Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How much to make of a single win?

So I’m watching Milos Raonic as he kind of spanked Janko Tipsarevic over the past weekend at Chennai. I say “kind of” because truth is that the match went to three very close tiebreaks. Janko technically just as easily could have won. No one broke serve. Both men held serve until 6-6 in each set. And at first Janko was dominant. And then Milos, who won the three-setter. But just by a point or two. There was really no question of dominance.

So I’m watching this match and I’m wondering if any of it means that Raonic can be counted on to be a force to be reckoned with at the Australian Open. Yes he did win this encounter with a top-ten player. But is that enough to predict that he will be a threat Down Under?

Look, you know that I love me some Raonic. I particularly love the way he smiles when he tries something and it doesn’t quite work out. Where other players become all screamy and despondent, he remains smilingly calm and simply starts planning his next move. But is that enough to make me bank on him in Australia?

The truth is that as much as I adore this youngster, even I can admit that there’s a whole lot that is still wrong with his game. Or maybe what I mean to say is that there is still a whole lot that still needs to develop. Sure his serve is big and confident. But dude still needs to work on touch. His volleys are not reliable. If he has ever played a dropshot, I missed the moment. And his backhand can break down under pressure.

But really the above criticisms can be made about just about everyone on the tour outside of the Top Ten. So the bigger question I am examining is how much can you make of a single win? Does the fact that Raonic beat a Top Ten player in the final of an event mean that I can count on him to deliver at the upcoming Slam event?

Well actually, no. Just ask Donald Young. What exactly has he done since spanking Andy Murray at Indian Wells last year? And now that Murray has hired the formidable Lendl as his coach, how likely is it that Young will ever accomplish this again?

Sometimes a win is not exactly what it is cracked up to be. Like Monfils beating Nadal in Qatar. I knew better than to get too excited by that win. It did not signal any significant breakthrough, did it? It seemed to me that Nadal just wanted out of there. He had a Slam to prepare for. Let Monfils take the win. Besides, his countryman was waiting for him in the finals. And Tsonga dispatched him, didn’t he?

And then there was Pennetta’s loss to the unseeded Zheng Jie at Auckland. The win gave Zheng her fourth career singles title, the first since 2006. But Pennetta was clearly hurting during this match. Which makes Zheng’s win is not as significant as it initially seemed to be. Truth is that I would quicker bank on an ailing Pennetta when it comes to making a good showing at the Aussie Open. Just saying.
I suppose the converse of this is that you cannot get all carried away with a single loss. It was clear that Djokovic was having a breakthrough year in 2011 not because he beat Nadal but because he did so repeatedly. My point being that it is important not to ever make too much of a single win. Anyone can have a good day or a lucky moment. The great ones tend to be consistent. They win and then win again.
And then there are players like Serena Williams who seem to absolutely refuse to lose, if they can help it. In spite of horribly rolling her ankle in Brisbane, Serena seemed determined to win that match against Serbia’s Bojana Jovanoski – even if it meant hobbling on one leg.
A loss would have meant a win on paper for Jovanoski – never mind the fact that she was clearly not in command of this match at any point. But Serena denied her. Serena seemed to have fewer problems with giving Hantuchova the walkover in Brisbane. Hantuchova was apparently more deserving – and really, she was.
But Jovanoski was not about to be given a win against Serena, even if it was only on paper. After all, you never know who is going to try to read too damn much into a single win.

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