All posts by rmsallmanngmailcom

Ryan Sallmann has been involved with tennis for nine years as a player, coach, and writer. Ryan starting playing tennis at the age of 16 in high school in Wisconsin. He then went on to play for Wisconsin Lutheran College in route to helping them win their conference and secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. Ryan coached at Waukesha West High School, Waukesha Tennis Association, Milwaukee Tennis and Education Foundation, and Wisconsin Lutheran College. Ryan also writes for Stripe Hype and Brew Sports.

Western & Southern Open Headlines

Half way through the Western & Southern Open, there have already been many surprises. The Western & Southern in Cincinnati serves as the closest thing to a US Open warm up tournament with many players using it as a dress rehearsal. Here are some of the early headlines from the tournament.

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev

David Ferrer’s Resurgence

Remember when David Ferrer was one of the top ten players in the world and a legitimate contender to make it to the second week of majors? After a short stretch of poor play causing Ferrer to drop out of the top 30, it looks like he’s back. The 35 year old is into the quarterfinals after two three set matches and a 6-4 6-4 win over Pablo Carreno Busta. In Montreal Ferrer went toe to toe with Roger Federer losing in three sets. He may not be a threat to win the title this year but it is nice to see Ferrer finding his game again.

Shavopalov’s Absence

Last week in Montreal the tennis world was captivated by 18 year old Denis Shapovalov. After making it to the semifinal before losing to Alexander Zverev, the tennis world is eager to see if he can follow up his performance. Unfortunately, the tennis world will have to wait until the US Open qualifying in order to see him on the big stage again. The reason he isn’t in the Western & Southern Open is that he was already scheduled to play a challenger tournament in Canada. Watch for Shapovalov to be a story again when the US Open qualifying rounds begin.

Sock’s Disappointing Tournament

Cincinnati looked promising for Jack Sock. Roger Federer withdrew from the tournament leaving the young American as the top seed in his quarter. Primed to make a deep run and assert himself as the top player in the country, Sock promptly fell flat losing to world number 46 Yuichi Sugita in two sets. Young players frequently lose to players below their ranking and ability level as they make their way through the ATP tour. However, with Sock it seems that this happens more regularly than it does to other players. This year’s US Open represents Socks best chance yet to make a run with many top players out. It may be now or never for Sock to prove himself.

American Semifinalist

With Sock struggling, other Americans are stepping up. In fact, an American is guaranteed to be in the semifinal as John Isner takes on upstart Jared Donaldson.  Donaldson took down twelfth seeded Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round and cruised to the quarterfinal. Isner benefited from Frances Tiafoe upsetting Alexander Zverev in the second round. Keep an eye on Donaldson in this match up as he has a bright future ahead of him on the tour.

Jared Donaldson
Jared Donaldson

Zverev’s Loss

After his second Masters 1000 title of the year in which he defeated Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev had a huge let down against fellow next gen player Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe is ranked 87th in the world and has a lot of natural athleticism. Even so, given how well Zverev has been playing recently, this is as big of an upset as any in the tournament thus far. Look for Zverev to get back on track and be a real contender for his first major title.

With the quarterfinals all set, the final rounds of the Western & Southern Open promise to be exciting. It serves as a great lead in to the US Open which will be equally wide open.

Djokovic To Miss US Open

Novak Djokovic has officially announced that he will miss the US Open and the rest of the 2017 season. The cited reason for taking time off was the elbow pain that has plagued him for most of this year. According to Djokovic, he was hoping he would be able to play through the pain, but it became too much to handle during his WImbledon quarterfinal match against Thomas Berdych.

Expert Opinion

Djokovic’s doctor Zdenko Milinkovic stated earlier this week that his recommendation is for Novak to completely rest his elbow for six to twelve weeks with absolutely no tennis training. He can still weight train however.

Novak’s Future In Tennis

Djokovic is taking the injury one week at a time and not making any long term plans one way or another. He is going to rest his elbow for the remainder of the year regardless of how it feels and monitor how the injury is progressing. Numerous articles have stated that his tennis future is in doubt. However, in reality it’s highly unlikely that this is the last we’ve seen of Djokovic. The more important thing to wonder about is whether or not he can ever return to top form and reclaim his position of number one in the world. For that question, only time will tell

Is No Ad Scoring Coming To Wimbledon?

One of the biggest problems for Men’s tennis was on display earlier this week when several players retired early in their first round matches. Alexander Dolgopolov retired after only 43 minutes on the court vs. Roger Federer and Martin Klizan quit in a similar fashion against Novak Djokovic. Even some of the top players got into the mix with Nick Kyrgios retiring in the third set of his first round match. In all, seven men retired in their first round matches which had Wimbledon players and analysts alike scrambling to find a solution. Some suggestions included prize money re-distribution, changing to a 2 out of 3 set format, and most shocking of all, no ad scoring.

The Problem

Players on the men’s side retiring is not a new problem in major tennis. As the year goes on, players get worn down by the arduous pro tour. By the time Wimbledon and the US Open roll around many have nagging injuries and would most likely be better served not playing at all. However, the key to the issue is the prize money. Even in a first round loss, a player in the draw banks 40,000 dollars for singles. This prompts many players to show up for their match, retire once they are too hurt to play or even if they don’t feel like playing. Then they collect their check and go home. A lot of times the players that aren’t in the top 25 need the money to help continue their career or pay for general expenses. This means that these retirements often take place on outside courts in matches that fans aren’t particularly invested in. This time however, it happened on the biggest stage at the most prestigious tournament.

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Nick Kyrgios

In major tournaments, fans pay big money to see their favorite tennis players on the grandest venues. As a result, it came as a shock when both Djokjovic and Federer’s opponents retired after each playing less than two full sets of tennis. This means that fans expecting to watch hours of competitive tennis got to see less than an hour per match. These unfortunate back to back retirements on center court prompted many to call for changes to be made.

Posed Solutions

As reports of retirements continued to flood in, a flurry of potential solutions were discussed. Changing the system that prize money is awarded was a hot topic. Some suggested paying players even if they withdraw before the tournament starts. This seems like it could lead to players purposefully withdrawing to collect a check without having to do anything. Pam Shriver chimed in saying that she believes the real reason for the retirements is that best three out of five sets is too grueling for the players. The ATP tour events are played in the form of best two out of three but the majors are known for their longer duration. When Chris Evert put forth the idea of no ad scoring in majors as a way to eliminate injuries and prevent early retirements several of the other analysts chuckled. However, what if it isn’t such a crazy idea?

How is No Ad Used In Tennis?

No ad scoring is used in some forms of tennis such as world team tennis, the mixed gender, team based competition played on those multi colored courts. It has also found its way into Division I college tennis. The purpose of no ad is to speed up the game and eliminate the long back and forth deuce games. While no ad rubs most traditional players the wrong way, some praise it for making the game more exciting as each deuce point comes with more pressure.

Changing to no ad scoring would indeed make matches shorter. It would also most likely generate more parity and upsets as more games could be won on lucky points. This idea seems to fly in the face of pro tennis’ identity which is based on the best player coming out victorious in a physically demanding match. Going to no ad would eliminate some of the wear and tear but it would also eliminate the conditioning and endurance fact that makes the game challenging

It’s highly unlikely that any major scoring changes will take place at the four major tournaments any time soon. Tennis is a sport that generally prides itself in its tradition and only tampers with it when absolutely necessary. With a plethora of other solutions available to try, some changes may be coming, but most likely none that will negatively impact the viewing experience of the fans.

Who Is The 700th Ranked Player On The Men’s Tour?

The number 700 has been tossed around ever since John McEnroe said that’s where Serena Williams would be ranked if she played on the men’s tour. This idea has drawn criticism and praise alike, but does anyone know who the 700th ranked man on tour is?

John McEnroe has recently been in the news for a comment he made regarding Serena Williams. McEnroe called Serena the best player on the women’s tour. When pressed for an answer as to why he qualified the statement by calling her the best “female” player as opposed to the best player overall, he stated that Serena would not be a top player on the men’s tour. He went on to say that if Serena played against the men she would be “like, number 700 in the world.”

Whether or not that statement is factual is really anybody’s guess. However, the number 700 in the world has been the topic of discussion as a benchmark separating the men’s and women’s tours according to McEnroe’s statement. So who is the 700th ranked player on the men’s tour?

Who Is Number 700?

While ATP rankings change frequently, the honor of number 700 in the world currently belongs to Issam Haitham Taweel. The 27 year old was born in Aleppo, Syria but represents Egypt. He is right handed, has a two-handed backhand, and his favorite playing surface is hard court.

Issam
Issam Haitham Taweel

Most of Issam’s career has been spent playing ITF Pro Circuit events. This year he has an 8-14 record when combining ATP and ITF tournaments. His career record is 145-212. He has spent some time competing in ATP tournaments and has a career record of 2-5 in those draws. His career high singles ranking was achieved in 2014 when he cracked the top 700 at 635. His current doubles ranking is slightly higher than his singles ranking at 643.

Could He Beat Serena?

At this point everyone can only speculate about whether or not Issam could defeat Serena in a match. That being said, this is a great opportunity for the number 700 in the world. Issuing a challenge to Williams to play him in a match after she is back from having her baby would be a great way to get his name out there. Even if Williams declined the challenge, people would at least know his name and know that he was up for the challenge.

serena.jpg
Serena Williams

What It Means

McEnroe followed up his comments by later stating that he regretted making the statement saying he had no idea how much it would snowball. However, he did not retract it. He said comparing the men’s and women’s tour is comparing “apples to oranges.” This is most certainly true considering the players from each tour almost never compete against each other in a serious format.

For Issam, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime. Whether he likes it or not, people are now aware of his name simply because of circumstance. Simply because he is lucky 700.

Does Doubles Matter in the USA?

Ever since Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003, the United States has been looking for a men’s champion. The seventeen year drought has been highlighted by several early round losses and struggles on clay. Surprisingly, an American man won the championship at Roland Garros just mere weeks ago, so why is it that nobody is talking about it?

Fourteen days ago American tennis player Ryan Harrison felt the immense triumph of winning his first grand slam title. Of course, the tennis world would soon be abuzz with headlines about America being back on top of the tennis world. That didn’t happen though. Instead, very few people were even aware of the Harrison’s victory. The reason for this was simple. It wasn’t the singles tournament that Harrison won, but rather the French Open doubles title.

The Problem For Doubles

Doubles can be an extremely entertaining spectacle. There are fast serves, quick volleys, and way more overhead smashes than in any singles match. While the doubles game is certainly a favorite of recreational players, it never caught on as a televised sport with the exception of the Olympics. For this reason, the doubles draw in majors has been forgotten by main stream sports fans. Even the most hardcore professional tennis fans seem to pay little attention to anything but singles. So what is it about our culture that makes people ignore doubles?

TV Time

It’s hard to say which came first for doubles, the lack of popularity leading to less TV time, or less TV time leading to a lack of popularity. Either way, with the two on two format taking the back seat, fans are all in for singles.

In a world where tennis isn’t a prominent television sport, even most majors don’t get much air time in the United States. The one exception to this rule is the US open when primetime matches are shown on popular networks. The issue is that the primetime slots are always taken by big name singles players. Doubles does get occasional TV coverage at the US Open but it’s usually still rare. This general lack of national exposure means tennis enthusiasts will naturally be more interested by what they’ve seen before on TV. This brings us back to the original question, which came first between lack of air time and lack of popularity. The star power of the singles players most likely led to more TV time which then proliferated a cycle in which viewership drives popularity which drives more air time for singles.

Prestige

With singles garnering more exposure than doubles, the top tennis players in the world opt to play singles. This has always given the impression that doubles players aren’t the world’s best but rather what’s left over after the top athletes are removed. While there is an element of truth to this, it isn’t entirely accurate. Doubles and singles are actually vastly different. The two variations of the game require different strategy and skill set to perfect. A singles player with great ground strokes but average volleys may struggle playing doubles but flourish in singles. The same is true for players with great volleys and average ground strokes finding double success while never achieving a high singles ranking. While it’s true that most top doubles players wouldn’t fare well in the singles draw, the same could be said about a lot of the top singles players, but that doesn’t stop the perception of doubles players being lesser from being proliferated.

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Bryan Brothers

US Culture

Another aspect of singles that Americans tend to gravitate toward is the idea of being alone in the spotlight. America (even more so than other countries) values individual accolades and achievement. Singles provides the opportunity to be the only one taking credit for victories. In the doubles game, that attention is split in half.

For a long time the United States of America the top ranked doubles team in the world in the Bryan brothers. Bob and Mike Bryan dominated doubles winning majors and making a name for themselves. While the Bryan brothers did achieve some level of stardom, they weren’t enough to get the US excited about tennis or for people to hold them in the same esteem as a Roger Federer or a Rafael Nadal. To complicate things further, doubles teams often consist of players from different countries. For example, Harrison won with Michael Venus from New Zealand. This means that while Harrison is American, the team that won isn’t a true American team. Pairings such as this are extremely common but seem random without knowing the backstory of the duo. To many viewers it cheapens the victory.

What It Means

Doubles may never be as popular as singles in the world of professional tennis. That doesn’t mean that Harrison’s accomplishment should go unnoticed. The guy won a major championship and beat out many of the best players in the world. Hopefully this victory will be a springboard for his career that will propel him to even more accomplishments in the future.

Is Jelena Ostapenko Bad For Women’s Tennis

In a French Open women’s draw void of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. The WTA tour desperately needed its top players and biggest names to show up. Instead, what it got was a 20 year old Latvian named Jelena Ostapenko.

Who Is Jelena Ostapenko?

Prior to the 2017 French Open, Ostapenko had very little success in majors. In 2015 she made it to the second round of Wimbledon and the US Open (the only two major draws she was in.) In 2016 she went out in the first round of each major but made a small breakthrough in 2017 getting to third round of the Australian Open earlier this year. She came into Roland Garros with a world singles ranking of 47 and a doubles ranking of 34. Little did everyone know that this dark horse would be the one to get through the women’s draw and end up in the final, defying all odds and expectations. While such an achievement deserves to be applauded, many critics of the sport are pointing to Ostapenko’s meteoric rise as something that is wrong with women’s tennis.

What’s The Problem?

In most major sports in the United States, fans crave underdog stories. If an eight seed in the NBA wins a series or even a game the sports world goes wild. If a lowly MLB team has a huge turnaround and becomes a contender everybody is excited about it. In fact, there is even an entire sporting event built around Cinderella storylines and upset victories in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. How then could this possibly be a bad thing for women’s tennis? It all has to do with the nature of the sport.

In any of the major sports leagues in the United States (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA) teams represent cities, states, or regions. Plus, they are comprised of numerous players each having they own following. In professional tennis, for most of the year the players are competing as individuals. Each pro tennis player represents their country of origin and is backed completely by that country, but even so, international star power can be hard to come by for someone hailing from a smaller nation. Not all players can generate international buzz. For example, a consistent top player such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, or even Angelique Kerber can draw international fans with TV appearances, commercials, and press conferences. Before this year’s French Open, most sports fans probably didn’t even know who Jelena Ostapenko was. They still may not.

Not A New Issue

The same thing has happened in women’s tennis for a while now. In 2010 Francesca Schiavone won the French Open and then made it back to the final the year after. In 2012 the former champion wasn’t close to as competitive as she had been the previous two years and hasn’t made it past the fourth round of a major since 2011. The same thing happened in the 2016 Olympics when Monica Puig won gold. Before her stunning victory she had only made it to the fourth round of a major once and hasn’t made it past the third since. Some other women who appeared to be on the verge of becoming perennial contenders and then seemingly disappeared are Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, and Eugenie Bouchard. All of whom were expected to be the next big thing in women’s tennis but have failed to live up to the expectations.

Puig
Monica Puig

It’s interesting that this could be a bad thing for a sports league considering how all of the major US sports are desperate to create parity, but the WTA is more in need of lasting star power. They need a dependable, likable face of women’s tennis to carry the torch after Serena, Venus, and Sharapova retire. This is difficult to find when the players contending for major wins seemingly rise and fall like the tide.

The WTA would certainly prefer some of the more well-known players such as Caroline Wozniacki and Eugenie Bouchard to be the ones making it to the finals. If Ostapenko can continue to make a name for herself and contend for major titles regularly, she could end up being huge for the women’s game. However, if she is just another flash in the pan women’s tennis will continue to struggle to build a foundation that general audiences will want to tune in to see.

5 reasons You Should Watch This Year’s French Open

Professional tennis has not enjoyed nearly the same viewership in recent years as major team sports such as football or basketball. General sports fans are typically unaware of anything happening in the sport unless it appears as a top story on ESPN. That being said, what tennis lacks in viewership, it is more than capable of making up in story lines and intrigue. With the French open just about to begin, the tournament offers numerous aspects that all fans can appreciate. Here are five reasons all sports fans should pay attention to this years French Open.

Upsets

It’s no secret that the clay court season has not started out well for the two top players in the world. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (numbers one and two respectively) have been bounced before reaching the final of both Mutua Madrid and Rome. In both tournaments Murray was beaten by an unseeded player, losing to Borna Coric in Madrid and Fabio Fognini in Rome. The fact that the top players are vulnerable opens the door for several other players looking to contend. Among these names are Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Stanislas Wawrinka.

The New Class

Over the past decade, the top four players in the world have monopolized grand slams. In fact, a player named Murray, Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal has only won a major five times since 2006. This may be about to change due to the new crop of talented young players looking to usurp the world’s best. Two guys that have had success so far this spring are Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. Thiem made it to the final of Madrid (losing to Rafael Nadal) and got to the semi-final of Rome (losing to Novak Djokovic). Zverev has defeated an impressive array of opponents this spring including Marin Cilic, Thomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner, and Novak Djokovic. This is a pretty solid list considering three of these players are former grand slam champions. Zverev is coming off his first ever masters 1,000 tournament win after defeating Djokovic in Rome. Both of these players along with others such as Nick Kyrios, Lucas Pouille, and Jack Sock are ready to make it big in the second major of the year.

Wide Open Draw

In years past, the big four have reigned supreme in the men’s draw and Serena Williams has owned the women’s side. This year things are a little different. As mentioned before, both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are struggling which means almost anyone in the top 25 has a chance to make a deep run.

On the Women’s side Serena Williams is out, Sharapova didn’t make the cut after returning from her suspension, and Angelique Kerber (number one in the world) has also played some poor matches as of late. In addition, the red clay slows the ball down which takes away the advantage of power hitters. This could work out well for quicker and more defense oriented players such as Agi Radwanska or Carla Suarez-Navarro.

Americans On Clay

Does anybody out there want an underdog to root for? If so, cheer for any of the American Men’s tennis players at the French Open. American men have had a traditionally difficult time on the clay. In fact, nobody has even made it close to a final from the good ole USA since Andre Agassi won it in 1999. Americans typically struggle on the slower surfaces like clay since their games are usually predicated on big serves and aggressive ground strokes which are both neutralized by the dirt. The surface makes pace easier to return and favors players that grind and continue to get the ball back in play. America’s best hope in this tournament is most 14th seeded Jack Sock. Sock has the same style of play as most Americans but moves better than some of the taller guys like Isner or Querrey.

American women have had significantly more success on clay, however, most of that success belongs to one player: Serena Williams. In Serena’s absence it’s up to 11th seeded Venus Williams, 13th seeded Madison Keys, and 20th ranked Coco Vandewegh to carry the torch. Venus who is of course the sister of Serena as well as a former grand slam champion looks to build on her recent major success and get back on top while Keys and Vandewegh are both looking for their first major titles. The mix of former champion and young up-and-comers means there is still plenty of hope that an American woman can win the tile even without Serena.

History

Possibly the most grand of all the reasons to watch the French open this year is Rafael Nadal. Nadal, who has been king of clay for most of his career is looking to build on what already is an astounding legacy by adding yet another title. He already holds the record for most French open titles all-time with a one win lead over Max Decugis (Amateur era) and three wins over Bjorn Borg (Open era). Nadal already owns a spot among the greatest ever, but it would be that much sweeter to have an even ten titles.

This year’s French Open promises to be an exciting event complete with drama, fanfare and entertainment. With match play scheduled during odd hours do to the European time difference, and a less than reliable TV schedule in the United States, general sports fans don’t often pay attention to the French Open. However, if there was any year to start paying attention, it may be 2017.