Thursday, March 10, 2016

Back in the desert

In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain 
From "A Horse with No Name," by Dewey Bunnell

Maybe. The BNP Paribas Open comes at a time when many questions abound, and some may have painful answers. The biggest one, of course, concerns a player who isn't even there, but whose name has dominated the headlines for the last several days. More about that later.

If it weren't for the Sharapova controversy, we might be hearing more about defending champion and world number 5 Simona Halep, who--not that long ago--was world number 2. Halep has faltered repeatedly at big moments for much of the past year. As defending champion, the pressure is on, and Halep's recent history indicates that she doesn't buy into pressure being a privilege.

Halep is now working with coach Darren Cahill, but her propensity to change coaches makes me wonder how long that relationship will last. Since the season began, the defending champion has been dealing with a chronic illness and an achilles injury. She canceled her scheduled surgery in order to play for Romania in Fed Cup competition, and then later declared herself free of pain and injury. Whether she had the good sense to avoid an unnecessary surgery, or whether the inevitable is just being postponed, is something we cannot know.

If Halep is illness- and injury-free, then she has a chance to turn her career around. But there's something mentally fragile about the Romanian star, whose talent on a court is stunning. And then there's the reality of having had an incredible season (2014) and having to face one's new celebrity and all the expectations that go with it. Here's hoping 2015 was Halep's season to make that adjustment.

Meanwhile, the new world number 2, Angelique Kerber, steps into the desert as the Australian Open champion. In a recent interview, Kerber said that, after her early Doha loss, she took some time off to relax, and that she feels ready and confident at the BNP Paribas Open.

World number 1 Serena Williams has returned to Indian Wells, and this year, Venus Williams has also returned after a 15-year absence. Unfortnately, in 2015, Serena's long-awaited return to the event ended with her retirement in the semifinals because of a knee injury. That gave Simona Halep a walkover, and then Halep beat Jelena Jankovic in the final.

Of interest in the draw: Serena and Venus could face each other in the quarterfinals. There's also a potential meeting between Kerber and Johanna Konta, which could be good, and it's also likely that Doha champion Carla Suzarez Navarro will be waiting for Kerber in the quarterfinals.

There could also be a quarterfinal clash between Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova, though there are some pesky players in their part of the draw who could cause trouble. Chief among them is the eternally unpredictable Svetlana Kuznetsova. Under "normal" conditions, Lucie Safarova would be considered a major threat in that section, as would Dominika Cibulkova. They still could be, but both players have been recovering from physical challenges. I'll add Madison Keys to that list, too.

Also of note: Ekaterina Makarova and Lucie Safarova formed a team to play in Indian Wells. They are already out of the tournament, but should they continue to play together, they have the potential to do well. Makarova and Elena Vesnina were a successful team, but upon Makarova's return from a long injury layoff, the pair did not reunite.

I'm now going to be the laziest blogger ever and say that my sentiments about the Maria Sharapova issue are summed up beautifully by Todd Spiker, so I'll just let him speak for me. I'll add, however, that while I expect so-called tennis fans to speak from positions of ignorance and prejudice, it still distresses me (though I expect this, too) when the news and sports media do it. The amount of misinformation and distorted information that has been spewed by tennis writers and commentators has been really disheartening. Equally disappointing have been a couple of the player reactions--one full of pompous self-righteousness (not to mention hypocrisy), and the other just plain vicious and crazy.

We will never know all of the facts behind this situation, nor will we ever know all of the motivations--from all parties involved.  Historically, as I see it, Sharapova certainly has a better character rating than the ITF, but that doesn't mean she didn't do anything wrong. I hope for a fair accounting and a fair judgment. In the meantime, thank goodness, we have Indian Wells.


Eric said...

"I hope for a fair accounting and a fair judgment." PREACH!

I think Maria made a big mistake and should face consequences...but I think the way she's handled the situation mirrors how she's always acted -- professionally and straight forward. She didn't have to come out and announce the failed drug test. I still remember how Marin Cilic was spared the public flaying because he told everyone he had an injury and was out of the public eye. Sharapova could have done the same.

Also, it seems as if the dosage she was taking was low. Yes, it doesn't make sense that she was taking a drug not commonly used in the US...but I don't know if it really was performance enhancing for her...

Anyway, I don't know the specifics of the case... and I'm not a Maria Sharapova apologizer (for example, I don't think she should keep making public statements while there's an ongoing investigation...since her clout is large, it's kind of unfair...)...but I think we should all reserve judgement.

I think the nice thing is that she's behaving in a way that seems like she has nothing to hide. And I think that's admirable. It's hard to face the public when you've done something wrong.

I get what everyone is saying about how there would be a different standard for other players, especially the Williams Sisters (I *really* get it)...but I don't think that's salient to Maria's issue. In life, we all have different crosses to bear.

Diane said...

Yes, and it isn't like Maria is being treated gently! She's being crucified by most of the press and the commentators, and worse by the public.

I don't find it strange that she was taking something not commonly used in the U.S. The U.S. is often very restricted regarding meds and supplements because the pharmaceutical industry here runs the show. Look how long it took women in the U.S. to get black cohosh, which was long a standard recommended supplement in Europe.