Laver Cup – Just Another Team Competition?

I purr not!

Last week I hissed and scratched about my utter confusion of the Davis Cup. This week we are introduced to another team competition, The Laver Cup! Named after the living legend, Australia’s Rod Laver. Two teams: Team Europe vs. Team World (which sounds like the Greek god, Atlas, will set down his world and pick up his racquet to conquer TENNIS!)

But that’s not it at all. Instead, it is a three day tournament with the 6 best players from Europe playing against the 6 best players from the rest of the world (US and Australia).

Team Europe: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Sascha Zverev, and Tomas Berdych (team captain: Bjorn Borg)

Team World: Sam Querrey, John Isner, Jack Sock, Nick Kyrgios, Francis Tiafoe,  Denis Shapovalov (team captain: John McEnroe)

At first this sounds like some lame, self-serving exhibition event with the sole purpose of making a whole lotta $$$. Something I would surely pass up to sit in the shade spot by the backdoor and soak up the afternoon sun. But Twitter was blowing up this week, posting tons of pictures of the players in suits looking smart and dapper, a cool new black tennis court, teasing us with prospects of Rafa and Roger being doubles partners! I will admit, I am hooked!

Here is a group pic of Team Europe at the Gala Dinner! Don’t they look handsome? Everybody looks good in a tux, no? You would tune in for this, wouldn’t you?

Photo courtesy of rafaelnadalfans.com

So stay tuned my furry friends! This should be a fun weekend with some fun tennis. I’ll keep you posted on all the happenings.

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The Davis Cup Mysteries

Now that the 2017 grand slam season is over, I want to focus my attention on the Davis Cup. Unfortunately, when I think of the Davis Cup, a huge cloud rolls in overhead and I am left in the dark. For as long as I have followed tennis and heard commentators talk about the Davis Cup, it is still an illusive mystery to me. You too? Here, let me break it down for you…

Things I (think I) know about the Davis Cup:

  1. It is a year long men’s tennis tournament.
  2. It is played with teams which pits country against country (ex: Belgium vs. Australia).
  3. Each team has a team captain. Sometimes this team captain is a formal pro player of the previous generation (Jim Courier is (was?) USA’s team captain, Leyton Hewitt is team captain for Australia).
  4. It is played in different countries on different surfaces (grass, clay, hard court).
  5. The atmosphere is much like a soccer game where the spectators wear face paint, costumes and show spirit for their respective country.

Things that are a mystery to me:

  1. The bracket! I do not understand who plays who and when, who makes the bracket. Apparently, we are in the semifinals right now? France vs. Serbia and Australia vs. Belgium…maybe?
  2. Who decides which surface you play on? Does there have to be an equal amount of play on each surface throughout the year?
  3. The scoring. I know that there are some singles matches and some doubles matches, but I don’t know the ratio or even how many matches are played.
  4. How often are Davis Cup matches throughout the year?
  5. When are the finals?
  6. What do you get if you win?
  7. Why is Australia’s uniforms always yellow and green, but their flag is red, white and blue?

There are some players who really thrive within this team setting, like two of my favorites, Juan Martin Del Potro and Nick Kyrgios. I’ve been a good feline Sherlock Holmes and tried to find some clarity on the Davis Cup website because I want to follow and get excited about this. But alas, I am still in the dark.

If you have any clues that could solve the Davis Cup Mysteries, please share. I would love to know. And maybe some of the readers here will learn a little something too!

Thanks!

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There Is No “I” In Team

But there is an I in Tennis! Of course, that means absolutely nothing except that it is a fact. There is also a T, and E, a couple of N’s and an S!

Oh cat, I got off track there for a minute. Too much cat nip! But not that far. I was thinking about the Women’s Final that took place yesterday, and there was an interesting dynamic that happened on the court. The two finalists, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, are both American’s, . Both players were out earlier in the year, skipping the Australian Open in January, with injuries which required surgeries. We all know that you don’t recover, rehab, and compete at the level of a grand slam final without a team behind you. Coaches, trainers, nutritionists, parents, friends…that’s your team!

To add an extra layer of complexity to this grand slam final, both players are also teammates and good friends. They play on the American Fed Cup team together, they competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics together, they themselves are teammates. So, imagine for a minute that you were playing for the biggest title of your career against a teammate and good friend. This was the scene for yesterday’s final.

But with all competition, there is a winner and there is a loser. And yesterday, the momentum swung in the direction of Sloane Stephens. Sloane Stephens was on point from the get go and Madison Keys struggled to find her game. The final score was a convincing 6-3, 6-0.

Photo by:  (USTA/Darren Carroll)
For me, the highlights came after the match! After the win, both players met at the net like players do. But instead of the cold handshake, chair umpire handshake, then march back to your chair, Sloane and Madison hugged at the net and one friend consoled the other while she cried on the winner’s shoulder. Then instead of going to their own respective seats, the winner sits next to her friend and laughs and cuts up until the trophy ceremony. Furriends, if you don’t follow tennis, let me tell you, I have been watching tennis a long time and this NEVER happens.
Then, during the trophy ceremony, both players had beautiful, gracious things to say about the other player. I cried through the whole thing! (No one is surprised by this, I’m sure). Wonderful display of sportsmanship, friendship and class at a time when our world needs a little bit of it!
So even though there is no I in Team, there is a team within tennis. And the American women’s teamwork was on full display yesterday! Congratulations to Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens.

True Cat Confession #7

In my very first true cat confession, you learned that I am a bit of a data nerd. Well guess what? I still am!

I found this article in the NY Times about sexism in tennis. Computer scientists from Cornell University conducted a study of the types of questions asked to players during their post-match interviews. To no surprise (to me, at least), of the non-tennis related questions, 70% of the questions were asked to the women players. Non-tennis related questions could range from shopping to manicures. Or perhaps more famously directed at Serena Williams last year after winning a match, “why aren’t you smiling?”

This article breaks down the science behind the study, how they developed the algorithm, how the algorithm classified the questions, and of course, the results of the study. I hope you find this article and the study interesting and insightful. And hopefully in the future, we can swing to a more balanced, less sexist way to handle all of our athletes.

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Del Potro’s Match of the Tournament – Part II

Well tennis fanatics, just when you thought you have watched the match of the tournament, you tune in a few days later and watch another great match! Turns out Juan Martin Del Potro is all better now!

AFP Photo/AL BELLO

I will preface this story to let you know, if there is a match being played between Juan Martin Del Porto and any other player, I will always purr for Juan Martin! When he beat Roger Federer in a surprise US Open final in 2009, I was hooked! Unfortunately, his battle with multiple injuries has kept him away from competitive tennis until recently. He plays with so much emotion and heart, it is hard NOT to meow for him!

On Labor Day, a very sick, virus ridden, Juan Martin Del Potro played the match of his life and beat Dominic Thiem for a seat in the quarterfinals at the US Open. He looked like he was on death’s door when he stepped onto Louis Armstrong Stadium that Monday night. But the crowd raised him up, raised his game and he won that match in five sets, earning him a date with the GOAT, Roger Federer.

He faced no easy task last night, meeting Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Ever since the draw came out a few weeks ago, all anyone talked about was the possible match up between Federer and Nadal in the semis. They have never played against each other at the US Open (which sounds practically impossible, but totally true), so everyone from the commentators, to the players, to Twitterville, thought these two were destined to meet. Well kitties and furry friends, Juan Martin had other plans!

Feeding off of his momentum from Monday’s match, he was fearless! And I have always meowed, never discount a player who has the crowd behind them. Sure, there were Fed Fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium last night, but there will always be following for the Gentle Giant, Juan Martin Del Potro. He took down Roger Federer in Four sets, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Up next in the semifinals, he gets Rafa Nadal. This will be another hard match for me…Juan Martin will be seen as the underdog here, but I believe he has what it takes to go all the way to the final! Stay tuned for Juan Martin’s Match of the Tournament – Parts III and IV!

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Del Potro’s Match of the Tournament

Can you win a five set tennis match on one of the biggest stages in the world while fighting a cold? Of course you can! Just ask Juan Martin Del Potro.

As custom on Labor Day, I plan my day around the US Open! When I saw that two of my favorite players were playing today, I was super pumped! Not only would it be one of the new(ish) guys, Dominic Thiem, playing against one of my all time favorites, Juan Martin Del Potro, but it would be a match played with heart by both!

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I have tremendous respect for both. Dominic had an incredible clay court season, but hasn’t quite found his footing on the hard courts. He really is on the cusp of something big! Juan Martin was in my top ten of my favorite clay court players and my prediction to win the US Open back in January.

As soon as the match started, I thought “Uh oh! This will be over in a matter of minutes.” Juan Martin had been battling a cold with fever for the past 48 hours. He was sniffling and sneezing, his nose was red and his face pale, with dark circles under his eyes. Things did not look good for Juan Martin. Meanwhile, Dominic dominated and stuck to his game plan and won the first set 6-1 and the second set 6-2. Don’t blink or this might be over.

But not so fast, my furriends! When Juan Martin called for a trainer towards the end of the second set, I honestly thought he was going to retire. But no, he asked for cold medicine (I presume) and got to business. With each point, he gained strength and focus…and the support of the crowd! He’s always a crowd favorite. Recall the Olympics last year. Brazil could not get enough of this gentle giant. He wears his heart of his sleeve and lets you see inside his soul. He feeds off of fan support. Fans want to connect with their player and he does it best!

It’s as if Thiem just disappeared and Del Potro was a runaway train. Juan Martin took the third set 6-1. But I’m thinking “This is nice. At least it’ll go to four sets and it will be a hard fought battle.” But Dominic managed to let the fourth set go to a tiebreak and guess who won it. Del Potro! Then feeding off of the crowd’s energy, Del Potro wins the final set 6-4!

Juan Martin Del Potro comes back from two sets down to win a five set match…while battling a cold. When I have a cold, I can barely walk across the room to my favorite toy.

I want you to understand something about this cool cat! Matches like this are hard for me to watch. I want both players to win, and for different reasons. And when they have all the elements combined together for a great tennis match, well I’m in a lot of trouble! It had an old guy, a new guy, a sickness, head games, power plays, close calls, bad calls, a rowdy crowd. Let me tell you, I’m exhausted. This has been “the match” of the tournament so far. Can’t wait to see what this final week has in store.

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The Young Guns – Under Pressure at the US Open

With five out of the top 11 ranked players not playing in the US Open this year due to injuries (Milos Raonic (11), Kei Nishikori (10), Novak Djokovic (5), Stan Wawrinka (4), and Andy Murray (2), this leaves the window wide open for one of the young guns, “next gen” players, to make their move. In week one, we have seen some pretty impressive play, but as we sneak into week two, will they be able to hang with the big boys? Only time will tell. On this middle Sunday, there are only two “next gen” players left, Andrey Rublev (currently ranked 53) and Denis Shapovalov (currently ranked 69).

This morning on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Denis Shapovalov gave it his best effort. His opponent was Pablo Carreno Busta. You may be thinking “Who?” But, if you followed any of my clay court coverage, you will remember that he is a formidable clay court player and knows how to win.

Before we even get into Denis and his match, I just want to say that Cliff Drysdale and John McEnroe covering the main match on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the morning is a perfect combination! John is a little more subdued in the morning and Cliff is a good counterpoint to John’s commentary. They don’t talk too much during points, they didn’t favor one player over the other, and all in all, it was a very pleasant experience.

Now onto the match. Denis Shapovalov made a splash earlier this year and not in a good way. You may recall reading in the news of a young kid getting frustrated during a Davis Cup match and hitting a ball into the stands out of frustration. But instead of it going into the stands, it hit the chair umpire smack in the eye. It was hit so hard, the man had to have surgery. Well, that was Denis. Since then he has matured and improved and has been climbing up the rankings.

Denis has style and some are comparing him to a young Andre Agassi. I see him more as a Leyton Hewitt throwback. His “signature style” is his long blonde hair and his oversized cap wore backwards. He’s a lefty with a flexible and powerful one-handed backhand, and a pretty solid 1-2-punch (serve, volley).

The match went three sets, each set ending in a tiebreak. Pablo Carreno Busta won every set 7-6, 7-6, 7-6. If I was Denis’s coach, I would work on the following:

  • Patience. Don’t try to rush the point (too many sloppy errors at the net).
  • Focus. You have got to stay in it from first ball to last.
  • Overhead shots at the net. Too many got dumped straight into the net. (see Patience, above)

I was not surprised Pablo Carreno Busta won this match. I was hoping for it to go to at least four sets, but it didn’t. Even though Denis Shapovalov didn’t win, I see great things for him in the future, so I guess I’m going to have to practice saying his name! Shapo-valov. That’s how he’s told us to pronounce it! The future of tennis continues to shine brightly!