Monday, January 28, 2019

Osaka's amazing ability to recalibrate

I understand the many comparisons being made between Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Capriati.  On Saturday, Osaka became the second woman to back up her first Slam (US Open) by winning the very next Slam (Australian Open).  The last woman to do so was Jennifer Capriati, when she won the 2001 Australian Open, followed by Roland Garros that same year.  Capriati also made a number of ‘youngest ever’ lists early in her career, which has also invited comparisons with Osaka.  

But I do not want Osaka’s career to be depicted only through this single reference point.  It would be unfair to Osaka to have her career perpetually linked to Capriati’s.  Because, let’s face it, despite their youthful talent, they are profoundly different people, with remarkable disparities in both temperament and discipline. Their cultural and family heritages are also extremely distinct.  And they have a notable difference in their ability to emotionally regroup.

The ability to regroup refers to the capacity for controlling one’s emotions.  It refers to the capacity for managing one’s emotions in order to achieve desired goals, complete selected tasks, and direct one’s behavior.  It denotes the emotional skills needed to recover from a setback.  It was this ability that Naomi relied on to recoup emotionally from being up 5-3, 40-0 in the second set – only to lose it.

Monday, January 21, 2019

“We know how to win slams”

That’s what Federer said in a recent interview following his second-round win at this year’s Aussie Open. Roger was of course referring to Djoko, Rafa and himself.  And he is absolutely correct.  That formidable threesome can genuinely boast that they posses the kind of expertise that it takes to not just make it past week two and into the finals, trophy held aloft, but to do so again and again and again. 

Not everyone on the ATP or WTA tour has the ability to win slams.  Indeed, most of the folks playing professional tennis on both tours likely accept that the best that they are capable of is making a decent showing if all of the stars are aligned.  Most aspire to just being able to pay their bills.  The talented ones hope for a contract that will pay them what tennis cannot. The cheaters take drugs like meldonium.

This is not to say that winners always succeed in winning.  Let’s face it, anyone can win a one-off match.  Anyone can have a bad day and lose to a lesser player.  Anyone can have a lapse in form that interferes with performance at the wrong time.  But the ability to win slams over and over, that kind of consistent performance, requires a maturity of focus that the one-hit wonders never master.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Sascha Bajin Factor

At Wimbledon 2018, upon being told by a reporter that Madison Keys had said that it must be tough to be Serena because everyone always plays their best against her, Serena offered this elucidating response, clarifying the kind of pressure that she faces in every single match: 

“I’m glad someone admitted that. Of course Madison does. She’s just so smart and so on it, but yeah, every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or a surgery or it doesn’t matter, these young ladies bring a game that I’ve never seen before. It’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much because when I watch them play is a totally different game than when they play me. It’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”

Of all the cumulative sources of pressure affecting Serena during that match against Osaka, I believe that one of the unacknowledged sources was the courtside presence of Sascha Bajin, her former hitting partner, coach, and confidant.  I cannot imagine the pressure that Serena must have felt knowing that seated close by was the man who, for eight years came to know her game the best, and who, for the second time, had coached a young woman in the tactics of beating her.