Monday, May 13, 2013

When A Rivalry Isn't A Rivalry

by Savannah

Serena Madrid 2013 photo f83491fe-fab6-4eda-9c92-b6913e07fc9c_zps5ba35f3d.jpg

People desperately want a rivalry between the WTA #1 Serena Williams and the WTA #2 Maria Sharapova. Since the Russian hasn't beaten Serena since, oh, 2004, they simply make one up.

No matter where Serena has been ranked she somehow manages to find a way to defeat Maria, something that seems to keep people up at night trying to find ways to keep Maria from having to face Serena. Cakewalk draws for Serena's opponents, willfully blind chair umpires, brazenly cheating opponents, you name it. And yet Serena finds a way to win at 31.

The talk now seems to be that Maria, now a clay expert, will defend her title at Roland Garros because Madrid doesn't matter. You know altitude, that sort of thing. Not many talked about Serena having something to prove in Madrid but I think she did.

She had to redeem herself for her comments about "weenies" and prove that there was nothing flukey about her win last year on the blue stuff. One person you don't want on a mission is Serena Williams, especially when she created the drama to begin with. She redeemed herself and that is what matters to her. Don't get me wrong, defending her title and holding on to the #1 ranking are important too. But so much of the tennis press tries to fit her into some preconceived notion of who and what she is refusing to talk about the competitor, the athlete who is Serena Williams. She proved them all wrong this week fighting through some really bad patches and showing up at the final mentally and physically ready and giving her detractors and those who wish her ill something to chew on.

It's not totally correct to say there is no rivalry between these two women. Anyone who saw the coin toss and felt the coldness between the two women no matter where they were watching from could think otherwise. They understand and respect each other. It doesn't mean they're going to be meeting for lunch or sending each other gift baskets though. One brings out the best in the other on the court and one brings out the worst in the other on court. And in the end Serena has shown that on the court she can survive whatever they throw at her to defeat the woman who wants her ranking and her cred.

Pavs Lucie Madrid 2013 photo 1bf7eb1b-8660-44ac-ab82-080374be2920_zps8b13bded.jpg

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova teamed up with Lucie Safarova to win the womens doubles in Madrid. I didn't see one doubles match although they were available on TennisTV.

 photo EAA6D5A7AA6A4C5B9FACAA6AE7CCD330ashx_zpsa241fa3c.jpeg
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan continue to be the only American men who have a clue about how to play on clay. You'd think the USTA would use them in training their men. Maybe they do, I don't know. I do know that American men are not doing well in singles on red clay while the Bryan's keep winning.

Madrid 2013 photo 8cb616a2-8e4e-477c-a2bc-0f5ca041e948_zps415a7955.jpg

This man knows something about winning on clay too. Comms seem to love talking about his current ranking without mentioning the why of it while pushing the ATP #1 who was booed by fans in Madrid for his obvious gamesmanship during a match, something the comms never, ever mention when it comes to his behavior on court. Instead they focus on how boorish the fans in Madrid, and by inference, in Spain are.

Rafael Nadal is not a big fan of the Madrid tournament for many reasons but this year he wanted to win it and he did.

The tour has moved on to Rome, the Eternal City. That means another week of living on European time. It also means another glorious week of clay court tennis.


Karen said...

You know when I read all the "experts" positing about Sharapova's brilliance on clay, I had to sit back and laugh. When faced with an opponent who is not intimidated, Pova goes right back to what she called herself, a cow on ice. Her movement was awful on Sunday, her ground strokes had no depth or power them and she was basically not even in the match from the moment the bell rang.

Serena, who is not a claycourter by any definition, was sliding around on the clay as if she was Nadal. She slid into her shots and she used top spin and slices when it mattered. her attempts at drop shots failed miserably, but there is hope as the clay season wears on that she will get better at it.

Sharapova on the other hand attempted to play clay court tennis as if she is on a hard court. There were instances when she attempted a slide but she came off looking like me.

The non-rivalry rivalry has to stop.

Savannah said...

Don't forget that Pova is a product of the US tennis system. She was trained to be an antidote to Venus Williams. She has tried to improve her clay court game working with Juan Carlos Ferrero but as you said Karen when pressed she goes right back to her hard court game.

Serena has quietly improved her clay court game. She started sliding correctly last year and this year has added the basic clay court shots especially top spin. But this isn't something TPTB want to make the general tennis public aware of. It's much easier to promote "Claypova" and tout her FO win, a win she says is totally thanks to her work at Juanqui's academy.

The record speaks for itself.

Randy Burgess said...

Savannah, what's the gamesmanship by Djokovic you're referring to? I only saw parts of the match against Dimitrov, so if there was gamesmanship I may have missed it - what in particular did he do that you saw?

I know the crowd booed him but by itself that doesn't say much to me - crowds are fickle things. FYI I'm not a Djokovic fan though I do do admire his achievements - I'm not defending him per se, just curious as to what you saw.

Savannah said...

I apologize for the delay in posting your question Randy.

The crowd went nuts when Djokovic out of nowhere was suddenly lame. I mean literally out of nowhere. No one in the stadium went for the okey doke because it was so blatant.

There's always this thing about why he's not a fan favorite. The official tennis press may not dwell on it and the Americans choose to ignore it but it goes back to what he did against Gael Monfils at the US Open a few years ago. He couldn't breathe or something and the next thing you know he's sprinting around the court like a gazelle. He does things like that all the time. He and his apologists just didn't think the fans were so aware of his crap.

Randy Burgess said...

Well, I went back and watched the replay of the 2nd set. The incident occurs at 4-2 in favor of Dimitrov, when he is serving and down 15-40. I find myself completely sympathetic with Djokovic. On the ESPN 3 replay video you can see the ankle go over in slow-mo at 12:24:22. It's unmistakeable and unfakeable.

I have a bad right ankle myself. At age 55 I no longer play sports for various reasons, one of which is the ankle. I originally injured it when I was 12 years old and it was never the same. I used to play pickup basketball with a mad passion in my 20s, but the ankle was always vulnerable - it did not take much for me to roll it, a bump or a misstep, and when I did, the pain was excruciating. Many times I had to leave the court hobbling and was barely able to drive home. The ankle was the main reason I gave up basketball in my mid-30s. I could no longer afford to roll it yet another time and feel the snap of tendons and take yet another couple of weeks off from work & life.

In the slow-mo video it is absolutely clear that Djokovic rolls the ankle. It is not a complete roll-over, thank God, but it is more than nasty enough to cause him immediate pain & concern. The pain, believe me, is something you never want to have to feel; and the concern is that he already had an existing ankle injury and now has aggravated it. He was right to stop the match and get it taped. He would even have been within reason to forfeit at that point. Aggravating a bad ankle can cost you your career. There are a fair number of NBA player who had to retire not just because of advanced age, but because of bad ankles - Robert Parrish and Tiny Archibald immediately come to mind since I was a Celtics fan at one point.

Of course the crowd in this case didn't have the slow-mo to clarify things. But there's no way they should be booing him for something like this. They just didn't like him - that was why they booed. Any excuse would have done.

I don't love Djokovic myself, but personally, I think he gets blamed for a lot of things that aren't his fault. And as someone who has a lot of health issues, I am unwilling to crucify someone else who clearly also has had significant health issues. Plus to me he seems like a competitor, for better or worse. I find him no more or less annoying than most of the other top men's players - e.g. Rafa, for example.