WTA Tour announces 2017 awards

If there’s one thing about the WTA’s annual awards, it’s that they’re consistent.

Indian Wells, Stuttgart and Acapulco have once again proved most popular with the players in 2017.

The three events – in the Premier Mandatory, Premier and International categories, respectively, have won the “Tournament of the Year” awards, as voted on by the players, for the fourth consecutive year.

In the “Premier 5” category (which includes Canada, Cincinnati, Wuhan, and Doha/Dubai on a rotating basis), the winner was the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, which also won in 2016.

Czech sweep

On the off-court side, the Czechs cleaned up.

The Peachy Kellmayer Player Service Award went to Lucie Safarova for the fourth straight year.

Notably, Safarova has served on the Player Council since 2009.

The Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship award – once again – went to Petra Kvitova.

Kvitova has won it six of the last seven years. 

“I know I have won this award several times, but this year is extra special for me because I missed the first half of the season,” Kvitova said in a statement. “We are fighters, we are opponents, but on the other hand we are colleagues as well. So for me, the biggest thing is respect.”

Oracle sponsors two U.S. Challengers

Oracle is coming through with more support of tennis in the U.S.

The company will sponsor two joint men’s and women’s Challenger events early in 2018.

The first will be held in Newport Beach, Calif. Jan. 20-28 (the second week of the Australian Open). The second will be Feb. 24 – March 4 at the site of the BNP Paribas Open, just before the main event begins.

Prize money will be $150,000 each for the men and women, at each event.

Bonus: the winners will receive wild cards into the main draw at the big Indian Wells tournament.

Buss: Jack Sock is making American tennis great again

INDIAN WELLS – In 2016, When Jack Sock announced his ‘Let’s Rally, America’ campaign, an American tennis star was born.

In a sport that often falls short in the marketing of its charismatic stars, Sock became a breath of Midwestern fresh air with his mock presidential campaign.

Declared Sock: “I’ve spent my time on the courts. Now I’m ready to be President.”

If only he’d pulled out a “Make American Tennis Great Again” hat. Tell me you wouldn’t have bought one of those Friday.

Sock is far too young to aspire to the White House, but he can lead the ATP tour into the future – especially if his winning form continues Saturday afternoon in the BNP Paribas semi-finals against Swiss great Roger Federer.

The 24-year-old Nebraska native is just the kind of player America has been waiting for. He hits big shots in big moments. He’s emotive, engaging, brash, and he’s got some dance moves he’s not afraid to bust out. (Watch at the end of the clip below for his slick moves after closing out No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori yesterday).

Fellow Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey may have better playing resumés so far, but Jack Sock is a guy who can fill the seats.

He’s building a legacy as a player who competes, who is clutch, all while being an good sport. Check out this clip from the Hopman Cup last January in Perth, Australia to see for yourself (yes, it’s only an exhibition event, but the point stands).

Sock comes across as a simple guy having a lot of fun out there, and that’s something seriously lacking at the top of the ATP scene.

But he’s not without higher aspirations. One night out on the town with some fellow American players, I’m told he said, “If you want bottle service, ya gotta get the contracts”.

Those friends now call him … ‘Contracts’.

Will Sock ever crack the Top 10? He’s currently at a career high of No. 18 on the ATP Tour singles charts and will rise one spot with his effort at Indian Wells. If he can beat Federer, he would reach No. 15, jumping over his good buddy and fellow Brash Brother Nick Kyrgios.

Aussie Kyrgios and American Sock are close pals – flip sides of the new breed of tennis player who entertains as well as awes. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He has a forehand that hurts to look at; the spin he puts on it is in Rafa-revolutions territory. After he and Canadian Pospisil defeated the Bryan brothers to win the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014, they said he hit that shot so hard, it was like an overhead. The ball flat-out jumps off his racquet, making him tricky as all can be to play. He has feel at the net to spare, as evidenced by his great success on the doubles court.

Will Sock ever go deep in a Grand Slam? His backhand is an issue, and his service returns can go south. But the guy has an awful lot of game, and he competes.

He’ll need all of that today going up against Federer on Stadium 1.

Will we see another victory dance from Jack Sock this afternoon? Tennis fans across America are ready to get up and join him, if he can pulls off the upset.

Buss: The luck of the draw – in tennis, it’s a major factor

In the month of March, talk of draws and brackets and match-ups historically center around NCAA basketball’s national championship.

CBS and the NCAA have been working the March Madness theme so long, the catchy names used along the way are now fixtures in our sporting vernacular.

Selection Committees. Selection Sunday. On the Bubble, Next Team In. First Team Out, The Sweet Sixteen. The Elite Eight. The Final Four. It’s hard not to argue that someone in the NCAA marketing department deserves a tidy bonus.

NCAA March Madness Bracketology

When it comes to draws, though, there’s not an sport in the world that can hold a candle to tennis. Several times a week, tennis tournament officials around the world convene before a blank draw to select player names. Seeds are chosen first, placed safely apart from each other in the hopes of late-round epic showdowns. The rest of the players are selected randomly, entered on lines beginning at the top, until all the slots are filled, designating who will play whom in the first round of the event.

For decades, tennis performed this process without much fanfare. Recently, the sport realized there’s an audience for the draw selection process, as dry as it is. After this week’s men’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells was made Wednesday, out in the stadium concourse with star players and fans in attendance, that audience can only grow.

Take a good look at the bottom quarter of the men’s draw.  You may never see this much talent in one section again in your tennis lives. Double-digit Slam winners Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are there. The popular and accomplished Juan Martin del Potro, along with two of the most talented young guns on tour in Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev are also there and for a little overkill, former top-10 player Kevin Anderson is floating around the draw unseeded and due for a return to top form after dealing with some injuries.

The Brutal Bottom Quarter

Here’s the deal: they don’t make the draws based on popularity, nor do they make them on career  accomplishments. The seeding is done by rankings, with rankings strictly about the achievements over the previous 52 weeks.

With tennis’ top stars aging, injuries are keeping the sport’s elite from playing a full 12-month schedule. Federer has worked his way back in to the top 10, but with his ranking at No. 9, the chance of a round-of-16 match up with one of the tour’s top players was a real possibility.

Now its a reality. If both Federer and Nadal get through their first two matches unscathed, they will meet.

Federer/Nadal Face Early Round Collision

These early round match-ups of star players are not unprecedented. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi faced off in quarters of the US Open in 2001. Nadal and Djokovic, having played in two of the previous three French Open finals, found themselves facing each other in the quarters two years ago. The tour is currently in a unique space with many of its top players coming back from layoffs; their rankings are not perfect representations of their abilities.

Juan Martin del Potro is slowly becoming less and less of a dangerous floater as he regains his ranking, but he finds himself in a stacked section at Indian Wells this year.

For the record, when draws are made, the seeding goes strictly by ATP rankings The only exceptions to this rule are at the majors, where there is occasional discretion over seeding (the grass-court seeding for the men at Wimbledon, which follows a specific formula based on results at grass-court tournaments, is the only one that is regularly applied).

So what does all this mean?

For the fans, it’s great. When the tour’s larger events went to 32 seeded players years back, early-round blockbuster match ups became less and less frequent.

These days, with the depth of the tour as it is and a few of the marquee players working their way back up the rankings, draws like the bottom quarter at Indian Wells this year are now a much higher possibility than ever before. It still comes down to the luck of the draw, but if you ask me, these stacked draws are great theater for tennis fans and players alike going forward – at least, until the top stars of the game reclaim their rightful places.