Thursday, October 27, 2005

2005 Review: 700 Bucks & a Zero Bar

As I discussed last December in the "2005's Intriguing Question #9" column, Daniela Hantuchova and Jelena Dokic, both 22 and born just eleven days apart in 1983, have often seen their tennis fortunes rise and fall in tandem through the years. As 2005 was set to begin, both were facing career crossroads. This season was to be a very revealing one for "The Lost Girls."

As things have turned out, one is well on her way to being "found." While the other appears to be even more "lost" than ever.

"Wonder Girl" Hantuchova, after going down the rabbit hole with emotional and weight issues in recent years, appears to have truly begun to come out on "the other side" of her troubles. For one, she's gradually added weight/muscle to her frame and doesn't appear as if she should be given a Zero bar every half hour just to keep up her strength. On the court, 2005 has been a steadily growing proposition, as well.

2002: #8
2003: #19
2004: #31
2005: #20 (as of October 24)

Hantuchova began the year by shepherding, along with Dominik Hrbaty, the Czech Republic team to a win in the pre-Australian Open Hopman Cup event, then won the Oz Mixed Doubles. Success in singles, though, wasn't immediate. She began the season going just 16-14 in WTA events, but began to turn around her fortunes after Wimbledon. Since SW19, she's gone 21-10 (after two rounds in Linz), upset Elena Dementieva (in L.A., where she reached the final), Patty Schnyder (twice) and had match points against Lindsay Davenport (last week in Zurich). At the U.S. Open, she completed a career "Mixed Grand Slam" by claiming the title at Flushing Meadows with Mahesh Bhupathi.

Hantuchova's still in search of her long-overdue second career title (to follow her 2002 Indian Wells crown), and didn't find much slam singles success in 2005, but she has returned to the Top 20 and looks right on target to possibly make a run in 2006 at the Top 10 spot that once seemed to be her birthright (she rose to a career-best #5 almost three years ago). After finally breaking through to the surface of what almost became a "buried" career, the fortitude and confidence that once led Hantuchova to openly talk of one day becoming #1 will soon be called upon again. They might make that cozy Top 10 existence a reality... with her second residence there beginning very soon.

That's not the case with Dokic. Not by a long shot. Numbers often lie (some of them, anyway), and no stat is more deceiving than "The Debutante's" 12-10 singles record this season. While Hantuchova has staked out some comeback territory this season, Dokic has actually seemed to give up even more ground... and that seemed an impossible turn of events last December, considering she ended 2004 on a nine-match losing streak. In fact, as this season comes to a close she's effectively become "The Invisible Girl".

Dokic has always experienced wildly divergent results throughout her career, with additional highs, lows and soap operish "real-life" episodes sprucing up things in between. Her game has been exciting, but one-dimensional and she's never found a consistent answer to an opponent who made her "Plan A" useless (Are you listening Miss Mirza? Apparently so, considering you've seen fit to approach Tony Roche for some assistance. Good choice.). As she's failed to provide herself with a foundation for improvement, her career has tailspinned along with her personal life, rather than succeeded in spite of it as it did in her teens.

2001: #8
2002: #9
2003: #15
2004: #125
2005: #348 (as of October 24)

In this case, numbers don't lie. One-time world-#4 Dokic's results have been slipping for a while now. But nothing could have prepared anyone for what's happened in 2005. After earning a high of $1.2 million dollars in 2001, she totalled up less than $10,000 this season. Other than two blips of success (qualifying and winning a 1st Round match at a Tier IV in May, then again at a $50K challenger in August), 2005 has been a forgettable journey for Dokic.

Since she decided to step down a rung in an attempt to gather confidence at challenger events, Dokic hasn't had a presence on the WTA Tour since losing at the Prague Tier IV in May. This season, she's lost a match to a player ranked #647. She's lost seven times to players ranked over #100. In fact, her "highest-ranked" win this season came against #97-ranked Anne Kremer back in January. She's been essentially incognito since retiring from a $50K event in Italy in early August... but even a lingering injury didn't excuse her literal no-shows at three recent ITF events. In fact, the non-withdrawals/non-appearances led the ITF to issue a ban from its event until Dokic paid a nominal $700 fine. So it's come to this? A Dokic is banned, but rather than Damir, it's Jelena. Such a sorry thing to see.

Earlier this year, Dokic admitted to feeling in late 2004 that she didn't want to be on the court. So what's to be made of recent events? It order to retain her health and/or wits, is she willing to sacrifice her career? Maybe 2006 will provide that answer, because in 2005 the notion is truly open to question.

Wonder Girl and the Debutante are still just 22, younger than many of the Spartak Russians (though not those of the Maria variety). But in a season in which players pushing or over 30 (namely, Davenport & Pierce) still managed to play at the top of their games, the careers of both these two should continue for quite some time. Hantuchova never really reached her potential before her career dipped, but she might finally be ready to tackle that unfinished business in the coming seasons. Dokic, though, still hasn't even set eyes on the corner she'll have to turn in order to say the same. She may have already peaked in her career, and it could be easier for her to say goodbye than climb the tennis mountain once again. For a player that's never found patience to be a virtue, that type of comeback might be an impossible mission unless she can find something deep inside that, until such a time, wouldn't have played a previous role in her tennis career.

So, one of the "Lost Girls" has been found. The search is still on for the other. Their "hand-in-hand" trek through their tennis careers appears to have come to an end. It'd be a smart move to put a wager on Hantuchova finding more and more future success. Dokic is a risky proposition, at best. Wonder Girl and the Debutante could one day find themselves on equal footing again... but you'd be advised to not hold your breath waiting for that day to arrive.

All for now.


Next week's 2005 Backspin Review focus: The Maidens & the Cookies


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Sat Nov 05, 07:50:00 PM EST  

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