Friday, May 30, 2014

Why are you so upset?

Building in Paris
The defeat of Aga Radwanska today by Ajla Tomljanovic marks the first time in the Open Era that the three top seeds have gone out of a major tournament before the round of 16. On the one hand, it means that Li Na's description of the WTA as "the crazy women's tennis tour" was right on the mark. But on the other hand, it means that the younger generation of players is undergoing a kind of group inspiration (as Tomljanovic implied) in Paris.

Clay is known as the "upset" surface because the slowness of the surface and the heaviness of the balls (especially in damp conditions, like we've seen lately in Paris) neutralizes power, creating longer rallies. Also, players--no matter how good they are--can run into problems if they aren't adept at sliding. One of the great oddities of professional tennis, in fact, is that Chris Evert is the all time Queen of Clay, despite the fact that she was born and trained in the United States.

Getting back to the "inspiration" part: If a Frenchwoman known for her doubles skills can take out former French Open champion Li Na in the first round, then a small crack has been made in what commentators and writers like to call "the order of things." So then a talented young Spaniard upsets Serena Williams. What next?! Well, that would be a talented young Croatian player showing the exit to Aga Radwanska.

Does it stop there, or does Muguruza's countrywoman, Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, plan to take it to Simona Halep? I think it stops there, but surely Torro-Flor is feeling a bit of the spirit as I write this. (If we keep going with this list, the next supposed victim is Petra Kvitova, who has to face a former French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova. I actually like Kvitova to win this match, but even if she loses it, it won't be to a young and suddenly inspired upstart.)

Blair Henley has written an analysis for the WTA called "The Anatomy Of an Upset," and it's worth reading.

Another thing to consider is the makeup of the top three seeds. On any big occasion, Li is as likely to go out in the first or second round as she is to lift a trophy, and Radwanska just doesn't like playing at the French Open. As for Williams, it really didn't come as a big shock to me that she fell to Muguruza. I think Muguruza is quite vulnerable to someone who can move her around a lot, unless, that is, she does that "rapid fire from the first shot right to the end" thing that she did to Williams. And can she (or anyone) really keep that up? It was an amazing display of aggression, but there was also psychological cooperation from the opponent.

To her credit, Muguruza kept her head together and defeated Anna Schmiedlova, who's not an easy customer. The Spaniard gets another member of the "upset group," Pauline Parmentier, next, and that's a match she can win. If she does, then she gets a shot at either Sam Stosur or Maria Sharapova.

Tomljanovic has a tougher upcoming round: She plays Carla Suarez Navarro. Meanwhile, Kristina Mladenovic--who also made it through the second round after the big upset--has a third round meeting scheduled with Andrea Petkovic. Really, anything can happen. Best to not let it upset you.

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