Wednesday, 31 August 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Welcome Back Curling!!
The 2016/17 season hits the ice

Goodbye Summer....Hello Curling?!  Sure enough, as the days get shorter, the weather gets cooler and schools get louder...the ice gets colder on curling sheets around the globe.  The 2016/17 #curling season is ready to rock your house once again.  And #TwineTime is ready to bring you full coverage ALL season long!  Yup, I can already tell how excited all of you are *crickets chirping*  No really, hold back your applause and cheers, we have a preview blog post to get to here *still crickets chirping*  AAAnnnnnyyyway....

Last season was a tumultuous one to say the least in the sport of curling.  We had drama off the ice (#BroomGate) and we had drama on the ice (#SafetyPatrol).  We saw clinical curling domination (#TeamKoe) and massive upsets (#TeamHoman).  Overall, the 2015/16 curling season will go down in the record books as one to remember.  I'm not going to get into full details on the season that was, you can read a great season review blog post (with a VERY special guest) on handing out the post-season Golden Granite Awards on the #TwineTime site if you need a memory refresher.  I will give you the quick rundown of who claimed the big victories last season....and will have the dubious feat of trying to repeat these titles this season.  Here is your #SeasonOfChampions summary:

World Mixed Curling Champions - Norway (Steffan Walstad)
Canadian Mixed Curling Champions - Alberta (Mick Lizmore)
Asia - Pacific Curling Champions (Men) - South Korea (Kim Soo-hyuk)
Asia - Pacific Curling Champions (Women) - Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa)
European Curling Champions (Men) - Sweden (Nik Edin)
European Curling Champions (Women) - Russia (Anna Sidorova)
Canadian Junior Curling Champions (Men) - Manitoba (Matt Dunstone)
Canadian Junior Curling Champions (Women) - Nova Scotia (Mary Fay)
Scotties Tournament of Hearts - Alberta (Chelsea Carey)
World Wheelchair Curling Champions - Russia (Andrey Smirnov)
World Junior Curling Champions (Men) - Scotland (Bruce Mouat)
World Junior Curling Champions (Women) - Canada (Mary Fay)
Tim Hortons Brier - Alberta (Kevin Koe)
World Women's Curling Champions - Switzerland (Binia Feltscher)
Canadian Senior Curling Champions (Men) - Ontario (Bryan Cochrane)
Canadian Senior Curling Championships (Women) - Nova Scotia (Colleen Jones)
Canadian Wheelchair Curling Champions - Saskatchewan (Darwin Bender)
World Men's Curling Champions - Canada (Kevin Koe)
World Senior Curling Champions (Men) - Sweden (Mats Wrana)
World Senior Curling Champions (Women) - Scotland (Jackie Lockhart)
World Mixed Doubles Curling Champions - Russia (Bryzgalova / Krushelnitskiy)

Congratulations once again to all of the winners listed above.  Winning a major championship, whether national, continental or world, is a huge accomplishment.  Best of luck to all of you on your #RoadToRepeat!

Now of course, the events listed above are the pinnacle of the sport annually.  Every curler wants to enter their discipline hoping to find their name engraved on the big trophy and find their team colored in gold for a blog season review (or preview as in this case).  But the big events are not all there is to the sport....what about the money???!!  Of course, teams want to compete and win the events on the World Curling Tour every season too.  World Curling Tour events bring in world ranking points, which lead to grand slam qualification, which lead to stronger competition and better ice conditions, which lead to better overall play from your team....oh and did I mention the money?  Let's take a quick look at the #WCT Top 5 from 2015/16:

1. Kevin Koe
2. Brad Gushue
3. Mike McEwen
4. Reid Carruthers
5. John Epping

1. Rachel Homan
2. Jennifer Jones
3. Silvana Tirinzoni
4. Val Sweeting
5. Chelsea Carey

Interesting to note of the ten teams names above, all but one are from Canada (Silvana Tirinzoni - Switzerland).  Does this mean Canadian teams are dominating the sport?  Hardly, just scroll up and look at the gold winners.  Hmmm, maybe there is something to be said about the world ranking system.  Oh wait, #TwineTime already covered that in an earlier blog post to truly kick off the 2016/17 season.  You should check it out....just click HERE!  *shameless plug*

Can Team Koe continue the domination on the ice we saw at the end of last season?  Can Team Homan re-create the historic season on tour that saw them come 1 grand slam win away from the previously unthinkable calendar grand slam?  And what about those international teams?  Will we see a new underdog story emerge at the world championships (i.e. Denmark, Japan)?  And what about that pesky #BroomGate scandal from a year ago?  Will that finally go away?  #TwineTime doesn't have all the answers of course...but I sure have some speculations for you to consider while you shine your granite.

  • Koe Kontinues - Kevin Koe came out of the gate a bit slow last season but poured it on once the calendar changed over to 2016.  I expect to see a continuation of this level of play heading into the beginning of this season.  Team Koe will be the overall champion of 2016!  The overall #1 team for 2016/17 though?  Let's not get too excited.
  • Coming for that #1 Spot - The men's #1 ranking is going to be a dog fight this season.  Koe starts the year at the top of the mountain but holds a VERY slim 3.517 points lead on #2 Brad Gushue, who holds a minor 69.722 points lead on #3 Mike McEwen.  These three teams fought for the top ranking all last season, expect to see the same all out brawl among the top three this season once again. 
  • Happy Homan - The Team Homan bank account sure was filled with all smiles...and many, many, many dollar dollar bills y'all!  This team made it rain on the ice and at the bank all year long.  They dominated the tour schedule winning basically everything they played in.  But, even with all those wins and all that money, the team did not end the season with smiles on their faces.  Failing to win Ontario and play in the Scotties puts a slight sour note on the historic season.  Watch out this year!  While I cannot see Team Homan dominating the entire tour once again, expect them to win a few more grand slams, win Ontario and reclaim that Scotties title they are so hungry for.
  • Team International - Sure Team Canada appears to dominate the Top 5 rankings entering the season but don't count on that staying the same this season.  The World Is Coming Canada....and you better be ready to play!  On the men's side, 9 of the Top 20 ranked teams are international, led be the always dangerous Team Murdoch, Team Edin and Team Ulsrud.  But these aren't the only non-Canadian teams making a move up the men's rankings.  USA's Team Shuster finished #10 last year (ahead of Ulsrud).  Scotland's Team Brewster (#16) and Team Smith (#19) are steadily improving.  And who can forget last year's world silver medal winners Team Stjerne from Denmark (#20).  On the women's side, 8 of the Top 20 are international led by the the Swiss of course.  Team Tirinzoni (#4), Team Paetz (#12) and Team Feltscher (#13) are going to continue to be a threat.  Team Sidorova (#6) and Team Muirhead (#7) will also make a push up the rankings this season.  And watch out for Team Japan!  Both Team Ogasawara (#14) and Team Fujisawa (#17) will make a run at the Top 10, if not higher!  Expect to see more international teams finding wins on tour and pushing for the top of the rankings.
  • Everyone Loves An Underdog! - Last season Team Stjerne and Team Fujisawa delighted curling fans with their surprise final runs at the World Championships.  On tour, Team Charley Thomas and Team Kerri Einarson came from lower in the rankings to start the year and finished #12 and #8 respectably in the world rankings.  This is what the sport needs.  We need to see teams start the year outside the Top 10 or Top 20 and make their way up the rankings, qualify for the grand slams and push the "elite" teams in the sport.  How else can we #growthesport if we don't see more teams challenging for the grand slam and national/world titles?  But who are our underdogs this season?  On the men's and women's side, I believe there could be 3 teams who could move up the rankings this season and a few may even find themselves playing in grand slam events.  You heard it hear first #curling fans, #TwineTime says keep an eye on these teams this season:
1. Team Matt Dunstone (#31)
2. Team Shaun Meachem (#39)
3. Team Heath McCormick (#64)

1. Team Stef Lawton (#29)
2. Team Isabella Wrana (#43)
3. Team Bingyu Wang (#69)
  • A Change Can Do You Good - This is a pivotal year in curling.  The 2016/17 season officially starts the Olympic cycle!  This will be the first season for teams to earn qualification points and direct entry berths into the Olympic Trials and/or Pre-Trials events.  This is what dreams are made of and teams need to be ready.  If a team has a horrible season in year one of the cycle, it can be almost impossible to regroup and keep your Olympic dreams alive heading into year two.  We have already seen many notable off-season changes.  Heck, just look at the names above for the #TwineTime dark horse contenders.  All three men's teams saw off-season lineup changes as did Team Lawton and Team Wrana.  Of course the biggest off-season announcements involved ex-teammates Pat Simmons and John Morris.  Simmons decided to stay in Alberta in a slightly shocking announcement and join forces with Team Bottcher.  Morris made a less surprising move to re-join old teammates Team Cotter in B.C.  Time will tell whether either or both or neither of these moves pays off in the long-run.  My guess is one pays off quite well while the other fizzles out after one season.  I will leave it to all of you to guess which is which!  Team Edin's lineup change due to second Kristian Lindstroem's shoulder injury could be interesting to will Rasmus Wrana fit in with the team as the regular second and will they need an adjustment period.  Of course, depending on Lindstroem's recovery time, this adjustment could be short-term as well.  Teams Howard, Kean, Gunnlaugson and Comeau could be interesting to watch as well.  The women's tour will also see some big changes.  Team Lawton and Team Anderson (former teammates) have solidified their new teams.  Former Saskatchewan Lawton/Anderson rival Michelle Englot moves over to Manitoba to lead former Team McDonald now that past skip Kristy McDonald has decided to retire.  Speaking of retiring, World Junior Champ skip Mary Fay hung up her shoes (for schooling, a very admirable and much respected decision btw) and her old team will now be skipped by former competitor Kristin Clarke.  The Kaufman sisters will reunite as one team in Alberta, Eve Belisle takes over as skip of Lauren Mann's team in Quebec (Mann moves to vice) and Erin Carmody heads back to Atlantic Canada to join Jill Brothers as vice in Nova Scotia.  International teams will see some change as well with Team Muirhead bringing Lauren Gray on as lead (replacing Sarah Reid), Cissi Ostlund coming in as fourth on Swedish powerhouse Team Sigfridsson and former New Brunswick champ Andrea Crawford joining forces with two-time world champion Andrea Schoepp in Germany.  LOTS of change....but which moves will pay off for which teams will be the under-story of the 2016/17 season.  For the full team tracker, visit HERE!
  • #BroomGate Continues :( - Yes, I am sorry to say folks but this saga of sadness will not drift over to the bumpers this season.  Sure a lot of headway was made in the off-season with the Sweeping Summit and online survey.  Yes, we have moved a step forward on this issue.  But we are nowhere close to solving the entire problem.  Rules are still being finalized in relation to equipment restrictions and conversations on the topic are on-going.  It was naive of anyone to think this entire problem would go away over the summer and everyone would come back in the fall with everything clearly worked out.  But question marks do remain and the issue of sweeping technique still seems to be up in the air.  Expect a bit more controversy and conversation this season rock heads and stoners.  But also know all progress is good progress right now!  This will get better!  We will survive and this too shall pass!  I still believe strict, defined equipment regulations and sweeping technique guidelines are required...but that is just the #TwineTime opinion.  I am sure we will hear (and see) lots more on this topic over the season.
  • FANTASY SPORTS!! - Ok I talked about this in my preview article last season....I will bring it
    up again this season.  What the heck curling?  Seriously, how have you not dived into the fantasy sports circle more?  Now I must admit, I did see growth on this topic last season during the Brier with large fantasy pools and loser pools going around.  Quick aside, #TwineTime did enter 3 Brier fantasy pools and came out on top in 2 of them! #FantasyCurlingChampion But these only existed during the Brier.  Why is that?  We have major grand slam events throughout the season.  We have Europeans, Asia-Pacific and World Championships held annually.  I mean come on....what is taking so long here?  Could we not do a fantasy league for the grand slam of curling?  Similar to perhaps the UEFA Champions League fantasy option on ESPN?  Fantasy sports gets people excited and into the action.  You know curlers are all for it.  I mean how many curlers alone participate in fantasy football, fantasy baseball, fantasy hockey and fantasy basketball leagues during the season?  We know most of them do...and I mean men and women here.  Fantasy Sports is for everyone!  I put out this challenge to anyone reading this...#TwineTime would be willing to put in the effort on co-organizing/co-running a Fantasy Curling League if someone could help make it a reality.  I just cannot do it alone given my work (yes, remember I do have an actual real paying job...blogging is just a side hobby).  Remember..."If You Build It, They Will Come!!"

Those are just a few of the #TwineTime speculations and storylines worth watching this season.  What do you think?  Which storylines are you most excited to watch unfold on (or off) the ice this season?  Maybe there is even something #TwineTime missed above?  Either way, we should be in for a fun and exciting curling season.

Oh wait...before I end this preview blog, I should include some predictions right?  I mean what fun is a preview article without putting your expertise and reputation on the line in a "throw darts at a dart board" style guessing game of pre-season predictions?  Well loyal readers, I cannot let you down.  Here are just a few pre-season predictions for the Golden Granite Awards:

Scotties Champion - Ontario (Team Homan)
Brier Champion - Newfoundland and Labrador (Brad Gushue) 
World Champion (Women) - Russia (Team Sidorova)
World Champion (Men) - Sweden (Team Edin)
Order of Merit (i.e. #1 Ranking) - Team Gushue (men) and Team Homan (women)
Dark Horse Team of the Year - Team Dunstone (men) and Team Wrana (women)
Most Improved Team of the Year (i.e. Biggest Rankings Jump) - Team McCormick (men) and Team Larouche (women)

#TwineTime will bring you full coverage of the 2016/17 curling season once again friends.  This season I hope to attend the grand slam events in Okotoks and Calgary as well as (hopefully) the World Men's Curling Championship in Edmonton.  Plus who knows what other events #TwineTime may randomly show up.

#TwineTime wants to continue to bring you, the curling fan, the best coverage possible as well during the season.  Have a blog idea? Want to do a guest blog spot?  Have an idea on how to #growthesport?  Or have a curler you would like to go #BetweenTheSheets with?  Hit me up in the comments section below or on twitter throughout the season and I will do my best to make it happen.  This is a blog for the entire curling community not just for one fan of the sport.  I am sitting in those stands (or on the couch) right next to you cheering on the teams all season long rock heads and stoners!!

The slider is on, the rock has been cleaned and the house is wide open....bring on the new curling season!

Monday, 29 August 2016

#BetweenTheBaselines: 2016 U.S. Open Preview
The final grand slam of the season hits the hard courts

You know summer is officially on it's last swing when the final tennis grand slam of the season rolls around.  The 2016 U.S. Open kicks off this week meaning the end of August is around the corner and the Fall season is not too far ahead of us.

But before we start missing the glory days of hot sun and warm beaches, let's celebrate the excitement around, arguably, the loudest grand slam of the tennis tour.  The U.S. Open, in classic New York style, usually produces some of the loudest, most excited and, occasionally, unruly tennis fans packing Arthur Ashe Stadium for classic night matches.  New Yorkers love their sports and tennis is no exception!

The 2016 U.S. Open will be the 136th edition of the tournament....and perhaps enters surrounded by the most questions.  Not sure what I mean?  Try on some of these questions below:

  • No RF? - Can we really have a U.S. Open without the #GOAT Roger Federer?  This year we will find out.  With Federer taking the remainder of the year off to heal from injury, the New York crowd will have to survive without him.  He is a HUGE favourite with tennis fans at any event in the world but the U.S. Open crowd certainly gives him one of the largest cheers everytime he steps on the court.  We will still see lots of RF merchandise in the crowd being worn by Fed Fans but Roger's absence will be felt.  Worth mentioning here, the crowd will also miss grand slam contender Tomas Berdych and grand slam champions Vika Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.
  • No repeat champion? - One thing for sure we know when analyzing the draw is there will not be a repeat winner on the women's side.  Italy's Flavia Pennetta was a true underdog dark horse story winner last year.  After collecting her trophy she pulled yet another surprise...she retired in her victory speech.  The women's field is already wide open as it is, not having a defending champion to pull for (or against) adds another bit of intrigue.
  • Rio Rebound? - Every 4 years the U.S. Open has to deal with players coming into the event perhaps a bit more exhausted, physically and mentally, as a result of the Summer Olympics.  Rio closed it's court only a few weeks ago and here we are with the best players in tennis getting ready to compete for the final major.  Will those who competed in Rio be able to sustain the high level of play for the next two weeks and compete for the major?  Or will we see those players who skipped Rio rise to the top looking more fresh and ready for the grueling two weeks of grand slam action?  No player will feel the pressure more perhaps than surprise gold medal winner Monica Puig!
  • Djoker, Murray or someone else? - Everyone already expects the men's final to be contested between #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Andy Murray.  Djokovic is #1 for a reason and did win the opening two slams of the season.  Murray won Wimbledon and became the first player, men or women, to repeat Olympic gold.  But Novak's play has been questionable, especially after losing early at Wimbledon and a tough R1 loss in Rio to Juan Martin del Potro.  Is he feeling it physically?  Mentally?  Emotionally?  And what about Murray?  Winning back-to-back big events is HUGE but is he going to come to New York a bit tired?  Can he keep up his high level of play and intensity for two more weeks?  The men's field is very deep and if either Djokovic or Murray are not on their games, upsets can occur quick and a surprise champion might emerge after all is said and done.
  • What about Serena? - What can we make of Serena going into this final grand slam of the season?  Yes, she did win Wimbledon to tie the career grand slam total wins mark of 22.  But remember she also lost the Australian Open and French Open finals.  She also underwhelmed in Rio, coming home empty handed in both singles and doubles.  She is plagued with a bad shoulder right now.  She hasn't played a tour event since May, outside the grand slams and Rio of course, and she isn't getting any younger.  Can she pull through and win the big #23 grand slam or will the injuries and lack of playing catch up to her?  You never count her out but, this year, if I was playing on the WTA Tour I would think this U.S. Open could be the best time to capitalize and take her down.  She could lose the #1 ranking as well....a ranking she has held for 184 weeks and counting.
  • Beware the Unseeded? - I don't think there has ever been a grand slam where the talk has been more about the quality of the unseeded players over the seeded players.  Many people are even predicting more seeded players will fall in the opening few rounds than we have ever seen before and perhaps we even see one or two unseeded players, on both the men's and women's draw, make the quarterfinals or further.  Can you really blame anyone for thinking this way though?  Look at some of the unseeded players scattered throughout the draw: Juan Martin del Potro, Mikhail Youzhny, Fernando Verdasco, Ekaterina Makarova, Genie Bouchard, Lucie Safarova, Caroline Wozniacki.  These are all players who have made deep runs in recent grand slams (or won before in the case of delPo).  If you were a seeded player, especially in that 15-32 seed range, would you want to see any of those names as your first or second round opponent?
  • US Open Series $$$ - The 2016 US Open Series champions were Kei Nishikori and Aggie Radwanska.  Both players would collect an extra $1M should they also win the U.S. Open.  Of course, they also will receive bonus money for each round they advance in the tournament too.  2nd place finishers Grigor Dimitrov and Johanna Konta could collect an extra $500K if they win their first grand slam.  And 3rd place finishers Milos Raonic and Simona Halep are playing for an additional $250K.  I think three, maybe four, of these players will be making very deep runs over the next two weeks....not only on court but also at the bank!

And these are just the major plotlines we know of going into the U.S. Open.  Imagine the drama, excitement and new plot twists that will flow from the action on the courts themselves.  This U.S. Open is going to be wide open with almost an "expect the unexpected" feel surrounding it.  You almost can't predict what will happen....but you sure know #TwineTime will try!


(1) Novak Djokovic Quarter

For Novak to repeat his title from a year ago, he is going to have to navigate through a fairly tricky draw.  His opening round opponent, the tall Pole Jerzy Janowicz, is a former Wimbledon semifinalist.  It doesn't start easy and it won't get any easier moving forward, if he survives.  Jiri Vesely could be waiting in R2, a guy who has already defeated Novak on tour this season.  Mikhail Youzhny, #20 John Isner and #13 Richard Gasquet could also present tough challenges before the QF.  If you want a real dark horse in this section though look out for the Brit Kyle Edmund or even qualifier Steve Darcis.  Both players are capable of pulling off an upset or two along the way, given the less-than-stellar play of seeded players Gasquet and Isner as of late.

A potential QF opponent would be 2014 U.S. Open champ #9 Marin Cilic.  Cilic comes to New York fresh off a title win at the lead-up event in Cincy and looks ready for another long grand slam run.  But it won't be easy in Cilic's section either.  Double Rio medalist #26 Jack Sock awaits as a possible R3 opponent with #9 JW Tsonga and big serving #23 Kevin Anderson as possible R4 opponents.  If you want a dark horse to look out for, watch qualifier Mischa Zverev from Germany.

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round
(1) Novak Djokovic over Steve Darcis
(9) Marin Cilic over (23) Kevin Anderson


(1) Djokovic over (9) Cilic

(4) Rafa Nadal Quarter

Questions on the future of Rafa Nadal were swirling all over the place heading into Rio.  Is Rafa back?  How is his health?  Can his body continue competing with the best in the world?  He quickly silenced critics and answered those questions with his amazing play.  Rafa looked great in Rio, collecting the men's doubles gold medal and losing the bronze medal to Nishikori.  All on hard courts too!  A deep grand slam run is not out of the question for Nadal.  He opens with tricky Denis Istomin, who has a reputation of giving top players trouble in the past.  Andreas Seppi, Thomaz Bellucci and fellow Spaniard #31 Albert Ramos-Vinolas could pose a tough path just to R4 though...and watch out for the unseeded Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.  #15 Roberto Bautista Agut or Wimbledon QF #23 Lucas Pouille could be waiting in R4 too.  Bellucci could be the dark horse of the quarter though, especially after a deep run in front of the home nation crowd in Rio.  But, as with all players who competed in Rio, will fatigue set in for him in New York?  If so, his R1 opponent Kuznetsov could become Mr. Opportunistic and make a run to R3 or R4.

Should Nadal survive his section, hard serving Canadian Milos Raonic could be waiting in the QF.  Raonic skipped Rio and now we will see if this decision pays off in the long run.  Raonic made the Wimbledon SF and many thought he could perhaps be the first player outside the major 4 to win a major the last few years.  He certainly cannot complain about his draw, partnered with #32 Benoit Paire as a potential R3 opponent and facing little resistance before that.  His fourth round opponent could be Gael Monfils but Monfils also has question marks surrounding his body and potential injuries, especially at the U.S. Open after an already long season.  #18 Pablo Cuevas could surprise as well and make a run into week two.  

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(4) Rafa Nadal def. (15) Roberto Bautista Agut
(5) Milos Raonic def. (18) Pablo Cuevas


(5) Raonic def. (4) Nadal

(3) Stan Wawrinka Quarter

Two-time grand slam champion Wawrinka also skipped Rio and, similar to Raonic above, we will find out if this decision helped or hindered his chances at the U.S. Open championship.  Wawrinka has arguably the best back hand in the game and quietly moves about his business with little to no media attention.  Remember, Stan comes to New York ranked #3 in the world for a reason folks!  He loves the hard courts as well and usually produces big results at the grand slams.  He opens with a very tricky and dangerous Fernando Verdasco though, a former QF here and Aussie Open SF.  A tough opening round match but, should Wawrinka survive, it could be an early blessing in disguise for a long two-week championship run.  #27 Alexander Zverev could await in R3 but shouldn't be a huge threat to Wawrinka.  The other side of his section could come down to an all-out Aussie battle between #14 Nick Kyrgios and #17 Bernard Tomic.  Both are capable of deep runs...both are capable of being upset in early opening round action.  Both have great overall games....both are complete head cases.  Who knows which side will show up.  But...imagine the on-court intensity if we see a Wawrinka-Kygrios QF pairing!!  Remember the 2015 Rogers Cup incident where Kygrios said to Wawrinka, during a change over in their match, "Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend."  Kygrios incurred a $10K fine and I cannot imagine either of these two players have mended that bridge.

The other section of Wawrinka's draw is completely wide open.  Could this be the grand slam break out for rising Austrian star #8 Dominic Thiem?  Thiem also skipped Rio.  Thiem also has an amazing one-handed backhand.  Hmmm, sound familiar to another player named above?  Wimbledon darling #29 Sam Querrey could be a R3 opponent  though and will have the huge crowd support behind him.  Speaking of USA men, #19 Steve Johnson will have all eyes on him in New York as he comes in being the highest ranked American male in the draw.  Johnson had a great time in Rio, picking up a men's doubles bronze with Jack Sock and playing deep in the men's singles draw.  Ah but speaking about Rio, welcome the silver medal winner Juan Martin del Potro to the discussion here.  DelPo could not have asked for a better quarter to be drawn into.  After his welcome back party performance in Rio, the unseeded Argentine should be a huge threat to everyone.  A possible R2 pairing with Johnson and R3 with #11 David Ferrer or Fabio Fognini or Teymuraz Gabashvili are not too daunting for the big hitter.  JMDP was handed a wild card to compete here after his great run in Rio, including that opening round W over Djokovic...he is going to want to make the best of it.  Could we see another WC grand slam winner, similar to Goran Ivanisevic's 2001 Wimbledon triumph?

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(WC) Juan Martin del Potro def. (8) Dominic Thiem
(3) Stan Wawrinka def. (14) Nick Kygrios


(3) Wawrinka def. (WC) del Potro

(2) Andy Murray Quarter

The only back-to-back Olympic gold medal winner headlines the bottom half of the men's draw.  Andy Murray may be ranked #2 in the world rankings but over the past few months he has been playing like the #1 player in the world.  Murray looked dominant in his Wimbledon and Rio victories.  He even played the tune-up event in Cincy, losing the final and ending his remarkable 21-match winning streak.  Murray does find himself in a tricky section of the draw.  He draws Lucas Rosol in the opening round, Juan Monaco/Marcus Granollers in R2 and #30 Gilles Simon or comeback man qualifier Radek Stepanek perhaps in R3.  Not a scary gauntlet but still a group of players littered with experience who have made strong grand slam runs in the past.  Possible R4 opponents include #16 Feliciano Lopez or #22 Grigor Dimitrov.  Unseeded teenager Borna Coric, opening against Lopez, or seasoned vet unseeded Jeremy Chardy could be threats as well.  Imagine a R3 bout between Coric and Dimitrov though, with Murray waiting for the winner.

The other section of Murray's quarter should be #6 Kei Nishikori's for the taking.  Nishikori comes to New York off a bronze medal win in Rio and lots of confidence/momentum on his side.  Anything short of a QF showing (possibly vs. Murray) would be a huge surprise.  His draw is fairly simple too.  He faces German Becker in R1, a qualifier in R2 and possibly another German #25 Phil Kohlschreiber in R3.  #12 David Goffin could be his biggest challenge as a possible R4 opponent but Goffin could face competition from unseeded Victor Troicki or #21 Ivo Karlovic.

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(6) Kei Nishikori def. (12) David Goffin
(2) Andy Murray def. (22) Grigor Dimitrov


(2) Murray def. (6) Nishikori

Men's Final Four


(5) Raonic def. (1) Djokovic
(2) Murray def. (3) Wawrinka

Championship Final

(5) Milos Raonic def. (2) Andy Murray in 5 sets - The Canadian brings a grand slam title home to the Great White North and proves skipping Rio was the right move to make.  Murray makes a great run to the final but all the tennis over the past few months catches up to him in a marathon five-set championship final where the more fresh serving arm of Raonic proves to be the difference.

Men's Doubles Championship:  (4) Jamie Murray / Bruno Soares def. (2) Ivan Dodig / Marcelo Melo - A Brazilian didn't take gold on the court in Rio but with this final at least 1 Brazilian brings home a grand slam title!


(1) Serena Williams Quarter

The big question mark, Serena Williams!  As discussed above, who knows what mind frame and body condition Serena is in entering this tournament.  She looked horrible in her loss in Rio and hasn't really been on a tennis court since.  We could be in for the ultimate shocker right from the gate...Serena could lose her opening match to Ekaterina Makarova!  While that may feel like a huge upset, let's remember Makarova made the 2014 U.S. Open SF (where she lost to Serena) and took home gold in women's doubles in Rio.  She is currently ranked #30 in the world and just missed a seeded position because of the cut-off date.  Since 2012 she has made R3 or better at every U.S. Open too.  This is going to be a HUGE opening round game for both players.  Whomever survives though has to like their chances for a deep run.  #29 Ana Ivanovic is the other seeded player before R4 but perhaps watch out more unseeded Swede Johanna Larsson to make some noise early on and reach, at least, R3.  The bottom part of the section is wide open, led by #16 Sam Stosur and #23 Daria Kasatkina.  Unseeded players Camila Giorgi (vs. Stosur in R1) and the always dangerous Yaroslava Shvedova could create upset potential.

The second section of this quarter is led by #5 Simona Halep.  Halep has consistently played Top 5 tennis for years and was the 2014 French Open finalist.  A deep run in New York shouldn't be out of the question for her.  She has a tricky opening round opponent in Kirsten Flipkens (known to upset higher ranked players in the past) and could see Lucie Safarova or Daria Gavrilova in R2.  Rio women's doubles gold medal winner #19 Elena Vesnina or #11 Carla Suarez Navarro await as possible R4 opponents.

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(23) Daria Kasatkina def. Ekaterina Makarova
(5) Simona Halep def. (19) Elena Vesnina


(5) Halep def. (23) Kasatkina

(4) Aggie Radwanska Quarter

Watch out for Radwanska!  She has under performed on tour almost all season and is due for a strong showing at a grand slam.  The SF showing at the Aussie Open this year seems so far away now considering the results since.  However, Radwanska has discovered success late in the summer, reaching the QF in Cincy and winning the tune-up event in New Haven this past weekend.  Radwanka is one of the players still in contention for the #1 world ranking, a win here would vault her to the top.  She draws a qualifier in her opening round and possibly another in R2.  An enticing R3 match up with unseeded Genie Bouchard would be fun to watch and could be where Radwanska is prone to an upset.  As for the bottom of her section, get out the dart board and good luck.  #15 Timea Bacsinszky and #20 Kiki Bertens have had strong results at slams this season but have also looked lackluster at other events on tour.  Neither have been consistent....hmmm seems to be a theme for this section of the draw doesn't it?  Unseeded 2014 U.S. Open SF Peng Shuai is back as well after injury and could pose a dark horse threat along with teenager Ana Konjuh.  And, in New York, never count out an upset American female...this time it could be Varvara Lepchenko!

#6 Venus Williams highlights the other section of this quarter.  Venus looked awful in Rio, losing both her singles and doubles matches in R1 action.  Yes she is a former champion and has played inspiring tennis this season.  Her draw looks good for R1 but a R2 match up with either Yanina Wickmayer or Julia Gorges could be cause of concern.  #26 Laura Seigmund has been playing outstanding tennis this year as well and could pose a threat.  #10 Karolina Pliskova skipped Rio and comes to New York fresh off the biggest win of her career, beating Kerber in the Cincy final.  This could be the perfect opportunity for Pliskova to make a deep grand slam run.

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(4) Aggie Radwanska def. Varvara Lepchenko
(10) Karolina Pliskova def. (6) Venus Williams


(4) Radwanska def. (10) Pliskova

(3) Garbine Muguruza Quarter

The 2016 French Open champ, Garbine Muguruza, has really struggled since her big grand slam win in Paris.  Many expect her to be a top contender for many more grand slams in the future but this year's U.S. Open may not be the time.  She has been inconsistent and her play on the court has yielded way more unforced errors than winners as of late.  She also has a shot at claiming the #1 ranking if she wins this tournament.  Muguruza does have very winnable matches for the opening rounds but her draw will pick up and there are some tough players ahead of her.  Enter 2016 Rio Champ Monica Puig!  The question of how #32 Puig deals with her new found, dark horse success is yet to be seen.  If she brings her Rio game to New out!  If the media attention and pressure and stress get to her, she could be prone to an upset.  The top half of this section is loaded with potential as well.  #13 Johanna Konta and #24 Belinda Bencic highlight the potential from a seed perspective.  But watch out for unseeded players Andrea Petkovic, Tsvetana Pironkova and wildcard Virgine Razzano.  This section of the draw could be wide open for the taking!

The other section of this quarter is led by #8 Madison Keys.  While the US focus may be on the Williams sisters, the best hope for an American victor actually is Keys.  Keys lost the bronze medal match in Rio and I think this will only make her more hungry for a strong result in New York.  Her draw looks very favourable, getting fellow Americans in R1 and R2.  Her R3 opponent could be another American in #28 Coco Vandeweghe.  There are a few unseeded players to watch here though with Maria Sakkari and Naomi Osaka (vs. Vandeweghe in R1).  Both could make a R3 or better appearance.  As for the bottom half of this section...all I can say is YIKES!  We have #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova, unseeded Caroline Wozniacki and Francesca Schiavone.  Heck Kuznetsova and Schiavone play one another in R1...and these two have played some of the most epic (and long) matches in the history of the sport.  Not to mention #18 Barbara Strycova and the triad of Romanians (Monica Niculescu, Sorana Cirstea and qualifier Ana Bogdan).  Keys would appear to the overwhelming favourite but escaping this section could be like tip toeing through a mind field.  Watch your step along the way!

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(8) Madison Keys def. (9) Svetlana Kuznetsova
(13) Johanna Knota def. (32) Monica Puig


(8) Keys over (13) Konta

(2) Angelique Kerber Quarter

Your future #1 ranked player in the world: #2 currently Angelique Kerber!  I believe Kerber will move to the #1 ranking spot by the end of the U.S. Open.  Will she win her second grand slam?  Maybe.  Will she outduel the other 3 ladies in the running for the ranking?  Absolutely!  Kerber won the Australian Open and was the runner-up at Wimbledon (both times facing Serena in the final).  She followed up her Wimbledon performance with a run to the gold medal match in Rio, coming up short against upset-minded Monica Puig.  After Rio, she played in Cincy with a chance to take the #1 ranking and, again, slipped up in the final.  With 3 runner-up finishes in a row, many ask if perhaps this will weigh in on her mental game heading into the final grand slam.  I think the opposite will occur.  Kerber is going to be hungrier than ever now to get over the hump and find the victory circle once again.  Kerber has a very winnable draw until a potential R4 encounter with #14 Petra Kvitova, Rio bronze medalist, or #22 Elina Svitolina, the Serena Rio slayer.  Both players could pose problems for Kerber...with Kvitova being tabbed as a great dark horse pick for this title.

Speaking of Serena Slayer, the other section of this quarter sees the Serena Slayer from the 2015 U.S. Open, #7 Roberta Vinci.  After the big SF win over Serena last year and the tough loss in the final, one has to be impressed with the year Vinci has put in with remaining in the Top 10.  Does she have another upset run in her this year?  Probably not and she will see a sharp dip in her rankings by not making the final.  Her section of the draw is littered with threats as well, led by #12 Dominika Cibulkova.  Cibulkova could be the perfect dark horse contender once again.  She made the QF at Wimbledon and has made the QF here before (2010).  This section also presents some great unseeded players to watch out for.  The list is led by the quartet of German's standing in the way of Vinci.  She could face a German opponent in R1, R2 and R3.  Watch out for Sabine Lisicki, Mona Barthel and Carina Witthoft.

#TwineTime Predictions:

Fourth Round

(12) Dominika Cibulkova def. (7) Roberta Vinci
(2) Angelique Kerber def. (14) Petra Kvitova


(2) Kerber def. (12) Cibulkova

Women's Final Four


(4) Radwanska def. (5) Halep
(2) Kerber def. (8) Keys

Championship Final

(2) Angelique Kerber def. (4) Aggie Radwanska in three sets - Your new #1 player in the world not only takes the top ranking but does so in style, collecting her second grand slam of the season.  This will hopefully be the welcome back party for Radwanska too.  Both of these players have the game to stay near or at the top of the rankings for a few years....perhaps even the build of a friendly rivalry on tour between them both would be great to see!

Women's Doubles Championship:  (5) Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina def. (4) Andrea Hlavackova / Lucie Hradecka - The Rio women's doubles gold medal winners continue to shine!

There you have it tennis fans...the #TwineTime preview and predictions for the 2016 U.S. Open!  Agree, disagree?  Have your say as well.  Comment your predictions below or find me on twitter.

Enjoy the final grand slam of 2016 everyone!!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Points, Rankings, Multipliers and More
Could a ranking system be more confusing than curling?

With the 2016/17 curling season right around the corner, teams are in full preparation mode.  The consistent off-ice gym routines are slowly being phased into on-ice practice schedules and tour management preparation.  Each team enters a new season with the big dream of winning a grand slam, winning a provincial/territorial championship, winning a national championship and, ultimately, ending the season being crowned World Champion!

Throughout the season all curling teams and fans pay attention to the rankings.  The Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) and Order of Merit (OOM) points system plays a pivotal role in the opportunities presented to teams.  The higher your cumulative point total, the higher your world ranking.  A higher ranking equates to more opportunity to win money and receive national attention playing in big events, like the grand slams.  More national attention can also potentially lead to more sponsorship dollars.  It is a circle of opportunity....once you get there of course.  It is the getting there that is causing the great divide within the curling community. 

We have our “Elite” teams.  These are the teams we see consistently at grand slam events.  Then we have our “B-level” teams.  These are the teams who play a consistent tour schedule but do not qualify for grand slam events.  Then we have our “Pack” teams.  These are the teams who play a few events on tour but are not likely to play grand slam and big tour events throughout the season.

Now before everyone starts freaking out about these “categories” let me present a clear statement here.  Yes, I realize teams put in amazing hours of training, gym time and on-ice practice time to become the athletes we see competing throughout the season.  These “categories” are not meant to disrespect one group over another nor pit one group against another.  There are numerous factors in play outside of the sport itself that lends to the schedule a team can play during the season.  I mean no disrespect to any player and/or team in the elementary categorization of teams.  However, this is the way the rankings and season has been unfolding over the past few years....and ignoring it is not going to change anything.

So how does a team accumulate points?  How can you raise your world ranking and qualify for the grand slam events?  Well, it is quite a confusing convoluted process my friends.  Grab your calculators and math skills learned way back in the are going to need it all!

Let’s start simple.  Teams accumulate points through two categories of events: Tour Cashspiels and Playdowns/Special Events.  The Tour Cashspiels are the events taking place every week during the season.  These events are the core foundation of the world curling tour.  The Playdowns/Special Events include the following: Provincials/Territorial, Nationals, Worlds, Europeans, Canada Cup, Olympic Trials, Olympics and the 4 Grand Slam of Curling events.  Pre-qualifier events such as regionals and zones are also eligible here.  So far so good right?

Here is where it gets really mathematically exciting.  Each event on tour is subject to a different total point score.  The factors determining the point score for an event depend on the Strength of Field Multiplier (SFM) and the purse size.

The SFM is calculated based on the teams registered to compete in the event.  Each team’s ranking on the Tuesday before the event begins plays a vital role in the calculation.  For instance, the #1 ranked team adds a 0.45 value.  The #5 ranked team adds a 0.41 value.  Team #14 adds 0.32 and so on.  The Top 20 teams each have their own ranking value.  Teams ranked 21-30, 31-50, 51-100, 101-200 and 201+ are grouped with a common SFM contribution value.  Add up the SFM value for all teams competing, scale it back to a consistent 24-team event format and BOOM...there is your event’s cumulative SFM value.  The value is scaled to a 24-team format because more events on tour are 24-team events.  If an event is under or over the 24-team format, the SFM needs to be balanced out to make it fair in comparison to all other events.  Here is a quick example of a 32-team event:

Total teams: 32
Cumulative SFM of all teams competing: 5.6
Event SFM: 5.6 * (24/32) = 4.2

The max value for a Tour Cashspiel category event is 5.0, remembering a Tour Cashspiel event must have a minimum number of 12 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams to be points eligible.    

Now let’s look at purse size.  For points eligibility, a Tour Cashspiel event must equate to $300/team playing.  Basically the standard 24-team event would have a minimum purse of $7,200.  In our example above, let’s say the total purse is $50,000.  The purse factor total would be determined through a simple (?) formula:

1 + (p – 500) * 0.00017
The value of “p” is determined by taking the total purse divided by the number of teams entered.  

So, for our example, we have:
1 + ({50000/32} - 500) * 0.00017 = 1.18

Now, our final event value is determined by the teams cumulative SFM multiplied by the number of teams factor multiplied by the purse factor.  In our example above:
4.20 * 1.50 * 1.18 = 7.43

Now that we have our event value, we can determine our points value per final position.  To do so, we take our event value multiplied by the standard base points system:

1st: 7.43 (event) * 7.00 (base) = 52.04
2nd: 7.43 * 5.50 = 40.87
3rd – 4th: 7.43 * 4.25 = 31.58
5th – 8th: 7.43 * 3.00 = 22.29

There you have it.  If you enter this 32-team event, with a total purse of $50,000, and claim the championship, you win the money and add 52.04 points to your team’s world ranking score.  Got all that?

Of course, for the Playdowns/Special Events categories, additional points are available on a per-win basis, points percentage increases due to the weight of the event and bonus points can be claimed.  I won’t go into the summary of this but for a FULL BREAKDOWN of the entire structure for both categories, please visit HERE!!

Am I the only one who finds this process to be very convoluted and confusing?  Really?  This is the simple process we developed for determining our team world rankings?  Who doesn't want to calculate a world ranking with point totals of 52.04 and 31.58?  That's not confusing at all right? Yikes!

Aside from the mathematical complications associated with each event, here is where I am even more frightened with this process.  A Tour Cashspiel event can never know its actual final event total until the Tuesday before the event.  Sure this is not a big deal to event organizers but what about the teams?  Teams are setting their tour schedule for the year at the beginning of the year.  How can a team continuously accumulate world ranking points when events do not even know how many points can be awarded until days before the first rock leaves the hack?  This seems a little bit like throwing a dart at the tour schedule and hoping the events you choose to compete in can yield strong enough event values to accumulate enough points to qualify you for big events like the grand slams.  Now of course, regardless of a team schedule, you still have to perform on the ice and do well and/or win events to maximize your point total and up your ranking.  I get that.  But let’s just put that obvious fact on the back burner and assume it to be a given, for sake of argument.

This is where the governing bodies of the sport really are presenting a disadvantage for teams.  Ok so to qualify for a grand slam you need to have a certain world ranking spot.  To have a qualified world ranking spot you need to accumulate as many points as possible on tour up to the cut-off date.  To accumulate points on tour, you need to enter numerous events, do well of course, and hope the event points total is high.  Meanwhile, “Elite” teams are already earning bonus points for competing in the grand slam events while you, as a “B-Level” team, are competing in cashspiels trying to earn enough points to qualify.  Does this almost seem impossible?  A team can compete in a grand slam, win 2 games, earn bonus points per win, finish 8th overall and earn more points than a team competing in a 24-team event and making the final (or even winning?).  Need proof?

Team A: Competes at Grand Slam event, finishes 2-2 and loses quarterfinal. Total points = 36.15
Team B: Competes in Tour Cashspiel, 24-team field with $50,000 purse, loses the final.  Total points = 31.02

Team B, many would argue, had a more successful event making the final.  But, in comparison to the grand slam team, Team B actually lost 5.13 ranking points to a team who won 2 games all week and probably was featured and/or discussed on national television.  A team makes the final and loses ground in the world rankings to the grand slam teams.  Really?

Oh, I can hear the arguments already though.  Well the grand slam team played tougher competition.  Team B was beating teams ranked in the mid-30’s or lower (maybe?) while Team A was competing with the Top 10 teams in the world.  Team A beat 2 top ranked teams, shouldn’t they earn more points?  Ok, perhaps you are right.  But isn’t that the definition of being elitist as well?  Team A played the top teams because they continue to earn the larger amount of points every grand slam.  How can we know how Team B would compete against the best at a grand slam if every time they enter an event they are losing world ranking, and grand slam qualification, points to Team A?

Again, let me remind all of you, this is not a commentary blog post on the teams competing on tour.  They are all just competing within the parameters, rules and points system provided to them.  This is by no means meant as commentary for or against any team competing and working hard on tour all season.  All I would like to see is a more fair and level rankings system in place.  Let the results speak for themselves on the ice, not through a complicated mathematical format defining each event and tour schedule. 

To make matters even more interesting, did you know the final point totals can change during and at the end of the season?  Up to four weeks after an event, the point totals can be re-adjusted due to teams registering late, changing the point total allocation.  At the end of the season, the entire season is re-run using the final OOM team list to create the final standings.  This can actually change some point totals and affect the final rankings and points.  In a way, I understand this.  Players jump teams all the time in the sport, for various reasons, throughout the season.  Teams have until October 31st to finalize their lineup and maximize their season point totals.  Team changes made after this date cause the re-calculation of points throughout the season.  On the flip side, this creates more uncertainty on the total points earned during events.  A competing team could change their lineup mid-season and negatively impact the points you earned at an event.  Really?

Now, let’s get into the exciting stuff.  Here is a #TwineTime exclusive proposition.  I say we scrap the entire current points system and model.  No disrespect to those who worked tirelessly to create the system but I don’t think it is working.  I say let’s learn from other sports and capitalize on a system that works already.  Isn’t that just copying someone else’s work you ask?  Yup, sure is!  And what is wrong with that?  The sport itself, the competition, these are factors unique to the sport.  Why do we also need some crazy math and inconsistent formula determining our world rankings too?

To find a new system, we need to find a comparable sport.  A sport that offers various purse amounts per event.  A sport with various entrant formats.  A sport with grand slam events but also strong seasonal events.  A sport  Let’s look at the current tennis model on the ATP (men’s) tour.  Note the WTA (women's) tour uses a similar model with a few changes in the actual points distributed.

The ATP Tour is comprised of 7 event categories: Grand Slam, Tour Finals, ATP World Tour Masters 1000, ATP World Tour 500 series, ATP World Tour 250 series, ATP Challenger Tour and ITF Men’s Circuit.  All of these categories offer various total prize money amounts and differentiate between winner’s rankings points.  The starting point, ranking points, is a huge difference just on first glance.  Unlike the current curling system, in tennis the winner’s points are pre-determined per event from the start.  If you enter and win a Masters 1000 event, you earn 1000 ranking points.  Enter a 250 series event and win, you earn 250 ranking points.  Imagine that, even round numbers.  And numbers pre-determined before the event where everyone knows what’s at stake before even registering to participate.  What a concept?!

Tennis also has a running cumulative ranking system, moving from year to year.  Great, so does curling.  This is a good sign.  However, tennis also promotes equal (or better) results from year to year.  If you enter a Masters 1000 event and make the SF, great job you earned 360 points.  The following year, you should plan on re-entering and competing in this event once again if you want to keep those points.  If you do re-enter and make the SF again, you keep your 360 points towards your season total.  If you only make the Round of 16, you only earn 90 points.  Oh, see how the results will now affect the world rankings?  This player would actually lose 270 ranking points from one year to the next.  Similar format with the World Tour 500 series.  Now with the World Tour 500 series, players may not necessarily compete at the exact same tournament but have a requirement to compete in 4 of the 13 World Tour 500 events over the season, including one after the final grand slam, the U.S. Open.  The best 4 results in the series are used towards your points total to determine your world ranking.  A similar format can be used in curling.  Develop a series of “World Tour 500” type events, place a mandatory number of them teams must compete in and the highest earned points from the minimum required events participated in earns you the ranking points.  The next season, each team needs to compete in the minimum required amount of “World Tour 500” events once again; however, now if they do not replicate or beat those results they see a rankings slip.  Reward for results!  You want to stay at the top and have those perks of competing at grand slams and having that television time, you need to earn it...year in and year out.  If you slip up at a grand slam, you may not make the next one!  We could see a more level playing field....and maybe a few more surprise contending teams along the way.  Now that is how you #growthesport I think!  #Parity in sport?

Based on the tennis model, curling could adopt the following event category structure:

Grand Slams – 4 events (Masters, National, Canadian Open, Players Championship)

Tour Final/Special Events – 4 events (Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10, Champions Cup)

Tour 1000 Series – 9 events (Total purse: $40,000 - $99,999)

Tour 500 Series – 44 events (Total purse: $10,000 - $39,999)

Tour 250 Series – 22 events (Total purse <$10K)

Note: The total number of events listed above is based on the World Curling Tour event listing for the 2016/17 season.

How would the ranking points be distributed you ask?  Well you know #TwineTime has thought of that as well.  What do you think of this suggestion: Keep the point values the same as tennis!  If the wheel ain't broke why go fixing it?

Tour 1000 Series
Winner – 1000
Final – 600
SF – 360
QF – 180

Tour 500 Series
Winner – 500
Final – 300
SF – 180
QF – 90

Tour 250 Series
Winner – 250
Final – 150
SF – 90
QF – 45

This set point system can also give teams flexibility with their scheduling.  Let’s set a mandatory number of tournaments teams must compete in to be grand slam eligible.  For sake of argument, let’s just say teams must register for 3 Tour 1000 Series events, 5 Tour 500 Series events and 2 Tour 250 Series events.  This would mean teams must compete in a minimum of 10 tour events throughout the season to be eligible for grand slam events.  Teams can now go through the full tour schedule over the summer and be strategic on selecting their tournaments.  Do you go hard at the beginning of the season and register for more big events hoping for strong results and entry into the opening season grand slam?  Do you leave yourself some cushion space where, should you struggle at the beginning of the season, you give yourself some big tournaments in the middle of the year to register in and try to make up the points you lost early on?  Tennis players do this all the time.  They set their schedule for the year but then either add or subtract events throughout the year depending on results and whether they need the extra points.  It is not uncommon to see a top 10 or even top 5 player ask for a wildcard entry into a smaller local Tour 250 Series event to try and make up points lost earlier in the season.  It’s a strategy! 

This also means top teams still need to register and compete in lower series events, usually more local events.  The mandatory requirement here is more towards a #growthesport mentality.  Local teams who may not be able to play a full schedule still would have the opportunity to compete with the best teams in the world.  The Tour 250 Series may see more junior teams or up and coming teams registered who could benefit from some competitive ice time against the best teams in the world rankings.  Can the top team from Saskatchewan or Manitoba compete in all the minor events going on in their province throughout the season?  Probably not because they are busy filling their schedule with the bigger events.  However, with an added requirement of needing to compete in these lower tier events, they maybe enter in 1 or 2 local events.  Imagine the marketing potential for these smaller events as well when you can list a top team like Gushue, Koe, Laycock or McEwen now registered to compete! 

Worth noting with this proposed #TwineTime system, a fair mix of international events would be evenly distributed within the category structure.  We need to also ensure we #growthesport around the world, not just within Canada and/or North America.  Europe, Asia and, now, USA are hosting bigger events throughout the season.  These events need to have equal importance towards the ranking system and the international events would be fairly categorized across the board as equal as possible.  I have not forgot about you my international curling friends!  Maybe we could even see more Canadian teams travel to international tournaments rather than always forcing international teams to travel to Canada to play big events and try to acquire the big rankings points.

#TwineTime also recognizes that some teams just won't be able to play with the mandatory fixed qualification schedule as noted above.  Due to work commitments, travel, finances, family...there are numerous factors in play for all teams during the season.  However, just because a team may not be able to play a grand slam qualification schedule does not mean all hope is lost for the season.  Perhaps the team decides to enter all Tour 500 Series and/or Tour 250 Series events.  They can still see their world rankings increase and, perhaps, even find a reward at the end of the season?  More on that below though....

Now, what about those grand slams?  Well, the grand slams would still be weighted with more points for teams who qualify.  I still agree with that mentality.  If you qualify for a grand slam, you should be rewarded as such.  The changing of the guard would be in how teams can qualify for a grand slam.  Ok, let’s keep a certain number allocated to the world rankings.  Let’s say the grand slam event allows for a 15-team format.  Great...the Top 7 teams in the world ranking earn automatic qualification.  Done!  Now for those next 8 spots.  Those spots would be earned by teams with the highest cumulative Tour 1000 series points totals.  Think of it as a similar system to tennis’ U.S. Open Series.  The U.S. Open Series takes all the summer hard court events and combines them into one series.  The player with the highest cumulative point total is declared the series winner, earns some extra prize money and, most importantly, can earn bonus money by winning the U.S. Open grand slam event.

The Tour 1000 Series would follow the same principle.  The cumulative results of teams competing in the series will be used for qualification to the grand slam events.  The 8 top point earners, outside of the automatic qualification teams, would then be invited to participate in the next grand slam event.  But maybe we want to allow for a sponsor's exemption?  Ok, I like that idea too, with the caveat the sponsor's exemption must go towards either a local team or a junior team.  If we allow the sponsor's exemption team, we go to now 7 open grand slam spots available.

Now I recognize one major flaw with this idea.  8 of the 9 Tour 1000 series events take place before the opening season grand slam.  How do we fix that problem?  Here is how:

The Masters Qualification – First 3 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The National Qualification – First 6 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The Canadian Open – All 9 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The Players Championship -  All 9 Tour 1000 series events + 3 Special Events (Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10) accumulated points

Now we have an on-going qualification system.  Teams who may struggle at the beginning of the season can ensure they enter the remaining Tour 1000 series events and, with strong results, can still qualify for one or more grand slam events.  Also, The Players Championship adds in the 3 Special Events, providing an ultimate build-up towards the end of the season while ensuring the 3 Special Events still hold added weight on the calendar and towards the rankings.

And those Special Events?  Well the Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II and Elite 10 would all see special event-only point structures assigned.  These would be less than the Tour 1000 Series but perhaps more than the Tour 500 Series.  The qualification for the Elite 10 would need to be changed though.  Since this event is more of a gimmick, marketing-friendly event, perhaps we take the top 5 Tour 1000 Series points leaders and top 5 Tour 500 Series points leaders at the end of Week 20?  Give all teams a fair shot to qualify for this event.

The point here being this adds intrigue, interest and innovation into the next tier of events below the grand slams.  The tour needs the events throughout the season to be successful for the sport to stay strong, relevant and professional.  The players need these events to earn enough points towards grand slam qualification.  The spiels themselves need the players, fan support and high impact performance factor to continue to succeed.  With this format, wouldn't all teams try to register for Tour 1000 Series events?  Oh no, what if they do but the entry level is capped at 32 teams?  You mean we might have to increase the amount of Tour 1000 Series events?  We might need to create Regional Tour 1000 Series events to cut down on travel costs for teams but by also keeping a level, open playing field for all teams?  Oh no....imagine the pandora's box we would be opening!

As for the Champions Cup?  Qualification wise, we keep it relatively the same.  Last season I went on record saying I love this event.  I love the idea behind it.  I love how it wraps up the tour season.  I am a HUGE fan of the entire concept.  This season it has recently been announced the qualification has changed slightly, reserving a spot for the defending champion.  I am not a fan of this change.  Why would a champion receive an automatic berth?  We only do this for the Scotties and Brier.  We don’t do this for any other event, nor should we!  So basically a team can win the Champions Cup this season, have a horrible following season and not win a single event but still be invited back to “defend” their title, earn some ranking points and collect a paycheque?  Or a team can lose a player, go through a team reboot in the off-season and still have this one event locked into their schedule?  Really?

I have a hard time understanding the rationale behind this change.  All this did was take away a spot from a team who would have won a tour event and deserved their spot.  In the new #TwineTime system, the auto spot for returning champion would be a burnt idea sent off to the side of the house and out of play.  The standard qualification of events works for specific tournaments earning auto berths here (i.e. Scotties, Brier, Europeans, Asia/Pacific, Word Juniors, Grand Slam winners etc).  It is those 3 or 4 other spots.  I would give one to each of the Tour Series Champions.  The team who accumulated the most points from Tour 1000 Series, Tour 500 Series and Tour 250 Series events throughout the season (of course assuming they did win at least 1 title!).  Imagine the excitement to have a team perhaps only able to compete in mostly Tour 250 Series events but win 4 or 5 of them.  They finish the season as the top Tour 250 Series point earners and qualify for the season-ending Champions Cup.  Wouldn’t that be a cool story?  It would provide the opportunity to compete on the grand slam stage for a team who wouldn’t have had the chance under the current system plus...who doesn’t love cheering for an underdog story?  This is what makes sport exciting!

Of course, as mentioned above, team lineups change during the season and in the off-season.  We cannot ignore this fact.  The current system in place makes sense to me.  Front end players can take a certain percentage of points earned with their old team over to the new team.  Back end players can do the same.  I don't have a problem with this.  Sometimes teams just don't work.  Each player should still be able to carry with them the positive rewards of playing with their old team during the season.  So let's keep this rule in play under the new #TwineTime system.

Let's keep that rule but also remember we are adding the reward factor into the points structure.  As in tennis, consistent results at specific tournaments and during the Tour Series events can keep a team near the top of the rankings.  Falter in a few events, show inconsistency in play or decide to play less events the following season and your rankings points will suffer.  Yes you keep your points from the previous season on a rolling basis....until those point totals from Week 6 come up again the following season during Week 6.  It's a double-edged competitive sword.  You win an event one year, congrats you are earning major ranking points and, more than likely, grand slam opportunities.  But don't get too cocky.  If you can't back it up year in and year out, don't expect to stay at the top.  How do the best tennis plays stay at the top...consistency!  Teams should be rewarded for outstanding play and results but they also should not earn cushion space for the next year or two because of their strong play over a few months.

You may have noticed I also swept away from the heated rock known as the "Backdoor".  Oh you don't know about the backdoor?  That newly created automatic qualification spot into the Scotties and Brier for the top ranked CTRS points leader, should they fail to win their own provincial/territorial championship.  Now you know what I mean by the "backdoor".  I won't get into my thoughts on this me though it is coming!  However, since this is the way of the future now, the new #TwineTime proposed ranking structure at least, I feel, creates more opportunities for more teams to claim that spot.  As mentioned above, a team can crush the Tour 500 Series and still end up with a high world ranking at the end of the season and, perhaps, even earn the auto spot in a national championship due to their CTRS ranking.  It's not out of the question.  Can we say the same about the current system?

There you have it curling fans.  A #TwineTime proposal on how to not only elevate the sport during the season but also remove the confusion towards the rankings system.  We don't need some crazy multiplication and division formulas that make sense to nobody just to tell us who the #14 ranked team in the world is do we?  This proposed system reduces point confusion, provides clarity towards event  point totals and ultimately adds a new level of excitement to the sport for ALL teams from the beginning of the season.  What's not to love here?

Agree?  Disagree?  Like some points but hate others?  Feel free to share your comments with me and other curling fans in the comment section below.  Or find me on twitter and engage me in a conversation.  Are there flaws in the #TwineTime system?  I am sure there are.  Are there flaws in the current system?  Heck yes!  Will there always be some flaws in any system with people finding reasons why they love or hate the system in place?  Oh hell yeah!  But change can also bring opportunity for all: governing bodies, sponsors, equipment manufacturers, players and...of!  Always remember #growthesport my friends...#growthesport!!

The #TwineTime 2016/17 Season Preview will be sliding down the hack into your house shortly as well....#StayTuned

Monday, 15 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Week One Full of Drama & Intrigue
From tears to jeers to murky waters...the opening week had something for everyone

The XXXI Olympiad is breezing by at a rapid pace my sporting friends.  We are already into Week Two of competition and, before we know it, we will be coming together in less than one week's time to celebrate the Closing Ceremonies of Rio 2016.

Before we get into the full celebration of the upcoming week's celebrations, heartbreaks and dramatic stories, let's look back at the moments that unified the world over the past week.  There were moments of pride, tears of celebration and disappointment and, as expected, plenty of drama!

Here is the #TwineTime #RioReview of Week One:

BLUE: USA is A OK! - As expected the USA dominated the medal podium over the opening week of competition.  This weekend they even celebrated their historical 1,000th overall gold medal!  How awesome is that accomplishment?  Here at Rio 2016, the USA have accumulated 26 Gold, 21 Silver, 23 Bronze for a total of 70 overall medal.  The next closest nation with gold medal victories is Great Britain (16) while the closest for overall is China (46).  There are so many highlights to cover for the US too....where does one begin?  Well how about with the greatest athlete ever, celebrating his 23rd gold medal (28 overall) and final Olympics: Michael Phelps.  Phelps leaves Rio with 5 more gold and 1 silver, further cementing his historical accomplishments as #GOAT status!  But he wasn't the only one moving towards #GOAT status.  What about artistic gymnast Simone Biles?  Biles, 19 years old, has looked flawless in competition, leading the US to gold in the team competition while also winning the Individual All-Around and Vault apparatus gold medals.  Biles is undefeated in competition since 2013 and still has two more apparatus finals to go this week.  Expect her to finish the games with 5 gold and become the #GOAT of artistic gymnastics.  There is something about the number 5 with this US team.  How about Katie Ledecky taking home 5 gold medals of her own in the pool (plus 1 silver) and showing she is the present and future of the sport (and also only 19 years old!!).  Other successes include: Lilly King (swimming, 2 gold), Jack Sock (tennis, 1 gold 1 bronze), Nathan Adrian (swimming, 2 gold 2 bronze) and Ryan Murphy (swimming 3 gold).  Team USA is not close to being done either with women's indoor volleyball, women's beach volleyball (including the undefeated at the Olympics star & three-time champ Kerri Walsh-Jennings), women's water polo, men's volleyball, men's and women's basketball and numerous athletics events still on the program as huge medal threats.  In the #BetweenTheRings Rio Preview, I mentioned the US would collect their 2,500 overall Summer Olympics medal in Rio...who will it be?  They started at 2,399.  They now sit at 2,469.  I'm guessing it will come on the track on Friday August 19.

YELLOW: #Lightning Bolt Steals the Show - In speaking about #GOAT status, how can #TwineTime not devout an entire section to Jamaica's Usain Bolt?  He is the #GOAT of athletics!  Bolt came into Rio with a few question marks over his preparation, coming back from injury and lack of competitive racing.  Well, from his opening 100m heat, we all knew the answer to those questions.  Bolt looked amazing in his "walk" across the line winning his heat.  He glided across the line winning his SF and turned up the heat in the final 50m to take home another gold medal.  Bolt has now pulled off the incredible Olympic #3peat in the 100m.  And he isn't done yet!  With the 200m coming up this week and the 4x100m relay, he has more work to do in his final Olympics.  Make note, Rio is Bolt's third and final Olympics...and he has yet to lose!  7 races overall dating back to the 100m in Beijing and 7 gold medals.  Can he go a perfect 9 for 9 in his Olympic career?  I wouldn't bet against it!

BLACK: Can't escape the Controversy - Going into the games there was heavy scrutiny over the Zika virus, security, venue question marks and doping.  After one week of competition, all of these concerns seem to still be top of the mind of many.  The Russian doping situation has been on the minds of many fans...and athletes!  The #BoooBirds rained down at the pool on Russia's Yuliya Yefimova.  The boo's were the loudest when she was introduced before the 100m breaststroke final.  This was further enhanced when competitor USA's Lilly King came out and gave her the #GlareOfTheGames.  King has been very vocal about competing against known doping athletes, including specifically Yefimova.  King would win the gold with Yefimova claiming silver, neither athlete really talking or approaching one another post-race.  Yefimova did leave Rio with 2 silver medals though and seemed to be able to shake off the negative reaction from competitors/fans.  King wasn't done there though as she also went after men's 100m competitor, fellow USA athlete and eventual silver medal winner Justin Gaitlin (also previously banned for doping issues).  And of course we can't forget about China's Sun Yang.  Previously banned in 2014, back competing and making controversy in the pool when he splashed water in main competitor Australian Mack Horton's face during practice.  Horton would beat Yang for gold in the 400m freestyle (Yang took silver).  Yang would win gold in the 200m freestyle though.  But doping wasn't the only hot topic.  How about security?  The Sunday morning headlines were full of the Ryan Lochte story, being robbed at gunpoint with 3 fellow USA athletes by men disguised as police raising numerous questions on athlete safety.  How could something like this happen?  The story was more convoluted when the IOC and USOC originally denied the story.  Finally the story was validated as true but the damage had already been done.  Let's just be thankful nobody was seriously hurt, physically at least, from this situation.  We can only hope Lochte and the other athletes do not suffer any short-term or long-term mental health concerns from their ordeal!  And finally the venues!  The theme around Rio is green for the environment.  While the diving pool sure took that to new heights when the water turned from a crystal blue one day to a murky toxic-looking green the next.  Did competition stop though?  Nope, the athletes continued competing and diving into the dark green ooze pool.  Officials declared the pool posed no health threat to athletes but it still left a very dark green cloud over the competition and venue.  A few days later and the pool is back to looking crystal blue, thankfully!

GREEN: The Records Are Falling - One of the best parts of watching the Olympics every two years (Winter and Summer) is to see the establishment of new World Records!  Rio has not disappointed with the record falling.  Overall we have seen 22 new world records over the opening week.  In the same time frame we have also seen 36 Olympic Records.  Swimming leads the way with a combined 23 World and/or Olympic records being set.  The #GirlPower dominated the records in the pool though with the women setting 16 of the 23 new records.  Interesting to note though, the 100m freestyle accounted for 4 of those records as Australian Cate Campbell set an Olympic record in the heat and beat her own record in the semifinal.  The record would only last 24hrs though as co-gold medal winners Canadian Penny Oleksiak and American Simone Manuel would break the record in the final.  Records also continued to fall on the fast cycling track.  In men's team sprint, Great Britain would break the Olympic Record in qualifying only to see New Zealand beat their record in the first round.  Great Britain would regain their Olympic Record standing in the final though, winning gold as well.  The men's team pursuit would see Great Britain set a World Record in the first round only to beat it in the gold medal final.  The women's Great Britain team pursuit would do the same.  In the span of 3 days, 6 World Records and 6 Olympic Records would be set on the cycling track!  Other events seeing new World Records set include: Archery, Athletics and Weightlifting.  Olympic Records would also be set in: Rowing, Shooting and Weightlifting.  To this date, August 12th appears to be Rio Record Day as a combined 6 new records (in 4 different sports) were set.  With Athletics gearing up, expect more records to fall before the Closing Ceremonies...but I doubt we see 6 records fall in one day again.

RED: #GoCANADAGo - It's all about the streak.  The #PodiumPush.  Canada is not known to be a Summer Olympics power nation by any means but what a start to Rio 2016 by Team Canada!  Canada has found the podium every day since the XXXI Olympiad kicked off.  Yup, that is 9 straight days of competition and 9 straight days of winning, at least, 1 medal.  Canada currently sits with 12 overall medals (2 gold, 2 silver, 9 bronze).  The team is well on its way to beating the mark they set in London four years ago when they won 18 medals (1 gold, 5 silver, 12 bronze).  We already have doubled our gold medal total!  We cannot talk about Team Canada without mentioning the star of the team: Penny Oleksiak.  The 16 year old broke the Canadian Olympic record for most medals (4 - 1G, 1S, 2B) won be a single Canadian athlete in any Summer Olympic Games and is the youngest ever Canadian Olympic gold medalist.  She truly got the nation excited about the games over the opening week!  But she wasn't the only one...the theme of the opening week was also #GirlPower for Team Canada.  The first 12 medals won by Canada were all won by female athletes!  Penny in the pool, Rosie MacLennan defending her London gold in trampoline plus the rugby sevens women (bronze), women's lightweight double sculls rowing silver), swimming relays (bronze, 4x100m and 4x200m), synchro 10m platform diving (bronze) all highlighted podium victories for Team Canada!  As the competition left the pool and hit the track, the medal winning continued with Brianne Theisen-Eaton taking bronze in heptathlon.  And then the big moment of the games...the 100m men's final!  With Usain Bolt being the headliner of the event (and the Rio games), Canada's Andre De Grasse took home a bronze medal and celebrated his #bromance with the champ Bolt.  Bolt even commented after the race De Grasse was the future of the sport!  With more medal opportunities coming in athletics, plus the possibilities from women's golf, women's basketball and women's soccer, Canada should find the podium a few more times before the games wrap up.  In the #TwineTime Rio Preview, I stated Canada would win 19 medals overall, including 2 gold.  So far, I would say this prediction looks VERY accurate!  #GirlPower contines as well?

There have also been a few Honourable Mention moments of #Rio2016 that maybe didn't make the major headlines above but are still worth a quick mention.  These moments included:

  • Welcome to the Olympic Sport Family - Rugby Sevens made their Olympics debut in the opening week of competition and received rave reviews from fans, spectators and fellow athletes.  The women's and men's rugby competition was a hot topic of discussion for anyone following along with the Olympics and was easily deemed a success!  Congrats to the women's podium finishers (G - Australia, S - New Zealand, B - Canada) and the men's podium finishers (G - Fiji, S - Great Britain, B - South Africa). 
  • Welcome back to the Olympiad - After 112 years, golf returned to the Olympics and was met with great praise.  The men competed over the weekend and the interest in the sport was peaked by a suspense-filled final round with Great Britain's Justin Rose edging Sweden's Henrik Stenson on the final hole.  After 17 holes (and three previous rounds) the two entered the final hole tied for gold!  Also, USA's Matt Kuchar shot a record 63 in the final round to move from middle of the pack and onto the podium, winning bronze.  The women take the course later this week.
  • Happy Debut - Kosovo and South Sudan are competing at their first ever Olympic games.  And what a debut for Kosovo! On August 7, the second full day of competition, history would be made as Kosovo athlete Majlinda Kelmendi would win the gold medal in the judo women's 52kg event.  South Sudan has three athletes all competing in athletics events this week.
  • Always remember your first - Opening week action saw the first Olympic gold medals awarded to a few countries.  Vietnam (Shooting - Men's 10m air pistol), Kosovo (Judo - Women's 52kg), Fiji (Men's Rugby), Singapore (Swimming - Men's 100m butterfly), Puerto Rice (Tennis - Women's Singles) and Bahrain (Athletics - Women's 3000m steeplechase).  These would also be the first-ever Olympic medals for Kosovo and Fiji.  The first independent athlete would also win a gold when Kuwaiti shooter Fehaid Al-Deehani won he double trap event.
  • Not all about the podium - One of the loudest cheers during the Opening Ceremonies was the introduction of the Refugee Olympic Team.  While none of the athletes are expected to find the podium, watching each of the compete and cheering them on seems more exciting than watching a gold medal final.  The highlight of ROT belongs to 17 year old Yusra Mardini and her story.  Mardini and her sister fled Syria during the Civil War and were to be smuggled into Greece via boat but the boat capsized due to over capacity and Mardini, her sister and two others swam and pushed the boat to safety in over 3 hour swim!  Wow!!
  • She said YES! -  We have not one but TWO marriage proposals at the Rio games.  The first came on the rugby field and was a monumental history maker for the Olympics and the sport.  Brazil's women may have finished in 9th place at the games but player Isadora Cerullo received something even better after the Olympic final.  Cerullo's girlfriend, Marjorie Enya, took the pitch after the gold medal final with a microphone in hand and heart-shaped balloons to pop the question to her girlfriend of two years.  What. A. Moment!  What a Sunday for Chinese diver He Zi.  After competing in the 3m springboard final and winning a silver medal, her amazing day would be far from complete.  As Zi was on the podium accepting her medal, out came boyfriend and fellow Chinese diver Qin Kai.  Kai would drop to his knee, open up the little box displaying a beautiful ring and ask his girlfriend of 6 years to marry him.  The moment was captured for the world to see and social media blew up with excitement as Zi said YES!  Kai won a bronze in Rio on the 3m Synchro event.    

Follow along with the #TwineTime blog and on twitter for up to date #Rio2016 information.  Check out the previous preview posts as well and see how my podium predictions pan out against the actual results.  Agree or disagree with my predictions or have some of your own you want to share?  Feel free to comment on the blog posts or hit me up on twitter.

Check out the previous posts below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview
Men's Basketball Preview
Men's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Women's Basketball Preview
Beach Volleyball Preview
Women's Indoor Volleyball
Golf Preview

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.

Enjoy the last week of competition everyone....