05 June, 2006

Tennis: The French Open women for the Casual Observer

I really wanted to talk about the women yesterday, but I was afraid to.

There are 3 women in the draw, as far as I can see. Martina Hingis, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and the clones.

In men's tennis, you find in the top 5 an all court artist in Federer, a baseline power player in Nadal, a junk ball grinder in Nalbandian, a serve and volley specialist in Ljubicic, and a serve and power specialist in Roddick.

In women's tennis, you have the clones.

Davenport, Williams (either one, your pick), Cljisters, Sharapova, etc. ad nauseum all stand at the baseline and hit the ball as hard as they can. Monica Seles started the slide into pure power, and Venus and Serena amped the game to new levels. When power doesn't work, they hit the ball harder. And it works.

Especially if your goal is to put me to sleep.

Amelie Mauresmo is the world's number 1 woman right now. I'm pretty sure that will end on June 7 when her lukecold result from Roland Garros is posted, but it's worth noting that she is not on my list anywhere. She is hard to figure. She is probably the player of the bunch whom I am most like, too.

She has a flowing, graceful, defensive all court game. She seems to play rope-a-dope a lot while charging the net very successfully. It's an odd, completely unique combination. So, she is exempt from any of my lists. Her problem is entirely mental. She is aggressive at all the wrong times, and tends to feed on her own doubts to her own self-destruction. Just like me. It's hard being the overly-sensitive type, but there's nothing to be done for it. You keep honing your skills, and keep playing match-tough every way you can, every chance you can, and you just mourn a lot for matches you should have won.

Mauresmo should still be in the French, but she is French and sensitive. No one with feelings for the French should ever be required to play for them. They are a ruthless, vile audience and destroy their champions at every opportunity. At the slightest sign that Mauresmo may be in trouble, they all sigh a collective sigh, and give up on her. Some years they evn booed their compatriots who were merely mortal. I don't remember whether I learned to despise the French from watching the French Open or from reading Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, but learn it I did. If you ever need a good cry, Twain's book is a great read.

Anyway, I will always have great sympathy for Amelie, but she is gone again.

That leaves us with Martina and Justine.

I'm sorry. It's unforgiving of me, but until Justine shows some remorse for her horrible bouts of awful sportsmanship, I will never cheer for her again. She is like the beautiful child with a wad of 8 sticks of gum in her mouth claiming over and again that she's not chewing any gum. The whole world can see her problems and she pretends she has none. Her backhand is a dream, and her all-court style is a joy to watch. Her fighting spirit is untamed, but it is undisciplined and her selfishness is right on her sleeve for everyone to see. May she lose without dignity.

The reason I could not post last night is that Martina Hingis was in the middle of a match that it looked like she might lose. I had to wait to see what happened to her. She is the one shining light to women's tennis, so far as I can appreciate it.

She had won the first set against Israel's Sharar Peer (Pay-air) whom no one has ever heard of, but who has won 3 smaller professional titles this year. Hingis had not dropped a set in the tourney until here, and there was no reason to believe this unknown might cause a problem. And then she did.

Hingis was suddenly and simply being blown off the court (by yes, another clone.) The difference with Peer was that her power wing is her backhand. After years of conditioning, you tend to go toward an opponent's backhand whenever you get in trouble, and Hingis seemed to be a little lost out there.

I got to watch the third set played earlier today after an overnight delay. Hingis was still confused. Peer's power had gotten inside her head.

Hingis is no Federer. Federer has 3 games he can try. Hingis has almost 2. She cannot hang with the power-ballers at their own game. She is the mistress of cunning and foresight. She will hit 4 different spins on 4 different shots, and place them in 4 different places, but none of them will burn the felt off the ball. She will already be running to wherever the ball is going to land before her opponent knows where she should hit it. She's amazing that way, but she needs a little horsepower just to survive. Peer reacted successfully with power to Hingis's spins, and Hingis was left staring at her mom and coach with her hands spread wide and no answers.

Mom didn't have any answers either.

So, Hingis pulled out her other two options. She started in with the drop shots, and started hitting tighter angles with more power.

It was enough. Barely, but enough. Hingis is in the Quarterfinals.

If she is to win, she needs to go through Kim Cljisters, then Justine Henin-Hardenne, and finally (most likely) Venus Williams. That's 3 former world Number 1 tennis players. Power, then all-court, then power again. The odds are not good, but she might have the toughness to keep her head together against them all. She will have to do better than she did this morning.

And people say I don't cheer for the underdog!


Milly said...

I agree with the sportsmanship. My favorite race car driver shoved someone, I was devastated he was known for sportsmanship. I was glad to hear he was fined and I hope he was also. There is no call to act like that. A friend of mine gave up tennis after losing because she said she acted so badly that she never want to do that again.

codepoke said...

Henin-Hardenne engages in non-competitive cheating. I can understand almost anything done in the heat of the moment for a clear advantage. She does her cheating in cold blood, with nothing on the line. Her two biggest examples are:
1) A couple years ago at the French, she held her hand up to stop a serve against Serena Williams. Serena was already in her motion, so she just followed through and sent a blooper sailing out. The Umpire did not see Henin stop the point, and Henin took the free serve even after Serena complained. She didn't even get a point from her cheat, just a first serve.
2) Playing against Mauresmo in the Australian final, she just copped a sore tummy and quit. She quit. Mauresmo has been fighting the "choke" label for years, and just on the cusp of clearing her name for good, Henin stole her victory by quitting. It was a horrible thing to do to an honorable opponent.

As for your friend, passion on the court is a good thing. With just a little control, that fire in her belly could make for a lot of fun!

Milly said...

Oh if you know this lady. She did make a great bet that hit the press years ago over Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It was so funny to see a guy play tennis in a skirt. She also gave up running in marathons because she lost the joy.

I did one in the snow and was please with my time. Then again if I'd start running again I'll bet I'd have a clearer head.

Andreia said...

I have to admit to being another bad looser. I quit tennis after the last group lesson that I took.

Apparently my women friends did not like me cramming the ball down their faces and my competitive nature almost ruined a friendship or two.
I miss it though as I found tennis to be a super great stress reliever.

In November I went to some matches with McEnroe and Matts Wilander here in Houston and got a picture with my son and I and Matts. It was a hoot and I said then that I would start playing again.

You can check out the picture on my blog. Im quite proud of capturing him as you can see from my goofy smile.

Thanks for the posts. Its refueled my interest!

codepoke said...

Apparently my women friends did not like me cramming the ball down their faces

Ah. The truly competitive should never play tennis with friends until good enough that they are not really competition. Hie thyself unto a league, where eating a ball or two is just another good war story.

codepoke said...

Hingis went down. :-(

I wish I could say she deserved to do better. She needs to break down and hit the weight room if she wants to play with the heavy hitters.

Of the clones, I hope Cljisters takes it all. She has a really good attitude about everything, and is a joy to watch. When Henin-Hardenne was cruelly taking her apart, Cljisters continued to be a good friend to her.

They are from the same land, but speak different languages. It is telling that Kim Cljisters learned Justine's language, and Justine never gave a moment's thought to learning Kim's.

I seriously hope Cljisters teaches Henin-Hardenne a tough, tough lesson.