Monday, September 17, 2018

The Sascha Bajin Factor

At Wimbledon 2018, upon being told by a reporter that Madison Keys had said that it must be tough to be Serena because everyone always plays their best against her, Serena offered this elucidating response, clarifying the kind of pressure that she faces in every single match: 

“I’m glad someone admitted that. Of course Madison does. She’s just so smart and so on it, but yeah, every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or a surgery or it doesn’t matter, these young ladies bring a game that I’ve never seen before. It’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much because when I watch them play is a totally different game than when they play me. It’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”

Of all the cumulative sources of pressure affecting Serena during that match against Osaka, I believe that one of the unacknowledged sources was the courtside presence of Sascha Bajin, her former hitting partner, coach, and confidant.  I cannot imagine the pressure that Serena must have felt knowing that seated close by was the man who, for eight years came to know her game the best, and who, for the second time, had coached a young woman in the tactics of beating her.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The pressure of being the GOAT

I’ve read a lot of the commentary following Serena Williams’ meltdown on Arthur Ashe court in the finals of the US Open.  The opinions I respected the least were the ones that began with a variant of “I don’t normally follow tennis but…” All of those opinions favored Serena, using heavy doses of whataboutism to basically argue that if men can get away with bad behavior, women should too.

It reminded me of the way so many (white) women bent and twisted themselves out of shape to white-wash Asia Argento’s back story in order to elevate her to (undeserved) leadership of the #MeToo movement.  Never mind that Tarana Burke started this movement way back in 2006.  It was incredible to me the way (white) women wrapped themselves in layers of denial and delusion to accept Ms. Argento’s illegitimate leadership.

Something similar is being done with the events on Arthur Ashe court so that Serena Williams can be recast as a feminist and activist hero.  This was not about a woman losing gracelessly under pressure – no, it was a feminist issue! 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Tale of Two Injuries, Part II

Let me straight up admit that I perceive Bouchard to be irksomely entitled and privileged.  She reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence – loud, self-proclaiming, attention seeking, and beyond ignorant.  Let me give you one example of why I find Bouchard to be an annoying bore – and of course I respect your right to interpret her behavior differently than I did.   

In 2014, Bouchard was given a main draw wild card for the Hong Kong Open after reportedly forgetting to enter.  I have not checked the WTA Official Rulebook but I can’t imagine that forgetting to enter an event is consistent with established rules.   Bouchard was then widely promoted as the public face of the Hong Kong Open in an apparent exchange for appearance fees.  

Bouchard next proceeded to withdraw from the tournament at the last minute, citing heat exertion from the US Open.  Tournament organizers became understandably annoyed, having heavily marketed the event on the basis of her acceptance of a main draw wild card.  The WTA responded by fining a tournament official.  Bouchard seemed unfazed and unscathed, breezily moving on to the Wuhan Open where she lost in the finals.  And that, my friends, is how privilege works. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Tale of Two Injuries, Part I

In early September 2015, Eugenie Bouchard slipped and fell in a locker-room at the US Open, reportedly hitting her head.  According to her testimony in the lawsuit she subsequently brought against the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Bouchard had told a trainer that she would return for her ice bath after stretching and talking to the media.  When she returned to the locker-room, the trainers had all left.  As a result, there were no witnesses to her slip and fall.

At the time of this event, Bouchard’s career, which had been sizzling in 2014, was clearly on a path of decline.  After a breakthrough 2013 when she was named WTA Newcomer of the Year, Bouchard continued to enjoy significant success in 2014.  She won her first WTA title at a warm-up event to the French Open, and made it to the finals of Wimbledon.  She ended that year ranked in the top 5. 

But by 2015, Bouchard’s star had begun to fade.  She went on an embarrassing first-round losing streak, during which she fired the first of many subsequent coaches.  It has made no difference.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

My enduring hook-up with Roger Federer

I am an unabashed Federer stan.  I have it so bad that I can't even pretend to be objective.  What I never expected was to have him be so long a part of my life.  When I first met Roger Federer -- in the 1990s at the US Open -- I initially mistook him for Carlos Moy√° as he walked by me toward the practice courts. (Swear to God).  And then I saw him play and fell in love, and there has been no looking back.  I've rarely strayed.

I've loved other tennis players before of course.  But after five -- or ten years if I am lucky and they are uninjured -- I start looking around for the next newbies to whom I could offer my heart.  I'm thinking about players like Marat Safin and his sister whose name I now barely remember.  How long did our tennis affair last?  It felt like a blip, here intensely today, gone just like nothing tomorrow.  Sabine?  Something like that.  Not even worth looking up.  Perhaps not even worth any of the moments I invested in her emotionally.

Then again, that is a cynical and unfair statement.  I can't only invest in players for their longevity.  It's quite OK to have small flings, brief intense affairs that meet the needs of the moment with no promise of a future.  There is always room in a lifetime for such hook-ups.  Who am I to judge myself?

The problem I think is the not knowing.  In real life, when you swap right on Tinder, you know that you are going into a temporary hook-up.  There is no question of anything lasting.  It's wham, bam, thank you Ham.  But when your friends set you up with someone new that they know for sure you are so right for each other, your heart remains less buttressed, more willing to take that risk toward permanence.