Saturday, August 20, 2011

When showing up is just not worth it

So New Haven is no more – at least not for the men. Instead this Connecticut location will revert to a women only tournament while the men fly south to Winston-Salem, NC. I have never attended New Haven, electing instead to go to the US Open. But this year I gave myself the assignment of checking out smaller tennis events. In keeping with this mission, I will not be going to NYC this year. Instead I will be in Winston-Salem.

I knew when taking this decision that there was going to be a risk. One of the problems with a tournament timed so soon before the US Open is that there is a chance that it will not attract the big names of tennis. Instead the top players tend to use the week before a Slam to rest, recover, and fine tune their game. And I can’t say that I blame them. Sometimes showing up to these pre-Slam events is just not worth it to the player.

In this vein, I was not at all surprised when Serena withdrew from Cincinnati with an injured toe. Having played hard enough to guarantee herself seeding at the US Open, Serena seems to have elected to bail.

Assuming that the toe injury is not life-threatening, would it have been worth it for Serena to press on and try to win Cincinnati? If you’re a fan who paid hard-earned money to attend this event, the response is a definite yes. But if you’re Serena, busy plotting your return to the biggest American tennis stage, it most definitely is not.

In this same spirit, I entirely understand why Mardy Fish has decided to bail on Winston-Salem. I am disappointed of course, but I totally get it. Indeed, when I decided to attend this event, I assumed that I would probably have to settle for the likes of James Blake and a handful of up-and-coming American wild cards. My decision to go had more to do with simply supporting this inaugural event than with any hope of seeing my faves.

I do not therefore feel short-changed by Fish’s decision to bail. I believe that he has more than done his part in promoting American tennis during this summer of 2011. His best chance of winning his first Slam would require him to spend the upcoming week resting and training, refueling himself both physically and emotionally. Besides, I’m sure that Mrs. Fish would like to spend some time with her husband.

Fish seems to be one of those men who thrive on being married. There is no doubt that he has been playing his best tennis ever since both he and his attorney wife reportedly decided jointly to give up the junk food and get into shape. Mardy is looking and playing better than he ever has at any point in his career. Perhaps marriage can also be credited for his new self-confidence, emotional maturity, and at long last willingness to get out from under the Roddick shadow. It’s been a long time coming.

Of course Fish’s presence would have been terrific for Winston-Salem. I appreciate his compromise of showing up on the opening day. And who knows, had he not already sealed the Olympus US Open series, he may even have considered playing this event.

But like Serena’s decision to save her toe, sometimes a player just has to be selfish and not think of the fans or the sponsors but of himself or herself. I have no quarrel with this. In fact I tend to respect this more than those players who traipse all over the world running down petty points to remain on top and end up having nothing to bring to a Slam. It’s so important to rest and refuel, so that you can peak at exactly the right time.

So Andy Roddick will be the top seed at this newbie event. This may very well be the first time that he has committed to an event the week before the US Open. Has he ever played New Haven? I don’t know if he is getting a sweet appearance fee for showing up in Winston-Salem, ( in which case, watch for him to bail as soon as he decently can), or whether he realizes that he needs the extra practice going into the US Open. After all, his only win this year came back in February in Memphis. Since then Roddick has done squat. I’m sure that his form is not where he would like it to be. I’m thrilled that the same cannot be said for Fish.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can you be a hater and not know it?

Mary Jo predicted the Serena loss to Azarenka yesterday in part she said because Serena had been training hard at Stanford. But somehow, in Mary Jo’s mouth, Serena’s hard training came across as a negative. You’d think that a player training hard to get back into tennis fitness would be the subject of applause. Instead it came across as a criticism, as part of what is so wrong with Serena. That is how hate works. It’s an insidious emotion. It permeates and discolors everything.

Take Mary Jo’s comments about Serena’s performance in Stanford: “I think she struggled a bit” and, Serena “played beautifully but never pulled the trigger”. Anyone listening to Mary Jo would be justified in thinking that Serena had lost every match at Stanford. You’d think that Mary Jo was explaining why Serena lost. In reality Stanford was the first tournament that Serena won since her return from illness and injury.

I don’t want to give the impression that Mary Jo never said anything positive about Serena yesterday. She did say positive things. For example, when Cliff Drysdale asked her point blank if Serena was the best server in women’s tennis, Mary Jo unhesitatingly replied, “Yes”. But that was late in the second set when an Azarenka loss was as obvious as the egg scrambled over Mary Jo’s face.

But I also noticed that whenever Mary Jo made a positive comment about Serena, she would often qualify it with the word “but”. For example, Serena doesn’t fist pump after every single point “but she’s gotta bring the competitive fire”. And as I just noted, the criticism that Serena “played beautifully but she never pulled the trigger”. I could give many more examples. Always the negative, always the subtle undercutting.

At times Mary Jo made statements that were not just negative but downright incorrect. For example, she said that Serena was “slowly coming through the rankings”. She must have realized how ridiculous that statement was because she immediately amended it to “well actually not that slowly”. Actually Mary Jo, Serena’s rise in the rankings since her return has been meteoric. She has gone from being ranked 169 after her injuries to now being near the top 30, a mere four tournaments after her return. When last has any player – male or female – made such a meteoric return?

In addition, I noticed that even when Mary Jo made a positive statement about Serena, a negative metacomment often seemed to be implied. An example: “Serena seems much more in sync with her serve tonight”. The implication – Serena is not always in sync with her serve. So I asked the TV how on earth can the same player be admitted to be the best server in women’s tennis and yet be someone who is not always in sync with her serve? And what the hell does that mean anyway? The TV had no idea either.

Of course it is possible that Mary Jo is just a negative person and that the negativity that I perceived towards Serena is actually applied across the board to all players. Then again Mary Jo seemed to get pretty excited and positive about Azarenka last night. I don’t remember her saying a peep when Azarenka double-faulted for the fourth or fifth time. I do remember her unqualified praise of Azarenka’s improvement this season.

An unintentionally funny moment occurred when Mary Jo suggested that Azarenka might consult her coach. It was clearly wishful thinking. And when Pam and Cliff started talking about how Azarenka was the only one grunting on the court, Mary Jo predicted that “the tighter the match gets you will hear her (Serena) grunt”. It never happened. In reality Serena continued to play contained, controlled, precise tennis.

But one of the problems with hate is that it can lead you to view the glass as half-empty. Where I saw a player using skills of PST to regulate her emotional energy, Mary Jo saw flatness and a lack of energy. Indeed she said that she had observed that same flatness and lack of energy the night before in the match against Safarova (“last night she was very flat”).

Actually Serena was not flat at all. She has been deliberate and intentional in her management of her emotional energy. Pam Shriver thinks that this is Serena’s response to her medical scare. I believe that it may also be an intentional self-correction ever since her loss of emotional control at the US Open two years ago. Kudos to Serena for learning how to manage her emotional output. PST recommends this kind of emotional modulation as a technique for developing the mental game. And as Cliff Drysdale sweetly observed, “I like the new serene Serena”.

But in all fairness to Mary Jo, I think that it is possible to be a hater and not know it. I don’t know if the problem is related to all that drama that went down between herself, USTA and Zina Garrison. But I do know that hate is not always conscious or intentional. Like racism and other forms of bigotry, its perpetrators may be truly unaware of their impact or motivation. I also retain faith in human nature and in our ability to change once we are given feedback and are of course self-insightful enough to use it. (Part 2 of 2)

Is Mary Jo a Serena hater?

Understand that this is a word I never use. It’s a word I don’t like. Its overuse is probably the main reason I never venture into tennis forums anymore. It’s not nice to be called a hater. The accusation makes me flinch even though I am the one making it. Understand therefore that I do not use this word lightly. I am seriously interrogating the question of whether Mary Jo Fernández, the brown-skinned Latina minority woman who frequently commentates on ESPN, may be a hater of Serena Williams.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect everyone to be a fan of Serena Williams. It is perfectly OK with me if Mary Jo doesn’t like Serena. There’s no law that says she has to – although as the Fed Cup captain you’d think it would occur to her that being a hater is not exactly going to help her effectiveness.

But as a tennis commentator, one would expect at least a balanced and fair presentation of the facts about a player. The best commentators know how to leave their personal biases out of their commentary. When a commentator’s hatefulness begins to intrude, it affects the quality of her commentary.

I have felt for a long time that Mary Jo is not just a Serena hater but a Williams hater. But yesterday is the first time I challenged myself to look closely at why I feel this way. I asked myself, what exactly is it that Mary Jo does that gives me the impression that she is a Serena hater? I sat in front of the TV with pen and notepad. I had a case to make.

The match was about to start: Serena vs. Azarenka at the semifinals of the Roger’s Cup in Toronto. Chris Fowler served as host. First they discussed Tsonga vs. Djokovic. Everyone gave Tsonga a chance but agreed that the Djokovic train was unstoppable. There was no hate. Then they switched to talking Serena vs. Azarenka. Mary Jo picked Azarenka for the win. That was fine with me. She is entitled to her opinion.

Brad Gilbert disagreed, as circumspectly as he could. Mary Jo rebutted, a growing tone of querulous sourness in her voice. And I realized right away that that is part of why I have the impression that she is a hater. Whenever she talks about Serena her voice remains dour, sour, negative and gripy. Even when she praises Serena, there is never any excitement or happiness in her voice. She seems to remain dour, sour, negative.

Then Darren Cahill spoke. His first words were: “I like Serena”. And my gut went ding ding ding! Why would Cahill need to say “I like Serena” if he did not intuitively pick up on the fact that he was responding to someone who disliked her? Brad and Darren picked Serena for the win. Chris Fowler went along with Mary Jo but he was clearly just being politic. He had no bitch in this fight. 

I picked Serena – but in all fairness, I always do.

The match started. I paid more attention to Mary Jo than to what was happening on the court. After all, I knew what Azarenka was going to do. She plays windshield-wiper tennis, side to side to boring side. No other strategy, no other technique, no creativity. Just mind-numbing side-to-side bashing like a gazillion other baseline banshees on the WTA tour.

I also trusted that Serena knew this. I trusted that Serena knew that Azarenka always starts strong and then begins to fade. I knew that Serena would deconstruct her like a predictable puzzle. I knew that Azarenka would have her moments, but that this match, as Cahill and Gilbert had predicted, was going to be on Serena’s racket. There was no need to pay attention. I could give the hater all of my focus and solve this puzzle once and for all. (Part 1 of 2)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Monfils to Petkovic: So you think you can dance?

Did you see Monfils doing the Dougie after he spanked Troicki in Montreal last night? How gangsta was that? Yes I am on a Monfils-defending rampage these days I suppose. Not to worry – I’ll get over it soon enough.

But last night against Victor Troicki, Monfils did many things right. He closed out the third set up 6-5 in the tie-breaker with a bodacious, massive serve down-the-line. After which he danced. His moves were smooth, unexpected, hilarious. I swear you could almost imagine Gael in a Paris nightclub getting his Dougie on. I wonder if a certain obsessive tennis commentator also did. I hope he choked on the visuals.

In truth Monfils can really dance. And yet I cannot remember any occasion on which his celebratory tennis victory dance ended up eclipsing his accomplishments in a match. In other words, Monfils is not known for being a dancer. And that is entirely fine with me. I can’t think of a time (other than this entry) when his dancing became the story over his tennis wins. Can you?

Contrast this with Andrea Petkovic. Like Monfils, she is a top-ten player who seems to be having a breakthrough year. And yet Petkovic is fast becoming better known for her silly dances than for her tennis. In fact, it is kind of ironic that Petkovic seems to have established herself as the dancing queen of tennis when so many tennis commentators make a point of describing her playing style as “mechanical”. How does a mechanical player suddenly become the queen of dance. Time to consult Cat Deeley!!

Some months ago I read an article that claimed that Petkovic was going to give up dancing. That she no longer wished to be associated only with wagging her ass after her tennis wins. At the time I thought it was a good idea. In the same way that Djokovic eventually gave up doing his impersonations of other tennis players, I found that I wanted Petkovic to quit it with the damn dancing.

She is after all a Top Ten tennis player. And while I will be the first to concede that this clearly no longer means what it used to, I still wanted for Petkovic that she would become known more for playing top-ten power tennis than for her silly dancing.

So it was with some disappointment that I recently observed her mechanical pop-locking after she beat Sloane Stephens in Carlsbad CA. And although Sloane took out Petkovic’ countrywoman Julie Georges – a win that truly mystified me – I had no doubt that Petkovic would beat the far more inexperienced Serena wanna-be. Really, there was no reason to dance. There was nothing amazing about this win. It really wasn’t all that. Sloane Stephens is ranked #112. (The far bigger story is why the heck Georges lost to her!)

To make matters worse, Petkovic proceeded to do a shitty kind of half-pop-lock that was embarrassing to watch. She seemed either not quite able to get the other shoulder to keep undulating, or too embarrassed to continue with the stupidity. As much as I like Petkovic, I have to admit that her dancing is indeed as mechanical as her tennis. She certainly needs to give pop-locking a rest. Wagging her ass was probably a whole lot easier, yes?

Of course poor Monfils was probably not in a dancing mood after he got his ass handed to him from Djokovic tonight. In the end I was happy that he managed to avoid getting bagled. That alone is worth a party, ent?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Coaching relationships based on ethics and trust

When golfer, Adam Scott, won the Bridgestone Invitational this past Sunday, his caddie, Steve Williams could barely contain his bitterness. Instead of celebrating Scott’s win, Williams seized the moment to stick his tongue out at Tiger. It was a bitter performance from a bitter little man. And to be fair, he has since apologized for his “over the top” comments. But if I were Adam Scott, I would be looking for another caddie. Bitterness has no place in the relationship between a player and any member of his support team.

The relationship between a professional tennis player and any of his employees should be based on trust. But some coaches (and caddies) do not see themselves as the player’s employee. They believe that they are the big shots who are making the call. It becomes all about them. Their narcissism knows no limit. They pass their mouth on everything and everyone – including the player himself.

Roger Rasheed has been known to pass his mouth on players he isn’t even coaching. Take for example his distasteful comments about Casey Dellaqua’s weight gain. In hindsight I should have included him in my entry on male players’ sexist comments on women’s fitness. Then there was his dismissal of Bernard Tomic some years ago, which prompted Bernard’s father to question Rasheed’s credentials as a coach.

Turns out Rasheed was actually an Aussie rules football player who used to coach an Aussie football team. As a tennis player his highest rank was #192. As Tomic Sr. pointed out, Rasheed has never coached a player from beginning stages to top success. He has however linked up with players who are already successful on the tour and tries his best to keep them there. The latest rumor is that he may be coaching Andy Murray. I hope for Andy’s sake that this is not true.

Look I get that not everyone can be a Robert Lansdorp, a coach blessed with the gift of nurturing young talent (never mind his reputation for gruffness). Not everyone is a Brad Gilbert who will tell anyone who would listen that his student is the best ever. Not everyone has the tact of a Darren Cahill to withhold comments when his player is on court, allowing other talking heads to have their say. Not everyone has the patience of Albert Costa to take a team of different and mercurial personalities to Davis Cup victory. 

But every tennis coach should be expected – no, required – to have a basic understanding of professional ethics. And making unprofessional comments about a player you have coached or are currently coaching should be an ethical violation punishable by penalty to include loss of coaching privileges for a period of time.

In the absence of such a system we have to rely on a coach’s own sense of ethics. I was impressed some years ago when Nick Bollettieri publicly and privately apologized to Andre Agassi for past negative comments he had made. I’m still waiting for Peter Lundgren to do the same for his backhanded comments about Federer. And for tennis commentators to stop saying what Rasheed thinks and feels about Monfils.

It was sickening to listen to the stupid comments about Gael Monfils throughout the Legg Mason event. During the semi-finals match between Monfils and Isner, one commentator started telling a story about seeing Monfils in a Paris club getting his dance on. The story was resuscitated again during the finals against Stepanek. And I found myself wondering on what planet is it abnormal for a good-looking 24 year old man to go clubbing? And what the hell did that ancient story have to do with Monfils current form? And was it truly coincidental that all of these negative comments were immediately followed by the announcement that Rasheed had fired Monfils? I think not.

It was almost as if the commentators had a direct line into the frustrations of Roger Rasheed. And understand that I get that Monfils must be a frustrating player to coach. So much talent, so much athleticism, so little mental organization. I totally get that feeling of wanting to reach through the TV to shake some sense into his rasta head.

But there must be a zone of privacy between employer and employee regardless of such feelings. There must be between coach and player a foundation of trust. There must be conversations – arguments even – that are kept private. The media have no right to know. And like any employee, a coach has every right to quit the job. But he should do so with some respect. You don’t keep bad-mouthing your players. Because next thing you know no one will want to hire your footy-playing ass. (Part 2 of 2)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is Monfils better off without Roger Rasheed?

I believe that the relationship between a tennis coach and a pro player should be as sacrosanct as the one I hold with my psychotherapy patients. You will never ever see me writing or talking about a client. It just is not done. It’s unethical and unacceptable in more ways than I care to count. The same should hold true for the relationship between a tennis coach and his or her student.

As in any relationship based on trust, there should always be an inviolable zone of privacy and protectiveness around the coach-student relationship. A player should always be able to trust that his coach has his back.

So when in 2007, Roger Rasheed publicly announced his break-up with Lleyton Hewitt, a huge part of me went “Ouch”. Keep in mind that back then I was no fan of Hewitt. I was at the time still burning over the incident in which he implied that an African-American linesman at the US Open was cheating to help James Blake. Hewitt got rightly excoriated in the press for what was perceived as his own projected racism.

And yet I felt that Rasheed had done Hewitt wrong by going to the press to announce their break-up in such a distasteful manner. Understand that my problem with Rasheed was not that he broke up with Hewitt. My problem was with his decision to run to the press to passive-aggressively announce it. (And yes the timing was also disgusting, coming as it did a mere week before the Aussie Open. Even a jackass like Hewitt deserved better.)

I find it truly problematic that Rasheed so often seems to be running to the press to bad-mouth his player. And if he is not the one who is running to the press, then he himself needs to launch an inquiry into how come the members of the tennis media seem to be so insightful into his negative thoughts and feelings about his player.

Take for example the recent comments being made about Monfils by many members of the official tennis media. Am I the only one who has noticed that over the past few months, several of the regular tennis commentators seemed to be in the know that Rasheed was frustrated with Monfils? It seemed as if, in every tournament that Monfils appeared, a tennis commentator was able to speak on behalf of Roger Rasheed and to express how frustrated the latter had become with Monfils.

Lately, during the Legg Mason Classic, these comments became louder and more strident. With every match that Monfils played and won, the tennis commentators remained fixated on what a loser he essentially was. As a result, it came as no surprise when these same talking heads announced that Rasheed and Monfils were dunzo.

Indeed, Cliff Drysdale went one better and invited us to speculate on whether we had ever before heard of a situation in which it was the coach who had fired the student!! Pat McEnroe then started telling a story about how Monfils was dancing and clowning around in his hotel room as his girlfriend was trying to communicate with friends back in Australia on Skype. How do they know these things?

And I am watching and listening to all this and wondering why was it that the tennis media seemed to be going to such lengths to paint an image of Monfils as a hyperactive waste of talent. Mind you, I have on this very website referred to Monfils as a French clown. I too think that he squanders his talent and athleticism and often makes poor shot selections.

But I am not, as Sarah 'Malaprop' Palin would say, part of the lame-streamed media. Watching the ESPN talking heads in action, I found myself wondering why it was so important for the story to be that it was Rasheed who broke up with Monfils and not the other way around. And I also found myself wondering if Monfils isn’t after all, better off without this particular brand of poison. (Part 1 of 2)

Monday, August 8, 2011

When grace won out over pressure

I will be the first to admit that I love Big Babe tennis. I love the big-serving, big forehand power game that many of the top women now play. I love the fact that oohing and aahing over the speed of a serve is no longer relegated to men’s tennis. Women tennis players are increasingly showing that women can hit big and win big too.

But in the absence of the Williams Sisters for much of this year, and during the phase when Sharapova was too injured to be a force, I found myself forced to watch a different kind of tennis. Mainly the experience has been frustrating. It still galls me that the likes of Caroline Wozniacki has managed to maintain a strangle-hold on the #1 position. And while I am still unable to appreciate what Caroline has to offer, I find that I have been enjoying watching some of the other up-and-comers in women’s tennis.

Over this past weekend, I found myself reversing my former opinion of Agnieszka Radwańska. About this same event last year, I wrote an honest entry about my difficulties appreciating Radwanska’s style of tennis. I had back then problems with the way she jumped around the court when receiving serve. I disliked the predictability of her moves. I was bored by the side-to-side windshield wiping strategy that she deployed on point after point. I questioned her ability to win when she couldn’t conquer an opponent who was choking so hard it was painful to watch.

So I was shocked to discover a subtly changed Radwanska over this past weekend of the Carlsbad CA event. If she still jumped around like a jack rabbit when receiving serve, I did not notice. I was too busy appreciating the graceful elegance of her tennis. If she ran Zvonareva side to side, I did not see it. I was too busy appreciating the keenness of her intelligence as she deliberately, intentionally constructed her points.

Radwanska is still not a power player. But in one short year she has become far more than a retriever content only to chase balls down and force her opponents to play another shot. She has morphed herself a confident player who manages her own game and does not only react to what the other produces. It’s a subtle sign of improvement. I am happy that I noticed it.

Over on the other side of the court, Zvonareva was clearly under pressure. No she did not have any of the spectacular melt-downs for which she is unfortunately famous. But she paced, quarreled, and slammed her racket in frustration. She was a woman under pressure. This was a weekend in which grace and finesse would win out over pressure.

This was true for the men as well. Defenders of Monfils and Zvonareva will say that the lateness of their previous matches must have interfered with their form the next day. I disagree. This isn’t ten-and-under tennis where the little tykes are expected to be too tired to handle a demanding schedule. These are pros, and there are points at stake.

And in fairness to both Zvonareva and Monfils, they are two healthy players who have improved their fitness tremendously. Like Zvonareva, Monfils found himself losing in straights to the player not known for power but for his gifts of grace and finesse.

Radek Stepanek was chock full of confidence during his run at the Legg Mason tournament in Washington. And yet he must have wondered if he could beat Monfils having lost to him just last month in Hamburg. But that was clay, by far Monfils’ favorite surface. Dude can slide like few others. On clay, Monfils plays with grace. On a hardcourt, his shot selection can be illogical, clumsy, oafish.

Stepanek on the other hand, plays with grace regardless of the surface. He moves with the smoothness of a man half his age. While Monfils seemed to feel continually pressured to come up with big shots, Stepanek would quietly sneak into net and put the shot away. It was a weekend of truly graceful performances. Watching Radwanska and Stepanek was like watching a kind of tennis ballet. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

A weekend of satisfying results

Welcome back Serena Williams. It's such a joy to watch you play. It’s so great to have you back on the tour. It’s so emotionally satisfying to have you back in the winner’s circle. Third tournament back, first win, taking out the woman who destroyed your Wimbledon effort. That victory must have tasted so sweet.

I love me some Marion Bartoli, but she has long been on the list of women tennis players whose physical appearance annoyed me to no end. But overweight shapeless Marion is no more. The Marion playing in the Bank of the West Classic was a fit, sleek, tennis machine. She gave Serena more than she could handle in the first set. But I never count out Serena. She is too much of a fighter, too mentally determined to just roll over and play dead. It was so great to watch her deliver on the promise of her return.

Over in LA, Ernests Gulbis maintained his focus to come from behind and spank Mardy Fish. Gulbis is another player with talent so long promised but who just did not seem to deliver. Indeed, at times I despaired. Who would have guessed that it would be his pairing with the Argentine Guillermo “Willy” Cañas that would produce the magic? Only 33, Cañas is young enough to remember what it takes to beat the best, and experienced enough to inspire confidence in his charge. I like their partnership.

On the other side of the court was local favorite Mardy Fish. I get that Fish is clearly trying to win the Olympic US Open series. But frankly I think he is playing too much tennis. If he keeps showing his hand like this, there will be no magic by the time he gets to the US Open. Indeed, I expect him to be so burnt out – literally and figuratively given the horrific heat wave we are enduring – that he may not even make it to week two.

I did not attend the inaugural Citi Open tournament in College Park, Maryland. I seriously thought of it. In fact my dream is to one year be able to afford not working for July and August and spend those 60 days just crisscrossing the US to watch tennis. It’s a nice dream. I must start saving. But for now I had to settle for the Tennis Channel.

It was nice to see that Shahar Peer has made the crossover from doubles to singles. But Peer has no weapons to speak of; indeed, she plays the same game whether she is playing doubles or singles. Which is why I picked Petrova for the win. Like Bartoli, Petrova is looking trimmer and fitter than I ever remember. I expected her to bring her experience and athleticism to bear on this match. And she did. This was her first win since Quebec 2008. This victory was a nice reminder that her coffers are not yet empty.

Over in Gstaad, Switzerland, Marcel Granollers – the cute Spaniard with a French name – became the seventh Spanish player to win a tournament this year. Robredo got the series started with a win in Santiago, Chile, in January. In February, Almagro won in Brazil and David Ferrer took Mexico. Almagro would win again in May (Nice, France).

In April, Pablo Andujar had a breakthrough win in Morocco. That same month Nadal won back to back events in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and would win Roland Garros for a historic sixth time. Juan Carlos Ferrero then showed that the Old Goats still had cojones with a sweet win in Stuttgart last month. And along comes Granollers – who got past Wawrinka and Youzhny – to add his name to the list of Spanish dominance.

It was kind of bittersweet that Granollers’ opponent was Verdasco. Fernando has worked brutally hard to improve his fitness this year. And he has done the least well of his compatriots. That must sting.

And finally there was my newbie love, Aleksandr Dolgopolov, who won his first ATP title, defeating homeboy Marin Cilic in three sets at the Croatia Open. When Dolgopolov lost to Almagro in the Brazil finals, I did not really mind. I felt that he could benefit from the extra experience of competing at a high level. I have to admit that his breakthrough win came sooner than I expected, despite the fact that I made such a to-do about his tremendous promise.