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Posts Tagged ‘Vera Dushevina’

PostHeaderIcon Our Unhealthy Obsession with the Next Serena

Madison Keys image

Madison Keys lost in straight sets in the second round at Stanford. Vera Dushevina, the Russian qualifier who beat her, is a solid but unheralded player who hadn’t won a main draw match in 2013 until this week. The 7-6(0) 6-2 score fails to adequately convey just how disappointing this loss was for this highly-touted American, who struggled in every aspect of her game.

“My timing was off, everything was off”, Madison said afterward. To be fair, she deserves a ton of credit for owning up to the obvious (which many players don’t). She dumped forehands into the net. She dumped backhands into the net. She didn’t serve particularly well, and more critically, she failed to move her serve around the box enough to keep Dushevina off balance.

Worst of all, she looked at a loss as to how she could remedy the situation or change the inevitable outcome. “It just wasn’t my night, and it was frustrating. But obviously, she played really well. All the credit to her.”

It was tough match to watch from a player who many have picked as a future Slam winner. But perhaps the problem with Madison’s loss lies more with our expectations than with her level of play.

Terms such as “highly-touted” and “future Slam winner” have unfairly become synonymous with young players who possess one or two big weapons, but not much else at this juncture in their development. The US has become so eager to find replacements for our aging stars that players like Madison are set up to fail before they can grow into their games for a realistic assessment of their potential.

I had the same feeling of at last year’s Bank of the West with regards to Sloane Stephens. She came into the tournament with virtually the same kind of buzz as Madison is currently experiencing. Comments of “She’s the next big star” and multiple comparisons to Serena were flying all around. Sadly, it all fell flat in her first and only match of the tournament.

Sloane was sent packing by Heather Watson in an inexplicable 3-set loss that saw her completely forget how to hit a backhand, or formulate a strategy to work her way back into a losing set. She was agitated, barking at her box, and even received a code violation. Buzz or no buzz, Sloane was (and is) a talented player; but she’s far from being the next Serena.

There’s an undeniable racial component to some of these expectations, particularly when comparisons are made based on ethnicity/skin color. While watching Madison practice a few days ago, a well-meaning older gentleman came up to me to ask about Madison and her prospects for success. He mentioned how much she reminded him of a young Althea Gibson.

I didn’t say it at the time out of my sense of politeness, but I wanted to tell him “No, she reminds me of Madison Keys.” I understood his point of reference, but was undeniably put off by a lack of appreciation for her unique skills apart from her bearing and her looks. Madison is Madison, not Althea. Similarly, Sloane is Sloane, not Serena.

For the record, this is NOT about race, and it’s not my intention to single out Madison and Sloane. There are many young players of all races who’ve suffered under the label of “The Next (fill in the blank)”, only to crash and burn when the limitations of their games became apparent. Melanie Oudin is perhaps the poster child of this unrealistic push to greatness, but Christina McHale also carried the burden for a brief period prior to Sloane’s arrival.

Sometimes the buzz around a talented youngster is warranted. The buzz surrounding Venus and Serena turned out to be correct in every way. (Remember when Richard told us that Serena would be better than her sister?) The buzz about the kid from Mallorca, Rafa Nadal, had turned into a roar long before his first match at Roland Garros.

Buzz isn’t always bad, but these cases represent exceptions to the rule in the cases of players with Hall of Fame careers. The fact of the matter is that reaching the top of any sport is a long way off from the initial buzz surrounding any young athlete. If it were otherwise, struggling players like Donald Young and Ryan Harrison would have big titles under their belts by now.

Other countries deal with this issue as well. Remember when the young Frenchwoman, Caroline Garcia, hit the harsh glare of the expectation spotlight? In 2011 (and at the age of 17), Andy Murray touted her as a future #1 in an infamous tweet that hung like an anchor around her neck for the rest of the season. And one can only imagine what the pressure’s been like for young German women to become the next Steffi! With his win at Wimbledon, Andy Murray finally quieted the Fred Perry talk.  Laura Robson, on the other hand, has a much longer way to go for Virginia Wade status.

The road to #1 (or Slam success) is tricky…and fickle. The best we can do for these young players is to acknowledge their strengths, forgive them their initial weaknesses, and let them develop to the level that can be supported by their talent. After all, there is only one Serena.

PostHeaderIcon Seeds Cibulkova, Hampton Overcome Inspired Opponents at the Bank of the West Classic

Hampton-wins

Dominika Cibulkova [3] defeats Stephanie Voegele 7-5 7-6(5)

Worries about fitness and the lingering effects of an Achilles injury fell by the wayside for Dominika Cibulkova after she overcame Stephanie Voegele of Switzerland 7-5 7-6(5) in the first match of the day on stadium court.

She showed no signs of slowness or hesitation, but did sport a layer of physio tape on her lower leg. “The tape is for prevention. My Achilles will always be tough to deal with because I have this problem with the bone. That’s why my physio has to take good care of it so that I can keep playing.”

BOTWD Cibulkova vs Voegele

Though her leg was fine, the rust in her game was another matter. She struggled to close out the first set after leading 5-2, only doing so after breaking the Voegele serve in the eleventh game to take it at 7-5.

With the first set under her belt, Dominika looked poised to close out the second in more direct fashion. Voegele had other ideas, once again working her way back into the match after Dominika had lead 5-2.

Fittingly, the second set ended in a tiebreaker that Dominika won with fearless hitting from her forehand at 5-all, before serving it out on her first match point.

When asked afterward if she’d expected such a tough match from her Swiss opponent, Dominika was very complimentary of her Voegele’s abilities.

“I expected a really tough match because she’s playing really well at this time. I played her long time ago but remember how she’s playing close to the lines.”

“I just made it tough for myself. In the end I made it, but it could be easier for me.”

Jamie Hampton [4] defeats Nicole Gibbs 7-5 6-7(5) 6-3

Nicole Gibbs

Fourth-seed Jamie Hampton had her hands full overcoming her own “rust”, as well as the inspired play of Nicole Gibbs; who was making her professional debut at this tournament after a stellar career at Stanford.

Rust on Hampton’s part was understandable, since this was Hampton’s first match of the tournament after receiving a first round bye as one of the top 4 seeds. “I’ve been here for a week now and I haven’t played. And I’ve never done anything like that before.”

The lack of sharpness in Hampton’s game was less of an issue, however, than the dogged determination shown by Gibbs.

Hampton might hit a harder ball than Gibbs, but Gibbs showed no sign of intimidation as she moved her opponent from side-to-side to keep the ball out of Hampton’s wheel house, and to expose any footwork weaknesses.

The first set was tightly-contested until a loose game by Gibbs at 5-all gave Hampton the crucial break, and allowed her to serve it out at 7-5.

The second set, won by Gibbs in a tiebreak, was an equally tight affair; made more so because of Hampton’s mounting unforced error total as she mixed winners and unforced errors interchangeably throughout.

After the match, Hampton was asked specifically about her serving difficulties on the day when she offered this assessment of her overall play: “To be honest, I just felt like I was struggling in general today.”

In spite of the efforts of her Stanford football team cheering section, Gibbs game began to unravel. The third set saw Hampton draw upon her experience as pro to serve bigger and hit bigger on shots that finally started to find their mark. There was little Gibbs could do than just say “too good”.

Gibbs managed a brief comeback (after falling behind 0-4) to get back on serve at 3-4. But she couldn’t sustain the momentum, and gave up one final break for 3-5. Hampton quickly closed out the match for the win.

Gibbs was remarkably upbeat after the match, and happy with the fight she showed on court. “The biggest takeaway is that I can play at this level, and that’s really exciting for me!”

Madison Keys

Other Match Notes

Daniela Hantuchova lost two straight tiebreakers to hand Urszula Radwanska a 7-6(3) 7-6(3) victory, and her second straight appearance in the Bank of the West quarterfinals. This loss is sure to stick with Hantuchova for because of the seven straight points she lost in the second set tiebreaker after leading 3-0.

Vera Dushevina beat American Madison Keys in the evening match on stadium court. Keys was unable to get any aspect of her ground game on track during the match, and was also done in by Dushevina’s strong service returns.

Keys is widely touted as one of the top prospects for future US slam success. And while it’s true that she has an immense amount of talent, she also still has a long way to go in terms of developing a more complete game to compliment her strong serve and ground strokes.

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