Sunday, December 9, 2007

What next for Petrova?

Nadia Petrova is currently training in the Turkish resort city of Antalya, and says she has her eye on the Olympics. Earlier this year, she said she had lost her motivation to play tennis and was concerned about her professional future. The talented Russian has not had a very good year, and is perhaps the biggest question mark on the tour.

Back when the Russians were emerging, Petrova was the one mentioned most often as the player most likely to make a big breakthrough first. It did not turn out that way, of course--Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Myskina all won Grand Slam tournaments, and Elena Dementieva wound up in two Grand Slam finals.

Petrova became more known for her emotional fragility and hot temper than for her tennis, which was a bit unfair because off the court, she is a person of charm and intelligence. She did not even win a tournament until late in 2005, and she probably won that one because her opponent, Patty Schnyder, who was winning the final match, hurt her hand and had to play the last set one-handed.

In 2006, she did a three-tournament clay court sweep. I saw her win in Charleston (much to my dismay--she defeated Schnyder--one of my favorites--who had taken out Justine Henin in the semifinals), and though her opponent's bad judgment helped her along, Petrova's all-court game was superb.

At that time, Petrova looked good to win the French Open, and some of us were excited by the obvious tension of Justine Henin's having some real competition for the title. But then a terrible thing happened: Petrova was injured during a pre-tournament warm-up session, and because of her injury, she was defeated in the first round. (Some tennis fans and the tennis press have a tendency to leave out the injury part when they report Petrova's shocking loss, just as they tend to forget about Lindsay Davenport's 2004 U.S. Open injury).

She was never the same again. Petrova has struggled with her serve, her groundstrokes and her attitude, and she has become error-prone. It is frustrating to watch this very talented player make a backward slide, and one hopes that 2008 will be a good year for her.