Monday, January 18, 2010

Australian Open: Some thoughts on day 1

It wasn't what we were expecting--chilly, windy weather with multiple rain delays. The rhythm of the first day was a frustrating one, but having two courts that could be covered helped hold back some of the frustration. The weather probably left the biggest impression on me, but there were some other issues that gave me plenty to think about:

Maria Sharapova just wasn't ready to compete. It didn't help her that Maria Kirilenko played the match of her life and kept her head about her. Sharapova continued to have trouble with her serve, she was not that fast on the court, and she was repeatedly dominated by her opponent.

It was Sharapova's press conference, however, that left me with the most troubling impression. Usually, her press conferences are composed of a combination of eye-rolling barbs and dreadful cliches. And while I was glad to see and hear something a bit different, I was also somewhat spooked by Sharapova's demeanor. Thoughts of the iconic Hitchcock "icy blonde" intruded while I watched the Russia superstar contain herself so rigidly, and with such a minimum of affect, that I wondered just how tightly wound she really was. It was as though a pod person were taking Sharapova's place among the reporters: She looked like Maria, she sounded like Maria, but she appeared to have stolen the very essence of Maria.

Yanina Wickmayer appeared to have finally let herself feel all of her feelings. She apparently played terribly, but still managed to win. The Belgian has been through a lot, almost getting banned for two years, not getting a wild card, and then forced to go through qualifying. She has to be mentally tired, and one wonders if she can recover.

Watching Valerie Tetreault was a highlight of the evening. I had never seen her play before, and--while she appeared stunned by the occasion in the first set of her match against idol Kim Clijsters--in the second set, she put on a lovely display of tennis.

I wish I had gotten to see Justine Henin play Kirsten Flipkens.

Pam Shriver really needs to get away from the subject of Wickmayer (she was going on and on last night) and find something else to talk about. I do agree with her that the chair umpire in the Maria-Maria match set a poor example by allowing both players to take as long as they wanted to prepare for their serves. Can't chair umpires enforce the most basic of rules?


Overhead Spin said...

Diane, why would the chair umpires change the habits of a lifetime? They have always accommodated Sharapova's on court antics and this match was no different. I agree with you that Sharapova seemed like another person, but for me it was on court. She seemed disinterested, unmotivated and while she put up a good show in the second set, the fact that she was unable to take control of the match in any way whatsoever was just beyond belief. Could it be that all the off court activities are finally getting to her? No doubt MariaK played the match of her life. She was exceptionally good off the ground and when it came time to mix it up she did it well. She drew Sharapova into net and took advantage of her lack of mobility by moving her all over the court so that she had to try to go for winners from awkward places on the court, hence the 70+ UFE count. As to Wickmayer, count me as one of those who have little sympathy for her troubles. There is a rule. Obey it. End of discussion. She was lucky to get a get out of jail free card from the Belgian court and I hope she learns her lesson. If top players who have more demands made on them can give their whereabouts, I see no reason why she could not.

Diane said...

Karen, I also don't understand why Wickmayer couldn't notify authorities of her whereabouts, as I have written before. Having a problem with the Web form is not an excuse; make a phone call! But a 2-year ban? That part, in my opinion, was ridiculous. There appears to be no standard for consequences in these matters.

I'm not sure what's going on with Maria, but my best guess is that we're finally seeing the crack in the confidence. She was out for a long time, and there are a lot of expectations on her. I hope she can turn this around.

Overhead Spin said...

Diane, it could be a loss of confidence. Sometimes I wonder just how motivated she is to continue. Prior to this her motivation was without question and you could see it in her on court demeanour and that of her father, but I think now that she has all this money, the endorsements, the name recognition, what could possibly motivate her to want to go on a tennis court to hit a ton of balls over and over again. I recall she said in one of her interviews that she would ask herself why is she doing this and then she came out to her first match and said that the adrenaline rush is what made her pick up a racquet again. I think that adrenaline rush is over. In addition, that Nike contract must have some performance clauses in there and I guess the pressure is getting to her. Who knows. What is instructive though is that her ever present father is nowhere around right now. For him to hand over the reins that he has had for so long to Michael Joyce must mean that they are not as serious and/or dedicated to tennis as they would want us to think.

Beatka said...

I don't think you can have time to train every day for hours and do the photoshoots, meetings, parties, appearances and all that other stuff simultanesly. After she came back, she said that she didn't realise how much training is required to achieve the high level of performance. She doesn't look interested in that part of her career, doesn't have the time, there is so much other interesting things she could be doing...No wonder good results are not coming!

Paul Ball said...

Maybe Pam Shriver (not sure how you pronounce that?) is making up for the fact that just a few months ago, she'd apparently never even HEARD of Yanina Wickmayer... so now she's having to talk about her non-stop in order to make herself seem semi-knowledgeable? ;)

Diane said...

Yes, Paul, that is exactly what she's doing. And she's making a fool of herself doing it.

Anonymous said...

I read this post several days ago and still come back to savor your writing. The "Hitchcock" reference is sublime. I love this blog!