icecold Pepsi coke.

I wouldn’t want to keep my readers away from enjoying this moment as well.  Poor ballgirl but I am sure the hugs make up for a lot. Plus she earned extra bragging rights being hugged by Michael Llodra. Because you are not only a ballgirl for tennis most famous tournament but hugs and Llodra…that’s at least an extra 10 points for bragging rights.

Without further ado:

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More fun stuff from Wimbledon. Many girls dream of doing something with Tommy Haas.  Anything with Tommy Haas.  Even my now ex-girlfriend loved Tommy Haas.  Yah that was always funny. I had my favorite player and she’d get all jealous and retaliates by taking her revenge and love Tommy Haas.  Y’know just to get back at me.

Now this is one lucky ballgirl. She gets to play Tommy Haas on Wimbledon.  Enjoy the video, the cold Pepsi and your strawberries with cream.

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