PC Guerrilla Warfare: The Sportscaster Whose Apt Word-Choice Cost Him His Job

broken_tennis_ball_by_ Photo by mountainboy965C

The Backstory

Dateline Melbourne, Australia, in sunny mid-January of 2017.

The world of sport is abuzz with excitement over tennis’ first Grand Slam of the year.   Tweedy veteran writers, chatty ex-players, and disheveled bloggers, blessed with a surfeit of subject matter in the waning years of tennis’ richest era, feverishly weave narratives from the week’s trendy storylines.

Can Serena Williams reassert herself at the top of her sport at the age of 35?

Will Novak Djokovic rediscover his unbeatable 2015 form, or will his 2016 wobbles continue into the new season?

Can the sport’s rising, hot-headed youngsters dethrone any of the grizzled veteran champions?

Can Rafael Nadal produce in 2017 another miraculous return from injury as he did in 2006, 2010, and 2013?

What about Roger Federer and Venus Williams, both great champions over 35 — can either of them put together a strong run in Australia?

Starved of live tennis during the month of December and of Grand Slam action since September’s U.S. Open, the sport’s global fan base (whose semi-official slogan during the Australian Open is, “Sleep is for the weak,”) is as eager as the commentary corps for drama and action.  To satisfy fans with immediate, complete event coverage, many broadcasters deliver live streams of most or all competition courts throughout the two-week event.

The principal U.S. broadcaster is ESPN, a sports programming leviathan that began presenting the Australian Open in 1984 and now covers three of the season’s four tennis Majors.  ESPN supplies U.S. fans with streams from Australia of all 254 singles matches and many doubles matches, employing an army of on-air staff — some former players, some professional “talking heads” — who work either individually or in pairs to provide live play-by-play coverage.

Many of ESPN’s live-stream voices offer commentary both more analytical and more useful to the viewer than that of the big-name stars on ESPN’s flagship channels.  From this “B team,” one might hear:

“Although Joe clearly walked out today with a game plan to attack Steve’s backhand, he has changed tactics and is now hitting short to the forehand to draw Steve into net against his will and either pass him outright or hit a two-shot pass.”

By contrast, the less prepared and more ego-driven of ESPN’s stars might deliver rhetorical gems such as:

“This is painful to watch.”

(Coasting on his reputation, John McEnroe rarely seems to do in-depth homework and devotes much of his commentary to reminiscence about players he faced in the 1970s.  Chris Evert’s statements are at times so vapid that she has inspired a widely used, colorful hashtag.  Pam Shriver talks mid-match about her children.  When Mary Carillo doesn’t especially like the players in front of her, she tends to chatter about anything but the match; late in the 2014 French Open men’s final, she infamously digressed onto the subject of 1980s-era boxing.)

Prominent in ESPN’s live-stream broadcasting stable is Doug Adler, a 58-year-old former tennis pro who played during his college years the University of Southern California.  A veteran of commentary since 2004 and an ESPN employee since 2008, Adler is so adept at spontaneous play-by-play narration that he frequently covers matches without a partner.

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The Fatal Moment

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mic

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It is Day 3 of the Australian Open, Wednesday, the 18th of January (and Tuesday evening, the 17th, in the U.S.)  First up in the main stadium, Rod Laver Arena, is 36-year-old American Venus Williams, the 13 seed and winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, and two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, to accompany an Olympic gold medal in singles, an Olympic silver medal in mixed doubles, and a staggering three Olympic golds in women’s doubles.  Her opponent is Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele, nine years younger, six inches shorter, and roughly 100 ranking spots below Williams.  One of the team of two ESPN live-stream commentators is Doug Adler.

Not surprisingly, the match is a rout.  Voegele is unable to counter Williams’ superior power, variety, movement, and court coverage.

Early in the second set, as Voegele struggles to hold her first service game, Adler says this:

“She misses the first serve, and Venus is all over her…You’ll see Venus move in and put the [guerrilla?/gorilla?] effect on, charging…”

What exactly does Adler say?  Please listen for yourself to the following 21-second video clip.

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Update: The video above was pulled from YouTube on the day after I published this article.  Below is a new video.  Adler’s words begin at the 40-second mark.

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The Controversy

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Storm 2

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Adler claims he said, “You’ll see Venus move in and put the guerrilla effect on,” adding that his use of “guerrilla” referred to a successful “Guerrilla Tennis” ad campaign undertaken by Nike in the 1990s.

The 1995 Andre Agassi Nike Guerrilla Tennis ad:

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“Guerrilla” is indeed an appropriate descriptor for Venus Williams’ charge as she pounces on her opponent’s second serve.  Tennis writers and commentators frequently invoke the term “guerrilla” to characterize sneaky attacks.  Had neither player been of African ancestry, Adler’s apt comment would have passed unnoticed.

This particular match, however, made Adler famous.

Within minutes, social media were flooded with rage from indignant fans under the impression Adler had said “gorilla.”

New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg, whose deliberately provocative and bratty online snark has earned him the nickname “Trollenberg,” decided to fan the flames.  Rather than ask Adler to clarify his intent, Rothenberg tweeted outrage to his 51,600 followers.

Rothenberg went so far as to dismiss out of hand the possibility that Adler had said, “guerrilla.”

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Why “doubtful,” Mr. Rothenberg?  Do you read minds?

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The Aftermath

pink-slip

ESPN suspended Adler immediately after the Williams/Voegele match, demanded that he apologize the next day on every live stream (which he did, citing an unfortunate choice of words), forbade him to comment upon any more matches in Australia, and sent him home in disgrace.

Within days, Adler was fired by ESPN.

On February 14, Adler filed suit against ESPN for wrongful termination, stating that his reputation is “damaged forever.”  In the words of Adler’s attorney, David Ring, “It was not only political correctness gone overboard, but also a cowardly move that ruined a good man’s career.”

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Justice?

scales

Since it is nearly impossible to discern from the recording whether the word uttered by Adler is “gorilla” or “guerrilla,”  it would be fairest and most reasonable to assess Adler’s past record as a broadcaster before branding him a racist.

Had Adler ever exhibited any signs of racism?  In his 13 years of full-time tennis broadcasting, had he ever referred in a less than respectful manner to Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Donald Young, Sloane Stephens, Taylor Townsend, Gaël Monfils, Dustin Brown, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Frances Tiafoe, or any other player of African ancestry?

I believe the answer to those questions is No.

Adler’s friends and colleagues, including African American radio host Larry Elder, attest to his character (although among Adler’s friends only Elder has had the courage to speak publically about the recent travesty).

There is every reason to believe Adler’s statement that the word he used was indeed “guerrilla.”

In effect, what happened here?

  • While providing commentary for a Grand Slam tennis match, Doug Adler used a completely appropriate word to describe a player’s sneak attack.
  • Some viewers misunderstood the word as a racial slur.
  • A social media mob called for Adler’s firing on the basis of that misunderstanding.
  • ESPN caved to the mob’s demands.

Should ESPN require that its on-air staff treat athletes and coaches with respect?  If they want to attract viewers, yes.

Is ESPN entitled to fire broadcasters who behave inappropriately on the air?  Certainly.

But was ESPN within its rights to fire a broadcaster, and effectively brand him a racist and thus torpedo his future career prospects, merely in response to the clamoring of an hysterical mob?

I say no.

The Courts will decide.

As a knowledgeable aficionado of the sport myself, I admit that I occasionally find Doug Adler’s assessments of and prognostications about specific tennis players wrong-headed.  While not always in agreement with his opinions, I cannot remain silent as he is railroaded out of his chosen profession at the instigation of a PC mob.

So here’s what I think:

Doug Adler is entitled to the benefit of the doubt from the world of sport.

Ben Rothenberg owes Adler a public apology.

ESPN owes Adler financial restitution and reinstatement as a tennis commentator.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

SW_USO_Jump_for_Joy

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.

Happy First Birthday, Northwoods Listener!

Cupcake_Pens

A new adventure!  One year ago today, I published my first Northwoods Listener post, “3, 2, 1,…

Since that day, my 38 posts have drawn 8,449 views.  Readers have hailed from six continents and 82 countries, including such disparate lands as St. Vincent & and Grenadines, Moldova, Uganda, French Polynesia, Namibia, Vietnam, Jordan, Belarus, Indonesia, Slovenia, the UAE, Armenia, South Sudan, and Curaçao.

Twitter (1,418) and Facebook (956) have generated most of the traceable hits.  An additional 467 have come from search engines.  Among the 73 sets of search terms visible to me are these intriguing gems:

  • cary grant sunglasses north by northwest
  • russell wilson myers briggs
  • myers briggs russell wilson
  • cary grant puzzle 1000 pices
  • owen teale and final solution drama
  • frank pembleton ‘get out of my blood’
  • anthony quinn thanksgiving movie youtube christmas
  • the personable robin ellis
  • poldark the breathtakingly beautiful robin ellis
  • robin ellis has such a dreamy voice.

For those who are interested, here are the year’s eleven most popular posts, each of which was read more than 200 times:

1. Falling Hard for Captain Poldark (644 views)
A tribute to Robin Ellis, who portrayed the title character in the 1975 production of Poldark.

2. Going it Alone: Character Lessons from the Gladiatorial Combat that is Singles Tennis (576 views)
Gripping drama on the blazing-hot tennis courts of the 2015 Australian Open.

3. What’s All the Noise About? – A Guide to the 2014 U.S. Midterm Elections (366 views)
A detailed preview of last November’s U.S. elections, written for an international audience.

4. It’s the Size of the Fight in the Dog: Russell Wilson Proves the Experts Wrong (338 views)
A salute to the former Wisconsin Badger and current Seattle Seahawk star quarterback Russell Wilson, published four months before his catastrophic failure at the 2015 Superbowl.

5. Ninety Minutes that Changed the World: “Conspiracy” and the Wannsee Conference (290 views)
An historical perspective on the Wannsee Conference, the convocation of evil at which 15 representatives of the Third Reich set in motion the machinery for Hitler’s Final Solution.

6. San Francisco Cataclysm, 17 October 1989: The Day Baseball Saved Lives (222 views)
Memories of the magnitude-7.1 earthquake that rocked the Central California coast during the 1989 World Series.

7. Tennis on the Distaff Side: U.S. Open Preview, Part II of III (220 views)
A preview of the women’s singles competition at the 2014 U.S. Open, including players’ noise ratings.

8. I Was There: Remembering the MS Estonia Twenty Years Later (212 views)
My first-hand account of the horrors of the sinking of the MS Estonia.

9. From Forward Roll to Starring Role: Cary Grant’s Conscious Creation of Himself (210 views)
Archibald Leach’s transformation into Cary Grant.

10. Order out of Chaos: Life Lessons Learned by a Puzzling Aficionado (209 views)
The joys and challenges of assembling jigsaw puzzles, and lessons to be learned along the way.

11. Virtuoso Victor Borge, the Irrepressible “Clown Prince of Denmark” (204 views)
A paean to the always delightful Victor Borge, with excerpts of some of his best performances.

Among my personal favorites:

“Homicide, Sweet Homicide.” – Eight Reasons to Check out the Best Series Ever Produced for Network Television

ENFJ? ISTP? – I C U R YY 4 Me!

The Disco Beat: On the Fly with an Avian Impressionist

and

Close Encounters of No Kind in Particular.

 

To all my readers and followers, thank you!

 

P.S. Stick around.  I will return to full-time writing on the first day of September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennis on the Distaff Side: U.S. Open Preview, Part II of III.

AI_by_John_Russo Ana Ivanovic. Photo by John Russo.

Much has changed in women’s tennis since the era of wooden racquets and Billie Jean King, for whom the U.S. Open’s home in Flushing Meadows, New York, is named.

Today, at most tournaments the men and women earn equal prize money.  (More on that controversial topic in a future post.)  Women can command lucrative endorsement contracts.  Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, both fashion and sex appeal currently play sizable roles in the marketing of women’s tennis.

The women’s game today rewards athleticism and power at the expense of grace and finesse.  In consequence, the highly entertaining serve-and-volley style of yesteryear is increasingly rare.

One sees quite a few double faults and breaks of serve today.  Whether that stems from individual players’ emotional fragility or from their failing to practice the serve, I cannot say, but service vulnerability often renders women’s tennis unpredictable and stressful to watch.

Screaming, shrieking, and grunting have become all too commonplace in the women’s game, as have ugly gamesmanship, catty sniping in the press, and diva-like behavior.

I have not enjoyed women’s tennis for most of the last decade because of the prevalence of screamers and divas.  I have hope, though, as a cadre of likable players moves up the rankings.

There are only a few favorites to win this year’s U.S. Open women’s title, but the cast of supporting characters is large and colorful.  Here is an introduction to the principal players. [Photos courtesy of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).]

Out of the Lineup

In New York, both the men’s and the women’s singles draws are missing current Grand Slam title holders.  For the women, two-time Slam winner Li Na of China (winner of the 2012 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open), is out with a knee injury.  In Li’s honor, and as a tribute to her irrepressible spirit, here is her victory speech at this year’s Australian Open, which is surely one of the most entertaining champions’ speeches in tennis history.

The Favorites

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are the most likely contenders for the women’s singles final on September 7.  Between them, they have won 22 Slams (17 for Williams, 5 for Sharapova) and three of the last six Slams.

Serena Williams
SW

Nationality: U.S.
Age: 32
Ranking: 1
Height: 5’9″
Upside: Hard-hitting veteran and defending U.S. Open champion.  Fierce competitor.  When she is at her best, no one can rally with her.
Downside: Williams has failed to reach the quarterfinals at this year’s first three Slams and has a record of uneven results throughout the year.
Noise factor:  Grunts at varying volumes and pitches.  Uses her voice as an offensive weapon.

Maria Sharapova
MS
Nationality: Russia
Age: 27
Ranking: 6
Height: 6’2″
Upside: Very powerful shots.  Great movement.  One of the toughest fighters on the women’s tour.  May lead the tour this year in “wins after dropping the first set.”
Downside: Does not always manage to intimidate her opponent into losing after she takes the first set. Has a terrible head-to-head record against Serena Williams.
Noise factor: Emits a horrific shriek whose volume she raises when matches are tight, as though she means to deafen her opponents into submission.  This usually works.
Update: Sharapova lost her Round of 16 match to current world #11 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

The Second Tier

Each of these women has made at least the final at one of this year’s three previous Slams, and each is great fun to watch.

Simona Halep
SH
Natonality: Romania
Age: 22
Ranking: 2
Height: 5’6″
2014 Slam Highlight: Lost the French Open final to Sharapova in three highly competitive sets.
Noise factor: Very quiet player.
Update: Halep lost her third round match in straight sets to current world #119 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia.

Petra Kvitova
PK
Nationality: Czech Republic
Age: 24
Ranking: 4
Height: 6′
2014 Slam Highlight: Won the Wimbledon final over Eugenie Bouchard in a rout.  Played brilliantly.
Noise factor: In years past, shrieked loudly whenever she won a point.  Has broken that habit, to her great credit.
Update: Kvitova lost her third round match in straight sets to the current world #143 Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.

Eugenie Bouchard
EB
Nationality: Canada
Age: 20
Ranking: 8
Height: 5’10”
2014 Slam Highlights: Reached the semifinals or better in Australia, Paris, and Wimbledon.  Lost the Wimbledon final to Kvitova.
Noise factor: Not noticeable.
Update: Bouchard lost her Round of 16 match in straight sets to current world #18 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.

Dominika Cibulkova
DC
Nationality: Slovakia
Age: 25
Ranking: 13
Height: 5’3″
2014 Slam Highlights: Defeated Sharapova in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open.  Reached the final at that event, where she lost to Li Na.
Noise factor: Grunts occasionally.  Has an irritating habit of yelling to pump herself up after every point.
Update: Cibulkova lost her first round match in three sets to 15-year-old American wildcard Catherine Bellis.

Tough Outs

Each of these women is highly entertaining to watch, and each is capable of upsetting one of the favorites.

Agnieszka Radwanska
AR
Nationality: Poland
Age: 25
Ranking: 5
Height: 5’8″
Notes: Relatively short for the Tour and therefore lacking in power, Radwanska wins through guile, variety, and speed.  Through sheer force of will and deft shot selection, she beat the defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals at this year’s Australian Open.  Nicknamed “Ninja” by commentators, Radwanska is one of the most enjoyable players to watch.  Here she hits a reflex volley, one of the most breathtaking shots in all of 2013.
Noise factor: Quiet.
Update: Radwanska lost her second round match in straight sets to current world #40 Peng Shuai of China.

Caroline Wozniacki
CW
Nationality: Denmark
Age: 24
Ranking: 11
Height: 5’10”
Notes: A few years ago, Wozniacki was ranked #1 in the world by virtue of consistency and defensive skills.  Her ranking dropped in 2012 and 2013, but in the summer of 2014 she has exhibited terrific form.  She will offer stiff competition to anyone in New York.
Noise factor: Grunts, but not loudly.

Ana Ivanovic
AI
Nationality: Serbia
Age: 26
Ranking: 9
Height: 6′
Notes: The 2008 French Open champion, Ivanovic has struggled in recent years with self-confidence.  This year she has found wonderful form, beating Serena Williams in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open and returning to the Top 10 for the first time in five years.
Noise factor: With every shot, emits a distinctive nasal, “Heh – ENH!” which, while not loud, is nonetheless tiresome.
Update: Ivanovic lost her second round match in straight sets to current world #41 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

Venus Williams
VW
Nationality: U.S.
Age: 34
Ranking: 20
Height: 6’1″
Notes: A seven-time Slam champion who has struggled with injuries and health concerns, Venus Williams has recovered her best form in the summer of 2014.  At Wimbledon and at an event in Canada two weeks ago, she played some of the best and most exciting women’s matches of the entire year.  She will pose a formidable challenge to anyone at the U.S. Open.
Noise factor: Loud and variable.
Update: Williams lost her third round match in three sets to current world #14 Sara Errani of Italy.

Known Unknowns

These women are former Slam champions who for various reasons come into this year’s U.S. Open in questionable form.  Given a clear draw and playing at her best, any of them could find herself in the final.

Victoria Azarenka
VA
Nationality: Belarus
Age: 25
Ranking: 17
Height: 6′
Slam Highlights: Australian Open Champion in 2012 and 2013.
Notes: Has not recovered her best form after an absence from the Tour due to a foot injury.
Noise factor: With every shot, Azarenka emits a unique whistle-like shriek that brings to mind incoming artillery fire.  The shriek stops if her ball hits the net.  It is because of Azarenka (and Sharapova) that many tennis fans wish for selective muting capabilities on their televisions.
Update: Azarenka lost her quarterfinal match in straight sets to current world #18 Ekaterina Makarova.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
SK
Nationality: Russia
Age: 29
Ranking: 21
Height: 5’81/2″
Slam Highlights: 2004 U.S. Open Champion, 2009 French Open Champion.
Notes: Form is uneven, but competitive fire will probably carry her through at least a few rounds.
Noise factor: Loud, but no louder or more irritating than many of the male players are.
Update. Kuznetsova lost her first round  match in three sets to current world #82 Marina Erakovic of New Zealand.

Samantha Stosur
SS
Nationality: Australia
Age: 30
Ranking: 25
Height: 5’9″
Slam Highlights: 2010 French Open finalist. 2011 U.S. Open Champion.
Notes: Stosur’s powerful play and strong skills at the net enabled her to defeat Serena Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final.  Since then she has struggled with confidence.  If she can maintain belief in her skills, she is capable of upsetting almost anyone.
Noise factor: Not noticeably loud.
Update: Stosur lost her second round match in three sets to current world #49 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

Quote for Today

“We’re not friends.” – Eugenie Bouchard, in response to a question about Maria Sharapova.