Monthly Archives: June 2013

Patronising BBC relegates Date-Krumm talent

Date-Krumm,  y.caradec flickr

The BBC did women’s tennis no good at all on Saturday night after match commentators Barry Davies and Sam Smith patronised 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm repeatedly during her third-round clash with Serena Williams.

Date-Krumm was never realistically going to win the clash and fell to a predictable 6-2 6-0 defeat but that didn’t stop the BBC mooning over her with sickening adoration as though surprised she’d made it this far without breaking a hip.

Their main focus was less on her tennis but instead how a professional sportswoman could compete with the might of Serena. There are apparently two types of tennis in the women’s game: one you play against the rest of the field and the other you play against the American – the latter impossible to uphold over three sets. Yet tell that to Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens who have both scalped Serena this year.

Even before the players had entered Centre Court the denigrating parade was marching in full voice and splendour, with a little montage from the BBC about how this ‘veteran’ had seen it all in the women’s game but just refused to give up on her dream.

Steffi Graf was mentioned five or six times because Date-Krumm had once – presumably when television was in black and white – faced the 22-Slam champ in a Wimbledon semi and almost beaten her.

There was never going to be any sort of competition against Serena but for the BBC to so openly admit that by instead focussing on her age, the erroneous fact she once ran a marathon and speculating whether she has a teapot in her kit bag is just appalling – is there anything this woman cannot do?

A delightful tale about how she met her husband and fell romantically in love – getting married at St Mary’s Church in Tokyo, if you’re interested – filled a space between the change of ends. How sweet and charming and absolutely irrelevant to the scenes on court.

After a particularly inspiring rally where the Japanese player earned a point off the world number one, Smith confirmed “it’s not normal to play like this at 42.” Well, clearly it is normal if you’re a professional athlete who has already come through two rounds of a Grand Slam to play tennis to a half respectable level.

Let’s talk about bagels

Yet the worst was saved until last as the BBC commentators picked up on the term ‘bagel’. A bagel is when a player loses without winning a single game, something Date-Krumm avoided. So why did the commentators go on about it? If Petr Cech concedes a goal you don’t mention the possibility of a clean sheet, nor do you express hope of a hat trick when James Anderson takes a wicket.

If the bagel reference wasn’t bad enough then the discussion over whether or not this match would last even an hour was. I assume a 42-year-old cannot play past 60 minutes the way the commentators pointed to the clock and the BBC did itself more damage by focussing in on the scoreboard when the match ticked past an hour – how impressive such a poor woman managed to survive this long!

The TV director will have given that order to show the clock, meaning it wasn’t just the commentators who steered the patronising parade.

You forgot about the first round!

Through all the mock humour over Date-Krumm’s age and fitness, her inability to match the world number one and how great it is just to see her smiling on court, the BBC forgot to mention she’d actually won her first-round match 6-0 6-2 against qualifier Carina Witthoft in 44 minutes.

Clearly Date-Krumm isn’t such a no-hoper after all but let’s forget about that… oh, look at her smile! She’s so happy just to be at Wimbledon for a 12th time in her career… aww.

Lack of analysis

The most frustrating thing of all is that neither commentator particularly discussed Date-Krumm’s tennis and instead just goggled at her when a point was won and consoled her when Serena got the upper hand. Compare this to Laura Robson’s performance earlier in the day where the BBC’s commentators discussed how she must up her game to beat Marina Erakovic, get her feet working at the back of the court and come forward more on serves.

Where was the advice during this match? It was nowhere, for there’s surely nothing a 42-year-old could do to beat Serena.

Social network response

Twitter had its fair share of disappointed viewers too. Granted, many tweets expressed admiration that Date-Krumm is still playing at this age and, indeed, it is impressive. But appraisal should only go that far and not descend into denigrating the player purely because she’s older than her competitors. Smith took the brunt of the criticism on the social networking site but Davies didn’t escape blame either.

Serena deserved her victory Photo:  left-hand, flickr

Serena deserved her victory
Photo: left-hand, flickr

So what does this say about tennis, and women’s tennis in particular? We know Serena – a player we’ll never see the likes of again – skewers the WTA because of her sheer brilliance on court but that doesn’t mean the rest of the field is second-rate.

It’s bad for the game if a national broadcaster so timidly accepts a televised match is a foregone conclusion and even worse if they then focus on the loser’s other qualities, like being able to stand up and showing she can still enjoy herself after all those years.

At the end there was a standing ovation but for what? Date-Krumm was rubbish and lucky enough to earn those two games during the first set. If you’re good enough to compete then it doesn’t matter how old you are and Date-Krumm lost not because of creaky joints or a lack of green tea (thanks Barry) but because she wasn’t as good as her opponent.

Date-Krumm made the quarters at Wimbledon in 1995 and the semis a year later, retiring from the sport for over a decade. Upon her return at 37 she was a different player yet won the Seoul title in 2009 and was 2010 runner-up in Osaka.

She also made the third round of the Australian Open this year and, to my knowledge, does not own the Zimmer frame Sam Smith could be mistaken for suggesting she does.

Photo:  y.caradec, flickr

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Robson proves she can advance to Wimbledon quarters

Laura Robson  Carine06 flickr

Laura Robson must quickly recover from her scrappy victory over Marina Erakovic and prepare for a gruelling fourth-round encounter with Kaia Kanepi this Monday, a match that will define her success at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

The British number one came through Saturday’s clash 1-6 7-5 6-3 but her performance was far from what the Court Two crowd expected from this promising 19-year-old. Having performed a masterclass of tennis just a day before the fans expected Robson to power through an opponent ranked 33 places lower than the world number 38 but early proceedings suggested this wouldn’t be the case.

Robson lost the first three games and was easily broken twice in the opening set as the Wimbledon home crowd’s expectations got to her. Her footwork on the baseline was off and she failed to make those powerful backhands that proved so significant during her routine victory over Mariana Duque the previous round.

Robson looked like a rabbit in the headlights and only after a sit down and introspective critique of her own game did she come out of her shell and prove just what potential she has to impress on the WTA. A close second set saw the Brit find her serving mojo and by the third there was only one player in it.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Robson has struggled with third-set confidence over the past two months but there was no lacking here as she thumped her opponent around the court, using that springing muscle in her backhand to carve open Erakovic.

Disappointing first-set stats

Disappointing first-set stats

Now into the last 16, the left-hander faces her toughest challenge yet in Kaia Kanepi, the Estonia world number 46 who breezed through the third round with an untroubled straight-sets victory against wildcard Alison Riske.

The last-16 tie is set to dominate Wimbledon’s headlines on Monday as British support gets behind their last remaining women’s star. Robson has the ability to overcome Kanepi with ease but how she handles the pressure will again come under scrutiny. The difference may even fall to who serves first in the match, for Robson struggled to recover in the opening set after going a game down so easily to the imposing Erakovic and only began her comeback when back level in the second.

She proved her mettle in the third set and that pressure visibly lifted. Her head was up and shoulders back that gave her the imposing, confident posture to reverse her fortunes. This was missing at Roland Garros and previous spring tournaments but that glimmer of class should see her through to the last eight.

Although hopes are high for Robson’s further advance, the quarters are as far as anyone can expect her to go, for Serena Williams lurks in the top side of the draw and is deserved favourite to win Wimbledon for a sixth time. Robson has the power to match Serena for about three shots a rally but her arm just isn’t developed enough to handle the 31-year-old’s punch.

Make no mistake, a Robson v Serena clash on Centre Court would be fitting for a tournament that has already seen major upsets this summer but we should not ask too much of a player so new to the Grand Slam game.

Photo: Carine06, flickr

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The outer-court Wimbledon experience

Konta Wimbledon 2013

Monday was the second time I’ve ever been to Wimbledon and it turned out to be a far more rewarding experience than the first.

Last year I arrived at 7am to the queue outside the Wimbledon grounds, didn’t bring enough reading material and got badly sunburnt. When finally in at 11:30 I managed to sneak onto one of the side courts and watch a women’s match.

Klara Zakopalova upset 13th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-4 6-1 in my first real-life Wimbledon tennis match. Simply hearing the aggression on court, Cibulkova’s shouting at her own coach (sat just behind me) and the grace of underdog Zakopalova in victory was reward enough for the long queue.

Yet I didn’t really feel connected with the match as I barely knew either player well enough to back them. I was an indifferent admirer and watched simply for the tennis.

This year was different. I managed to secure a seat on number 12 court for Jelana Jankovic against home favourite Johanna Konta. The match was a dead rubber after 16th seed Jankovic pulled away in the first set and although Konta offered resistance in the second there was only going to be one winner.

Jankovic en route to rouns two

Jankovic en route to rouns two

The Serb ran out 6-2 7-5 victor and deserved her passage into the second round. What was interesting, however, was the clear vacant detachment between the fans and the match. I sat there in bewilderment as the crowd sat there watching tennis with no real care who won, despite Konta representing the UK. Of course the crowd cheered louder when Konta won a point but there was never any sense of loss or dejection as Jankovic powered through.

There was as much indifference in the stands as the Cibulkova-Zakopalova clash last year and this is where Wimbledon – and maybe tennis in general – has a problem.

Everyone knows the top players in the WTA and ATP and most fans support one over the rest. The media follow Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic like hawks and their opponents are often discarded as forgettable obstacles in the path of these great players. Even when you’re watching a homegrown talent like Konta it appears no one cares whether she wins or loses.

Maybe that’s why disillusioned fans and pundits criticise the pay rises lower-ranked players now receive to contest the early rounds. It’s not their fault no one watches them – and even when people do there seems to be little care in the stands over the eventual result.

Average fans don’t care about players outside the top ranks, which makes matches on the Wimbledon outer courts such fleeting events so easily forgotten. As it happens, I managed to sneak onto Number One Court and watch Rafael Nadal crash out to Steve Darcis. It was an incredible match and the quality on show far outstretched the previous men’s game I glimpsed on my way round – Matosevic v Rufin.

Darcis v Nadal on Court One

Darcis v Nadal on Court One

I’m sad to admit it but I’ll certainly remember the Nadal clash over Konta’s, and as for Matosevic the only reason I’ll remember him is because he swore at us after netting another forehand.

Tennis needs revamping throughout the hierarchy so that fans genuinely give a damn about the lower seeds in rounds one and two. Only then can the atmosphere of Centre Court and Court One filter into the rest of Wimbledon, which can be a pretty quiet place when ‘big names’ aren’t on show.

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AEGON International preview

AEGON International

Wimbledon is just a week away and for many in the WTA the AEGON International at Eastbourne is the last chance to get some game time before Grand Slam tennis begins.

The top seeds have all come through difficult clay seasons and now it’s time to concentrate on grass. While Roland Garros finalists Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take an extended break from their efforts in Paris, five of the WTA top 10 are in town ready for the Wimbledon precursor.

First seed Agnieszka Radwanska deserves her favourite tag but will come up against a tough Li Na if the pair reach the final. Radwanska has had a difficult time on clay and is far more adept to grass; she was unlucky to have drawn clay specialist Sara Errani in the fourth round at the French Open but last year’s Wimbledon finalist will have her heart set on singles glory this July.

A victory at Eastbourne would greatly boost Radwanska’s chances in SW19, something that can also be said of Li. The Chinese world number six has also had an uneasy few months but did make the Stuttgart final in April. Since then, however, early defeats in Madrid and Rome made her an unlikely prospect in Paris and she failed to perform, crashing out in round two to the USA’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

If neither top seeds make the most of their tournament then Petra Kvitova – Wimbledon champion in 2011 – is a great shout to win Eastbourne. The Czech has an easy route to the quarters – where she’ll face either Maria Kirilenko or the in-form Bojana Jovanovski – and should beat assumed semi-finalist Anna Ivanovic.

Ivanovic at Eastbourne Photo: jamesboyes, flickr

Ivanovic at Eastbourne
Photo: jamesboyes, flickr

As for the fellow high seeds – Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki – neither carry any sort of form that suggests they’ll turn heads next week. Kerber is much better on clay than grass and didn’t perform on the red surface this spring, while Wozniacki is in terrible form and is a good punt to crash early against Austria’s Tamira Paszek.

While Kvitova looks good for the title this summer Britain’s four hopefuls are unlikely to shine. Elena Baltacha is out of form and condition, losing in the first round at Nottingham this week, while Johanna Konta shouldn’t be much of a threat for Taiwan’s impressive Hsieh Su-wei.

Both Laura Robson and Heather Watson boast the potential to win this tournament but they’ve stuttered in 2013 and neither are ready to challenge for titles this season. The pair meekly dropped out in round one of Nottingham and Watson may suffer the same ignominy against Varvara Lepchenko on Monday.

Watch the AEGON International on Eurosport and the BBC next week, although the former do a lot more for women’s tennis throughout the year so that’s where I’ll be watching.

Head photo: bertiebassett25, flickr

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Roland Garros: Saturday morning round-up

Roland Garros 2013

Now the second rounds and half the third have been completed at Roland Garros, it’s time to look back at who’s impressed so far and who has the potential to make the finals stages late next week.

Both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova look strong – as they should do – but the latter’s 6-2 6-4 win over Eugenie Bouchard rose a few questions. While Sharapova won 80% of her first service points, on the second serve she was down at a 53% conversion rate. Effectively, she has no insurance on that second serve and that could cost her at important moments later in the tournament.

As for Serena, the world number one has powered through to round four having dropped just six games so far. There’s a reason she’s favourite to win this tournament and Serena’s only challenge before the final will be Sara Errani.

Williams against Caroline Garica. Photo: y.caradec, flickr

Williams against Caroline Garica
Photo: y.caradec, flickr

It’s pleasing to see the top five in the WTA have all made it through but Li Na’s exit on Wednesday was a surprise. The Chinese world number six crashed in three sets to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who took her opportunity as Li faltered.

Caroline Wozniacki, too, fell in the second but this is of no astonishment. The Dane has struggled on clay ever since that quarters appearance in Charleston and she’s now exited the last five tournaments before the third round. Her only victory since 1 April was over an unconvincing one over Laura Robson here in Paris, and it was no surprise she lasted little time against Mattek-Sands.

If you’re looking to back an outsider in this race then Sara Errani is your girl. The Italian world number five has been in impervious form so far, dropping just nine games from six sets. Although she was pushed to a 6-0 6-4 win the second set by Sabine Lisicki, that extra game time may come in handy if and when she meets Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters.

Errani looks good for a semis berth Photo: Frédéric de Villamil, flickr

Errani looks good for a semis berth
Photo: Frédéric de Villamil, flickr

As for forgotten world number three Victoria Azarenka, few can see her surpassing Sharapova in the semis but the Belarusian should at least make it to the last four because of Li’s exit in her side of the draw.

The French Open looks likely to be hotly contested heading into next week and this weekend should provide a couple of upsets. The big one of Saturday may be Angelique Kerber’s demise, for the German has struggled to combat opponents so far and faces the in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Head photo: y.caradec, flickr

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