Where to start?
Let's look at the top eight seeds at the WTA tournament in Dubai.
After Serena's official withdrawal from the event (that's part of the story by the way)the seeds were as follows:
1. Simona Halep
2. Garbiñe Muguruza
3. Carla Suárez Navarro
4. Petra Kvitova
5. Belinda Bencic
6. Karolina Pliskova
7. Roberta Vinci
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Second round play ended a few minutes ago. The highest ranked player left is Ana Ivanovic who is currently ranked #20 in the world.
It's easy to say that the appearance fees paid to show up and play in Dubai are staggering. I'm sure they are. There's also Doha next week, a slightly higher ranked tournament at the P5 level where many of the players are schedule to play next week. World #1 Serena Williams will not play there either due to flu like illness. If she's got the version that leads to bronchitis she's really sick. It takes a lot of time to get over it. With Serena out of two high profile tournaments this week and next could have provided the stage for the top women to show their stuff, to prove that there is depth in the WTA and not mental weakness. Sadly, the matches I saw today did nothing to show that there is depth. Garbiñe Muguruza ended her day with a total of 68 unforced errors, 40 in the first set. An error prone Petra Kvitova threw in a multitude of errors and lost to Madison Brengle 6-0, 6-7(1), 3-6. Simona Halep was defeated by Ana Ivanovic and she didn't look as if she could be arsed to play her match today. Petra Kvitova is a two time Wimbledon Champion. Simona Halep has played her way to the number three ranking. Muguruza is on many lists as the one who will be the next dominant #1 in the world.
Muguruza has played listless tennis the last two times I've seen her. During a coaching break the top tier coach she hired, Sam Sumyk, gave her specific, and very good ways to counter what her opponent Elina Svitolina (now coached by Justine Henin) was doing to her. More off speed shots, more variety. Don't come out swinging for every shot. Muguruza looked bored with his instructions and started the second set doing exactly what her coach had just told her not to. During his second visit where he gave her another dose of specific instructions she looked like she was more interested in digging wax out of her ears. She lost a miserable, late night match to a player one tennis head described and "basic and nothing special".
Petra Kvitova, coachless since the beginning of the year, started off on fire taking the first set 6-0 vs Brengle, a journeywoman who has had some decent results lately but who was widely expected to submit quietly to Kvitova especially after that first set. But it was Brengle who signed the camera at the end of the match and Kvitova who walked off looking as if she was trying to figure out what had just happened.
Simona Halep looked as if she had no idea what she was supposed to do. And yes that's a knock on Darren Cahill, one of the most highly respected coaches of the current crop of people coaching top ranked players. He was part of the Adidas consortium of coaches and was talked about as a super coach but none of the players who worked with that group did very well.
Bençiç has played a lot of tennis in the last few weeks and has broken into the top ten but has already been declared a "legend" by some commentators at the age of 18 with no major wins. Sveta is Sveta. Vinci has played a lot recently too as she tries to break into the top ten late in her career. Pliskova has played a lot recently too. I've gone into her technical issues before so I'll just add that she's played a lot recently.
So what am I saying when I called this post the "hunter vs the hunted". Not one of these women showed the competitive spark you'd expect to see from "legends" or double slam winners or "next best things". I saw tentative play, brain farts and bad technique. Are they saving it all for Doha and after that Indian Wells and Miami?
One of the reasons I wanted to nmake this post now is because that huge back to back is coming and these women are the future of the WTA. Serena is not going to play much this year outside of the Slams and big tournaments like IW and Miami. Even the haters are saying this is a wise course for her as she winds down her historic and precedent changing career. She's been the big dog for a number of years now. This is the time for the puppies to show they can go balls to the wall and not only ball bash but think and play lower ranked players off the court. None of the pretenders has earned the right to show up at a tournament, bank the appearance fee, and walk. Kvitova maybe with her two Slam wins but she's never shown any consistency away from SW19. Is she a great? No. The word "potential" should still be used when discussing her. Halep seems to be afraid to step out into the wider world. She can be intimidated on court and has been. She's also afraid of the net.
Muguruza is a curious case. When she dumped the coach she'd been with for a long time he intimated that she had changed, the implication being that she considered herself among the elite and that she needed a big time coach. Her blatant disrespect for her coach today was shocking. Most players spend coaching time hydrating or adjusting their gear but it's clear that they're listening. Muguruza was obviously not listening and her play showed she wasn't. Svitolina may be nothing special but she wanted the win and she got it.
I've said since last year the level of tennis starting in 2017 was going to be much lower than we've been used to of late. If this is what we're going to see, ennui and ego, then the WTA, already considered the weaker tour by some, is in for a bad time. The ATP isn't really in much better shape but at least their matches the last two weeks have been competitive and interesting. Young players like Alexander Zverev, Taylor Fritz, Borna Çoriç and Chung Hyeon have been working on their games and are showing progress towards the top of their sport. What I'm seeing from the WTA is disheartening. I'm thinking we'll see players like Agniezska Radwanska, and a suddenly injury free Maria Sharapova fighting to hold onto the top ranking in women's tennis. Hell, even Angelique Kerber could be in the running no? She's alread ranked number two.
It's easier being the hunter than the hunted, a wise woman named Marion Bartoli said awhile back. Self induced ennui and a huge sense of self does not mean that your opponent is going to roll over and play dead. You've got to earn respect from your peers. So far very few seem to understand that.
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