Nine Reasons to Watch the Women at the 2015 U.S. Open

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: The Women's Singles U.S. Open trophy is seen during the draw ceremony prior to the start of the 2014 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 21, 2014 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA)

Whether measured by participation numbers, by prize money, or by global reach, tennis is the world’s largest professional sport for women.  Most of the world’s best known (and wealthiest) female athletes are tennis players.

Beginning tomorrow, 128 players representing 33 countries will gather in Flushing Meadows, New York, to contest the women’s singles competition at the final Grand Slam of 2015, the U.S. Open.  This year’s tournament promises to showcase great athleticism, fierce competition, and quite possibly some history-making.

Here are nine reasons to watch:

1. Serena Williams

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No player has more impressively dominated women’s tennis over the past 15 years than 34-year-old American Serena Williams.  With her powerful and unreadable serve, aggressive groundstrokes, great court coverage, and reliable shot selection, Serena has won 21 Grand Slams and has notched up 255 weeks as world #1.  She owns more titles, counting singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, than any other active player, male or female.  She has twice completed a “surface slam” – Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces (clay, grass, and hard court) within the same calendar year.  She is the only player of either gender to have won singles titles at three different Grand Slams at least six times each.

Serena comes into this year’s U.S. Open with a chance to make history.  At Wimbledon in early July of this year, she completed her second “Serena Slam,” amassing four straight Grand Slam titles over a twelve month period.  At the 2015 U.S. Open, Serena has a chance to become only the second woman in tennis’ modern era, and only the fifth woman of all time, complete the rare Calendar-Year Grand Slam.

Serena’s draw in New York looks brutal.  To win, she might have to beat three former Slam champions (including her sister Venus) and a former Slam finalist who has beaten her before.  Especially in light of the stress she clearly experienced at the summer warm-up events in Toronto and Cincinnati, no one can take Serena’s success in New York this year for granted.

That said, in 2015 more than in any other year, Serena has demonstrated tenacity and determination.  Quite often, she has gotten into trouble by losing a first set, and every time save one that she has put herself in that predicament she has found a way to claw back and win.

Tips

Serena’s early matches might be relatively straightforward, but she will face tough fights every beginning in the third round.  Every match thereafter promises athleticism, virtuosity, and drama.

 

2. Grand Slam Winners Lurking in the Draw

The U.S. Open women’s draw features eight players in addition to Serena Williams who have won Grand Slam titles.  Any of them could contend for the title if the draw were to break her way.

VA

Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) Australian Open 2012, Australian Open 2013.

 

AI

Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) French Open 2008.

 

SK

Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) U.S. Open 2004, French Open 2009.

 

PK

Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) Wimbledon 2011, Wimbledon 2014.

 

FS

Francesca Schiavone (Italy) French Open 2010.

 

MS

Maria Sharapova (Russia) Wimbledon 2004, U.S. Open 2006, Australian Open 2008, French Open 2012, French Open 2014.

 

SS

Sam Stosur (Australia) U.S. Open 2011.

 

VW

Venus Williams (United States) Wimbledon 2000, U.S. Open 2000, Wimbledon 2001, U.S. Open 2001, Wimbledon 2005, Wimbledon 2007, Wimbledon 2008.

Tips

Try to see Schiavone or Kuznetsova in the first couple of rounds.  Among the eight players listed here, Schiavone and Kuznetsova face a relatively high risk of early elimination.  Matches featuring any of these players in the second week should be corkers!

 

3. Power Hitters

A tall tennis player is usually a powerful player who can rely upon blazing serves and sharply hit, deep shots to move her opponents around and control the progression of a point.  Height and wingspan certainly helped propel Azarenka (6’0″), Sharpova (6’2″), Kvitova (6’0″), Ivanovic (6’0″), and Venus Williams (6’1″) to their Grand Slam titles.

Among the younger players rising in the rankings are several who can be classified as power players.  Two who have had the greatest impact at the Grand Slams are:

GMB

Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain (6’0″), who chalked up a big win over Serena Williams at the 2014 French Open.

 

JJ

Jelena Jankovic of Serbia (5’10”), who reached the U.S. Open final in 2008.

 

EB

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada (5’10”), who reached the Wimbledon final in 2014.

Tips

Choose a power player’s match to enjoy a display of strength and harnessed aggression.  (To see Bouchard, you may want to find her first- or second-round match.  Her 2015 season has been a series of disastrous early losses.)

 

4. Defenders

Tennis’ smaller players, who usually cannot call upon the strength and leverage required to compete with their taller opponents in the arena of power, often become expert in defense – getting every ball back into play until an opponent either sends a shot out or leaves a ball short and vulnerable to attack.

Excellent defense requires speed, fitness, patience, anticipation, adaptability, and good decision-making.  Among the sport’s best defenders are:

CW

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark (5’10”), a former world #1 who competed in the U.S. Open finals in 2009 and 2014.

 

SE

Sara Errani of Italy (5’5″), who has reached a Grand Slam singles final (at the 2012 French Open) and won five Grand Slam titles in doubles.

 

DC

Dominika Cibulková of Slovakia (5’3″), finalist in the 2014 Australian Open.

Tips

Defenders’ matches tend to be longer than the power players’ matches, because they almost inevitably involve longer rallies.  Stylistically, a defender’s matches can be gripping and engaging due to a higher concentration of relatively complex points.

 

5. Shot-makers

Some of most entertaining matches at every Slam are produced by the special breed of player who are shot-makers – those who compensate for a lack of power with creativity, guile, unpredictability, and pinpoint accuracy.

Among the most accomplished of these racquet virtuosi are:

Simona Halep of Romania (5’6″), who reached the French Open final in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Agnieszka “Aga” Radwańska of Poland (5’8″), nicknamed “Ninja” for her craftiness, who competed in the 2012 Wimbledon final.

 

 

 

Tips

Both Halep and Radwanska have wins over Serena Williams.  They are highly accomplished players who can be great fun to watch.

 

6. Meltdowns and Outbursts

As is the case on the men’s side of the sport, women’s tennis matches can at times be seasoned with outbursts, arguments, and/or loss of emotional control.  On both the men’s side and the women’s, there are a few players who are more likely than others to inject drama into their matches.

Jankovic has been known to scream at her coach on court and argue with the umpire or with her opponent.

 

Alize Cornet of France is renowned for showing her feelings on the court.

 

 

Camille Giorgi of Italy brings to every match sharp hitting and a matching emotional intensity, which occasionally boils over into histrionics.

CG

Tips

Cornet, Giorgi, and Jankovic are all top-flight players who should win at least their first few rounds in New York.  It’s not impossible that you will witness some heavy drama if you watch one of their matches.

 

7. Yells and Shrieks

A discussion of the U.S. Open women’s draw would be incomplete without a few words about the politically touchy subject of grunts and screaming on the court.  Female players draw frequent criticism for their high-pitched grunts, shrieks, and screams that grate on the ears of many fans.  The scolded players respond, at times indignantly, by pointing that that the tennis men grunt too.

It is true that many male players grunt.  Two in particular, Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq and Spain’s Marcel Granollers, are often cited by fans as especially hard on the ears, at times drawing comparisons to wounded ruminant mammals.

Nadal produces a nasal grunt that is at times more of a moan.  David Ferrer emits a guttural growl after every shot which is as regular as clockwork.  Andy Murray does much the same.  Novak Djokovic produces a distinctive heh-ENHHH, especially when he is tired.  Even Roger Federer grunts occasionally on second serves and defensive backhands.

Murray, Ferrer, and Spain’s Fernando Verdasco each produce at certain moments an “Argh!” sound that roughly translates to, “Damn! I don’t want to have run for that drop shot.”

The female players are correct when they point out that the men also make noise on the court, but, for better or for worse, the higher-pitched sounds produced by the women are more offensive to many fans.

With every shot, Sharapova produces a shriek that is loud at the beginning of a match and deafening if she reaches a tight third set.  Azarenka emits a descending operatic glissando that has been aptly called “a ghost going down a waterslide.”  Kuznetsova generates a deafening nasal whine that makes it sound as though she is in terrible pain.

Serena Williams’ screams vary throughout a match and seem to correlate with emotional ups and downs.  Errani and Muguruza produce predictable “AHH!” sounds, while Schiavone specializes in, “Ah-HEE!”

Tip

The MUTE button can be your friend.

 

8. Youngsters

Nearly every Slam delivers the excitement of a break-out performance by a rising star.  In 2013, American 17-year-old Victoria Duval electrified a night crowd by upsetting defending champion Stosur.  In 2014, it was 15-year-old Cici Bellis who brought down the house by upsetting Cibulkova.

Three young players who have a chance to make headlines at the 2015 U.S. Open:

AK

Aleksandra Krunić, 22, of Serbia, who thrilled a night crowd in 2014 with a near-upset of Azarenka.

 

ES

Elina Svitolina, 20, of Ukraine, who has risen steadily up the rankings and currently sits at 15.

 

BB

Belinda Bencic, 18, of Switzerland, who scored an impressive win over Serena Williams in Toronto in early August of this year.

Tip

A match featuring any of these three players, and especially a Bencic match, is worth going out of one’s way to see.

 

9. Americans

There are 22 American players in the women’s draw.  Four are seeded in the top 32.  Three are qualifiers.  Seven are wildcards.

Two Americans play each other in the first round.

The U.S. Roster
  • Madison Brengle
  • Louise Chirico
  • Samantha Crawford
  • Lauren Davis
  • Irina Falconi
  • Nicole Gibbs
  • Sofia Kenin
  • Madison Keys (seeded 19)
  • Vania King
  • Varvara Lepchenko
  • Jamie Loeb
  • Bethanie Mattek-Sands
  • Christina McHale
  • Jessica Pegula
  • Alison Riske
  • Shelby Rogers
  • Sloane Stephens (seeded 29)
  • Anna Tatishvili
  • Coco Vandeweghe
  • Sachia Vickery
  • Serena Williams (seeded 1)
  • Venus Williams (seeded 23)

 

Predictions

Without reference to probable winners and losers, here are few prognostications:

  • Serena Williams will drop the first set of at least one of her matches in New York.
  • Serena Williams will win her first match that requires a third set.
  • Eugenie Bouchard will be thrilled if she reaches the third round.
  • Madison Keys will play her first night match at the U.S. Open when she faces Aga Radwanska in the third round.
  • The women’s quarterfinals, semifinals, and final will all be excellent matches.
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Eleven Reasons to Watch the Men at the 2015 U.S. Open

USO_Mens_Trophy

Men’s professional tennis is enjoying a Golden Age.  Two of the sport’s stars, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, are vying for the title of “Greatest of All Time.”  Close on their heels is Novak Djokovic, who currently dominates the tour and who will easily finish his career among the sport’s ten best.  Further enhancing the quality of tennis week by week is an unprecedented number of seasoned veterans in the Top 100, players who because of advances in sports medicine and training techniques are able to maintain their fitness well into their 30s and benefit on court from hard-earned emotional maturity.

The year’s fourth and final Grand Slam tournament, the U.S. Open – in which 128 men compete in best-of-five-set matches scheduled over two weeks – will see farewell performances from two of the sport’s sentimental favorites, scrapping efforts from up-and-coming stars, legacy-burnishing performances from all-time greats, and numerous gut-wrenching fights in which both combatants give their all.

Tennis is rarely more fun or more fascinating than during a Grand Slam.  Here are eleven reasons to watch in the days to come:

 

1. The Big Four! (Or are they the Fab Five?)

Four players – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray – have won 31 of the last 35 (and 37 of the last 43) Grand Slam tournaments, of which there are four per year, and 82 of the last 97 next-tier Masters 1000 tournaments, of which there are nine every year.  The quartet’s wholesale dominance of the sport earned them the moniker “The Big Four.”  Even as various members of the group have suffered injuries and illnesses or have otherwise slumped in recent years, a Big Four player (or two) has nearly always reached the finals of the important tournaments.

This summer, tennis writers decided to expand the Big Four into the Fab Five with the addition of 30-year-old Swiss player Stan Wawrinka, who has won as many Grand Slam titles as Andy Murray (two), and who soundly trounced Novak Djokovic in the final of this year’s French Open.

Why watch?

A match involving a Fab Five player promises jaw-dropping virtuosity, heart-stopping fight, and more than a little drama. If you have a chance to see one of these men play, I recommend that you take it.

Roger Federer

RF_0822_Serve

The thirty-four-year-old Swiss Federer is the all-time leader in Grand Slam titles, with 17, and is tied with Djokovic for second place in Masters 1000 titles with 24.  He has earned a Career Grand Slam by winning titles at all four of Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open on hard court, the French Open on clay, Wimbledon on grass, and the U.S. Open on hard court).  Federer leads his head-to-head record with Djokovic 23-22, leads Murray 14-11, and leads Wawrinka 16-3.

Although Federer has not won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon of 2012, he reached the Wimbledon final in both 2014 and 2015.  Best on grass and indoor hard courts, Federer is always dangerous on hard courts, where he can use his inimitable grace and unmatched variety to optimal offensive advantage.

In the lead-up to this year’s U.S. Open, Federer skipped the Masters 1000 tournament in Montreal in the first week of August and then won the Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati in the following week.  His fans, who include several prominent tennis commentators, are picking him to win this year’s U.S. Open title.  This he might be able to do, although his ability to prevail in seven best-of-five-set matches over a two week span has been called into question in recent years, especially in light of the competition offered by his rivals in the final rounds.

Rafael Nadal

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Twenty-nine-year old Spaniard Rafael Nadal is currently tied with Pete Sampras for second place in Grand Slam titles with 14, this in spite of his having missed seven of the 49 Grand Slam tournaments for which he has been eligible during his career.  His 33 percent Slam win rate (14 of 42) is higher than Federer’s (17 of 65) but lower than Bjorn Borg’s (11 of 27).

Nadal owns the most Masters 1000 titles of all time (27).  He is the only male player to have won at least one Grand Slam per year every year for 10 consecutive years.  He completed the Career Grand Slam at the tender age of 24 and owns an Olympic gold medal.  He is also the only male player in tennis history to win titles at Grand Slam tournaments on three different surfaces (hard court, clay, and grass) in the same year (2010).

Nadal has winning head-to-head records against each of the other players in the Fab Five: 23-10 against Federer (including 9-5 on hard courts), 23-21 against Djokovic, 15-6 against Murray, and 12-2 against Wawrinka.

For Nadal, 2015 has been a year in the wilderness.  A mid-2014 wrist injury followed by appendicitis meant that Nadal played only five matches in the second half of 2014, during three of which he was ill with appendicitis.  Although Nadal has made an art of returning from injuries repeatedly throughout his career, his most recent comeback has been rocky.  For the first time, Nadal has suffered failures in one of his greatest strengths: his mental toughness.  He has lacked confidence in his shots and decision-making and has lost several matches that in past years he would have won.

By practicing hard and with a positive attitude, Nadal has gradually reconstructed his game much as one might assemble a jigsaw puzzle: better and fuller over time but always with notable gaps.  At the Cincinnati Masters 1000, he played two excellent matches but managed to lose his second match to an opponent who was playing the best tennis of his life.  In New York this week, Nadal says he feels close to recovering his highest level.

If Nadal were to reach the U.S. Open final, he might in seven matches face five or six players who have defeated him in the last 12 months.  His draw will be a test of his tennis and of his character.

He could vanquish his demons and announce to the rest of the tour that he has recovered his top form.  Or he might fall at the first hurdle and return home to Mallorca and continue rebuilding.  In 2015, Nadal’s path is difficult to predict.

Novak Djokovic

ND_0823_Leap

Twenty-eight-year-old Serb Novak Djokovic has dominated the tour in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015.  Whereas Nadal started winning at least one Slam title per year at the age of 19, Djokovic did not win his second Slam title until age 23, at the Australian Open of 2011.  Since that time, though, Djokovic has been on fire, winning eight Slam titles and reaching six additional Slam finals in the last five years.  During that same period, he has won 19 of his 24 Masters 1000 titles.

Djokovic owns winning head-to-head records over Murray (19-9) and Wawrinka (18-4).

Djokovic has an uncanny ability to reach every ball – at times with this body stretched or contorted to the extreme – and hit winning shots from anywhere on the court to anywhere in the court.  Djokovic gets to sharply-angled shots that would beat nearly anyone else on the tour and returns them so aggressively as to make a response from his opponent nearly impossible.  He is one of the most adept at return of serve, sending many players’ hardest serves back to the baseline at a server’s feet.  When Djokovic’s game is accurate and consistent, he is virtually unbeatable.

In 2015, Djokovic’s win-loss record is 56-5.  He has won two Grand Slams and four Masters 1000s, and he has reached the final in every tournament he has played except one.

And yet…

At the two tournaments whose titles he most wanted to win – the French Open and the Cincinnati Open, neither of whose trophies he has yet to hold – Djokovic lost in the final, to Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer, respectively.

If Djokovic has a weakness, it is that his head can fail him on the largest stages.  He is only 9-8 in Grand Slam finals (compared to 17-9 for Federer and 14-6 for Nadal).  In his head-to-head history with Nadal, although Djokovic leads 17-13 in best-of-three-set matches at smaller tournaments, Nadal leads 9-4 at Grand Slams and 10-4 overall in the best-of-five-set format.

Based upon his 2015 record, Djokovic has to be the favorite to win the U.S. Open title, but based upon his career-long record at the Slams, he is not a sure bet.

Andy Murray

AM_0812

One week older than Djokovic, Andy Murray owns two Grand Slam titles, the 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Wimbledon.  The twenty-eight-year-old Scot won the 2012 Olympic gold medal at Wimbledon.  Murray also owns 10 Masters 1000 titles and has a winning record (8-6) against Wawrinka.

Murray is one of the greatest defenders tennis has ever seen.  He gets to nearly every ball and returns almost everything into play.  His befuddles and frustrates his opponents with constant changes of angle and spin.  Very few players have the aggressive power to hit past or through him.

Murray’s strength has also proven to be a weakness; throughout his career, he has tended to rely too heavily on his fitness and defensive genius rather than on playing aggressively when indicated, with the effect of limiting his success against the top players.  To win his Slam titles, Murray played more aggressively than is his natural wont.

Murray arrives at the 2015 U.S. Open in excellent form, having won the warm-up Masters 1000 event in Montreal over Djokovic.  Based on the draw released this week, to win in New York, Murray would probably have to beat Wawrinka, and then Federer, and then either Djokovic or Nadal.  Fit, enjoying his tennis, and fully recovered from late-2013 back surgery, Murray is ready this year for the challenge.

Stan Wawrinka

SW_0807

Thirty-year-old Swiss Stan Wawrinka is a late bloomer who can be extremely dangerous.  Armed with a powerful forehand and a lethal, blistering one-handed backhand that he can direct either crosscourt or up the line, Wawrinka on a good day can beat anyone.

Wawrinka won his first Grand Slam title (of two) at the 2014 Australian Open, where he beat Nadal in the final.  After Wawrinka had dominated the first set, Nadal suffered a crippling back injury early in the second set.  He could barely move for the remainder of the match.  (Even hampered by his back, Nadal still managed to win the third set, as Wawrinka played terribly because of nerves.)  It’s possible that Wawrinka would have won that match even if Nadal had not been injured, but unfortunately for Wawrinka (and Nadal), we can never know.

Wawrinka’s second Grand Slam title came at the 2015 French Open, as a result of a truly brilliant aggressive performance against the pre-tournament favorite (and near-unanimous commentator pick) Djokovic.  (Two rounds earlier, Wawrinka had similarly dispatched Federer.)

Warinka won his lone Masters 1000 title in April of 2014, after winning his first Grand Slam.

To win in New York, Wawrinka might have to beat Murray, Federer, and then either Djokovic or Nadal.  This is formidable challenge, but Wawrinka’s powerful game and virtuosic backhand make it possible.

2. “Dark Horse” Contenders

A few players find themselves on commentators’ lists of “dark horse” candidates with outside shots at the title whenever a Grand Slam rolls around.  These are players who consistently finish the year near the top of the rankings and who have reached Grand Slam finals before (and, in the case of the three players listed here, have wins over Roger Federer).

Perennial “dark horses” include:

29-year-old Czech Tomas Berdych, a 6’5″ power hitter who reached the Wimbledon final in 2010 and won a Masters 1000 title in 2005.

TB_0818_Outfit

30-year-old Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a big-serving shotmaker who reached the 2008 Australian Open final and owns two Masters 1000 titles.

JWT

Another player likely to be considered a “dark horse” this year is the defending champion, 26-year-old, 6’6″ Croat Marin Cilic.  Cilic played consistent, powerful tennis throughout last year’s tournament, blasting Roger Federer off the court in the semifinal and then showing remarkable poise in winning the final in straight sets over Kei Nishikori.

Cilic’s 2015 has been inconsistent and relatively weak, hampered early in the year by injury.  Although he is unlikely to repeat as champion (he would probably have to beat Djokovic or Nadal, and then Murray or Federer), Cilic himself has shown that at a major tournament anything is possible.

MC
Why watch?

These three men are excellent, consistent players.  Especially in the early rounds, they can be counted on to entertain.

3. Understudies Waiting in the Wings

Mindful that the 28- to 34-year-old Big Four will retire within the next five to eight years, tennis broadcasters have made a deliberate and carefully engineered effort to cultivate fanbases for players of the next generation.  Three players in the 24- to 25-year-old range have emerged as the strongest threats to the Big Four.

KN

25-year-old Japanese Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, has two wins over Federer, two wins over Djokovic, one win over Murray, and one win over Nadal.  Playing in a style very similar to that of Djokovic, Nishikori dominates opponents by hitting the ball early on the rise and redirecting it with his very effective backhand.

Nishikori’s weakness is physical fragility.  Several times during his career, he has chalked up big wins over top players only to find himself injured on the following day.  Nishikori sat out the Cincinnati tournament with a leg injury.  Whether that injury will hamper him in New York remains to be seen.

MR

Twenty-four-year-old, 6’5″ Canadian Milos Raonic has three wins over Murray, one win over Federer, and one win over Nadal.  Armed with a huge serve, improving rally skills, and a strong work ethic, Raonic plays as though he is determined to rise to the top (by any means necessary).

Raonic has not yet recovered fully from foot surgery that kept him out of this year’s French Open.  With his nearly unbreakable serve, he can be dangerous, but he might not be in good enough form to win this year in New York.

GD

Twenty-four-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov has one win over Djokovic and two over Murray.  Blessed with grace and great talent, Dimitrov can hit such a variety of shots that he has drawn comparisons to Federer.

Dimitrov finished 2014 ranked 11 but has fallen to 17 in a 2015 campaign that has included some catastrophic losses.  Dimitrov has the talent and physical fitness necessary to win the U.S. Open.  Based upon his recent performance, though, he might not yet be mentally ready for the challenge.

Why watch?

Each of these three players is likely a future Slam winner.  Nishikori in full flight displays breathtaking dominance.  Raonic has one of the best serves on the tour.  Dimitrov regularly provides some of the most sublime gee-whiz moments of a tournament.

4. Favorites Taking a Final Bow

This year, two accomplished tour veterans will play the U.S. Open for the last time.

LH

Thirty-four-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt, winner of the 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon, will retire in January, after the 2016 Australian Open.  Known throughout his career as a scrappy fighter, Hewitt can be counted on to give an opponent everything he can handle and more.

MF

Thirty-three-year-old American Mardy Fish will retire at this U.S. Open.  Always a tough fighter with a strong backhand, Fish raised his game to a new level in 2010 and 2011 by taking off extra weight.  In early 2012, six months after reaching his career-high ranking of 7, Fish began to experience cardiac symptoms that required an ablation procedure and that led to crippling bouts of anxiety, effectively ending his career.

This summer – recovered, confident, and accompanied by his wife and infant son – Fish has played a farewell tour on the U.S. hard courts.  Speaking openly about his ordeal in an effort to help others who suffer with anxiety, Fish is enjoying his final professional matches as he prepares to retire on his own terms.

Why watch?

Hewitt’s and Fish’s final matches will surely be hard-fought.  Their curtain calls will be followed by moving tributes to well-loved and widely-respected veterans.

5. Young Guns: The Ten Teens

The U.S. Open men’s draw will feature 10 teenagers.  The last time there were as many teens – 1990 – none of these young men had been born.

Why watch?

These are possible stars of the future, some of whom might fill face each other in Grand Slam finals five to ten years from now.  Remember their names:

Hyeon Chung, 19, South Korea

Borna Coric, 18, Croatia

Jared Donaldson, 18, United States

Thanasi Kokkinakis, 19, Australia

Yoshihito Nishioka, 19, Japan

Tommy Paul, 18, United States

Andrey Rublev, 17, Russia

Frances Tiafoe, 17, United States

Elias Ymer, 19, Sweden

Alexander Zverev, 18, Germany

 

6. Veterans Still at their Best

In recent years, tennis has seen a growing number of players over 30 in the top 100 and in the top 50, including several players who are playing their best tennis now at ages that only a decade ago would have seemed impossible.

IK

Thirty-six-year old Croat Ivo Karlovic, or “Dr. Ivo,” as he is know affectionately on the tour, uses his 6’11” frame to generate unreachable serves that seem to come out of a tree.  Playing some of the best tennis of his career, Karlovic recently hit his 10,000th ace.

FL_0818_Ready

Carrying himself with confidence and calm consequent to his relatively advance years, thirty-three-year-old Spanish lefty Feliciano Lopez has reached his career-high ranking of 12 in 2015.  Now ranked 18th, Lopez arrives in New York in strong form.

GM

Thirty-two-year-old Luxembourger Gilles Muller is another relatively tall (6’4″) player, and another lefty, to play his best tennis well after the age of 30.  He reached his career-high ranking of 34 this past spring.

Why watch?

All three of these players excel at the highly entertaining and increasingly rare serve-and-volley style.  Their matches can be a treat to watch, and, since they usually involve few rallies, they can be relatively short.

7. Advantage: Height

Height presents a trade-off in tennis.  On the plus side, height gives a player a bigger serve, a wider reach at the net, and more powerful groundstrokes.  On the down side, tall players find it more difficult to move around the court.

Players at the top of the rankings, with a few exceptions, are typically at useful intermediate heights of  6’1″ and 6’4″.  However, in recent years, advances in equipment and training have enabled a growing number of very tall players to succeed on the tour.

Among the giants are the aforementioned Milos Raonic, Ivo Karlovic, Marin Cilic, and Tomas Berdych.  Others include South African Kevin Anderson (6’8″), Americans Sam Querrey (6’6″) and John Isner (6’10”), and Czechs Jiri Vesely (6’6″) and Lukas Rosol (6’5″).

Why watch?

Whether the growing ranks of the tall is good or bad for tennis is debatable, since taller players tend to play a relatively boring style of tennis derisively termed “servebot.”

That said, the athleticism and power of the taller players can be breathtaking.

8. The Beauty of the One-hander

Once upon a time, a typical tennis player used one hand to hit his backhand.  More recently, players have found that they need two hands on the backhand in order to cope with their opponents’ power and spin.  Thus, one-handers are becoming an endangered species.

Why watch?

One-handed backhands can be sublimely beautiful and shockingly effective.

If you have a chance to see one of these practitioners of the beautiful one-hander, grab it.

  • Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria)

 

  • Richard Gasquet (France)

 

  • Mikhail Youzhny (Russia)
  • Philipp Kohlschreiber (Germany)
  • Tommy Robredo (Spain)
  • Roger Federer (Switzerland)
  • Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland)

9. Never say die: Fighters to the End

The best-of-five-set format of the Grand Slams brings out the ultimate in an admirable breed of players who prevail over their opponents by outlasting them — by sustaining high-level tennis over many hours, fighting until the last point, and never giving up.  One exemplar of this fighting style is Nadal, who is said to play every point in a match as though it were his last.

Others include:

TR

33-year-old Spaniard Tommy Robredo, who holds the distinction of having come back from two-sets-to-none deficits to win in five sets at all four of the Grand Slam tournaments, and who very dramatically clawed his way back from two-sets-to-none deficits to win three consecutive matches at the 2013 French Open.

GS

30-year-old Frenchman Gilles Simon, who makes up for his relative lack of power with great defensive skills, determination, and guile.

DF_Joy

33-year-old Spaniard David Ferrer – probably the greatest maximizer of his talent on the tour.  Standing only 5’9″ on his very tallest days, Ferrer has made up for his lack of altitude and wingspan by working hard to cultivate consistency and great foot speed and by making the most of his strengths and minimizing the impact of his weaknesses.  Ferrer has a wickedly accurate forehand and a reliable backhand.  One of his greatest strengths is a talent for reading an opponent’s serve, throwing himself at the ball, and returning nearly any serve into play.

Ferrer has won one Masters 1000 title and reached a Grand Slam final at the French Open in 2013. With 24 career titles, Ferrer is only two titles shy of being the most accomplished male tennis player never to have won a Slam.

Why watch?

Commentators, and especially those who are not former players, sometimes dismiss the fighting style because it might lack flash or pizzazz.

In my opinion, the fighters’ matches can be the most riveting.  Every such contest is a great display of heart.

10. Broken to Love: Tantrums and other Misbehavior

EG_Smash

Like all sports, tennis has its bad boys.  I won’t give them much ink here, but it is not difficult to find tantrums, racquet smashes, verbal attacks on referees, line judges, and ballkids, and other appalling behavior via searches on Novak Djokovic, Jerzy Janowicz, Ernests Gulbis, Fabio Fognini, Ryan Harrison, or Nick Kyrgios.

Why watch?

Gulbis and Fognini can be perversely entertaining (especially Gulbis, shown above, who tends to be good-natured in his racquet smashes).  A Janowicz or Harrison tantrum can be a spectacle.  Kyrgios, who faces Murray in the first round in New York, may not last long in the tournament, which might be just as well.

11. The Home Team

Good_Smyczek_Moment_0901

There are sixteen American men in the draw.  Most are young.  It might be difficult for any to reach the fourth round of seven, but the home crowds – especially the home crowd behind the last U.S. man standing – can create magical moments.

Whom to watch?

Steve Johnson, Sam Querrey, Denis Kudla, Tim Symczek, Donald Young, Jared Donaldson, Frances Tiafoe, Ryan Harrison, John Isner, Tommy Paul, Mardy Fish, Ryan Shane, Jack Sock, Rajeev Ram, Austin Krajicek, and Bjorn Fratangelo.

Predictions

Preceding every Grand Slam is a suffocating flurry of predictions.  It seems that every tennis journalist in the world goes on record with guesses as to who will win, who will lose early, and who will surprise the field.  These predictions are then reported in the tennis media with a breathlessness more appropriate to actual results, as though those slated to win ought to be anointed champion on the spot.

I don’t understand the impulse to make predictions and pronouncements, and I don’t like the effect such predictions have on tennis commentary.  Play-by-play announcers, either consciously or not, inevitably shade their commentary to support their own biases, since nobody wants to be wrong.

Thus, my five predictions relate not to winners and losers but rather to other aspects of the game.

  • Tomas Berdych’s on-court attire will be loud and garish, but he will still make it look good.

TB_Kit_1  TB_Kit_2  TB_Kit_3  TB_Kit_4

  • Roger Federer will have the crowd solidly behind him at every match, even if he plays an American, unless both he and Nadal somehow manage to both reach the final, in which case the crowd support will be closer to 50-50.
  • Novak Djokovic will not get as much crowd support at any of his matches as he wants or as his fans believe he deserves.
  • John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, with their powerful serves and relatively weak return games, will average more tiebreaks in their matches than Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Wawrinka, and Nadal combined.
  • During the first week of New York heat, players will fight tooth-and-nail for five sweltering sets, as a matter of honor, merely for the right to play in the second or third round.

That is why the Grand Slams are so much fun to watch!

 

 

 

 

And They’re Off! Handicapping the 2016 U.S. Presidential Horse Race

Combat

In the heady early-morning hours of last November 5, when most of the 2014 U.S. midterm races had finally been decided and conceded,  weary political commentators sat and closed their eyes for a brief rest.  After only a few seconds, as a unit they rose, refreshed, and launched into speculation about the 2016 Presidential race.

Today, with 15 months until General Election ballots are cast, the 2016 Presidential field is the most crowded in history.  The first order of business is the Primary season, through which individual states, beginning with Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, will help the parties to select their Presidential nominees.  Seventeen combatants are vying for the Republican nomination, while five have entered the Democratic race (so far; more on that below).

The race begins in earnest today with the first Republican debates.

I would like to offer some thoughts about what is at stake in this (and every) Presidential election.  I will briefly profile the colorful array of candidates and explain why the most important split in U.S. politics is not between the Democrats and the Republicans.

How Washington Works – A Citizen’s Summary

Capitol

The Federal government is divided into three ostensibly co-equal branches: the Executive, headed by the President and composed of a myriad of departments and agencies led by political appointees; the Legislative, comprised of the House and the Senate, and charged with oversight of and budgeting for the Executive branch; and the Judicial, headed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is charged with evaluating the Constitutionality of actions taken by the other two branches.

For more about the Founders’ Constitutional design for the Federal government, please see my post of last autumn entitled, “What’s All the Noise About? – A Guide to the 2014 U.S. Midterm Elections.”

Today, official Washington, D.C., appears to be a den of iniquity fueled by money, avarice, power, and ego.  An incestuous network of consultants, lobbyists, and party leaders – many of whom are former government officials – works hand-in-hand with legislators and agency staff to craft laws and regulations.  Favors are sold to the highest bidder in exchange for campaign contributions, or for loan forgiveness, or for leniency in blackmail plots, or for Heaven knows what else.

Gargantuan Federal departments, many of which fall outside the scope of government as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, endeavor each year to spend or squander every penny of their annual budgets.  Perverse incentives dictate that any department not using its entire budget receives a smaller allocation for the next year.

Additional perverse incentives ensure that almost no Federal employee, regardless of level of incompetence, is ever fired.  Federal managers face mountains of paperwork if they ever wish to prune their dead wood.

Lawmakers and agency staff draft rules that micromanage citizens’ lives as well as industries across the economic spectrum.  In response, businesses, non-profits, and even foreign governments send lobbyists to Washington to represent their interests.  As the laws become more intrusive, lobbying increases, and the financial stakes grow.

Consequently, Washington’s entrenched leadership class, composed of long-term legislators, civil servants, consultants, lobbyists, and heads of non-governmental organizations (and their lawyers), is deeply invested in a system of graft that funnels money into their pockets (or, in some cases, into their campaign coffers) while shackling the citizenry with intrusive rules and regulations.

Ugly, isn’t it?  The stench hovering over Washington arises from more than its history as a swamp.

So what can be done?

The only way to reduce the corruption intrinsic to Washington, D.C., and practiced by both political parties, is to reduce the size and scope of the Federal government.  If regulations were scaled back, if laws were less intrusive, if taxpayer-funded handouts of “pork” were removed from Federal budgets, and if Federal departments and agencies were shrunk to more closely approximate the Founders’ vision, the need for lobbyists and consultants and their slush funds would evaporate.

None of these reforms appeals to the Establishment wing of either political party.

The Party Establishment and the Grassroots Rebels

Throne

The Democratic Party, founded in early 1830s, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854, control the levers of power in the Federal and State governments.  Each party garners roughly half of the vote in any given election.

The “base,” or “grassroots,” of the Democratic party is an alliance of academics, ethnic minorities, highly-educated professionals, women, homosexuals, young voters, and organized labor.  In general, the Democratic base believes that government at all levels can and should be used as a tool to redress what they consider to be social ills.

By contrast, the Republican base, which is generally more Caucasian, more devoutly religious, less highly educated, and more tied to the business community, believes that the most effective solutions to social problems, and the means to prosperity for everyone, lie in the individual liberty and concomitant individual responsibility that have long been central to the American experience.  Individual liberty necessarily requires small government.

The parties’ bases disagree sharply regarding the size and role of government, but there is no such schism between the Establishment wings of the respective parties.  Both favor the type of vast and convoluted government that sustains the Washington graft machine.  Since they serve Washington and not the citizenry, both Establishment wings are increasingly isolated from their grassroots voters.

Although the Democratic Establishment shares with its base a commitment to big government, the Establishment allies itself with Wall Street, large corporations, and deep-pocketed donors to an extent that alienates some in the Democratic base.

The relationship between the Republican Establishment and its base is so frail as to be on life support.  The Republican base has become increasingly disillusioned by candidates who espouse small-government principles on the campaign trail and then drop any such pretensions when they reach Washington.  For its part, the Republican Establishment treats the small-government base and the candidates they prefer as contemptible impediments.  In the 2014 election cycle, the Establishment made its disdain for the base clearer than ever by employing underhanded tactics in several hotly-contested primaries.

Every four years, during the Presidential Primary season, each party’s Establishment and its wealthy donors, who are accustomed to buying what they want in Washington, fight tooth and nail to ensure that the party’s nominee is “one of them,” a candidate who can help to maintain Washington’s status quo.

The most important schism in U.S. politics is not between the Democrats and the Republicans but between the entrenched “leadership class” and the taxpaying citizenry.  Our leaders and their surrogates in the media spew fiery, hot-button rhetoric to divide us from each other, and specifically to make everyone hate the small-government Republican base, while their endgame is the protection of their cozy, gold-plated, communal feeding trough.

Thus are the battle lines drawn for the 2016 Primary election season.

Candidates in the Democratic Field

Donkey

From the beginning of the 2016 election cycle, conventional wisdom has suggested that selection of the Democratic candidate for the General Election would be less a nomination than a coronation.  In spite of four other candidates’ entry into the race, by media consensus the candidacy has until recently belonged to Hillary Clinton.

First Lady from 1992 to 2000, Senator from New York from 2000 to 2008, failed candidate for President in 2008, and Secretary of State from 2008 to 2012, Hillary Clinton has been preparing to assume the mantle of the Presidency for many years.  Perhaps out of determination to prevent surprises from derailing her triumphal run to the 2017 Inauguration, the reflexively secretive Clinton has run a hyper-controlled and almost opaque campaign this year, going as far as to refuse for weeks at a time to take questions from reporters and, later, to cordon reporters into a roped-off sidewalk corral.

Clinton_Circle

In recent weeks, though, Hillary Clinton’s inevitability has suffered a series of blows from scandals that one might argue have been self-inflicted.  Scandal is not new in Hillary Clinton’s career.  Its rich history dates back to her husband Bill’s days as Governor of Arkansas.  (One can find more by searching in either Google or Wikipedia on “rose law firm,” “whitewater,” “travel gate,” or “Hillary Clinton commodities investment.”)

What has most troubled the Democratic party about Clinton’s difficulties of late is that the scandals are starting to seriously erode Clinton’s poll numbers.  Recent polls have shown Clinton lagging behind Republican candidates in key swing states, rapidly losing her lead over the other Democratic candidates in early primary states, and – most damagingly – underwater (i.e., with more disapproving than approving) in national voter approval and trustworthiness numbers.

Some voters are bothered by Secretary of State Clinton’s failure to foresee or prevent the loss of four American lives on 11 September 2012 in Benghazi, Libya.  Others might be bothered by her having lied to the families of the Benghazi victims while standing in front of the flag-draped caskets recently arrived on U.S. soil.  Still others might be disturbed that as a self-described feminist she proffers nary a word against female genital mutilation, honor killings, child marriage, or other horrendous oppression of women and girls common in countries that just happen to donate to her family’s foundations.  The appearance of other corruption related Clinton foundation donations might alienate still other voters.  In addition, she faces tough questions and possibly a criminal indictment related to the illegal private email server that she maintained in her home during her tenure as Secretary of State.

It is because of Mrs. Clinton’s plummeting approval ratings that the Democratic Establishment, and specifically the party’s non-Clinton faction (which is rumored to hate the Clinton faction), has scrambled in the press in recent days to float other candidacies.  Rumors are flying that Vice President Joe Biden or current Secretary of State (and 2004 Presidential candidate) John Kerry might enter the race. In response, the Clinton campaign is suddenly calling for the party to schedule a debate, which forum Clinton (ever keen to maintain control) had previously resisted.

Four other candidates have entered the race for the Democratic nomination:

  • Lincoln Chafee, 62, former Senator from and current Governor of Rhode Island, a former Republican turned Independent turned Democrat.

Chafee_Circle

  • Martin O’Malley, 52, a former Governor of Maryland who is running third in most polls.

O'Malley_Circle

  • Jim Webb, 69, former Virginia Governor, a Navy veteran and former college professor.

Webb_Circle

  • Bernie Sanders, 73, Vermont Senator and devout socialist who is running second in most Democratic polls.

Sanders_Circle

Bernie Sanders has drawn strong support from the Democratic base with his advocacy for a high minimum wage, taxpayer funding of all university education, single-payer health care, and forced redistribution of wealth.  It is in part Sanders’ strong showing in head-to-head polls against Clinton that have prompted Democratic party leaders to look for a new frontrunner.

The Democratic field might change dramatically in the next two months.  The posturing, gambits, and chess moves promises to be fascinating to watch.

Candidates in the Republican Field

Elephant

The Republican Primary race offers the largest, strongest, and arguably most entertaining field in election history.  Among the contenders at the top of the polls are governors and former governors, Senators, and private citizens who have never held public office.  The field is also younger than usual and far more racially diverse than the current Democratic field.

Atop most polls is Donald Trump, outspoken 69-year-old real estate billionaire and TV personality.  Perhaps because he has no need to court campaign donors, Trump has set himself apart from his rivals with a series of brash denunciations of business-as-usual in Washington politics.

Trump_Circle

Trump’s appeal to the Republican base stems from his candor and his willingness to challenge the Republican Establishment.  His rocket-flight to the top of the polls ought to serve as a warning to the Establishment.  If party leaders commit the same error in 2016 as in 1996 (Dole), 2008 (McCain), and 2012 (Romney) – i.e., shoehorning their favorite candidate into the nomination – they will likely see in 2016 the same result: a loss in November.

The fire-from-the-hip impulsiveness that has propelled Trump to prominence may also be his undoing in the Primary race.  In light of his record of impolitic, unfiltered brashness, it is likely that eventually an outlandish statement will knock Trump out of the top tier of candidates.  If (when?) Trump falls, though, his supporters will not move en masse to the Establishment favorite.  This is an important point that seems to have eluded Republican party leadership.

In second or third place in most polls is Jeb Bush, 62, the former Governor of Florida, son of the 41st President, George H. W. Bush, and younger brother to the 43rd President, George W. Bush.  Jeb!, as calls himself publically in an effort to declare that he’s his own man, is the Establishment favorite.  He is unlikely to appeal to the base, because of his history of either hewing to the Establishment line on hot-button policy topics or, in a few recent cases, publically repeating Democratic talking points.  Bland and usually personable (except when name-calling at Donald Trump), he stumbled badly at the first candidates’ forum last weekend in New Hampshire, stammering throughout what one blogger called the worst performance of the evening.

Jeb_circle

Since Americans in general (and, historically, Republicans in particular) hate nepotism, Jeb faces a headwind by virtue of his last name that would persist after the end of Primary season if he were to secure the nomination.  He remains the party leaders’ top pick, though, because he would do their bidding.

Also consistently near the top of the polls is Scott Walker, 47, the current Governor of Wisconsin.  Walker is loathed, despised, and demonized by the media, because at the beginning of his term as Governor he took a stand against organized labor by partially restricting the collective bargaining rights of some public-sector unions in Wisconsin.  The ensuing high political drama saw weeks of protests carried out by teachers who were skipping school and culminated in the spectacle of Democratic state senators fleeing to nearby Illinois in an effort to scuttle the vote.  Walker and his legislative colleagues held firm.  The measure passed.  In the years since, Wisconsin municipalities have had an easier time making their budgets.  None of the dire consequences predicted by the State Capitol protestors has come to pass.

Walker_Circle

Walker is a bête noir to most of the media, but the truth is that he has done a good job as Governor of my home state of Wisconsin.  He took over a state with an ugly budget deficit and returned it to fiscal health.  Unemployment is down, taxes are down, and high school graduation rates are up.

To the Republican base, Walker represents victory for small-government principles.  He took controversial stands, held firm, and won legislative battles.  He has won statewide election three times – his original election in 2010, an attempted 2012 recall heavily funded by out-of-state Democratic interests, and his reelection in 2014.  Easy-going and articulate on the stump, he is said to have “won” the New Hampshire candidates’ forum.

If Trumps falls, Walker is one of the leading contenders to pick up his vote.  That said, Walker has yet to prove himself in national debates and specifically on foreign policy topics.  In my opinion, he would be well served if he were to drop his annoying habit (which he shares with a few other candidates) of referring to himself as “we.”

A candidate who arouses passionate feelings in both the base (admiration) and the Establishment (loathing) is 44-year-old Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Cruz has built a reputation during his two years in the Senate as a serious thorn in the side of the Establishment.  Cruz spearheaded several attempts to modify or overturn legislation especially troublesome to the Republican base, such as the Affordable Care Act.  Each such attempt was ultimately stopped by Republican Establishment leaders in the Senate.

Cruz_Circle

Cruz is a highly articulate advocate for small-government principles.  He comes across as a clear thinker.  Off-the-cuff, he can be a brilliant speaker.

Counting against Cruz is the fact that his admirable verbal agility might turn some in the base, which historically distrusts demagogues, against him.  The fact that his wife is an investment banker might also put off some base voters who are suspicious of the world of high finance.

Cruz has created such a strong brand for himself, though, that if he performs well in debates, “gotcha” media interviews, and campaign events, his base support could carry him to the Republican nomination.

A fifth candidate who is especially intriguing is Dr. Ben Carson, 63, who retired in 2013 after a brilliant career as a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Carson_Circle

Carson grew up in abject poverty in Detroit.  His single mother insisted that Carson and his brother read a library book every week and submit to her a book report, which she proceeded to mark up.  Carson has said that it wasn’t until years later that he had realized his mother had barely been able to read the reports that she had graded.

After allowing his hot temper to steer him badly as a youth, Carson turned his life around and earned high grades in high school.  He turned down an appointment to West Point in favor of a spot at Yale, where he studied psychology, followed by medical school at the University of Michigan.  While on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University, Carson was renowned as one of the best pediatric neurosurgeons in the world.

Carson rose to political prominence in February 2013, when he delivered a National Prayer Breakfast speech sharply critical of the present government’s priorities.  Since entering the Presidential race, after a few rookie mistakes with hot-button media traps, Carson has presented a consistent message of small government and personal responsibility.

From a pollster’s standpoint, Carson’s greatest strength is his favorability.  According to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, Carson is the least known of all of the current candidates, but among the poll respondents who do know him, Carson has both the highest favorability and the lowest unfavorability of any candidate in the field.  In short, when voters get to know Carson, they like him and what he stands for.

Carson is articulate, soft-spoke, thoughtful, polite, and better than any candidate I have ever seen at laughing at himself.  If he performs well in the Primary season’s test events, he could be one of the last few candidates standing.

The 12 remaining candidates in the race for the Republican nomination are, in alphabetical order:

  • Chris Christie, 52, the charismatic and bombastic Governor of New Jersey, who can be a riveting speaker but who, because of his behavior in 2012, is viewed by many in the base as self-aggrandizing and/or untrustworthy.

Christie_Circle

  • Carly Fiorina, 60, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who has distinguished herself in media confrontations on the campaign trail.

Fiorina_Circle

  • Jim Gilmore, 65, a U.S. Army veteran and former Governor of Virginia.

Gilmore_Circle

  • Lindsay Graham, 60, U.S. Air Force veteran and Senator from South Carolina, who made his name in the House of Representatives during the 1998 impeachment trial of President Clinton.  During his Senate tenure, though, Graham has taken some puzzling positions, seeming at times rather like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Graham_Circle

  • Mike Huckabee, 59, former Governor of Arkansas, TV host, and failed 2008 Presidential candidate.  Dispenses home-spun populism with unctuous charm.

Huckabee_circle

  • Bobby Jindal, 44, the very successful Governor of Louisiana and one of two southern Republican Governors of Indian descent.

Jindal_Circle

  • John Kasich, 63, Governor of Ohio and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Kasich has worked to shrink the size of government in Ohio, but for 2016 he seems to be trying to sell himself as an Establishment alternative to Jeb Bush.

Kasich_Circle

  • George Pataki, 70, former Governor of New York, who was in office during the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Pataki_Circle

  • Dr. Rand Paul, 62, an ophthalmological surgeon and current Senator from Kentucky, who launched himself from the Libertarian movement built by his father, Dr. (and former Representative) Ron Paul.  Recently Rand Paul’s campaign has faltered, because he is reportedly unwilling to give big donors the face time they require.

Paul_Circle

  • Rick Perry, 65, former Governor of Texas, U.S. Air Force veteran, and failed 2012 Presidential candidate. Perry might be the most genuine and likable candidate in the Republican field, but his proclivity for committing gaffes will probably doom his candidacy early on.

Perry_Circle

  • Marco Rubio, 44, Senator from Florida.  The Cuban-American son of a maid and a bartender, Rubio has parlayed his good looks, intelligence, and strong speaking skills into a leading spot among the Republican Party’s rising stars.  Because of positions he has taken in the Senate on a few hot-button issues, Rubio is not trusted by some in the base.  Also working against him is his susceptibility to stumbling when he is in the spotlight.

Rubio_Circle

  • Rick Santorum, 57, former Senator from Pennsylvania and failed 2012 Presidential candidate.  Santorum is an earnest and articulate advocate of a form of populism that fails to resonate with much of the Republican base.

Santorum_Circle

Tonight in Cleveland, Ohio, the Republican candidates will hold their first debate, which actually had to be divided into two sessions in order to accommodate the bumper crop of candidates.  The top 10 in recent polling will meet this evening at 8 p.m. EDT, while the remaining 7 will face off in an “undercard” debate at 5 p.m.

Predictions

The Democratic Side

As of today there is a Civil War brewing within the Democratic party that makes the Primary race very difficult for an outsider to predict.  If President Obama’s Justice Department proceeds on its current track toward indicting Hillary Clinton for crimes related to her private email server, the Party will probably find its nominee by enlisting someone, such as Joe Biden, who isn’t yet in the race.  If the Justice Department backs off, Hillary Clinton will almost inevitably be the nominee.

The Republican Side

Before considering 2016, a few words about what happened in 2012:

From the beginning of the 2012 Republican Primary season, a “non-Romney” candidate was always ahead of Mitt Romney in the polls: first Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, then Rick Santorum, the Newt Gingrich.  The fact that Romney never led until he only one opponent remained should have signaled the Establishment that the base didn’t like Romney.

Romney’s 2012 opponents all had attackable weaknesses.  After Rick Perry imploded from a debate gaffe, the Romney camp systematically took out his challengers through vicious ad campaigns and/or loaded debate questions, until Romney was the inevitable nominee.

At that point, the Republican Establishment arrogantly assumed that the pesky hayseeds in the base would do as they were told, swallow the candidate fed to them, and vote for Romney in November.  In this, the Establishment had miscalculated.  One reason Barack Obama won reelection, in spite of garnering fewer votes than he had in 2008, was that much of the Republican base stayed home, believing that the difference between a Romney presidency and an Obama presidency would be negligible.

(I think a Romney administration would have differed sharply from the current Obama administration in the foreign policy arena, but from the standpoint of size of government, the base voters who stayed home may have been right.)

In 2016, the “non-Jeb” field is much stronger than were the 2012 “non-Romneys” – better qualified, more experienced, more articulate, and less vulnerable to scandal.  The Republican Establishment will have a very hard time knocking off all of the “non-Jeb” candidates this time around.  I believe at least one from among Walker, Cruz, Trump, and Carson will finish the Primary season ahead of Jeb Bush.

 

That said, I will make one prediction with confidence: if Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton win their parties’ nominations, the next President of the United States will be Hillary Clinton.

 

Candidate photographs provided by Wikipedia.

 

Quote for Today

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” ― Plato (ca. 425 – ca. 347 B.C.)