Saturday, January 31, 2009

Australian Open final turns spotlight on problem

First, let me give all credit to the great Serena Williams, who played magnificently in the Australian Open final. There is reason to believe Williams would have won the match, no matter what was going on on the other side of the net. But her opponent, Dinara Safina, is too good a player not to have taken it to three sets, or at least two very close ones. Even a Safina win should have been a possibility. Instead, we got a train wreck.

Former tour star Virginia Wade appropriately calls the Australian Open final outcome embarrassing. "It's upsetting," she says, "that the women's game is so scratchy at the moment."

Wade continues: "What I find in the women's game, and I watch all these big names throughout the year and at the major tournaments, there are all these players who can hit the ball fantastically well when they are playing well. But I don't see them doing anything to help them relax when they get into a state. Tennis is all about the preparation, about being ready when the proverbial hits the fan. Tennis is about being ready and when it gets tough it's all about the head and not just about the game."

Wade is, of course, correct. Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, Daniela Hantuchova, Anna Chakvetadze, Patty Schnyder, even Jelena Jankovic--to some extent (as evidenced in Melbourne)...all have great games, but fragile mentalities. In the case of Safina and Ivanovic, it's the ball toss that goes awry when the nerves click in. With other players, choking begins, or their games just suffer in quality.

I have some theories about the possible causes of this problem:

1. So much attention is given to the power game that the mental part has been neglected.
2. Players are not seeing sports psychologists when they should.
3. Sports psychologists are not using hypnotherapy, which would be the quickest, easiest, most effective intervention for solving this problem.
4. Women, regardless of their culture, tend to have low self-esteem and do not impose themselves the way they need to in order to be winners in tennis, or in anything else. We are still culturally conditioned to not be good enough.

During the Australian Open final, Mary Carillo was in high rant mode about the lack of commitment in women's tennis. She wondered why more women's matches aren't filled with grit and sweat and high quality. It is really difficult for fans--especially fans of truly good players like Safina--to watch a major final--or any match--end the way this one ended.


Anonymous said...

i agree completely in regards to the top players seeing a sports psychologist. I can't understand why they don't, i study a bit of sports psychology recently and the techniques i was taught for elite athletes i can only see working to their advantage. It certainly can only do good things for them, and it's a field that in my opinion, should be utilised much much more.

Sasha said...

Unfortunately, I think today's final between Nadal and Federer has given the anti-women's tennis militia plenty of ammo. In my opinion, Safina has just been placed under too much scrutiny by everyone since she was so young, being Marat's sister and all and I'm just not sure a psychologist can do much for her. Anyway, given that she is fulfilling the Ivanovic prophecy she should win the French.

Diane said...

Sasha, a good hypnotherapist could turn Safina around in about three sessions. I wonder how many sports psychologists are using hypnotherapy these days.

Even conventional sports psychology could turn her around--it would just take longer. I do know of what I speak: I am a psychotherapist.

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