Friday, July 25, 2014

The Worst. Week. Ever.™ Part 4: Silver Linings.

This blog series, "The Worst. Week. Ever.™" began before the week was out, on the heels of 3 days of bad losses (and injuries) by American men in tournaments on North American soil that left this blog feeling frankly glum.

That's the thing about tennis, though. Sports generally but especially tennis, and especially tennis in the middle of a loooooong season: don't like the results? Just wait a few days. Assuming you have multiple players you're pulling for (such as "Americans generally") you're bound to have some wins, at some level, somewhere.  And every time a draw comes out, even if it's a rough one, there's hope.

Day 6 & 7 (Saturday & Sunday, July 19 & 20, 2014): A New Hope  It Gets Better  Could Be Worse

Here at On the Rise (a tennis blog), we published Part 1 of our series when things seemed darkest: metaphorically, before the dawn (dawn coming pretty damn early in summer, particularly on a Saturday). But then the weekend came, and new qualifying events started, and USAmericans notched a few wins. At the Lexington challenger, qualifiers included Raymond Sarmiento and Marcos Giron, both of whom recently left their star-studded Southern California NCAA programs for the professional tennis life. One could easily see each player making relatively swift progress up the rankings (Sarmiento is currently below 900, while Giron is inside the Top 500.  Over at the ATP stop in Atlanta, there were some nice weekend qualifying wins for Kevin KingRyan Shane & Francis Tiafoe (although none survived qualies).

Better yet, at the lowest levels of pro tennis, USAmericans won five tournaments. Now to be fair, they were all ITF events. For non-tennis heads who read this blog (aka, my beloved friends and family), the International Tennis Federation sponsors basically all the professional tournaments that the ATP and WTA can't be bothered to sponsor.  These tournaments have total purses of $10,000-$15,000 (for men) and up to $125,000 for women. Any given week there are a couple of dozen of these events between the men and the women, and 5 out of 20 is good but isn't THAT good. And all five tournaments were in North America, which, it is crucial to understand, is certainly our players' comfort zone. (A key factor in the relative decline in American men's tennis is the internationalization of the tour. In 1980, 33 of 98 ATP events (34%) were held in the US. In 2014 it's 8 of 62 (13%). That said, US men are still underperforming relative to where we should be, about that nearly everyone agrees.) Also, the draws were VERY well represented by USAmericans. Still, though, five wins!!

Three of the five tournament winners were women. 2013 US Open Junior finalist Tornado Alicia Black (age 16) won the $10K in Evansville, Indiana while former University of Alabama standout Alexa Guarachi won her first career title at the $10K in Vancouver, BC. In the biggie, Nicole Gibbs won an all-American final against Melanie Oudin (after each had won their respective all-American semifinal) at the $50K in Carson. You can watch the match here:

As far as the men go, 2014 NCAA finalist Alexander Sarkissian (Pepperdine) won a $15K in above-mentioned Vancouver and rising University of Virginia senior Mitchell Frank won his first tournament at the $10K in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It was all quite lovely, I would say. Left this blog with a bit of a smile on this blog's face.

Then there was Wayne.

Wayne, Wayne, Wayne.

For those not familiar with the Wayne Odesnik story, go ahead and Bing him. He was already not so popular even before his 2010 doping ban (for possession of HGH, though he never tested positive), Biogenesis link, and introduction of the phrase "substantial assistance" to our tennis lexicon. His own actions have made it nearly impossible for any good and right-thinking American to really pull for him. And yet there he was, into the Binghamton final thanks in great part to a decimated half (he got the walkover against Klahn in the quarters, avoided Kudla thanks to mono, and Garanganga injured himself in their semi) and thanks in part to his excellent play. In the final he gave a fine accounting of himself, losing 46 67(9) to #2 seed Stakhovsky (whom I considered the tournament favorite going in).

Here's the thing about Wayne: he served his time. There's likely far more to his story that we don't know and that he's likely precluded from telling us. And as toxic as some find him, he may well end up winning the USTA Pro Circuit US Open Wild Card Challenge, and even if he doesn't, absent further proof of wrongdoing, it may be time to consider letting go of bygones. I honestly am torn. You're a tough one, Mr. O. Boy howdy.

In conclusion

So that's it! That was a really pretty craptacular week for a lot of guys. This blog freely admits that these are tough times for US men's tennis, and who knows, it's quite possible that things will get even worse.

But when all is said and done,  The Worst. Week. Ever.™ really wasn't so awful. Tennis is well and truly alive, if most often in foreign garb, and we are very lucky to live in a time where we can consume so much of it in its various incarnations. The USA guys who were beset by bad fortune will return, and there are others who are making fine progress. USA women are in a very decent position all things considered.

And in the end, it's just tennis. It's a game. It's meant to be fun. It is fun.

Besides, things could be worse.

(And to be fair, even in Sweden things are getting better!)

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