Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kimiko vs. Dinara: Experience vs. "__________"

Fill in the blank. Here are some of your options:

1.  Head case
2.  Frightened ninny
3.  Beaten-down sapling
4.  Tentative robot
5.  Insert your own here

I know that name-calling isn’t right, and Safina stands to gain nothing from being told once again that she is a mental case. I’m sure that she is painfully aware of this. Some of her words in the post-match interview capture this painful awareness: “I got tight. I was more thinking about her than myself and what I have to do. I lost the momentum.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Indeed, for the longest time I used to criticize Safina’s former coach, Zeljko Krajan, for his tough approach to working with her. I felt that the last thing she needed was his brand of negativity. And yet here am I, no better than the Croat, unleashing my harshest invective for a player for whom I actually feel very deeply.

It’s not easy being a mental case. It’s even harder when you know that you’re a mental case and there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing you can do about it.

My frustration with Safina is not just because I think she has the talent and ability to do so much better, but more so because she seems utterly unaware of the solutions available to her. I’ve written about this before, in a series of articles on PST or performance skills training. I recommended then that Safina needed to sign up for a course of treatment, stat. Apparently no one told her about what Dr. TennisChick suggested.

It goes without saying that I am not at all trying to take anything away from Mrs. Date-Krumm, the experienced veteran. The media has gotten hold of her age 39 storyline and are playing that up for all it’s worth. I find that kind of ridiculous actually, and back-handedly offensive to the woman. I know that I am biased on this issue as I believe strongly that older players ought not to be pushed out of the sport but should leave when they are good and ready. As long as a player is willing to put in the work, then he or she has every right to remain on the tour.

At the same time, when the Roland Garros draw first came out, I must admit that I skipped over Kimiko Date-Krumm’s name to see which big players Safina would be meeting on her way to defending her points. It’s not that I dismissed Date-Krumm; it’s far worse - I completely overlooked her.

And I don’t want in any way to continue this trend by overlooking what she accomplished. Indeed, the match statistics tell the entire story. Date-Krumm committed 63 unforced errors to Safina’s 38. She hit 37 winners to Safina’s 12. She came into net 18 times and won 11 of those points. Safina came into net three times and lost all three points. In other words, Date-Krumm played the riskier, gutsier tennis and she won the match because of it. Safina on the other hand, became increasingly tentative, cautious, robotic.

But I don’t think Date-Krumm’s win should be overstated either. What happened in that much was as much about Safina melting down as it was about Date-Krumm stepping up to finish her off. The problem that I detected was that Safina seemed to have decided in the third set that she would simply wait for her opponent to lose. After all, there was Date-Krumm, her calf heavily bandaged, visibly limping and flinching after each rally. There was no way she could possibly win. Or could she?

I am always astounded when professional players miscalculate so astoundingly. I remember some years ago a match between Bhagdatis and Agassi. Bhagdatis was limping and clutching his calf and leg which were visibly cramping. Agassi, usually the punisher, assumed that running Bhagdatis side to side to help him cramp up some more was all he needed to do by way of strategy. Guess what? Bhagdatis won the match, cramps and all.

I assumed that a player with Safina’s talent would have used the time away to fix both her back and her head. Turns out she may have done the former but the latter is still completely messed up.


Kim at TennisFixation said...

Great post - the reality is that tennis is as much a mental game as a physical game - maybe more so at the pro level.

Amit said...

I agree. I did not look at the draw, but retrospectively I would have given anybody who played Safina a shot. Safina was coming back after an injury, and for all the other factors you mentioned.

I would go ahead and call her "a head case." There I said it.
So you think Safina can still win a Slam? She does need a psychologist as you have hinted,who can guide her mental game.

Kim at TennisFixation said...

Just want to make sure you saw this link to your post:


tennischick said...

you scratch my back i'll scratch yours. :-)