You Are Viewing All Posts In The Analysis Category

Five thoughts on WTA schedule changes

Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font
Li Na

The WTA hopes the success of Li Na and other Chinese players helps expand its popularity in China. (Rob Griffith/AP)

The WTA updated its 2013 calendar and made significant changes for 2014, when the tour will solidify its push into Chinese markets with two new tournaments, as well as a new event in Rio de Janiero. The tour also announced a 10 percent increase in prize money this year, from $53.3 million to $58.7 million, not including the Grand Slams.

Five thoughts on the announcement:

1. Is the WTA relying too much on Li Na? The WTA has made no secrets about its desire to tap the Chinese market, establishing a Beijing office in 2008 and upgrading the Beijing tournament to Premier status in 2009. It hit the jackpot in 2011, when Li Na became the first Chinese player to win a Slam, capturing the French Open. With that, the doors to the Chinese market swung open. The tour continued its expansion this year with a new event in Shenzhen, won by Li, and it will continue its expansion in 2014.

The Toray Pan Pacific Open will end its 30-year run in Tokyo and relocate next year to Wuhan, China, Li’s hometown. Wuhan will retain the tournament’s Premier 5 status, promising seven of the year-end top 10-ranked players competing for over $2 million. The end of the Tokyo tournament, which spent years as the WTA’s primary outpost in Asia, is illustrative of the global seachange. With the relocation, Japan will only have one tournament on the calendar, an International-level event in Osaka.

In addition to the new tournament in Wuhan, the WTA will relocate the International tournament in Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong, marking the first time a tournament will be held there since 1993. But we’re not done yet. This year the WTA adds three $125,000 tournaments in China, in Suzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing. On the whole, the changes mean five of the 18 tournaments in the Asia-Pacific region will be held in China, and three of the six WTA 125 tournaments will also be in China.

Read More…


  • Published On Jan 09, 2013
  • Kuznetsova’s comeback produces promising early returns in Australia

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    Svetlana Kuznetsova has seen her ranking tumble to No. 85. (Nigel Owen/Icon SMI)

    Svetlana Kuznetsova has seen her ranking tumble to No. 85. (Nigel Owen/Icon SMI)

    Svetlana Kuznetsova didn’t exactly miss tennis during her six-month layoff last year, when a knee injury ended her season after Wimbledon. After 12 years of nonstop traveling and playing, Kuznetsova said it was a blessing in disguise, the perfect excuse for her to return home to Moscow and, well, just chill.

    “I love to do this job, but sometimes it’s too much,” Kuznetsova said after beating Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-2 in the second round of the Sydney International on Tuesday. As an example, Kuznetova cited the time she experienced burnout while training in Spain in 2008. “I couldn’t do this any longer,” she said.

    Kuznetsova won her first major at the 2004 U.S. Open when she was 19. Back then, the brace-faced Russian had no idea what she was getting into. She turned pro in 2000. Success came quickly and suddenly, possibly before she actually understood exactly what it took to not only win Grand Slam tournaments but also stay atop the game. Blessed with natural athleticism that translated into the powerful groundstrokes of a big-hitting baseliner, along with the quickness and agility to cover the court like a counterpuncher, Kuznetsova could do it all.

    Often, that was the problem. She has struggled to play with a sense of clarity, to know exactly what she wanted to do and execute. Sometimes having too much talent leads to too many options, which leads to confusion. That’s where Kuznetsova found herself last year, when she had no idea what shot was coming off her racket at any given moment.

    Read More…


  • Published On Jan 08, 2013
  • Australian Open burning questions

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    novak-djokovic-ao

    Novak Djokovic has won three of his five major titles at the Australian Open. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    With less than a week to go before the party starts in Melbourne, here are five questions to consider about the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.

    1. Who is the ATP front-runner these days?

    After last season produced four different Grand Slam winners for the first time since OutKast’s Hey Ya topped the Billboard charts — that would be 2003 — the process of identifying an overwhelming favorite going into a major has gotten murky. Is it Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 and defending champion, who has won three of his five Slams in Melbourne? What about four-time champion Roger Federer, who has made the semifinals or better at the Happy Slam every year since 2004? He’s coming into the tournament well-rested after a solid training block. What about the guy who won the last Slam, U.S. Open champion Andy Murray, a two-time Australian Open finalist who came within a few points of beating Djokovic in last year’s semifinals?

    There are strong arguments to be made for each man. Djokovic, though, gets the nod given his recent performances. I know Abu Dhabi and Perth were both exhibitions, but Djokovic looked much sharper than Murray did in winning the Brisbane title. With Rafael Nadal’s absence creating more potential for an imbalanced draw, the fortunes of the top three could hinge on Friday’s draw ceremony.

    Which leads me to the next question.

    Read More…


  • Published On Jan 08, 2013
  • Federer rested, ready for Aussie Open

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    Roger Federer

    Roger Federer, likely to be the second seed in Melbourne, eyes his fifth Australian Open title. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

    We’re just 10 days away from the start of the Australian Open, and while the bulk of the ATP are fine-tuning across three continents this week, one name has been missing from every tournament entry list: Roger Federer.

    As part of his decision to scale down his schedule, Federer skipped warm-up events, staying home with his family and practicing. This marks only the second time in Federer’s career that he’ll go into the Australian Open with zero match play, having played varying combinations of Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kooyong, Sydney or Adelaide every year except in 2008, the year in which he was subsequently diagnosed with mono. As Reuters reports, Federer isn’t too concerned about the change.

    “It’s a bit of a different preparation for the Australian Open this year but I’m confident I am mentally refreshed, which I am, and physically I am fine and that I will play a good Australian Open,” Federer told reporters in Singapore on Friday.

    “I have been practising really hard the last few weeks and didn’t play a leading up tournament this year just because I thought practice is very important for me coming up in the next year, year-and-a-half.”

    Read More…


  • Published On Jan 04, 2013
  • Monfils tells chair umpire at Qatar Open, ‘I’m black, so I sweat a lot’

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font


    ***

    “I’m black, so I sweat a lot,” Gael Monfils’ said in defense of a time violation in Doha.

    Last fall, the ATP announced a rule change that eased the penalty for a a player receiving a time violation for taking more than 25 seconds between points. The rule change allows umpires to give a time-violation warning at the first infraction, and then the equivalent of a service “fault” — as opposed to a full point penalty under the prior rule — for each subsequent infraction. The rule change was all fine and good, but the question was whether the umpires would have the courage to actually enforce it. Turns out the answer is yes. Kind of. And the players aren’t too happy about it.

    Monfils is one of those players. He received a time violation in the second set of his second round match against Phillip Kolhschreiber in Doha, and instead of shaking it off Monfils grew petulant. He complained to the umpire about the ball kids slowing down his ability to serve in a timely fashion and he blamed the humid conditions. “I’m black so I sweat a lot,” he said.

    Read More…


  • Published On Jan 02, 2013
  • Serena Williams: ‘I’m really boring now’

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font

    Everyone mellows with age, even the great Serena Williams. Williams, 31, says she’s no longer the party girl that everyone wants to hang out with.

    “I’m really boring now,” she said after her second-round win over Alize Cornet in Brisbane, Australia on Wednesday. “I used to be fun. I used to be a lot of fun times. For a fun time, call Serena. Now for a fun time, do not call me. I don’t know what happened to me.

    “I think I just got older and I realized I can’t be that fun girl for the rest of my life, you know. I think that’s pretty much what it is. Yeah, like you said, I’m going to be — hopefully, maybe, I don’t know — I could be the oldest No. 1.  I don’t know how that goes with the funnest.”

    Serena does indeed have a chance to be the oldest female No. 1, a distinction that belongs to Chris Evert, who was 30 when she held the top spot in 1985. The top ranking will be up for grabs at the Australian Open, where reigning champion and No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has 2,000 points to defend, No. 2 Maria Sharapova has 1,400 points to defend, while Serena, who sits 1,195 points behind Azarenka, has a mere 280 to defend, a result of her fourth-round loss there last year. If Serena wins the title — her third straight Slam win — she’ll take No. 1 no matter what Azarenka and Sharapova do.

    Maybe then she can let her hair down and have some fun? A Green Day-themed karaoke party, perhaps?

     


  • Published On Jan 02, 2013
  • Nadal leads banged-up players who need to bounce back in 2013

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    Rafael Nadal knee injury

    Rafael Nadal hasn’t played since Wimbledon as he recovers from a lingering knee issue. (Zumapress)

    Bad knees. Twisted ankles. Irregular tickers. A lot of talent was left on the bench in 2012 because of unforeseen injury and illness, knocking out some key contenders and derailing — or at least putting on pause — the careers of a few promising young stars. Here are five players we missed in 2012 and hope to see more of in the new season.

    More 2013 preview: ATP Buy/Sell/Hold | Rankings risers, sliders | Players under pressure | Del Potro into top four?

    Rafael Nadal (Current ATP ranking: 4): He hasn’t played a match since June because of a knee injury, but Nadal finally made it back onto the practice courts a month ago. We’ll get our first look at Rafa next week when he takes the court Dec. 28 for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, where he’ll take on the winner of Andy Murray vs. Janko Tipsarevic. If it turns out to be Murray, well, what a way to start the season. (UPDATE: Nadal withdrew from the exhibition with a stomach virus.)

    Nadal’s camp is already downplaying his chances in Australia, which is understandable. And Nadal himself has expressed his doubts about the status of his knee. By the time the Australian Open rolls around in mid-January, Nadal will have spent only two months hitting on the court after a five-month layoff. The early hard-court season will be about playing himself into match fitness, building confidence and learning to trust his body again. The real test will come when his sneakers hit the red clay in April. Even when he’s at his best there are explanations as to why Nadal is susceptible to losses on hard and grass. But he’s the King of Clay for a reason, and if he can’t dominate the dirt this year the way he has in the past, the disappointment and doubt could undo his year.

    Read More…


  • Published On Dec 21, 2012
  • UPDATED: Singapore likely to become new home of WTA Championships in 2014

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova

    Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the final of the 2012 WTA Championships. (AP)

    The WTA Championships, the prestigious year-end tournament that features the top eight singles players and beginning in 2014, the top eight doubles teams, is in its last year in Istanbul. The WTA announced the four cities under consideration to host the tournament in 2014 and beyond in October: Mexico City; Kazan, Russia; Tianjin, China; and Singapore. While the award won’t be announced until the spring of 2013, Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim reports that Singapore is the front-runner to win the bid.

    In his weekly Mailbag, Wertheim reports that “multiple sources say that Singapore is the likely new home of the year-end championships.”

    With the WTA’s focus on Asia and its attempts to grow the sport and access the Asian markets, moving the WTA Championships to Singapore makes perfect sense. While the other three candidates’ countries already host other WTA tournaments, Singapore does not, which means bringing the sport to a country that otherwise doesn’t get to see live women’s tennis. In terms of infrastructure, Singapore will likely have less administrative red tape to deal with as compared to the last two hosts of the tournament, Istanbul and Doha, and it has one of the most stable economies in the world, making it a reliable and attractive partner for the WTA. And there’s no doubt the players will be bathed in luxury while they’re there. The country has the highest percentage of millionaires (one in six citizens top the seven-figure mark) in the world.

    Read More…


  • Published On Dec 19, 2012
  • WTA Buy/Sell/Hold: Top three will be tough to break up in 2013

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    Victoria Azarenka

    Victoria Azarenka could be the first non-American since Martina Hingis to repeat Down Under. (Carlos M. Saavedra/SI).

    As the 2013 season approaches, BTB looks at the top crop of players to see who we’d buy, sell or hold. Today we examine the WTA.

    2013 Preview: Rankings risers, sliders | Players under pressure | Del Potro in top four?

    Victoria Azarenka (Current rank — No. 1): If you asked me a year ago about Azarenka, I would have said I knew she was good. I just didn’t know she was this good. The career accomplishments of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams overshadowed Azarenka’s surge to the top this year, so it’s easy to forget that the 23-year-old went on a 26-match winning streak and looked unbeatable through the first quarter of 2012. Can she replicate that success? Probably not. Azarenka is in the same boat Novak Djokovic was last year, where expectations have to be tempered given their breakout years.

    But one thing made clear toward the end of the season was that Azarenka is for real. It would have been tempting to dismiss her undefeated first quarter as taking place during a time when Williams wasn’t exactly at her best. Yet Azarenka showed she had closed the gap in pushing Serena deep into the third set at the U.S. Open and again playing her tough at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. She’s already demonstrated that she can beat Sharapova regularly on hard courts. If Azarenka can prove the same against Serena in 2013 — she’s shown signs of getting closer — she can put all the questions to rest about her legitimacy as a No. 1. Verdict: Hold.

    Read More…


  • Published On Dec 17, 2012
  • U.S. Open schedule changes help but leave unresolved issues

    Decrease fontDecrease font
    Enlarge fontEnlarge font
    Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray

    Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray played the fifth straight men’s final on a Monday at the U.S. Open this year. (Erick W. Rasco/SI)

    The U.S. Open will be a 15-day tournament in 2013, moving the women’s final from Saturday evening to Sunday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m. and the men’s final to Monday at 5. A few quick thoughts on the announcement, which I’ll do without mentioning the dreaded “R” word.

    Good riddance Super Saturday: Let’s start with the good news. The USTA’s decision to push back the finals next year — and again, this change has only been announced for 2013 — means the chaos and inherent unfairness of Super Saturday, which had both men’s semifinals played during the day and the women’s final in prime time, is over for at least a year.

    After five straight years of Monday finishes due to inclement weather, the USTA’s announcement doesn’t practically change anything other than give the players notice that they’ll — theoretically — have a day off. The previous schedule forced them to play back-to-back best-of-five matches for the title, something that isn’t required from them at any other major. Ideally, the scheduling change means a day of rest for both the women’s finalists and the men’s finalists, something the men have repeatedly clamored for over the years. Then again, if weather pushes the men’s semifinals to Sunday, would organizers stick to the Monday final? Or would they move it to Tuesday to give the guys rest? These are the sticky questions when you don’t have a roof*.

    Read More…


  • Published On Dec 14, 2012


  •