Friday, May 27, 2011

RG.6- "The Concept of Irony" *

Hopefully, Martina Navratilova will be available for consultation over the next few weeks and/or months.

"Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are." - Søren Kierkegaard

If Caroline Wozniacki is going to ever reach her grand slam potential, she's going to need to pay attention to the words of her long-dead Danish countryman. She needs to stop fooling herself and trying to convince others that being #1 means nothing is wrong in her tennis universe. If she doesn't, she'll never win a slam. And that'd be a pity, because she's too smart for that.

The latest in this spring's series of episodes in which the limits of Wozniacki's approach -- i.e. her on-court tactics and tendency to over-schedule herself into a slam corner -- were left out in the sun to dry and crack took place in Paris, as she was run off the court by an in-form Daniela Hantuchova whose aggressive gameplan looked mighty similar to those used by the likes of a Sharapova, Petkovic and Goerges to take down the top-ranked woman in the world over the last few months. The 28-year old Slovak, who could probably tell the Dane a thing or two about how nothing is ever really assured of going the way a young player desires for her career, handled Wozniacki in two quick sets, ushering her out by a 6-1/6-3 score and making her 3rd Round finish her worst grand slam result in two years.

The highs and lows of the two players couldn't have been any more starkly different in the opening set. While Hantuchova was comprehesively dominating the same player she'd never beaten, and lost to in the same round in Miami in March, Wozniacki finished the set with a grand total of zero winners. As the Slovak raced to a 6-1/4-0 lead against the tired and ineffective 20-year old, it was easy to remember how the power and depth of the now-veteran's shot had once made her a Top 5 player as a teen, with designs on winning a slam for herself.

In fact, it was only Hantuchova's history of emotional collapses that allowed this match to remain interesting. One of the reasons that she was never able to reach her full potential was because of the space between her ears, and everyone watching knew that she'd have to overcome her long-time issues in this match to advance, as well. Against Wozniacki in the Australian Open, Hantuchova had had an opportunity to push the match to a 3rd set against her fading opponent, but she was 0-for-7 on break point chances in the stanza, failed to put away three set points, then double-faulted on match point in a 6-1/7-6 loss. How she responded at a similarly crucial point in the 2nd set was going to determine this match, too.

Serving at 4-1, Wozniacki raced to a Hantuchova drop shot and put it away for an easy winner to take a 30/15 lead on the Slovak's serve. Moments later, she had double break point, and the match likely teetered in the balance. Would Hantuchova blow it again? Would she finally stand up and take control in crunchtime? Well, she DID proceed to hit back-to-back aces -- her first of the match -- to pull the game back to even. Wozniacki got the break on her third try, but Hantuchova didn't run and hide from the moment as she so often has in the past. She held for 5-3 two games later, then broke the Dane to close out the win.

The #5 player in the world eight years ago, the #28 seed was 0-6 versus #1-ranked players in her career before today, and was 0-3 in head-to-head meetings with Wozniacki, never winning a set and taking more than three games in a stanza just once (in that Miami match). If Hantuchova could maintain some consistency in these latter stages of her career, she could very well have a shot to make do on her early promise with a surprising, deep drive into a slam (Francesca Schiavone should really be officially declared the patrion saint of the seemingly-hopeless -- and slamless -- tennis veterans still seeking that one moment in the bright spotlight, you know?). Maybe even at this tournament. Too bad she couldn't have figured out more of her issues long ago. It's possible that a little change at the right time would have given her at least half a decade of legitimate slam contending seasons.

Ironically, in the end, this early loss might be the best thing for Wozniacki. One more splash of cold water in the face to shock her into reality. As was seen when she spoke with Navratilova on Tennis Channel a few days ago, she seems open to trying new approaches in her career (her father Piotr is said to want to reach some aggreement with Martina to have her help out his daughter's game a bit), but she's also somewhat wary of changing too much when what is supposedly "wrong" with her tennis has nonetheless gotten her to #1. As usual, she was continually pressed in her post-match press conference about such things, and she again talked about her confidence and being a "great player." But she DID have at least a tinge of testiness behind her answers. Good. The "harm" needs to come to the Princess of Charm's surface.

As Wozniaki was losing today, though they weren't calling the match, Mary Carillo DID only half-jokingly mention to Navratilova that she might be getting that call from Piotr a little earlier than she might have thought.

"I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved." - Kierkegaard

I began this Roland Garros talking of having "faith" in players. This spring, I haven't lost mine when it comes to Wozniacki one day raising a slam championship trophy, but I am now in a "wait-and-see" mode when it comes to investing in the long-term success of her slam career. From this point on, she's either going to take the necessary steps to give herself a real shot to win a slam, or she's going to fall behind the oncoming swarm of her generation's big hitters and be another former #1 footnote.

Ask Martina Hingis what it feels like to go from #1 to being "obsolete" in a matter of a season or two. At least the Swiss Miss had a few years of "free reign" in which to achieve her career goals. Wozniacki won't be so lucky, so she has to do something about it now. As in any game of chess, it's her move. Is she going to continue to let other players dictate her ultimate destiny in the slams (and just hope that their play eventually falls off), or will she act as a true #1 (a ranking for which she should send big bouquets of flowers to Kim Clijsters and Arantxa Rus for making it possible for her to keep) in both form AND function and make the necessary adjustments that will allow her to play a bigger role in the outcome of her biggest matches? She doesn't need to scrap her entire mentality, but she HAS to be willing to be more aggressive in matches if she's ever going to ever be able to make it through a packed-to-the-gills draw in a seven-round tournament and hold up one of the sport's four biggest prizes when it's all over.

I said back before the season started that I didn't really think 2011 was going to be Wozniacki's slam-winning year, and that 2012 was a better bet. It won't be easy, but I still think that's true. As long as she does what she needs to do.

The last few seasons have shown, through the plights of various #1's, that nothing is ever a given when it comes to winning slams. The #1 ranking and four dollars will get you a gallon of gas at the corner Sheetz store in the U.S. (though it might cost a bit more elsewhere). Wozniacki talked last year of "having time" to achieve her goals. Well, the clock is ticking. A season ago, she seemed to have time to spare, but as '11 has seen the breakthroughs of more and more young, power-oriented players -- most of which C-Woz has not faired well against -- the schedule has changed. If this spring hasn't been enough to alert the Dane to that reality, then one has to wonder what will.

Tick tock, Caroline. Tick tock.

* - Thanks again, Søren.

...with #1 Wozniacki's exit coming a day after that of #2 Kim Clijsters, this Roland Garros thus becomes the first slam in the Open era in which both the top two women's seeds failed to reach the Round of 16.

Wozniacki had had a tour-leading run of seven consecutive 4th-Round-or-better results in slams. Last year, only she and Venus Williams managed the feat at all four slams. Now, the current long Round of 16 streak belongs to Vera Zvonarea, who advanced to her fourth straight Final 16 today with a win over Anastasia Rodionova.

...even if Wozniacki's loss might be beneficial for her career, it's still hard to escape the missed opportunity her loss represents. Before she went out, two of the bigger potential obstacles on her side of the draw -- '10 runner-up Samantha Stosur and '11 C-Woz nemesis Julia Goerges -- were also dumped out of the tournament.

As for Stosur, she seems forever fated to chase her tail in slams. In a match-up of two former Doubles #1's, the Aussie was supposed to be in a comfortable place against Argentina's Gisela Dulko. Stosur had cruised through her 1st and 2nd Round opposition, and looked she might be peaking at the same event in which she's advanced to at least the semis two years in a row. But when Dulko proved to be a very "bad house guest" in Stosur's Paris getaway from a so-far-subpar season on Day 6, the Aussie most definitely did not react well.

Dulko attacked Stosur's serve early in the 1st set, and the unprepared Stosur took an entire set to right herself. After Stosur had pushed around the likes of Serena and Justine Henin on the terre battue a year ago, her "bully on the playground" role turned into a classic case of the bully backing down when challenged on this day. Dulko led 4-0, and broke the Aussie's serve three times in the set. Stosur came back to take the 2nd set at 6-1, but when she failed to serve out a game to take a 3-1 lead in a game in which she double-faulted twice, Stosur's stature once again became smaller and smaller in the face of competition. She was soon down 5-2, serving with just a 55% 1st serve win percentage for the match (48% in the deciding set) and with zero aces to her credit all day en route to a truly disappointing 6-4/1-6/6-3 3rd Round exit.

I never thought Stosur was going to win a slam in '11. At age 27, and still wilting in situations like this against a player who's never been a slam threat (this is just the 26-year old Dulko's third Round of 16 slam result), at the one slam where she has ever seemed to "fit" (she's only reached one QF at any other slam), I think it's over for Stosur. I just don't believe she'll ever have the mental make-up to win a major.

Elsewhere, Goerges' words about not being a contender turned out to be prophetic, and she was sent packing by Marion Bartoli. With the match still in the balance as the German was starting to surge in the closing moments, Bartoli held serve in a 20-minute game in the 3rd to take a 5-1 lead. Goerges held, then broke to get to within 5-3, but the Pastry was up to the task of closing things out in her second try. She held at love to win 3-6/6-2/6-4.

...defending champ Francesca Schiavone advanced past Peng Shuai 6-3/1-2 when the Chinese woman retired with an upper respitory illness. Schiavone will face Jelena Jankovic for a berth in the quarters, so one of the under-the-radar vets will be playing for a spot in the Final 4.

Actually, save for 19-year old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the entire top half is composed of veterans (likely duking it out for the "Opportunity" award, by the way). Of the eight players left, five (Schiavone, Jankovic, Zvonareva, Bartoli and Svetlana Kuznetsova) have appeared in slam finals. Of the sixteen remaining in the bottom half, only Maria Sharapova and Li Na can say the same (Petra Kvitova and Yanina Wickmayer have reached a SF). The average age of the top half is 25.75 (26.71 without Pavlyuchenkova), with six of the eight age 26 or older, and with Kuznetsova only a month away from making it seven. Of the sixteen alive in the bottom, only two players -- Li and Roberta Vinci -- are 26-or-older.

...Kuznetsova, an easy winner over Rebecca Marino today, is an interesting case. Her results have been miserable for most of the last two years since she won the RG title, and she spoke on Tennis Channel today about having a hard time with motivation in the past. The key is to find a way to stay focused, she said, because "sometimes I lose my mind." Wow... that sounds like an entry in my old "From the Mind of Myskina" segments in this space. Maybe Anastasia, the '04 RG champ and in from Russia to act as a consultant for Kuznetsova in Paris, is rubbing off on Sveta? At least one thing that has come from Kuznetsova's re-connection with Myskina, unlike with her other past "helpers," she says she "actually listens" to what Czarina Myskina says. Hmmm... yeah, that probably IS important in a coaching/consulting relationship.

...quick, somebody throw Aravane Rezai a life preserver! Today, the Opinionated Pastry and Mirjana Lucic
lost their Doubles match to Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci by a 6-0/6-0 score. Ouch. Miami, Lindsay Davenport called the Wozniacki/Hantchova match for Tennis Channel, and she really grinded my nerves with how she nearly always referred to the Slovak by the more casual "Daniela," but went with "Wozniacki" for the Dane. She was at it again today... and this time I don't think she EVER deviated from her assigned designations during the match. I realize that Davenport played with and knows Hantuchova, but does no one at TC realize how unprofessional it sounds for a match commentator to do that? At least Ian Eagle tried to keep casual viewers from thinking that the Dane's opponent was akin to Madonna, Beyonce, Cher or any number of those Brazilian soccer stars who go by only one name.

...Federer vs. Tipsarevic. The Swiss Mister put on another of his classic clinics in this one. After all these years, it's still one of the most entertaining sights in sport to see Federer in "The Zone."

...Djokovic vs. del Potro: with Djokovic coming in on a 41-match (39-0 in '11) winning streak, del Potro took the 2nd set today before the match was called due to darkness. With the Serb's improved fitness seemingly giving him an added advantage against the still-on-the-comeback-road '09 U.S. Open champ in a prospective five-setter, the break means this one will essentially become a best-of-three match when it resumes on Saturday. Will it make a difference, and could the Argentine turn over the apple cart that is the men's draw like has somewhat occurred on the women's side?

...and, finally, there was yet another gem of a moment that emerged from the Carillo/Navratilova pairing on TC today. Calling the Bartoli/Goerges match, after shaking her head as she continually watched the Frenchwoman's unorthodox lead-up section of her service motion, Navratilova chimed in with, "That serve is so tortured-looking I'm surprised she hasn't cut off her ear."

Seriously, it may be time to call off the competition and go ahead and name that the "Line of the Year."

#28 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK vs. #13 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
#11 Marion Bartoli/FRA vs. Gisela Dulko/ARG
#3 Vera Zvonareva/RUS vs. #14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
#10 Jelena Jankovic/SRB vs. #5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
#7 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #9 Gael Monfils/FRA
#14 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #3 Roger Federer/SUI
Fabio Fognini/ITA vs. Albert Montanes/ESP
#13 Richard Gasquet/FRA vs. xx

2000 Martina Hingis (SF)
2001 Martina Hingis (SF)
2002 Jennifer Capriati (SF)
2003 Serena Williams (SF)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (2nd Rd.)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (SF)
2006 Amelie Mauresmo (4th Rd.)
2007 Justine Henin (W)
2008 Maria Sharapova (4th Rd.)
2009 Dinara Safina (RU)
2010 Serena Williams (QF)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki (3rd Rd.)

TOP QUALIFIER: #21 Sloane Stephens/USA
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #8 Samantha Stosur/AUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Ekaterina Bychkova/RUS d. Lindsay Lee-Waters/USA 3-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #3 Vera Zvonareva/RUS d. (Q) Sabine Lisicki/GER 4-6/7-5/7-5
FIRST WINNER: Simona Halep/ROU (def. Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)
UPSET QUEENS: The Romanians
REVELATION LADIES: The North Americans
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Llagostera-Vives lost in 3rd Round, Chan to play 3rd Round
LAST WILD CARDS STANDING: Iryna Bremond/FRA, Caroline Garcia/FRA & Pauline Parmentier/FRA (2nd Rd.)
CRASH & BURN: #2 Kim Clijsters/BEL (lost in 2nd Rd. to #114 Arantxa Rus/NED after leading 6-3/5-2 and holding 2 MP; worst slam result since 2002
LAST PASTRY STANDING: #11 Marion Bartoli/FRA (in 4th Rd.)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Virginie Razzano/FRA

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm, I fixed that that previous Wozniacki/Hantuchova match was in Miami, not Melbourne. I think I looked at the "3rd Rd." notation in my notes and figured that it had to have been in the AO, completely forgettng that there are also 3rd Round matches in Miami and Indian Wells, too. :(

Fri May 27, 09:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

Psst, Todd, the previous Dani-Caro match you are refering to was not at AO but in Miami. And in todays match, Caro actually ended up breaking serve in the game where Dani fired to aces to save break points. She then held serve to 3-4 before Dani held and broke for 6-3. I just want to mention it, because I know you want to get your facts right :-)

I really appreciate your daily updates, so please keep up the good work.

Fri May 27, 09:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Recognition moment of the day: it is true, as Jeppe said, that your daily updates are very appreciated. It is my way to keep up to date with the matches though I am working during the week, and this, with a great mixture of fun, content, statistics and analysis.

As for the actual tournament, it's funny how 2½ rounds later, with the two top seeds crossed out, the name of the person who will raise gloriously the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 8 days remains a complete mystery. Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Jankovic, Kvitova, Azarenka, Schiavone, Zvonareva... I personally like what I've seen from Kuznet so far (hoping I didn't just curse her). This is very different from the trivalry on the men's side.

Should Kuznet win, are there other women in the Open era who have won three or more Slam titles without being #1? I think Pierce won "only" 2? (What would Safina, Wozniacki or Jankovic give to have won 2 Slam titles?)

Fri May 27, 10:52:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My words to Caroline:
Poor little girl - it was too much. That Hantuchova was playing formidably doesn't make it better. Without a sparkle and agressiveness it won't work against the upcoming hardhitters. Up on the horse again and remember one game at a time, one point etc. You had forgotten that a bit today. Tired of playing tennis ?? - understandable. Goerges, Clijsters, Stosur are all gone togetheer with you, so there is no reason to hide in the basement. Go out and cheer for Djokovic so we can get a couple of neighbours who are world #1 in their class don't know if that has happened before. :-) Could be you can get a little help from him - cheer up girl time for winning a new battle, but be nice to yourself - please.

To Todd
Nice again - keep up the good work.

Sat May 28, 01:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

I agree that Caroline needs to put more harm into her charm=/ But I suppose that's one reason I love the WTA tour: so many story lines.

Sat May 28, 01:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Haha. As you'll notice by the time on our comments, as you were writing that about Miami/AO, I was actually fixing it.Somehow, I'm sure "there's a Kierkegaard for that," though.

You know, I just looked back and I DID have "Gets on #3. 4-2" in my notes for that match (meaning Wozniacki got the break on her third try), but I missed it when I was writing it up. I should have caught it when I said DH then held for 5-3. The numbers didn't work out without a break of Wozniacki in Game #7. Thanks for catching it. Now, onto making the historical record correct, albeit a little belatedly.

Zidane -

I'm sure Safina, Wozniacki and JJ would give a lot just to have ONE. Two would be like winning the lottery... twice. :)

Interesting wonder about three slams and no #1 ranking. I'll check that and add a comment about it.

Hoergren -

Sit tight, the North American circuit is coming. :)

Kevin -

People will likely use the many storylines as "proof" of how "bad" things are, though (Tennis Channel, I know, is supposed to have a big discussion tomorrow on the "state of women's tennis"). I'm sort of holding my breath about catching that.

Drama is always good, though, I think.

Sat May 28, 06:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Here's that list. Of course, you have to take into account a few things. The player had to play in the Open era that began in 1968, but also it has to be remembered that there weren't weekly singles rankings until 1975 (before that, there were only year-end ranks). Things being different, this list might be a little altered. As it is, here's the list of three-time slam champs who didn't reach the #1 ranking:

Ann Haydon Jones: 3 slams overall from 1961-69, but only one of them was claimed during the Open era. She was once year-end #2, and never played with weekly rankings.

Virginia Wade: 3 slams from 1968-77. She reached #2 in the weekly rankings, but I wonder if she might have briefly been #1 if weekly rankings had been in place before '75. She won two of her slams prior to that, in '68 and '72.

Hana Mandlikova: four slams from 1980-87, with a career-high of #3. Her entire career was played in the Open era and with weekly rankings, so she's really the only "pure" person included on this list until or unless Kuznetsova were to join it by winning her third.

Up until a couple of years ago, Evonne Goolagong (7 slams overall, 4 of them during weekly ranking periods from 1975-80) would have been on this list, but some snafu with the WTA rankings wasn't uncovered until over twenty-five years after the fact, and she was decades-after-she'd-retired credited with two weeks at #1 after having not been recognized in the record book as a #1-ranked player previously.

Also of some note, though she just missed out on both the Open era and weekly rankings periods, Maria Bueno won seven slams from 1959-66.

If Kuznetsova makes the final, or does so at another slam down the line, this all will surely be brought up again. Thanks, Zidane.

Thanks, too, by the way, for everyone catching those little... umm, cough-cough... "editing mistakes" and calling to mind potential lists like this. It takes a village, I guess. :)

Sat May 28, 07:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Footnote: Margaret Court and Billie Jean King are counted as official #1's for the WTA, but they don't appear on the "Career Weeks at #1" lists because their year-end #1's ranks came before the weekly computer rankings began.

Also, now that I think about, Goolagong was listed as a year-end #1 prior to that accounting error being discovered, too. Now, though, she is on the "Weeks at #1" lists.

Sat May 28, 08:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger tennischick said...

nice entry. enjoyed reading and agree with much of what you note.

Tue May 31, 09:58:00 PM EDT  

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