In a heated debate between parent and child, many a tiger mother has resorted to an ominous prediction in her rhetoric: “Wait until you have children; then you will understand.” It is a common adage heard in American households, but it feels strangely applicable as former champion Martina Hingis begins the European clay court swing, not as a player, but as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s new coach.
Ostensibly an odd pairing, there has been little in the young Russian’s career to make one draw comparisons to the “Swiss Miss.” Where Hingis arguably peaked before age 20, Pavlyuchenkova’s career has been defined by fits and starts; her 2013 resumé alone boasts two titles, one final and a whopping seven opening round losses. From the age of two, the five-time Slam champion was coached almost exclusively by her mother, Melanie Molitor, a former player from the Czech Republic who had named her daughter after national hero, Martina Navratilova.
By contrast, Pavlyuchenkova has gone through a bevy of coaching situations in the constant effort to tweak her game to be more reliable. In the last year, she finally returned to the Mouratoglou Academy (home to Serena Williams, Jeremy Chardy, and Yulia Putintseva), and cemented her partnership with Academy coach Hingis last week during the International event in Oeiras.
Even on a fundamental level, Pavlyuchenkova represents much of what drove Hingis from the top of the sport in the early 2000s. The Swiss superstar relied on guile and cunning to beat bigger, stronger opponents on a weekly basis, but even that was often not enough to compensate for her underpowered game. Pavlyuchenkova? She has enough stored-up power to keep the lights on at any stadium she plays. She may as well consider “tactics” a four letter word, as all of her biggest victories were moments when she bashed down the door with relentless efficiency. Ten years ago, that might have been enough to take the Russian to several Slam titles already.
But today, the most successful players combine brains and brawn, and those who rely too heavily on one or the other find themselves flattened by more complete players.
On some level, Hingis must feel relieved that, to a certain degree, that which Pavlyuchenkova lacks can be taught. As she herself learned the hard way, height and strength is not something one can glean from a couple of days on the practice court. But the two do appear to share a certain stubbornness that might make this arrangement more trouble than it’s worth.
From a pundit’s perspective, it looked like there was plenty Hingis could have done to compete with the changing Tour, from developing a faster serve, to ending her mother/coach relationship and improving her perceived lack of superhuman fitness. But as Hingis infamously said, she was a “player, not a worker.” She was content to make the best of her natural gifts and use them to hide her weaknesses for as long as she could.
Pavlyuchenkova, too, has sometimes bristled at the idea of improving. Despite lacking much of Hingis’s immediate Tour success, the Russian seemed in no rush to build on her emphatic run to the 2009 Indian Wells semifinals, and while she has made two Slam quarterfinals since then, her ranking has stalled outside the top 10, and both her fitness and consistency have left much to be desired.
Though she may blanch at the notion, Martina has become her mother. Once a player, she is now forced as coach to watch from the stands and hope that her charge is employing the techniques they discussed in practice. But after playing nearly two decades one way, how quickly will Pavlyuchenkova be able to find the balance between “brainless ballbasher” and “technical tactician?” How many matches is she willing to lose playing the right way instead of winning playing the wrong way? At least neither have to deal with the all-too-complex parent/child dynamic.
After all, Pavlyuchenkova’s coach isn’t “mom,” she’s “Martina Hingis.”
While all the talk has been about the colour of the clay in Madrid ahead of this week’s combined Mutua Madrid Open, there is an important tournament to be played on the new surface and there is a long list of title contenders in the women’s draw.
The top half of the draw features World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka who overcame a tough first round hurdle this weekend with a straight sets win over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Despite a flawless start to her season, the Belarussian could use a strong showing at a major clay court event leading into Roland-Garros. Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Na Li are all in Azarenka’s quarter and her arch rival, new world no. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska is once again a potential semifinal opponent. Azarenka is the only player to beat the Pole so far in 2012. Radwanska’s section is already void of three seeds, Marion Bartoli, Dominika Cibulkova and a slumping Francesca Schiavone. Despite some of the favourites bowing out early, Radwanska could meet Sara Errani, the hottest clay court player in the world, in the second round. Errani has won 15 straight matches and three consecutive tournaments on the red dirt, including a title win last week in Budapest.
On paper, the bottom half of the Madrid women’s draw is definitely the tougher and deeper side. Leading the way is Stuttgart champion and world no. 2 Maria Sharapova. The rejuvanted Russian continues to make strides on clay and she rolled through her opening match. Fans are looking ahead to a potential blockbuster quarter-final between Sharapova and Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, or even the emerging Mona Barthel. Sharapova and Williams have not played eachother since Stanford last summer and with many labeling them French Open favourites, both would likely relish the opportunity to go head-to-head before Paris. Defending Madrid champion Petra Kvitova and the clay savvy Samantha Stosur could also meet in the quarter-finals. Both could use a big showing on the blue clay courts. As she proved last year with her title run, the Madrid altitude and quicker surface are certainly favourable conditions for Kvitova’s big game.
In keeping with a prevalent WTA trend in 2012, expect the top four players to be still standing in the latter stages of the tournament, but not without being tested along the way. At the same time, upsets will not be uncommon given the uncertainties and concerns about the new clay surface. It will be interesting to see what kind of champion the blue courts will crown.
What promises to be a thrilling spring and summer of tennis for the WTA begins this week for the ladies in Stuttgart for the start of the clay court season.
This much-anticipated segment of the calendar begins with a bang as 17 of the Top 20 players in the world are entered in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Madrid and Rome will also host Premier events during the month of May as preparation for the second Grand Slam event of the year at Roland-Garros.
Over the past few years, the expectations and results on the red dirt for the women have been highly unpredictable and 2012 will be no different. Gone are the days of dominant clay court specialists on the WTA like Justine Henin or Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Instead, today’s Tour is all about parity making it anyone’s game, especially on clay. Case and point, the French Open has crowned a different champion each of the last four years. It will be interesting to see if World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka can continue her dominance this season on a different surface or whether Maria Sharapova will finally breakthrough with some titles after finishing as the runner-up at the three biggest tournaments of the year so far. Can Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova kick-start her season after a slow start? Will Caroline Wozniacki claim that elusive Grand Slam crown? Can Na Li repeat in Paris? Will a resurgent Ana Ivanovic be a threat again on a surface that brought her Grand Slam glory in 2008? All of these questions will be answered over the next few weeks with a few unexpected twists thrown in for good measure.
Don’t be surprised if a player outside of the Top 10 makes some noise at the big tournaments and look for Agnieszka Radwanska to make a serious run at her first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros. Her all court game is well-suited for clay. Not to mention, she is enjoying the best season of her career.
It’s impossible to discuss a pending Major without throwing the name of Serena Williams into the mix. She played the Australian Open on one ankle, but comes into the clay court season in much better shape especially after rolling through the draw in Charleston a few weeks ago to win her 40th career title. Williams is driven to continually overcome health obstacles for another opportunity to add to her Grand Slam tally. The expectations may be low heading into Roland-Garros considering her recent results at the Majors and the fact clay is her worst surface. However, tennis fans have learned over the years to never discount Serena and it would be very much her style to triumph in Paris when everyone least expects her to.
You ever feel like you’re dreaming and then wake up and realize it wasn’t actually a dream. I imagine that that’s how it felt when Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer and broke the Agassi record of 17 titles on clay and actually getting 18.
Nadal made history winning his 18th Masters title by beating number 1 in the world Roger Federer in straight sets 6-4, 7-5.
I read Lisa’s blog entry and she was elated with Rafa’s victory. Ofcourse, if I were a big a fan as she is of Rafa then I would be over the moon with this double victory. Setting a record that you know won’t be broken for the next few decades. I can’t imagine how that feels. Nor can I imagine to get one over my archnemesis.
The Madrid Open is a good test for Roland Garros next week I reckon and Rafael Nadal proved that he is once more a favorite for the Roland Garros title.
Did you know that, if Rafael Nadal wins at Roland Garros, Roger Federer will have to reach the semifinals to hold on to the No. 1 ranking
For now these photos I think will do fine.
And he keeps sending us stuff! Ralf Reinecke is running around on Madrid and it shows. Pressconferences and celebrities, noone is safe from his photo camera. And they shouldn’t be. Ralf’s photography is once again great.
He sent me pics of Melzer, Almagro, Federer, Nadal, Na Li, Andy Murray, Gulbis and as extra bonus shots none other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulino Rubio!
Keep ‘em coming and we’ll keep upping them and serve our readers and viewers the best of the best!
And he does it again. Ralf Reinecke managed to capture two of the best players in the world on cam in Madrid. Earlier this week an interview with Roger Federer it was like he was giving Rafael Nadal a subtle swipe about his clay court dominance.
The interview was on Gototennis.com and Federer has the following to say:
On clay you don’t need a volley or a serve. You just need legs, an incredible forehand and backhand, and to run after every ball. I’m not trying to take anything from Rafa: He has been successful in other surfaces as well. But on clay you can get away, you can be competitive even with a very incomplete game. I’m not saying it’s so simple, but it’s too easy.
Whether or not Federer is right remains to be seen. Until then I would suggest that you enjoy the pics.
And the photos just keep strolling in. This time we got Alona Bondarenko and I was just reading my edition of Superman when this photo came in. It made me wonder:
What is Alona Bondarenko looking at? Let me know what you think she is looking at:
And we got more pics of Alona Bondarenko, who unfortunately suffered a defeat versus Li Na in Madrid today. Losing 6-3, 6-4.
Our photographer Ralf Reinecke has done it again! He managed to capture the best players in the world, who are currently participating in Madrid, on camera and makes them look good.
He sent me pics today of Jelena Jankovic. The girl in green. It makes her look like the She-Hulk and that means that I think she’s sexy in green!!
Brooklyn Decker isn’t the only SI Swimsuit model who likes tennis….
None other than Supermodel Bar Rafaeli was spotted at the Madrid Open watching the Roger Federer match. Bar Rafaeli has posed in several magazines in the past but I think she’s most known for her cover on Sports Illustrated 2009. The biggest honor a model can earn.
Anyway I don’t think you are waiting for my ramblings and you just want to see the pics!
Maria Sharapova’s comeback to the WTA Tour was cut short by Lucie Safarova. The leggy Russian was ousted in two sets 6-4, 6-3. Sharapova will now head for Strasbourg.
“It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm,” a philosophical Sharapova, who was playing her first tournament since pulling out of the Sony Ericsson Open in March with an elbow injury, told a news conference.
There is a lot of work for Sharapova to do if she wants to be considered a serious contender for the French Open.