Sunday, April 19, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: 6 Takeaways

1. Mary Joe has got to goe? There's no doubt that under captain Mary Joe Fernandez, USA exceeded expectations just a few years ago by getting to consecutive WTA finals without Serena Williams, Venus Williams, or any Top 25 player. But in the past 5 years, it's been desperate straits. 2016 will mark our third year out of the World Group since our 2010 final. (In fact, no non-European country will be in the World Group next year.) Italy has made mincemeat of us in our last 5 meetings - even when they brought their B team to the US last year.

It feels like we're getting out-maneuvered, and certainly out-passioned. I'm certainly not on the inside of the team, but when it comes to sideline demeanor and strategy changes it's tough to see what she's bringing to the table. Maybe it's time for a cheerleader?

And what about being able to get the best players on the team? Having Serena and Venus was huge for our February win in Argentina. Once Venus withdrew from this tie, would Fernandez have been better off choosing a doubles specialist? And why was Christina McHale on the team over, say, Madison Brengle?

(For the record, here's what Courtney Nguyen has reported about the most obvious choice, Madison Keys.)
In any case, I think perhaps the time has come for a change. Many people have mentioned Lindsay Davenport, who is the most obvious choice, but who may not want to stretch her responsibilities even further. Sam Davis suggested her or Lisa Raymond. I suggested Chanda Rubin, Venus Williams (perhaps as a player/coach), or even Murphy Jensen, who has had success coaching teams of pros with the Washington Kastles.

As Courtney points out, WG2 is going to be very rough next year. And as we saw this weekend, even having Serena on the team does not guarantee a win over a good team. Fernandez had immediate success when she took over, not dissimilar to Captain Courier. But I can't help but think a new face at the top might help us overcome our doldrums and get us in contention for the title in a couple of years.

2. Serena loses her amazing undefeated record in Fed Cup. She was 11-0 coming into this weekend, but had a tough match against Camila Giorgi and then was 2 points away from victory vs. Sara Errani before winning in three sets.  But then she and Alison Riske won only 3 games in doubles against Errani and Flavia Pennetta.

Regardless, she has to be commended for her amazing record. No, she wasn't available all the time and yes, like for many others the Olympics played a part in determining when she would play but she was a member of the last 2 Americans squads to win a Fed Cup title, in 1999 and 2000, as well as winning several Olympic gold medals for the US.

Let's hope she plays our first round next year. Whoever we face, it'll be doozy-licious, no doublt.

3. Bryan Brothers are just damn remarkable. 106 titles as a team. 33 Masters Series 1000 titles. They're still behind the team the beat in the final, Simone Bolelli & Fabio Fognini, in the Race to London, but it's not hard to imagine they'll be where they belong, in first place, by the time Roland Garros comes around.

4. Sarasota sadness. It was not a great first stage of the USTA Pro Circuit French Open Wild Card Challenge, with Americans getting beat handily by several Argentinians. In fact, outside a 1st Round loss by wildcard Dennis Novikov to Gastao Elias (POR), the Americans lost exclusively to Argentinians or other Americans.

The ray of sunshines were Frances Tiafoe, who came through a rough qualies draw to advance to his first career quarterfinal, and the man who defeated him - Chase Buchanan - who reached the semis for his best run of 2015.

Then there was this pretty damn awesome comeback win by Bjorn Fratangelo over #3 seed Paolo Lorenzi. He went on to get crushed by Tiafoe but it showed me a lot of guts from the kid.

5. Little Rock title for Jason Jung! It's the 3rd career singles title for the 25-year-old, and the first since 2013. He didn't drop a set until the final, in which he beat the speedy Darian King 6-4 in the third. Jung will be near a new career-high ranking in a week. Next up is the Guadalajara Challenger, and then off to challengers in Taiwan and South Korea to try to defend his points and perhaps pick up enough more to secure a spot in Wimbledon qualies.

6. The Soaking of Pelham 1-2-3. From following the scores, it was a rough, rough week for competitors at the only women's event going on in North America. While some Americans were in Italy for Fed Cup, and a number played in the WTA tournament in Bogota or flew to Stuttgart for next week's Premier Tournament, there were still plenty of American women (and girls) in the draw. But boy, between the rain that delayed most of THE SECOND ROUND until Saturday, and the inability of any US woman to get past the second round, I'm going to go ahead and say it was one of the more forgettable American tournaments, for Americans, in a long while.

Oh and the doubles was canceled so so good news from that front.

I guess 4 out of 8 qualifiers were American, and three of THOSE were Alexandras: Stevenson, Mueller, and Stiteler.

6a. During Pelham, America got a new player! Welcome to Edina Gallovits-Hall got her US citizenship on Wednesday - aka Tax Day, aka my birthday - and ITF changed her affiliation from Romania in the middle of the tournament.

Gold Stars: John Isner - won 2 matches in Monte Carlo and stayed in the Top 20, Eric Quigley (Little Rock semifinal & doubles final), Matt Seeberger (Little Rock doubles final), Irina Falconi (Bogota quarterfinal - her first WTA QF since Birmingham 2012 - plus Bogota doubles final) & Shelby Rogers (Bogota doubles final), and Teliana Pereira (first career WTA title - go South 'merica!).

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