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May 27, 2011

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French Open - Roland Garros 2011, Paris, France
May 27, 2011
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


 

Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Falling Seeds
 
May 27, 2011 -- It's difficult to discern how affected they were by their losses today. Number-one seed Caroline Wozniacki complimented her opponent in her press conference but looked as if she'd been crying. Samantha Stosur said she was disappointed, naturally, but remained stoic and tepidly upbeat.
 
No one expected a shower of emotion from either woman. Rarely do you see that type of emoting in front of the international media. However the top seed and last year's runner-up had just lost in the third round of The French Open on the same day. Couple that breaking news with #2 seed Kim Clijsters loss yesterday and, voila, breaking tennis history news.
 
This is the first time in the Open Era, which began in 1968, that the top two seeds in a major have not advanced to the second week. The week where sixteen players who've survived tough early-round battles vie for Grand Slam honor.
 
From Wozniacki's comments in her press conference you have to wonder about her career priorities? She's not known for in-depth responses and frequently acts mildly annoyed, or as if she would like to leave. That's understandable.
 
But this young tennis super star, only 20 years old with an astonishing sum of 16 career titles, doesn't seem to get it about Grand Slams and what winning one would mean.
 
Ever since she reached the number one spot, she's been hounded about her lack of a slam title. Pundits and tennis traditionalists say she's not a 'legitimate' top-spot player without a major in her resume. On the other hand, Wozniacki plays lots of tournaments and the WTA rankings rewards her for that.
 
Here's an example... "I know what I'm capable of. I know I'm a great player. I'm going well and I had a loss today."
 
Yes, she's a darn good player. She's young, resilient, and happy. She will improve.
 
On the other hand, she can't know what she is capable of until she reaches that capacity she believes in and experiences the emotion, satisfaction, joy, pride and confidence firsthand of the very pinnacle of her sport -- winning a slam. Therefore, she can't know what she's capable of.
 
Wozniacki's perception of herself, as the number one player in women's tennis and her place in its history, would be altered fantastically if she won a major. And to do that she has to plan around the four majors we anticipate every year. The biggest advertising dollars are spilled into slots matches played on the courts in Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon and New York City. ESPN2 broadcasts hours on end. CBS jumps in over the weekends. And, thankfully, Tennis Channel now has a piece of the broadcast pie.
 
Just like advertisers prioritize spending, putting more dollars into those tennis moments that draw more viewers, so should Wozniacki prioritize her tournament schedule, creating more time to prepare for a major and less time at tournaments scheduled immediately preceding a major.
 
She won the inaugural Brussels Open Saturday, May 21. Roland Garros started the next day. She knew she would have to play her first match on Monday, which gave her one day to collect herself before the second slam of the year took off.
 
Did that week in Brussels, with its daily matches, cause her early exit? The answer could be debated from both sides. However, if she had not entered that tournament she might have been fresher mentally and physically for Paris.
 
Mats Wilander was right when he said in an interview last year at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, that women have it easier at a Grand Slam. They don't play a best-of-five format and they have a day of rest between matches, if weather conditions hold.
 
Perhaps Wozniacki, along with her father/coach, figures she can rejuvenate on the off days in Paris, or any other major, and catch up on depleted assets spent at a tournament schedule immediately before.
 
Nicolas Almagro took top honors in Nice on Sunday then lost in the first round of Roland Garros to Lukasz Kubot in five sets. The Spaniard, and #11 seed, had been up two sets. That's a big loss. Victor Hanescu was the finalist in Nice. He retired in his first-round match against Novak Djokovic with an upper thigh injury. Another lost opportunity.
 
Did Nice interfere with Paris? You have to think it did.
 
Petra Wozniacki, Caroline's father, is not a tennis player. He was a professional soccer player. He knows sports and the business of professional sport, but not the nuances of tennis or what it takes to compete fully at Grand Slams.
 
Petra talked with his daughter before her press conference. Any coach would do that. She was devastated by the loss.
 
"He told me it was a tough loss and that it's a sport," Wozniacki said. "We know what we can improve. And, there's the next tournament next week."
 
Those are nice words, comforting words. They fit the situation. They also reveal Coach Petra's perception of his daughter's career path and tournament schedule: A never-ending road trip of tournaments lined up almost back-to-back in order to get better and be the best in the world. That if they continue down this hectic path they will stumble upon a major victory.
 
You can imagine what she might say in her victory press conference. "I've been working hard to get here and it's all paid off," or something along those lines.
 
The business of producing a tennis star, with all its marketing spin, misses the point and could miss the coveted trophies, for example the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen that will be hoisted a week from Sunday.
 
Caroline Wozniacki tried to pressure Daniela Hantuchova today. The number one seed recovered a break in the second set. She hit the ball harder, too. She created some sweet angles. But she reached an uncomfortable and unknown realm in her tennis game, one where she didn't have enough depth to pull herself out of and beat the Slovakian.
 
Wozniacki has a rock-solid chance at winning a major. But before she does, she has to make changes. She has to alter how she perceives the pursuit of a Grand Slam.
 
Daniela Hantuchova played her best tennis today. She played big on the big points.
 
"I focused on my services games," she said. "It was one of my best matches."
 
Wozniacki said as much... "She had a plan and played really well today."
 
The point is, Hantuchova probably concentrated on that plan for this particular fortnight and pulled it all together right on time. For a long tennis career that's short on career titles -- four in singles -- Hantuchova's stunning upset was the result of a perfect storm of events. Wozniacki could get a big boost from her loss. But only if she views it from the perspective of growth angled more toward winning majors, than winning tournaments for the sake of piling up ranking points.
 

 

Earlier Columns from this Event:
 
May 26, 2011 French Open - Roland Garros: Digging Out
May 25, 2011 French Open - Roland Garros: The Kids' Kid
May 24, 2011 French Open - Roland Garros: Close One
May 23, 2011 French Open - Roland Garros: Rough Road
May 22, 2011 French Open - Roland Garros: The Eyes of Roland Garros
 

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