Sunday, May 22, 2011

RG.1- "The Concept of Anxiety" *

Never one to avoid fretting on the court, usually to her own detriment, about her tennis state of life, 2010 Roland Garros runner-up Samantha Stosur opened 2011's First Sunday with a straight sets victory over Iveta Benesova. Now the hard part begins.

Søren Kierkegaard, my long-dead (for about 156 years, to be exact) Danish philosopher buddy for this Roland Garros, has an idea, opinion and/or quote for everything, and his words are easy to work into a discussion about this particular Aussie, as well. To ol' Søren, the individual, the self, was everything. He said "the self" is the composite of a series of possibilities. Every decision made redefines the individual, and the most enlightened individual will be the one who is closer to being "aware of self."

That's the task that Stosur needs to undertake if she is going to win her first career grand slam title in two weeks.

One year ago, Stosur was seemingly about to climb the women's tennis mountain. At Roland Garros, she knocked off THE two biggest giants of the past decade in dispatching Serena Williams and Justine Henin from the event, and entered the final against surprising veteran Francesca Schiavone as the favorite to take it all. But it didn't happen. Never one to embrace the pressure of being a "favorite" over her long-time "underdog" role, Stosur wasn't up to the task of becoming a slam champion against the more "free" Italian who saw the opportunity for HER career's greatest moment and seized it, realizing that she may never have another chance to do so. The Aussie likely realized that she was in the same situation, too, but her reaction was to become just "tight" enough in the moment that the previously beautiful flow of her game was interrupted. The rest was history... and so is what has happened since.

Over the past twelve months, Stosur hasn't been the same player she was last spring. Not just on the outside, but, more importantly, on the inside. Watching her during her losses, you can almost see in her expression the recognition that her chances to ever succeed in this game on the level she desires are slipping from her grasp with every defeat she endures. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and few players have more expressive eyes than Stosur's when she so obviously longs for something she wants so badly but is unable to attain. During today's coverage, Tennis Channel showed a shot of the teary look in her eyes after she lost that final to Schiavone last June, and it was simply heartbreaking to see.

As glorious as was Schiavone's joy, as disheartening was Stosur's disappointment. She's never seemed to forget it, either. But she HAS to, or she never will.

"It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that (wo)man can only attain (her) desire by passing through its opposite." - Kierkegaard

Stosur's got the bad part down, now she needs to embrace the good. She needs to take all her experiences into account, realize that her slam chances rest on HER shoulders, and embrace that wonderful fact. Revel in it, rather than fear the dire possibilities. Have faith, and become more aware of "self."

"There is nothing with which every (wo)man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much (s)he is capable of doing and becoming." - Kierkegaard

On a side note, it was at least nice today to see Stosur LOOKING a bit more like the potential champion of a year ago. It's such a small thing, but it HAS irked me all season, though I've never mentioned it because it seems so petty. Bear with me, though. A year ago, Stosur often wore dark clothes and donned eye-shielding sunglasses. Along with her written messages of encouragement on the tape around her wrist which seemed to better focus her on the task at hand (always a tough sell for her over the years), the whole package sort of gave the Aussie a mystique. In Charleston, with the sun glistening off her muscular shoulders, the sight of her black-clad self pounding winnings behind those shades made her seem a very imposing figure across the net. She was a "Terminatrix" with a tennis racket, and even Serena and Justine fell by the wayside.

This year, she's mostly been wearing the same all-white "potato sack"-looking outfit that made her seem, oh, so much more "ordinary." She hasn't seemed to wear the sunglasses as much, either. And just look at long-spectacled Arnaud Clement to see that lack of sun is no excuse for this. But, aside from any possible glare from above, I always thought last season that the shades tended to act like a race horse's blinders for Stosur, helping her focus ahead of her rather than letting her eyes wander toward the sights, sounds and occasions surrounding her. And for her, the less distraction on the court the better.

It's nothing scientific, mind you, nor as time-worn as Kierkegaard's words. But I liked the look, and have missed it. So, it was great today to see a little dark in her outfit again, and the glasses back in place. The result: an easy win. Coincidence? Probably. But why mess with a good thing, I say.

Stosur has reason to be encouraged entering this Roland Garros. Her loss in the Rome final to Maria Sharapova notwithstanding, her result in Italy was her first appearance in a final since she lost to Schiavone in Paris. Plus, she defeated Schiavone in Rome. It should be all good. She's back at the tournament where's she had the most success, and she seems to be getting her game back, too. Why can't SHE take advantage of THIS opportunity, allowing her to forget about last year's?

But I guess that's all up to Stosur, isn't it?

"Don't forget to love yourself." - Kierkegaard

* - Thanks again, Søren.

...I'm not the only person who detests this early First Sunday start at Roland Garros.

As Mary Carillo, Martina Navratilova and Justin Gimelstob discussed at the start of Tennis Channel's coverage today, none of the players want to begin their slam experience a day early and cross up their usual well-planned-out schedule for the fortnight. Of course, not that the tournament really cares too much what the vast majority of the players want since, apparently, the-powers-that-be instituted this early start without giving any voice to the athletes' concerns solely because the organizers desired an extra day of gate/concessions revenue for the event. End of discussion, except that there wasn't any discussion. Oh, well.

Of course, that doesn't mean that some players aren't more equal than others. Roger Federer has made no effort to show his disdain for possibly being scheduled for a First Sunday match in Paris, and it wasn't shocking to not see his name on the schedule even after several reportes had hinted during a press conference that he might be scheduled to go on Sunday. Maria Sharapova, too, was publicly in opposition to her being forced to play on the very first First Sunday a few seasons ago. Guess what? She hasn't played on the day since. Still, perhaps it says something about gender politics at Roland Garros that Day 1 began with the 2010 women's runner-up (Stosur), '09 champion (Svetlana Kuzntsova) and '10 semifinalist (Jelena Jankovic) in action, while none of last year's (or the year before's) men's quarterfinalists-or-better, nor ANY former RG men's singles champions, took to the court on Sunday.

I guess we know who has clout, and who doesn't. It's no surprise, but it's interesting that we now have such a non-showcase day every year in Paris to throw a spotlight on the situation. Thing is, with the top players -- well, some of them, anyway -- seemingly being able to opt out of an early start for themselves, there wasn't much in any way of a compelling schedule on tap today. Truthfully, that's going to be the case with the women's competition for a while at this RG, as the draw didn't really set out very many keep-an-eye-open-for match-ups at all in the first few rounds, but the general blah nature of today's lineup didnt' exactly make for prime viewing.

...anyway, Simona Halep turned out to be the first player to advance to the 2nd Round at this event, as she defeated Alla Kudryavtseva 6-2/6-1 just shortly before Stosur took out Benesova. Naturally, the two will next face off against each other.

It didn't take long for the first women's seed to fall, either. #19 Shahar Peer lost to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, 7-6/6-1, in one of the few seemingly equal match-ups in the early going in the women's draw. Thus, after being within five ranking points and one singles match victory of becoming the first Israeli women to reach the Top 10 a few weeks ago, Peer now seems assured of falling completely out of the Top 20 once this slam wraps.

Peer was soon followed out the door by #18 Flavia Pennetta, as the Italian vet lost to Varvara Lepchenko to drop her fifth consecutive match (she's 1-6 in her last seven). She, too, will now likely drop out of the Top 20. The victory by Lepchenko, one of the small group of Americans in the draw (from which very little is expected), at least assures that one U.S. woman will reach the 3rd Round. Her next opponent will be countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who defeated Arantxa Parra-Santonja today. other results of note: the Sisters Bondarenko are already done. Jelena Jankovic took down Alona, while Rebecca Marino eliminated Kateryna. #32 Tsvetana Pironkova actually made it past wild card Casey Dellacqua, which I surely didn't think she'd muster up anything noteworthy enough to make possible, and the Bulgarian (a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year) thus ties her best-ever result in Paris, matching her 2nd Round appearances in '06 and '08. Meanwhile, looking a bit out of shape after many weeks off while battling illness after her title run in Kuala Lumpur, Jelena Dokic went out in three sets to Vera Dushevina after having locked away the opening set. The Aussie has only won one match in Paris since 2004. Also, the "Last Pastry Standing" and "Last Qualifier Standing" awards have their first nominees, as a French woman (Alize Cornet) and a qualifier (Mona Barthel) both won 1st Round matches today., some Week 20 housekeeping:

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Petra Kvitova, CZE
3. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4. Andrea Petkovic, GER
5. Julia Goerges, GER
HM- Victoria Azarenka, BLR

...the 16-year old Hordette, the runner-up in the' 10 U.S. Open Girls final and current #9-ranked junior, claimed her first career ITF challenger title at a $25K event in Moscow, defeating Ukraine's Veronika Kapshay in the final.

JUNIOR STAR: Irina Khromacheva/RUS the Grade A junior Italian Open in Milan, 16-year old Khromacheva continued her remarkable recent run. Winning her fifth consecutive junior and/or ITF tournament, she defeated Danka Kovinic in the final to extend her overall springtime winning streak to twenty-six matches (and 31 of 32). The #4 junior in the world, and a semifinalist in the RG Girls competition a season ago, she'll surely enter Paris as one of the favorites to grab the Girls title this time around.

...and, finally, I guess we can add yet another variable to the Roland Garros '11 grab-bag, as the new Babolat balls that the tournament is using (a late switch) might give an advantage to some of the more hard-hitting, aggressive players. As the Tennis Channel crew discussed the situation today, it was said that the players believe the much-lighter Babolats are "serving balls" and that there might be record Roland Garros numbers for aces this year, especially if the weather remains hot and dry.

Lindsay Davenport said that she believes the champion will come from the bottom of the draw (hmm, I'll bet she's thinking KC... just a "guess"), while Navratilova followed up her assertion and noted that she believes the new balls will help a group of players in the bottom half the most -- including Sharapova, Azaranka, Kvitova, Petkovic and Clijsters.

One player possibly hindered by the switch is said to be Wozniacki, who's already had a hard time dispensing a slew of hard-hitting and aggressive "first strike" players who she's faced off against this spring. Which leads one to, once again, look to her Danish countryman for a potentially appropriate quote:

"During the first period of a (wo)man's life the greatest danger is not to take the risk." - Kierkegaard

Maybe it's time, when and if the need arises?

2005 #25 Dinara Safina/RUS (lost to Razzano/FRA)
2006 #18 Elena Likhovtseva/RUS (lost to Sprem/CRO)
2007 #31 Severine Bremond/FRA (lost to Krajicek/NED)
2008 #15 Nicole Vaidisova/CZE (lost to Benesova/CZE)
2009 #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (lost to Shvedova/KAZ)
2010 #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (lost to Dulko/ARG)
2011 #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)

*RG "FIRST 1st Rd. WIN"*
2009 Li Na/CHN (def. Domachowska/POL) & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Olaru/ROU)
2010 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (def. Ivanova/RUS)
2011 Simona Halep/ROU (def. Kudryavtseva/RUS)

4...Monica Puig, PUR
2...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2...An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
2...Alison van Uytvanck, BEL

TOP QUALIFIER: #21 Sloane Stephens/USA
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Ekaterina Bychkova/RUS d. Lindsay Lee-Waters/USA 3-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: Simona Halep/ROU (def. Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

Stosur was ill during the Rome event, so it's probably to her credit that she even played in the final.

Today, she was lacking that "deer in the headlights" look she sometimes gets, but more will be revealed when the matches become more difficult (not that Benesova is a walk in the park). It can't be easy for her, after what she went through last year, but perhaps she learned something from Schiavone's "grab it while you can" attitude.

Sun May 22, 08:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

All the more reason for her to feel relieved in Paris then, I guess.

Of course, if everyone was able to rise to the occasion to do what Schiavone did last year -- or manage to learn from it and execute a similar feat -- I suspect the champions roll would look very different at the slams.

Let's see, Elena D would have a title, and Dinara, and...

Sun May 22, 11:49:00 PM EDT  

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