Sumyk hits Asia with Pavlyuchenkova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova hit the Asian circuit with a new coach – longtime Garbiñe Muguruza coach Sam Sumyk.

Sumyk and Muguruza (who also is in Osaka) parted ways after Wimbledon, after nearly four years.

Pavlyuchenkova worked with Rob Steckley during the summer. But Steckley doesn’t want to travel at the moment; the trial with Sumyk in Asia reportedly was agreed to earlier this summer.

The Russian crushed Dayana Yastremska (ranked higher, at a career-best No. 28) in 55 minutes Monday in Osaka.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Angelique Kerber is trying it out with countryman Dirk Dier, after splitting with Rainer Schüttler.

Marathon win for Kuznetsova in return

After seven months away healing a longtime knee issue and, it seems, enjoying life and evaluating her future, two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova returned to the court Monday in Lugano, Switzerland.

On her fifth match point, she pulled out a messy 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6) win over countrywoman Ekaterina Alexandrova, who had 70 unforced errors (including 13 double faults). Kuznetsova was “relatively” in control with 47.

She looked fit and eager, even as the match neared 2 1/2 hours.

Kuznetsova, 33, already had missed a chunk of time in 2018, after wrist surgery. But she came back to win the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in August.

Woz brings Schiavone to Charleston

The retired Francesca Schiavone remains around the tennis scene – especially down in south Florida, where she lives.

And after she and Caroline Wozniacki practiced together after Miami, the veteran Dane brought her new mentor to Charleston.

“I was training in Miami and I saw her. And, ‘Well, you play well on clay, and I could play better.’ I thought this could help me play good on clay,” Wozniacki told Tennis Channel.

“Just trying to not overforce it, but still try to play aggressive on the clay.”

Dad, of course, still came out for coaching consults.

Ostapenko pulls off another comeback

It used to be a trademark of Jelena Ostapenko’s game to come back from the brink.

But not lately.

So when she was down 1-5 in the third set to Shelby Rogers in Rogers’s Charleston hometown Wednesday, it didn’t look good.

When she got the two breaks back but was broken when she served for the match – and then was down a mini-break in the tiebreak – it also didn’t look good.

But Rogers, in just her second match after a year away, couldn’t close the door.

The win likely will squeeze the Latvian back into the top 30.

Sabine Lisicki struggling at No. 299

It’s crazy to imagine that a former No. 12 and Wimbledon finalist, not yet 30, is struggling to win matches.

But Sabine Lisicki’s ranking checks in at No. 299 this week. That’s a drop of 100 spots since the beginning of the year.

She was competitive in Charleston Monday as a wild card, losing to Sonya Kenin 7-5, 6-4.

But Lisicki hasn’t won a match at a major since Wimbledon in 2016, and now is 0-4 in four events (all at the WTA level) in 2019.

She lost in in the first round of 11 of 17 events played in 2018 (most of them at the WTA level). 

Full house for Hua Hin final

The fans got their money’s worth as the inaugural Thailand Open singles final between Dayana Yastremska and Ajla Tomljanovic went to a third-set tiebreak, with plenty of machinations and drama.

But the best news out of the first-year event, which replaced the Taiwan Open, was that it had a near full house for the final.

The True Arena, which the official website says was “inspired” by Rod Laver Arena, has an official capacity of about 5,000. It used to host a season-opening exhibition.

The event also featured good crowds earlier in the week – particularly in the evening.

WTA TV blackout coming in U.S.

In a not-unexpected step following the transfer of the WTA Tour U.S. broadcast rights from beIN Sports to Tennis Channel, the network will become the only option to watch women’s tennis in 2019.

WTA TV sent out a notice to American subscribers Friday.

The exclusive women’s tennis streaming service advised them that as of Dec. 30, fans in the U.S. will be under blackout.

Instead, they will have to subscribe to Tennis Channel Plus “as the Tennis Channel becomes the official media ‘home’ of WTA Tennis in the United States.”

Nothing changes with the WTA TV service on the rest of the planet (except China).

New season a month away

The lack of coordination between all parties is fairly noticeable.

blackoutThe new season begins in exactly a month. But Tennis Channel still has no 2019 tentative WTA schedule on its website.

The original press release indicates coverage of most of the Premier-level events as well as 30 International-level tournaments – including Shenzhen and Auckland to open the season.

At the moment, there is TC Plus 1, TC Plus 2 and “The T”, which appears to run mostly pre-taped, feature-type programming. As the new era debuts, there will be three WTA tournaments the first week – plus Tennis Channel staple Hopman Cup. And any ATP Tour events they’re carrying.

And all the events are roughly in the same time zone.

With Serena Williams set to star in Perth at Hopman Cup, you have to theorize she will get the lion’s share of the broadcast time. That’s a lot of simultaneous content to handle if the network is sincere about providing the same level of WTA coverage.

But that’s their problem to work out.

Granted, all of this came up rather suddenly last month – at least publicly. 

Blackout pluses and minuses

Despite some of the quality issues with WTA TV, the vast majority of singles (and many doubles) matches on all of the match courts at tournaments, all season, have been available.

On the downside, the service is not compatible with services like Apple TV or Roku. Therefore it’s not easily accessible on your bigger-screen TV.

blackoutAnother plus: most of the matches are subsequently available on demand.

The cost in the U.S. has been $9.99 for a month, $74.99 for an annual subscription.

Conversely, the Tennis Channel Plus subscription currently costs $99 a year. There is no monthly option.

At that rate in 2018, you didn’t get any WTA coverage at all beyond select tournaments. (Charleston, for example, is aired along with matches from the big U.S. joint events).

So this is value added for 2019.

Notably, the TC Plus service does not guarantee you access to the main Tennis Channel broadcast. If your cable or satellite provider does not carry Tennis Channel or you don’t pay for the service tier that does carry it, you can’t watch it. And that’s true even if you pay the Tennis Channel Plus subscription.

No price increase

Given the huge volume of additional content TC Plus will be offering, you would expect a price increase to go along with it.

But a Tennis Channel spokesperson told tennis.life there were no current plans to change the subscription rate.

Regarding match coverage, “although the upcoming season’s programming schedule hasn’t been finalized, Tennis Channel plans on having WTA matches on the linear network as well as on Tennis Channel Plus,” the spokesperson said.

Adding the WTA content is a significant uptick in volume. In many cases throughout the season, there are more than half a dozen matches available simultaneously.

So we still don’t know if the entirety of the WTA TV streaming content will be available on Tennis Channel and online in 2019.

Another good question will be how many of the more sought-after women’s matches will be available on the streaming service. That’s a key issue because the broadcast channel isn’t available to everyone.

So will fans be missing out on the best matches available, if they don’t have it? And how will the men’s matches in Brisbane and Hopman Cup, for example, be prioritized with the new programming.

The original press release indicated TC Plus would stream “additional WTA matches that are not available on television,” without adding any detail.

What about Rewind?

Still to be determined, in addition to the availability of the vast majority of matches on demand, will be the availability of a Rewind feature.

All of the singles finals from 2018 currently are available on WTA TV.

Also available are various player interviews, beginning from the San Jose tournament in early August through to the end of the season.

Another issue is that while you can stream TC Plus on more than one device, you can’t do it on more than one device at the same time.

On a somewhat related note, a spokesperson for ESPN tells Tennis.Life that all the changes don’t in any way affect the rights the sports network holds, and continues to hold.

Refund not automatic

Note that WTA TV will be issuing pro-rated refunds for ongoing U.S. subscriptions.

But it won’t be automatic.

And all refund requests must be made by March 1, 2019.

The notice indicates that Tennis Channel will offer a 25 per cent discount on its TC Plus service to WTA TV subscribers. 

Given TC Plus does not currently offer a monthly subscription rate, you’ll have to commit up front to the whole annual rate.

Comeback takes toll on Gasparyan

It’s that time of the year, when players are starting to look like mummies.

A case in point is Margarita Gasparyan, who began the season ranked No. 1,121 – and stands at No. 109 as of Monday.

Coming back from injuries and a long layoff usually ends up with other body parts barking. And last week in Luxembourg, Gasparyan had the knee, right forearm and then the ankle taped up.

The inset pic is of Yana Sizikova, a 23-year-old Russian who has played in tournaments with purses ranging from $15,000 to over $600,000 in 2018.

It’s a long season.

Zvonareva lifts the veil for coaching consult

If Vera Zvonareva’s competitive personality creates a lot of self-anger on court, she’s an avid listener – and participator – during coaching consults.

Even after practices with coach Arnaud Decugis, she makes eye contact, listens and absorbs.

So when Decugis came out last week during her match against Anastasija Sevastova in Moscow, she even … lifted her traditional changeover towel.

Also unusual was Decugis (married to former world No. 7 Julie Halard) going old school with the notebook, rather than bring out an iPad or other technology.

(The towel went back on, so Zvonareva missed the attempt at a low-five).

Mom comes out for coaching consult

Mom to the rescue on the WTA Tour, as Elise Mertens’s mother Liliane Barbé came out for on-court coaching in Beijing Wednesday night.

Mertens and partner Demi Schuurs were down 1-4 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anastasija Sevastova. 

Looks like the rookie coach (a languages/history teacher by profession) forgot her mandated microphone. But whatever she said, it worked.

Mertens and Schuurs came back to win 7-5, 6-2.

Once again, it’s just not a good look for female professional athletes to have Mom come on to give them a pep talk mid-match. 

It wasn’t as cringeworthy as this, though.