Thursday, March 19, 2015

Notes From Indian Wells and the Pro Tour

By Mert Ertunga

As the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells approaches its final weekend, the first quarter of the 2015 tennis season is coming to its conclusion. Here are some emerging stories and noteworthy anecdotes from this week.

Let's start with two coaches who get little or no attention in the media, although their players have shown incredible improvement as of late. First one is Timea Bacsinszky's coach, Dimitri Zavialoff, who coached for a long time Stanislas Wawrinka during the Swiss' younger years on the tour. Zavialoff has quietly pulled Bacsinszky back into tennis from a career outside of the sport less than two years ago, and guided her into being the hottest player on the WTA Tour in 2015. Bacsinzky's form has skyrocketed in 2015, winning the Monterrey and Acapulco tournaments, and reaching the final in Shenzen. She ended 2014 ranked 48, and is currently ranked 26. There is little doubt that she will be a frequent name in the top 20 this year. Bacsinszky frequently praises Zavialoff for the role that he played in her comeback as a tennis player and as an individual.

Second one is Eric Prodon, the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino's coach. Prodon was a fellow player on the tour for many years (highest ranking: 83) before he began helping his friend Mannarino last summer in Roland Garros. Since then, Mannarino has enjoyed unprecedented success, entering top 40 for the first time in his career. In Indian Wells, he just defeated Fabio Fognini and Ernests Gulbis before losing to Andy Murray in the fourth round. Look for Mannarino to get inside the top 30 in the upcoming weeks. Based on their pupils' results in this young 2015 tennis season, Zavialoff and Prodon would be my choices for coaches of the first quarter of the year.

The American player Wayne Odesnik got caught a second time for doping and was subsequently given a ban of 15 years from the tour. Odesnik immediately announced his retirement from the tour. But what was more impressive is how the rest of the tennis world rejected him. The current world No. 4 Andy Murray and the now-retired 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick immediately called Odesnik's ban and retirement "good riddance" via their Twitter accounts. Most media members strongly criticized Odesnik's actions, and tennis fans did not hold back any words to show their discontent. It was refreshing to see how defensive tennis community became about their sport, especially when one of their own was the offender.

The match between Serena Williams and Bacsinszky in quarterfinals of the Indian Wells tournament featured two of the hottest players on the Tour. Serena Williams came into the match undefeated in 2015 at 11-0, and Bacsinszky carried on the court a 21-2 record (including her two FedCup wins) with her own fifteen-match winning streak.

During the third-round match between Thanasi Kokkinakis and Juan Monaco, the former had a match point at 5-4 in the third. Both the line judge and the chair umpire failed to call Monaco's ball out when it sailed a bit wide (Hawk-Eye showed it landing outside to the viewers). The problem was that Kokkinakis had already used his three-challenges-per-set allowance and could not ask for a Hawk-Eye review. As a consequence, Monaco got the point, and Kokkinakis had to wait until the tiebreaker to earn of the toughest victories of his young career.

The incident brought the Hawk-Eye challenge rules under scrutiny. Some felt that the number of challenges should not be limited to three per set. Others believed that challenges should be automatically allowed on set and match points. Few suggested that the referee should be able to use his or her own discretion to view the Hawk-Eye in case of an important point even if the players were out of challenges.

Personally, I like the challenge system just the way it has existed since it began. Rules should not be changed simply because there has been one incident where the referees failed to make the right call. The player should bear some responsibility and use wisely his or her three challenges. What happened in the Kokkinakis vs. Monaco match is very unlikely to happen again and does not call for complicated solutions involving unlimited challenges where players can easily abuse the system, or some type of modification allowing for more challenges and slowing down the game.

Indian Wells has not been kind to the seeded players on the women's side. By the quarterfinals, only two top-10 seeds remained: Serena Williams and Simona Halep. On the men's side, the victims were couple of the so-called the future stars of the Tour. Grigor Dimitrov fell to the hard-working veteran Tommy Robredo, and Kei Nishikori got stunned by another over-30 player Feliciano Lopez who is quietly having the best period of his career.

Last note is about the Indian Wells tournament site. It has more stadium courts than any other tournament and the second biggest tennis-only stadium in the world. The modern state of the facilities is something to behold and the organization is top notch. All match courts are equipped with Hawk-Eye, giving the players the ability to challenge starting with the first match in the qualifying draw. Practice schedules are posted on the modern scoreboard of each court, including the outside ones, with the pictures and flags of the players on display during their practice. The facilities are ready for the event well before the players arrive to the site. The usual drilling and mounting sounds of machinery that you hear during the qualifying draw of many tournaments do not exist in Indian Wells once the first players (and by that, I mean players arriving to play qualifying) begin to set foot on the site the days leading up to the qualifying matches.

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