Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Existentialism of A Champion

by Savannah

Scott Heavey/AELTC/Getty Images Europe) photo 509e76fa-66db-4ed7-b196-b5d5685cdf85_zpsdd1ca4f9.jpg
Scott Heavey/AELTC/Getty Images Europe

ex·is·ten·tial·ism (gz-stnsh-lzm, ks-)
A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

In the end the athlete is alone. It doesn't matter whether you play a team sport or an individual sport. In team sports an individual can outshine his or her team members like Michael Jordan who continues to overshadow an entire sport. Then there's a sport like golf or tennis where the individual is held responsible for his or her own performance. Some say the coach is important but if the player can't or won't implement the coaches vision the relationship will crumble and the athlete has to make different decisions about their career.

After losing 4 and 4 to Jana Cepelova at the Family Circle Cup earlier this year Serena made the following statement:

“I’m really just dead,” said Serena, who was coming off a title-winning run in Miami where she defeated world No. 2 Li Na in the final. “I need some weeks off where I don’t think about tennis and kind of regroup. I’ve had a long couple of years, and I’m really a little fatigued…I just need to take a deep breath and regroup. I think actually it’ll really help me for the rest of the claycourt season.”

I think that Serena, the one who needs time off from tennis showed up yesterday to play Alize Cornet who, to her credit, has been trying to live up to her responsibilities as the French Number One. She had never beaten Serena though and while Serena had appeared to be, let's say disinterested, during the run up to Wimbledon most, including me, thought that her competitive juices would kick in and that she'd romp through her draw towards the Final. Yes I believe that Serena would've beaten Maria Sharapova. But she had to get to that round first and she didn't. Instead of her facing WTA favorite Eugenie Bouchard she'll hopefully get to spend some time with herself and not worrying about tennis.

That said you can blame lots of things for Serena's lackluster showing on Saturday. She didn't play a warm up event. Was that down to confidence, maybe arrogance, about her ability to play on grass or was there an underlying injury that made it necessary for her to rest after crashing out of the French Open early?

Watching her take the first set 6-1 against Cornet yesterday there were troubling signs. When she missed her balls were landing in Wales and that was happening a lot in the first set. Her normal serving precision was off, her movement wasn't what it needed to be. The rains came just in time it seemed. It would give her a chance to speak with her coaching team and settle down, be SERENA, Terror Fabulous. By the third set her court sense had deserted her completely and it was obvious she had nothing, not even her famous will, to make her rise to the occasion and overcome a now confident Cornet, who celebrated as if she'd won the Championship.

In the end I think Serena, who played a very heavy schedule last year and the year before, needs a rest. I for one won't blame her for taking most of the summer off and return to the tour at Stanford maybe. She needs to find her motivation again and I'm not sure she needs to play herself to it. Serena turned pro in 1995. She's had some breaks in there, and especially after last year it looks like it's time to take another one. When she spoke very honestly about lesser players playing her "like the ATP" it showed that the filter between her brain and her mouth was lowered, a sure sign of fatigue. Maybe she felt that the press often ignored that fact and that she needed to say it.
In my opinion I think they're going to go right on ignoring it pursuing instead the latest WTA fantasy story line.

Serena was raised on the principal "your word is your bond". She has committed to Båstad and will feel some personal pressure to honor that committment I'm sure. Despite her undeserved reputation she is very loyal to the WTA and tries to do the right think at all times when it comes to her profession. The WTA has never made her it's "golden girl" and has never marketed its product with her in mind though. It's always been someone else who got all the hype.

Take some time off Serena. Find your motivation. Or not. You owe it to no one but yourself.


Shelley Williams said...

Didn't Alize beat Serena in Dubai? or were you referring to grass courts?

Savannah said...

Alize beat Serena in Dubai. I was saying that Serena didn't play a Wimbledon warm up and that that decision could have come from overconfidence/arrogance about her (Serena's) ability to play well on grass.

It was never going to be an easy match for Serena but I feel she should've won and would've with the mindset she had last year.

Randy Burgess said...

This was the strangest match I've ever seen Serena play. She's been checked-out before, but has always been able to check back in. This time her body or her spirit or her psyche, or whatever part of ourselves it is that lies beyond our conscious control, did not wish to comply.

Along these lines I like that you open your piece with the bit about existentialism. Whether it's writing poetry or hitting a tennis ball, mastery is a mysterious thing and the muse does not operate by command. As Andy Roddick once said to the press, when he was being rebuked one year for not playing how people thought he should: "It's not as easy as 'see ball, hit ball.'"

I was also struck after the match by the same quote you bring up - the one where Serena said other players elevate their games disproportionately against her. To me it seemed she was still in shock. Specifically I'm thinking of Billy Jean's motto that "pressure is a privilege": for such a long time Serena exemplified this, yet now, in her mind at least, that seems to have changed. Which may be the clearest sign of all of burnout.

Karen Williams said...

Savannah, no, the WTA, through Stacey Allaster has said time and again that the WTA needs Serena. She actually told her at the last WTA Championships that she should never retire. That being said, a friend of mine and I were talking on Skype about this whole situation and we are of the view that Serena is carrying an injury, and it seems to be a back injury. Her serve stats are dismal and they have been that way since Australia. The so-called analysts won't do a proper analysis of what is happening with Serena by looking at her numbers. They just prefer to talk about the fact that players don't fear her as if she is some kind of demon. Gets on my damn nerves

Randy Burgess said...

Karen, if she were hurt she'd say so. Or someone one her team would say so. And Serena wouldn't be making the kind of comments she's been making about mental burnout.

Randy Burgess said...

P.S. If Serena really was suffering from a virus prior to her doubles match, and that was why she looked so dazed and confused & had to withdraw, maybe that had something to do with her poor play against Cornet? OK maybe it's a stretch, but I know that personally, when I come down with a virus, I often am affected a couple of days in advance with heavy fatigue, prior to the identifiable symptoms coming in. Just a possibility.

Savannah said...

Randy I think you are right about her symptoms and how different people get sick different ways. I only saw the part of the match where the medics were attending to her and Venus was sitting there with a blank look on her face. It was such a strange moment.

I'm going to ignore the ignorant comments Pam Shriver and whoever was working with her are said to have made implying that she was faking being sick. Just imagine Pova getting dizzy and almost passing out on court. The hue and cry would be heard all over the world. The ESPN crew would be leading the pack in wondering just how sick their Precious was. Unprofessional.

Karen Williams said...

Precious LOL