Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: For Better or Worse

Monday, July 28, 2014 /by
Caroline Wozniacki landed on her feet, winning her first title of the year in Istanbul. (AP Photo)
Caroline Wozniacki landed on her feet, winning her first title of the year in Istanbul. (AP Photo)

Well, it’s been a busy if not particularly critical two weeks in tennis, with players scattered far and wide, preparing for the upcoming hard-court events. So let’s see take a closer look at some of the things that happened — for better or worse — these past few weeks.

He was truly the “Little Big Man” this week, the same week that the wonderful author of a book of that name, Thomas Berger, left a hole in the literary landscape. I’m talking about Dudi Sela, the 29-year old, 5-foot-9 Israeli dynamo who reached just the second final of his career in Atlanta yesterday and, well, fell just short of toppling top-seeded, 6-foot-10 John Isner in the championship match during the same week that began with Sela’s upset of 6-foot-6, No. 9 seed Sam Querrey -after which Sela took down the No. 4 seed, 6-foot-4 Vasek Pospisil. That’s a lot of big timber to bring down; somewhere Thomas Berger is smiling.

Leonardo Mayer, once a highly touted prodigy, ended a career-long drought when he won the title of the ATP 500 in Hamburg. The 27-year old player, ranked No. 46 at the start of Hamburg, finally joined the elite group of pros who have won tour level titles. He did it with flair, out-deuling the ultimate grinder and top seed, David Ferrer, in a third-set tie breaker.  “I can't believe it," said Mayer. "I was able to do it against Ferrer, who is one of the best players on this (clay) surface. I'm really happy and it still hasn't sunk in that I won.”

Maybe there’s something in the water at Baku, at least when Elina Svitolina imbibes. The Ukrainian teenager won the second title of her budding career at the same place she won the first 12 months earlier —  Baku. And  you know what they say: The only thing harder than winning a particular title is defending it.

Back in that first Baku final, Svitolina defeated Shahar Peer. This year, her victim was Bojana Jovanovski, who seemed to get stuck in gear after bursting on the scene full of promise. Svitolina, who won the French Open junior title at age 15, was ranked No. 37 before Baku — three notches better than Jovanovski.

Speaking of former French Open junior champions, Bjorn Fratangelo stunned observers when he became the first American to win the boys’ title at Roland Garros in 2011. He’s struggled in the interim, but Fratangelo recently won a Futures on clay in Rome to end a five-tournament run during which he failed to win back-to-back matches.

Named for Bjorn Borg, Fratangelo has struggled to build on that great win in France (his career-high ranking is No. 292, he’s currently 446). The native of Plum, Pa., acknowledges that he must get stronger and develop greater emotional maturity, but at 21 he’s young enough to turn it around.

Not to be outdone by runaway groom Rory McIlroy, Caroline Wozniacki crushed Roberta Vinci in the Istanbul final, winning in under an hour, 6-1, 6-1. It was her first tournament win since last October.  As all the world knows, McIlroy won the British Open the same day — and mere weeks after he dumped Wozniacki in a brief phone call, even though the wedding invitations were already in the mail.

While still in Istanbul, Wozniacki posted a picture on Instagram, with the caption: “Out and about in Istanbul. It's been three years since I have worn high heels on a normal day out.” — a subtle dig at McIlroy, whose slight stature made Wozniacki feel obliged to wear flat shoes. Who knew Wozniacki could be so subtle?

"Tennis Australia welcomes Ajla Tomljanovic to the Australian tennis family." That selfsame Australian federation declared in a statement when 21-year old Croatian became the latest tennis carpetbagger to renounce her homeland in order to represent a nation where the earning opportunities might be greater.

Tomljanovic, who developed her game in the U.S., has decided to become a true-blue Aussie — just like her predecessors in that patriot game, Jarmila Gajdosova and Anastasia Rodionova. Granted, Tomljanovic is under the coaching wing of Aussie David Taylor, so you have to assume he played some role brokering the deal. It’s easy to blame tennis’ hired guns for for shamelessly abandoning their roots, but it also takes a willing buyer. And it isn’t hard to seduce an ill-educated 21-year-old with the promise of support and earning opportunities.

Tomljanovic now can represent Australia in ITF (Grand Slam) events, so it’s easy to see why TA took to gushing and flinging open its arms, conveniently forgetting that Tomljanovic will now leapfrog over many homegrown prospects. Perhaps surprisingly, the WTA is more prudent than the ITF in these matters , and won’t put “Australia” behind Tomljanovic’s name until she actually earns citizenship.

A pair of 17-year old wild cards, Croatia’s Borna Coric and Germany’s Alexander Zverev had spectacular tournaments, partly because they were able to tap into the inspirational value of playing in their home countries. Coric, ranked No. 230, made the quarters at Umag. He won two matches, one of them against No. 7 seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin, before top-seeded Fabio Fognini ended his storybook run in three tough sets.

Zverev, ranked No. 285, took out No. 5 seed Mikhail Youzhny and three others pros before he ran afoul of David Ferrer. The top seed crushed the boy (the first 17-year old to make it to the semis of a main tour event since 2006) but even he was moved to admit that Zverev looked like one mighty tired teenager by the time they hashed things out in the final.  

Sara Tomic, the teenage sister of Bernard, recently whined about how much “hatred” she was getting because of her brother, ATP bad boy Bernard.
"They get the wrong image of him," Sara Tomic was quoted as saying by the Australian website, News.com.au. She went on: "Everyone thinks my brother’s a tool—he’s actually a good guy. It really frustrates me a lot."

Actually, Sara, we know you love your brother and all. I believe he doesn’t kick bums lying in the street or steal from the poor box. But he’s a tool — a major tool.  The only excuse he’s got is that he’s still just 21, but even that one is wearing a little thin. It’s okay to have a brother who’s a tool, lots of girls do. Get him something real nice — a nail gun or some other, er, power tool? —  for his birthday if you want to make him feel better.

Also a tennis player, Sara said, “I don’t want people to see me as Tomic’s sister—I want them to see me as Sara Tomic." Can’t blame you for that, Sara.

Tennis memorabilia collectors can start lining up right now for the August 6th sale at New York’s Swann Auction Gallery. Up for sale: the world’s largest collection of vintage tennis posters, which spans a century — and an estimated $170,000 worth — of sporting art amassed by a single Australian individual.

The posters date from the late 19th century and advertise everything from tennis tournaments to luxury holiday destinations and even cars. Naturally, there are vintage posters for Wimbledon and Roland Garros but also ones advertising destinations and products through an association with tennis. If you’re wondering where tennis’ upscale reputation comes from, these posters will give you a good idea — both in the goods they advertise, and the way individuals are depicted.

You can see some of the posters, and read more about the auction here.

Some of the fan friendly rules of World TeamTennis aren’t friendly to anyone at all. Take the one that forced Taylor Townsend to play a few games of doubles for the Philadelphia Freedoms all by herself, against the Washington Kastles powerful team of Martina Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova.

Townsend inadvertently bonked Liezel Huber right on the pumpkin with a serve in the match, sending the woozy doubles specialist to the sidelines and, after a medical exam, the bench. But WTT rules forbid forfeits, so Townsend had to soldier on alone from the ad court, unable even to play both courts. Each time her opponents served to the deuce court vacated by Huber, all Townsend could do was watch.

I don’t think I need to tell you who won the doubles and, ultimately, the whole shootin’ match.

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