decline

Dust in the Wind: Schiavone and Kuznetsova Continue Their Downward Slides

Tennis is a cruel sport.

A seemingly endless grind, a single season spans nearly ten months across six continents. Where athletes on team sports sign contracts guaranteeing a paycheck, the math is much simpler for a tennis player. Win, and collect ranking points and prize money. Lose, and be content with the minimum of each.

With no solid foundation, a player cannot afford to risk bouts of injury or apathy, lest she forfeit the chance to put her hand in that elusive pot restricted to the game’s elite. One-namers like Serena, Venus and Maria have paid their dues as multiple Slam champions and ambassadors to the sport. If ever they suffer a prolonged absence from the game, the Tour is only too obliged to make their return as seamless as their reign atop the rankings had been.

Where, then, does that leave the game’s more temporal stars, the ones who are “good for tennis,” but not necessary to the sport’s survival? The ones who maintain the backbone of the Tour for a decade or better, and even indulge in a little glory hunting of their own, only to find the twilight of their careers colder than expected?

Such seems to be the case as the WTA event in Rome wraps up its first day of main draw play. Two former French Open champions, Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova, both suffered brutal losses of the emphatic variety. The hometown favorite Schiavone got out to an early lead against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens only to fade after losing the opening set in a tiebreaker. To say Kuznetsova lost today would imply that she showed up in the first place; facing a junior French Open champ in Simona Halep, the Russian paled against her undersized Romanian opponent, winning only two games in a little over an hour.

Was it really two years ago that these two women played what is easily regarded as one of the best Slam encounters of the decade (if not the Open Era)? Late into the night on Hisense Arena, the veterans played nearly five hours of physical and gutsy tennis for a spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals. The see-sawing nature of the match had little to do with mental lapses or painful chokes; instead, match points were saved with stunning winners that often punctuated arduous rallies. When Schiavone, once deemed a fluke Slam champion for her run at the French Open, put away the overhead to seal a 16-14 final set, she had clinched the No. 4 ranking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBbLO06fBCU

Now, with both women likely to be unseeded heading into the season’s second Slam, such a monumental night must feel like a funny memory. The Italian star had a second romp to the French Open final later in 2011. Since then, it has been a slow, painful decline in both form and motivation. Kuznetsova’s struggles have been perhaps longer, as she has attempted to make 2013 the year she comes back from a long injury layoff that saw her miss the entire second half of 2012.

But where Sharapova and the Williamses were given wildcards to tournaments in which their injury-affected rankings could no longer allow them, Kuznetsova hasn’t benefited from the same patrons. The two-time Slam champion (and former World No. 2) was forced to play qualifying into the Premier event in Dubai earlier this year, and was afforded no special seeding in Australia, where she made an improbable run to the quarterfinals.

It cannot be said that either Kuznetsova or even Schiavone fail to provide the same level of entertainment as their more illustrious peers. With flashy games and flashier personalities, both were much loved when they were stalwarts of the sport’s upper echelon, and continued to be looked on affectionately by journalists and die-hard fans alike, even as their careers appear to be entering their final chapters. Yet the odds are fair that Kuznetsova/Schiavone, once a blockbuster second week match-up, could be a first round match far from Court Philippe Chatrier.

We often don’t know what we’ve got until they’re gone, but while neither woman’s results have warranted real shake-ups in the seedings, the question of respect to worthy champions and war-weary veterans remains.

Roger Federer Makes Shocking Wimbledon Exit

Roger Federer has failed to advance past the quarter-finals for a second consecutive Grand Slam tournament. The defending champion and top-seeded Federer was beaten by Tomas Berdych 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Wednesday.

The shocking upset improves Berdych to 3-8 against Federer all-time, including a recent victory in Miami in March.
The growing trend of Roger losing to players he had previously dominated is continuing and the fact that it is happening on the grass of Wimbledon must be particularly alarming.

Talk of Federer’s decline has been present since 2008 when he failed to win a Grand Slam until late in the year at the U.S. Open. Then in 2009 after losing the Aussie Open final to Nadal, people really started to wonder if his dominance was wavering. Just when it seemed like that might be the case, Federer rebounded by winning his first French Open and then regaining his Wimbledon crown a year ago. He then lost the U.S. Open final to Del Potro but again bounced back in Australia earlier this year. It seemed liked Federer still had a lot of gas left in the tank.

With back-to-back quarter-final exits from the last two Slams however, the situation is starting to look dire for the world number-two player. He has not won a tournament since his lone Slam down-under and continues to get beat by players like Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt and others that he had owned until the past year.

In his post-match press conference, Federer spoke respectfully towards his opponent but revealed there were some injury issues that affected his play today.

“I think he was a bit more consistent than in the past. I lost to him in Miami this year, where it was a really tight match as well. But from my end, obviously, you know, I’m unhappy with the way I’m playing. I couldn’t play the way I wanted to play. You know, I am struggling with a little bit of a back and a leg issue. That just doesn’t quite allow me to play the way I would like to play. So it’s frustrating, to say the least. Looking forward to some rest anyway.”

Whether the injury aspect was real or imagined we’ll never know for sure. It could be Federer’s way of avoiding questions of his declining stranglehold on the men’s game.

Either way, Wimbledon will have a different champion this year and for the first time since 2002 the finals will not include Roger Federer.