Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Slipping on clay

Yaroslava Shvedova said today that after the second set, she put on a different pair of shoes and was better able to handle the slippery Court Suzanne Lenglen. These days, whenever I think about tennis shoes, I can't help but recall the U.S. Open saga of Melanie Oudin--and I so I wonder: Did Serena Williams fail to go to the locker room and slip on her Believe shoes after the second round?

Bundled out of the French Open in the quarterfinals over and over is likely to have (at least) an unconscious effect on a player, even a champion who has almost magically gotten herself out of trouble in big matches so many times that her mental toughness is legendary. I don't mean to take any credit away from Sam Stosur, whose own mental toughness arrived quite dramatically today when she needed it most. But is it possible that we witnessed not only Stosur's steely will to win, but also Williams' creeping doubt?

Williams won the French Open in 2002, defeating her sister Venus in the final. In 2003, she lost to Justine Henin in the semifinals. For the past several years that she played, however, she has gone out in the quarterfinals to Jennifer Capriati (twice), Henin (twice), and Svetlana Kuznetsova. It is widely agreed that clay is Williams' most vulnerable surface because it is the surface on which her power can be diffused. Of course, there is much more to Williams' game than power, and perhaps the confidence factor has also been diffused.

Today, after the first set, Williams appeared to have figured out the problem that was Sam Stosur. She won the tiebreak decisively, and in the third set, she held a match point. But it wasn't enough. Stosur came charging back in a big way, fueled by her own belief that she could beat the world number 1. For Williams, the court was indeed slippery, though the sun shone, and not a drop of moisture fell.

In the past, Serena Williams has referred to her losses at majors as her "going crazy," i.e., suddenly making a lot of unforced errors and letting the win slip away. In today's press conference, however, there was no talk of lost sanity; indeed, one has to wonder, was it something else that Williams misplaced?


Karen said...

Diane, there is no speculation on this one. Serena said it after her loss in Rome and Madrid. She said that the long layoff after the Australian Open took away her confidence factor in closing out matches. People say that Serena is a different player in the majors than she is at regular tour events. I have always found difficulty with that. She maybe more motivated but her competitiveness and will to win is not only a part of her but it is what makes her as successful as she is now.

The thing with Serena is that she plays well under pressure. Pressure situations she makes the right shot at the right time. Break point down, big serve, on the run, and out of position, winner cross court or up the line. She is a risk taker. It is just that she needs to find that mental focus that she has in her to be able to overcome these let downs.

She said in her press conference that she does not believe she has lost a match until she is shaking hands at the net and even then she is still in disbelief. That is unwavering confidence and belief in your own game. That is how a champion should think at all times. Maybe there is more going on in her life right now which is interfering with her ability to rise in the pressure situations but I have no doubt she will be back.

Kudos to Stosur for standing her ground and plucking victory from the jaws of defeat.

Diane said...

The layoff certainly must have had an effect; I'm suggesting, though, that there may also be an underlying (though not conscious) belief that she cannot get past the quarterfinals of the French Open.

Karen said...

Yes, I think that may play a part in it as well. She said something eerily similar in her press conference after her 4th round match that now that she is in the quarters she needs to get to the semis. Unfortunately, once again she stumbled.

On another note, do you know if anyone has ever done the Grand Slam in doubles on the women's or men's side?

Diane said...

Navratilova and Shriver--1984. Two players who won it, but with different partners, were Hingis and--I think--Maria Bueno.

Diane said...

Karen, I just looked it up--Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor won the Grand Slam in 1951.

Also, Navratilova won the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open with different partners in 1986; the Australian was not played. And it turns out that Hingis's Grand Slam featured Novotna in 3 or the 4 (Lucic was the other) in 1998.

Anonymous said...

I think that as spectators we are so used to Serena coming back after being sets, games, and match-points down that we don't fully appreciate the match being played. Serena had a very shaky start to the match; I don't think that had anything to do with belief. She just didn't look good. She didn't look good the start of the previous round and she was sick in the middle of one match in an even earlier round and almost lost it. She played better the second set and it was very much a match with both players booming serves in the third until Serena was broken in her last service game(I believe at 5-all). And Serena did not "give" or choke that game away. They played three magnificient points each of which ended with Sam Stosur hitting some Nadal-like angled shots. I am a Serena fan but I give Stosur her due. She had played some awesome tennis this tournament (she almost made Henin look silly)and she continued to do so against Serena.