Tag Archives: Maria Sharapova

FRENCH OPEN: Old Lady Sharapova, Erases Generation, Becomes Queen of Clay

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In the end, this French Open will be remembered for the Old Lady, I guess. If that’s what we can call Maria Sharapova. She’s just 27, but she single-handedly wiped out a moment that was all about the emergence of Generation Next.

When Serena Williams and Li Na lost early, the tournament was suddenly defined by Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens. It wasn’t the best moment for marketers and TV networks, but women’s tennis needs a refresh. And all four of those young women are compelling and thrilling.

They feel like the right ones. It turned out, Stephens wasn’t ready, isn’t at that level. And then, the marketing dream, Sharapova, wrecked the whole thing, beating Serena-killer Muguruza in the quarters, then Bouchard in the semis, and then Halep 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4 in the final.

There were just too many backward things going on. Sharapova cannot exactly wreck a moment in a sport with so few faces the general sports public wants to see. She cannot possibly be seen as fearless at the same time that she’s afraid to hit her serve. And more importantly: Sharapova, who once described herself on clay as a cow on ice, is now. . .

The best claycourt player on tour. That’s two French Open titles in the past three years for her, and three finals in a row.

We can celebrate Sharapova’s incredible stick-to-itiveness, as always. But she won this match, this tournament because of her years of experience. That was her advantage.

You can see it as veteran street knowledge, so to speak, or possibly just as gamesmanship. Either way, the woman who has been here a million times knew how to get through this match, and the one here for the first time – first of many – did not.

Sharapova was in an all-out stall. Halep likes to rush, and Sharapova knew how to throw her off. Setting and re-setting before her first serve, and then doing it all again before the second. And all those tosses on her serve that she caught and said, “Sorry’’ as if they were just bad tosses?

I’m not buying. It’s true she has struggled with her toss over the years, but so many of those seemed intentional. Toss and catch. . .and. . .toss. . .again. That was more stalling to get Halep out of her rhythm and give her a whole lot of time to think about what it was she was trying to do. If that was enough time for nervousness to creep into a newcomer’s brain, which has never had to deal with these thoughts before?

Well, so be it.

Halep will be back. We’ve seen some pretend stars emerge, or place-setters the past year or two while Williams starts to lose a little more often. Not sure what happened to Sabine Lisicki. Marion Bartoli was never going to be the real deal, even after she won Wimbledon.

Halep is the next longterm star for tennis. Bouchard is right behind her. Muguruza is not as sure of a thing, but odds are with her. Stephens is going to have to learn to fight, and determine whether there is the needed killer inside of her.

The amazing thing about Sharapova is that she’s doing it on clay. We figured when she emerged as a teenager at Wimbledon, crushing the ball, that the fast courts would be best for her. Now, Roland Garros is her place.

A learning curve? That would be a nice thing to point to. Really, she just seems to be moving better and holding her nerve.

Except on her serve. It’s amazing how she can just blank out flaws, just partition them out of her brain while she keeps fighting. Can’t serve? OK, I’ll be ruthless at all non-serving moments.

She was nervous against Bouchard. You could see it. Bouchard is tall, ruthless, powerful and blonde, and it was almost as if she was a replacement.

Yet despite nerves, despite seeing your replacement, despite a bad serve and iffy moves, Sharapova somehow found a way to be mentally relentless.

The only mental block she hasn’t overcome is Williams. So Sharapova, with five majors, will not go down as the best player ever. I don’t think she’s going to figure that one out.

But if a cow on ice can figure out how to become the Queen of Clay, I wouldn’t bet against her, either.


Tennis Finally Wakes up, Accepts Gate-Crasher Bollettieri into Party

Nick Bollettieri and Andre Agassi in the early days

Nick Bollettieri and Andre Agassi in the early days

At Wimbledon last year, I met with Nick Bollettieri and we talked about his two favorite subjects: tennis and, well, Nick Bollettieri. I told him that I’d done what a lot of journalists do in advance with famous people: I’d already written his obituary.

It should be an unsettling thing for a man in his 80s to hear, but Bollettieri just shook my hand and said, “Thanks. You’re going to need to write it again.’’

I love that. He wasn’t done yet.

Bollettieri has always been part-huckster, part-builder of tennis champions, and the first part of that turned off enough people that they didn’t notice the second part, or just didn’t want to. Despite developing the greatest generation of tennis champions, and defining a model the world would copy, he somehow managed to be seen as tennis’ gate-crasher.

He couldn’t even get into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Until he was voted in this week.

Whatever you think of Bollettieri’s methods or his carnival-barker mentality, it is just such an ugly reflection on tennis that it took so long for him to be honored. By now, you’d think this sport would have learned, would have welcomed people who don’t look like they belonged in tennis’ past. Or sound like it. Or act like it. Or worse: have the pedigree for it.

Shame on tennis for taking so long with Bollettieri.

The trend today is to sign with a coach who has won majors as a player. The more majors, the better. Andy Murray finally won his majors after signing Ivan Lendl, and next thing you knew, Roger Federer signed Stefan Edberg, Novak Djokovic had Boris Becker. Even Kei Nishikori had Michael Chang and Marin Cilic had Goran Ivanisevic.

Here’s one thing to remember: The best player in the world, Rafael Nadal, is coached by. . .

Uncle Toni.

This trend to ex-champs as coaches isn’t going to produce the results players are expecting.

Bollettieri was not a great player. He was not a tour player. To be honest, I don’t really even think he was much of a player at all, though he did play briefly in college.

It’s pure snobbery that it took so long to recognize Bollettieri, who developed Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and others who reached No. 1.

Bollettieri with Anna Kournikova

Bollettieri with Anna Kournikova

Being honest, I think he changed things, too, when he went so crazy with Anna Kournikova. She is criticized unfairly, by the way, despite her incredible work ethic making her a top 10 player in a tough era. The problem is, she made a lot of people a lot of money without ever having won a tournament. And now, the premium is on good-looking young girls who can be groomed into top, marketable, players.

That’s sort of sickening, actually.

But back to Bollettieri. Take a look at who makes the best baseball managers. It’s not usually the best former players, but instead the ones who studied the game, who had to truly understand it. It’s the ones who had to find every last angle to make it to the top, or close to it.

I’ll take a career backup catcher as a manager any day. Of course, Bollettieri never even reached that height on the court.

Who cares? It was his vision that found a way to get to the sport’s mountaintop. Again and again.

He founded the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. in 1978, and his idea was to take the top prospects, put them all together and have them fight each other on the court all day, all night. He is no strategic genius, but did push a new attacking style, from inside the baseline with a massive forehand.

He eventually sold the Academy to IMG, and it has grown into something massive, as shown here in this recent piece by Christopher Clarey in The New York Times. The story also points out that it took a big lobbying effort to get Bollettieri into the Hall this time, from Agassi, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Chris Evert, who all wrote letters to the election panel pushing for him.

He started his first tennis camp with the help of Vince Lombardi. Bollettieri was a tennis instructor at a hotel in Puerto Rico in the 1960s and 70s, and Lombardi would come there to play golf. He stopped by the tennis courts one day and told Bollettieri that he was good working with kids, and should do more of it.

Later, when Bollettieri’s career wasn’t going well, he called Lombardi, who helped him to set up a tennis camp in Beaver Dam, Wis.

His Academy was tennis’ first tennis factory, and that led to plenty of criticism. Agassi and Courier, among others, would have a falling out with Bollettieri over his militaristic style. Eventually, they came back into the fold.

So he certainly wasn’t without controversy. But 82 years old, and his plan has led to double-digit players reaching No. 1 in the world. He’s looking to develop another one, too, so he can alter his obituary yet again.

I’ll already have to change one part in his now: The gate-crasher has finally been accepted.


WIMBLEDON: Strange Cats-and-Dogs Cultural Truth About Women and Men on Tour

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

LONDON

It was 7-6 in the tiebreaker Sunday at Wimbledon, and Novak Djokovic was about to lose. “Moment of Truth,’’ he yelled, trying to pressure and intimidate the, well, the kid on the other side of the net.

It was the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, the day off. The Bryan brothers got off their practice court at the same time Juan Martin del Potro got off his, and they took pictures together. The Bryan Bros. posted one on their Twitter account.

Djokovic had somehow run into a highly ranked junior boy, and they practiced together for a few minutes, then played a tiebreaker. Djokovic was screaming at him, trash-talking him. Still, the kid won, and Djokovic dropped and gave five pushups.

This all comes together as just another example of a strange cultural truth in tennis that has become more and more evident the past two weeks: For some reason, the women on tour don’t seem to get along with each other, and the men do.

This Wimbledon started with a storyline about the bickering between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Their dislike of each other was never exactly a secret, but it had never been this open before. Serena took shots, presumably at Sharapova, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, and Sharapova shot back that if Serena wants to talk about personal things, she should stick to the fact that she’s a homewrecker.

It just seemed like a fun-to-watch personal thing. But more and more, things anecdotally keep popping up to show that it’s bigger than that.

“I think so,’’ John Isner told me early last week with a laugh that seemed to say, `That’s the understatement of the year.’ The women, you don’t even see them practice together. It’s weird.’’

By contrast, Isner said that on Monday, he and Roger Federer happened to be in the locker room at the same time.

“We were in the showers, and started talking WWE (professional wrestling),’’ Isner said. “I kid you not.’’

Please read the rest of the column here 


WIMBLEDON: Oh No, Sharapova Loses. Wimbledon Catfight `13 Already Over

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

With a whole lot of yelling and screaming, poof, there went the fun we were expecting for two weeks at Wimbledon. Sharapova lost 6-3, 6-4 in the second round Wednesday to Michelle Larcher de Brito. They are two of the loudest grunters on tour.

No more snickering comments back and forth with Serena Williams. It was supposed to be two full weeks of uncivil behavior, just what tennis needs. Serena kicked it off with her shots in Rolling Stone magazine.

Wimbledon Catfight 2013 is over and done. Serena wins that, too, just by surviving the first Wednesday of the tournament.

Did it all get to Sharapova?

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON Perfect Timing: Serena-Sharapova on Top of Games, Bickering as Wimby Starts

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You have to go back a little ways, and know that this Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova feud is not new, and not just about some catty remarks about boyfriends.

It is incredible timing that just as Wimbledon is about to begin, the two best tennis players in the world are having it out this way. Williams said that Sharapova is boring and won’t be invited to “the cool parties.’’ Sharapova responded that Williams is a homewrecker, breaking up the marriage of a man with kids.

Let’s just say that this isn’t the usual guy-feud you see in sports.

But this rivalry has been around for a while, usually bubbling hot under the surface. Think of it this way: Williams represents breaking down doors in tennis, an African-American without the traditional tennis body type. And Sharapova? She represents the door.

The idyllic stereotype for tennis: tall, blonde, skinny, white, beautiful.

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com

 


WIMBLEDON: So Much for the Reborn It Girl. Sharapova Loses Instead of Sticking it to Gilles Simon

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — So much for Maria Sharapova as tennis’ reborn “it girl.”

While men’s tennis thrives on Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal making history every few months, the women’s game plays on without a leader.

When Sharapova won her first French Open a few weeks ago and became No. 1 again, bringing her star power along, the question was whether women’s tennis finally had a leader it could count on and build from, or whether Sharapova was only “It” in lieu of anyone else.

On Monday, she lost to 15th seed Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-3 in the fourth round at Wimbledon and will lose her No. 1 ranking when Wimbledon is over.

And just like that, women’s tennis is a mess again.

Please read the rest of my column, at FoxSports.com

WIMBLEDON: While Men’s Tennis Thrives on Great Rivalries, Women Can’t Get The Rivalry on Court

Don’t let a friendly moment between rivals fool you

(published June 24, 2012) Tennis cannot get The Match on the court. It never plays out. It’s funny, too, because tennis has been thriving on rivalries. Fans know that history will be made at Wimbledon, which starts tomorrow, because it happens every major. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were the best individual rivalry in sports, and when that one slipped a little, poof, Nadal and Novak Djokovic became the best.

It was seamless. They are always playing for some record, reaching some new height. It’s in such contrast to the women’s game, which has the best rivalry in sports that never happens.

Can we finally get Serena Williams to play Maria Sharapova in a Wimbledon final? They are still the marquee women’s rivalry, complete with tension between players and fan bases, different looks, different styles.

“Tennis is more interesting when you do have rivalries, and you do have contrasting players and you do have different sets of fans for different players,’’ Chris Evert said this week on an ESPN media conference call. Evert has a little experience with game-defining rivalries: Evert-Martina Navratilova.

Williams-Sharapova looked like the start of a big thing back in 2004, when Sharapova, the teenager, crushed Williams in the Wimbledon final. Eight years later, they have played each other just. . .

Eight more times. And women’s tennis has been more like men’s golf than men’s tennis, with a different winner in every major.

Some guy named Webb won the U.S. Open in golf. Do you remember who won the Masters? Bubba. Nine majors, nine different winners.

Please read the rest of my column at The Daily


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