Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tokyo: First round disaster for top players

The Toray Pan Pacific Open has barely begun, but the upsets and equivalents to upsets are stunning.

7th seed Daniela Hantuchova is out, defeated by Francesca Schiavone. 8th seed Anna Chakvetadze is out, defeated by Kaia Kanepi. Wild card Amelie Mauresmo was shown the door by Dominika Cibulkova, and Agnes Szavay was taken out by Ayumi Morita.

And that isn't all: In doubles, top seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama were defeated by Vania King and Nadia Petrova.

Unlike some other fans, I enjoy a good upset (though, of course, not when one of my favorites is the victim). This occurrence in Tokyo, however, bears further analysis.

It is the last quarter of the season, which means that some players are tired, and perhaps need to give some attention to injuries or near-injuries. There are also some very talented younger players on the tour who can take out anyone on a given day. But a look at their victims is probably the most revealing fact of all:

Hantuchova has simply not been able to return to form since she was taken out of play by a serious foot problem. This is unfortunate, since she worked so hard to get back into the top 10. I don't know that Hantuchova will ever be able to overcome her mental issue--she chokes in bigger ways that anyone on the tour--I hope so. But at any rate, seeing her struggle like this is not pretty. (Let us not forget, however, that Schiavone can be quite tough).

Chakvetadze is another story. She has a lovely game (as does Hantuchova) and could do great things, but she is another one who lacks mental strength and who can be wildly inconsistent. She says that she is not troubled by the trauma she suffered last December, but unless she has gotten a lot of help for it, she most likely is troubled by it. In fact, unless an intervention is made, post-traumatic symptoms tend to get worse. (Again, the determined, big-hitting Kanepi can get the job done.)

Then there is Mauresmo, who is in a terrible slump, following months of injury, illness, illness-related injury, and loss of confidence. She has split, at least for now, with her long-time coach, Loic Courteau, and is obviously concerned about her tennis future. In Tokyo, she had four match points, and lost to one of tennis's rising stars, in a strange scoreline: 0-6, 6-1, 7-6.

Agnes Szavay has had so many first-round losses this year, I'm tired of counting them. The Hungarian woman with the beautiful backhand has something going on, and that something appears to be mental. Morita is Japan's young star, and Tokyo is her home tournament, and there is no doubt that she is going to do her best there--it's just that this type of thing happens to Szavay quite a bit.

Looking ahead, there are some tasty rounds in store: Jankovic vs. Pennetta, Dementieva vs. Cornet, Cibulkova vs. Safina, and Radwanska vs. Bartoli. And more to come...

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