Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"She'd probably lose some before she could win, and who has time for that?"

That is the quotation at the conclusion of Steve Tignor's excellent feature in Tennis magazine--"Personality Crisis." Tignor makes the case that all of the top women on the tour play the same way, more or less, and that this homogeneity stands in sharp contrast to the colorful differences in their personalities. The quotation comes from Nick Bollettieri, who--according to Tignor--somewhat regrets his own creation. Bollettieri's point is that a young player could add some variety and artistry to her game, but it would take time.

Tignor recalls the days when players like Evonne Goolagong, Chris Evert, Gabriela Sabatini, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf all had distinctive playing styles. I recall them, too, and my recollection only intensifies what a loss to the tour it was when Justine Henin and Martina Hingis retired.

Bollettieri's quotation is intense in many ways. Here is another quotation--this one from coach Rick Macci, who trained the Williams sisters and Jennifer Capriati: "If you played an artistic game like Sabatini, you wouldn't be in the top fifty." How quickly he forgets Henin. How quickly he forgets Amelie Mauresmo. How quickly he forgets Patty Schnyder and Anabel Medina Garrigues. He also forgets Francesca Schiavone, Carla Suarez Navarro and Gisela Dulko. All of them have artistic games--in some cases, very artistic games--two of them have been ranked number 1 in the world, and two others have been in the top 10. All are currently in the top 50. And all have thrived, including those at the very top, during the period of so-called power tennis.

Of course, there are still some distinctive playing styles, even among today's top players. Jelena Jankovic is a superb strategist and mover, Marion Bartoli plays Seles style, Flavia Pennetta is an excellent strategist. But the distinctions are becoming less obvious.

Says Macci: "If you can bang the ball, you have a chance." But players like Henin and Mauresmo showed us that you can do a lot more and have a chance, too--a big chance.


Bobby Ball said...

Hell yeah, there's still some distinctive playing styles among today's top players:

(1) Jankovic = superb strategist
(2) Bartoli = plays like Seles
(3) Flavia Pennetta = excellent strategist...

I'll get back to you when I think of some more ;)

Oh, how Dokic? One of the very few players who doesn't do that silly "gimme 3 balls and I'll carefully inspect each one and choose which one I think will serve best" shenanigans...

Anonymous said...

Maybe that's the problem all you mentioned is that they play like Seles.

Having strategy doesn't equate distinction.