underachievers

“DelPetra” Showing Signs of “Peak Pierce” Syndrome

Comparing  the WTA to the ATP is called farfetched. Comparing the ATP to the WTA is called insulting. However, few fans of either disciple can dispute the similarities between 2011 Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova and Juan Martin Del Potro, winner of the 2009 US Open.

Both juxtapose lethal games with breathtaking power against soft-spoken demeanors and “gentle giant” reputations. Both have amazed spectators with their shared ability to play unbeatable tennis and end points at will with thudding winners. Both shocked the tennis world with ruthlessly won Slam titles that seemed less like blips and more like the starts of dynasties.

Yet despite all of their talent and proven potential, both have found it difficult to back up their big wins and to challenge the game’s best (or more consistent?) players. By all accounts, Kvitova had a solid 2012 that featured two Slam semifinals and wins atop her nemesis, the North American hard court. But it was far from the dominating display that her ’11 Year-End Championships win seemed to foreshadow. Various injuries kept her from top condition. Her confidence has taken an undoubted hit as she starts 2013 with early losses to Laura Robson and Kristina Mladenovic who, with equally fearless games, are arguably younger versions of herself.

Where the Czech’s form has ebbed and flowed, the ATP’s top Argentine suffered a traumatic wrist injury a mere months after his US Open triumph. Sidelined for nearly an entire season, Del Potro has struggled to rebuild his career in the last two years. While he has made steady improvement, even capturing the Bronze medal at the London Olympics, he too has dealt with bouts of erratic form. In his first major outing of 2013, he crushed his first two opponents only to lose his way against Jeremy Chardy in the third round.

Still, it cannot be denied that, on any given day, either player could dig out of these patches of poorer form and go on a run at a Grand Slam tournament. Such a run would be considered as jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring as their first victories.

Such is the characterization of “Peak Pierce” Syndrome.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/GX9p7oLusE8

The notion of “Peak Pierce” is brought up in online tennis circles as a half-meme, half-miracle-of-nature. Centered around French superstar, Mary Pierce, a “Peak Pierce” performance is one of sheer dominance, a brilliantly effortless display of power. An undeniable talent, Pierce’s career lasted nearly twenty seasons. Of those twenty, she made Grand Slam finals in four of them: 1994, 1995, 2000 and 2005. Such winless stretches are unheard of in today’s game; for Mary, it mattered neither her age nor the players against whom she competed. When she was playing “Peak Pierce” tennis, the Frenchwoman could dominate the sport in the way we were coming to expect Kvitova and Del Potro to do.

But Mary Pierce is one of the sport’s greatest tragedies. Subjected to an abusive father, Pierce will be remembered as much for “The Jim Pierce Rule,” the first WTA legislation against out of control tennis parents, as for her dominating performances and inspiring perseverance. Her tortured past is looked on by many as the reason why she is among a small group of Slam champions to retire with only two (the majority of Slam Champions have either one or more than three).

Perhaps the examples of Del Potro and Kvitova provide evidence that they, along with Pierce, are simply too talented to be consistent.  An oxymoronic concept, to be sure, but few can argue that when these three are playing their best tennis, they are among the best in the game. We have seen each of these players post dazzling statistics, and seen them hit incredible winners. How could anyone be expected to maintain such superhuman form?

Whether a fan values combustible brilliance or dependable consistency depends on what  players that fan prefers, but the real issue is whether we, as fans or pundits, can feel right about criticizing these streaky players, belittling their accomplishments by calling them “underachievers.” Of course, it would be great if Mary could have “Peak Pierce’d” into a Golden Slam, if Petra had taken the #1 ranking that seemed all but assured 12 months ago, or if Juan Martin could have taken out Federer at the Olympics to compete for a Gold medal.

Their lows are surprising, frustrating, and even sometimes comical when they fail to find the court. But there are few things for which I would trade the memory of Petra Kvitova demolishing the field to capture the Wimbledon title, of Juan Martin Del Potro handing Roger Federer his first US Open loss after going undefeated in Flushing for five years, of Mary Pierce saving her best tennis for the end of her career and reaching two Slam finals in the process.

These highs, in my opinion, make everything, even “Peak Pierce” Syndrome, worth it.

Will They Ever Win…Again?

A tennis player’s career is defined by Grand Slam competition. Whether it’s fair or not, even players who win tons of titles or attain the world number one ranking will go down in history beneath those who are talented or lucky enough to win one of the coveted Slam titles. This means that an entire year’s worth of work usually boils down to just eight weeks of results.

All things considered, Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina have enjoyed similar careers. They’re only two years apart in age. Both have achieved the world number 1 ranking. Both have competed in three Grand Slam finals. Recently, both women have shared a similar dive in the rankings. However, with all of these similarities, one huge difference defines the careers of these two women. They faced each other in the 2008 French Open final and Ana scored her first and only Grand Slam victory. Regardless of what turns her career took after Roland Garros ’08, Ana Ivanovic will go down in the history books as a Grand Slam champion while Dinara Safina will be dragged out as a sad statistic for underachievers. Now, before I get a deluge of angry comments from both Ana and Dinara fans, I fully realize that both of these women are still young and active on the tour. It’s certainly possible that one of them could score another Slam victory before they retire; however, as it stands, this is the situation.

Because Slams are so important for a player’s career, it’s only natural to speculate on which players will win and which will come up short. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most talked about cases and answered the all important question, ‘will they ever win?’ or ‘will they ever win again?’

First up, let’s look at some players who’ve come awfully close to taking home one of those coveted trophies, but in the end came up second best. Will they ever win?

Andy Murray

Will he win? Yes.

Frankly the whole Andy Murray argument is what spurred me to write this article. Murray’s been as high as number 2 in the world and has been camped out in the top 4 for the better part of the last two years. He’s made the finals at both the US Open and the Australian Open, falling easily to Roger Federer both times. Even after his defeat at this year’s Aussie Open, journalists were asking “When will Andy Murray win a Slam?” Lately, journalists have been asking “Will Andy Murray win a Slam?” Those are two very different questions. Andy Murray certainly hasn’t gotten worse in the past two years, in fact his fitness and conditioning has made him stronger than ever. Lately, he just doesn’t seem to have ‘it,’ whatever illusive factor makes Federer and Nadal so incredible at Grand Slams. Murray’s proved capable at beating both of them, just not on tennis’ biggest stages. Well, I disagree with the commentators. Andy’s only 23 and while he may have battle past Rafael Nadal for the entirety of his career, at some point Nadal will falter and Murray will win a major.

Robin Soderling

Will he win? Yes.

I wavered a lot of this one. Robin was a fairly unheard of commodity before the 2009 French Open, where he beat 4 time defending champion Rafael Nadal and made his first Grand Slam final. Everyone was convinced this was one of those one time dream runs, but then he did it again. French Open 2010 rolled around and for the second year he beat the defending champion, this time Roger Federer, before making his second consecutive French Open final. Since then, Soderling also made the quarter finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. Robin’s had the misfortune of meeting Roger Federer at almost every turn when it comes to Grand Slams. Frankly, only Andy Roddick has been less lucky in this respect. However, one day, Roger Federer isn’t going to be on the other side of the net and Robin will get lucky. Probably.

Vera Zvonareva

Will she win? No.

Bepa’s great and she’s had an amazing breakout year, making two consecutive Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Pre-Wimbledon, I wouldn’t even have considered putting her name on this list, so she’s definitely doing something right. However, no matter how well she played leading up to the final, it didn’t seem to stop her from self destructing. Mentally, I’m just not sure that Bepa has the strength to make it through all seven matches en route to a Grand Slam title.

Caroline Wozniacki

Will she win? Yes.

Caroline’s only 20 years old. She’s already made one Grand Slam final and she’s about to take over the world number 1 ranking, and while that certainly doesn’t guarantee Caro will win a Grand Slam, her resume’s pretty strong. She made the semifinals at this year’s US Open as the number one seed and I was very impressed with her return game. Overtime, I think Caroline’s game will continue to improve and best of all, she’s got youth on her side. The eight year age gap with Serena Williams means that she’ll have plenty of Slam opportunities with a Serena-less draw.

While one Slam is plenty impressive, when it comes to winning, more is better. So, will these former champions be able to add to their totals?

Novak Djokovic

Will he win again? Yes.

From the 2005 French Open to Wimbledon 2009 (18 Slams,) Novak Djokovic was the only man aside from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to win a Grand Slam title. He played an incredible match against Roger Federer at this year’s US Open and took Nadal to four sets in the final. At 23, he’s got plenty more opportunities to win. Let’s just hope that one of the Slams is unseasonably cool.

Roger Federer

Will he win again? Yes.

This is probably the biggest debate in tennis right now. Roger Federer is 29. His amazing semifinal streak ended at this year’s French Open and he only won two titles so far this year, although one of them was the Australian Open. Well, Fed’s doubters are fools. Even if he only plays for another 2 years (he definitely wants to compete in the 2012 Olympics,) that’s 8 more chances at a 17th Grand Slam title. He’s won 16 on the last 30 Grand Slams. Do you really want to bet against him?

Andy Roddick

Will he win again? No.

It kills me to write this. I still tear up watching footage of the 2009 Wimbledon final. Just kidding, kind of. However, I’ve come to the realization that, at 28, it’s likely that Roddick will never win that illusive second major title. Last year, I would’ve given him a chance, but I think Wimbledon was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was potentially the best match Andy ever played and the defeat was clearly and understandably crushing. Andy has been unlucky enough to play the most matches against Roger Federer of any guy on tour with a lopsided head to head of 2 to 19, including four major finals, all won by Federer. When he finally decides to call it a day, I think Roddick will still be known as a one Slam winner, the 2003 US Open champion. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Maria Sharapova

Will she win again? No.

I started tossing around ideas for this article a week ago and I originally had Maria down as a yes. She’s three time major champion and just 23 years old, even though it seems like she’s been around forever. At that age, with that resume, it’s hard to believe that she won’t win again. I really thought that this year’s US Open was her chance. Her serve looked slightly more consistent and she had a pretty good draw. But then she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. I was still optimistic. However, Masha crashed out of Tokyo to Kimiko Date Krumm, who’s 40, yes 40. Since then, Maria’s decided to end her 2010 season. I’m just not sure that physically or mentally she’s ever going to get back to her old form. Maria’s titles came at Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008. By virtue of the pattern, she really should have won this year’s French Open. I’m kidding, but that would’ve been awesome.

Venus Williams

Will she win again? No.

This one should be fairly obvious. She’s 30 and she has knee problems. She’ll wow us with crazy outfits for another couple years and eventually call it quits.

I’m sure you’ve realized I’ve left some pretty famous names off the list. There’s no question in my mind that Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will both win more majors, so I didn’t even bother including them. Did I miss out on your favorite? Feel free to let me know who you think will win, or who won’t. Comment below, or tweet me @achangeofends.

IVANOVIC’S MISTAKE: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Mixed Priorities? – By now, everyone probably knows that Andy Roddick’s wife Brooklyn Decker is appearing on the cover of the famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But in case you missed it, Serb Ana Ivanovic is also being featured in the popular magazine spread. It’s easy to see why she was approached to be in the issue, but I question her decision to do it nonetheless.  This is a woman who has slipped to No. 23 in the rankings, was in tears during her second round Australian Open defeat to Gisela Dulko, and after a dismal performance this past weekend in Fed Cup, freely admitted that she’s suffering from a psychological crisis. Her lifetime contract with Adidas aside, now is the time for Ana Ivanovic to focus more on her tennis and get it back on track. If she doesn’t, then she’s going to quickly be labeled as one of those underachievers who is nothing but a flash in the pan.

Setting an Example – In a refreshing bit of news, Barclay’s conducted a survey of 1,500 individuals and found that tennis stars Roger Federer and Steffi Graf were named top male and female sports role models. Given that it’s one of the cleanest sports, and the fact that golf has recently been rocked by the Tiger Woods scandal, it wasn’t entirely shocking that tennis should score so high. Hopefully tennis’ growing reputation as a model sport for young children and adults everywhere will further help grow viewership and participation around the globe.

Suffering Safina – It was announced earlier this week that former world No. 1 Dinara Safina had to pull out of the Dubai tournament due to her lingering back problem. She hopes to be able to compete in the upcoming Indian Wells tournament. I personally have my fingers crossed for the industrious Russian. I firmly believe she has the game to win a Grand Slam title, but this lingering back injury could very well be a sign that this is the beginning of the end of her tortured career.

Thai Sighting – For all of you Paradorn Srichaphan “Sricha-fans” out there who’ve been wondering what Thailand’s favorite native son has been up to, he’s been preparing to star in an upcoming Thai action film.  Just a week after Leander Paes announced he was going to be starring in a psychological thriller, Paradorn announced that he would be the feature star in the upcoming film Beng Rjan II. Paradorn has been sidelined from tennis with a wrist injury since 2007, and odds appear slim he’ll ever make it back onto the tour. With any luck, this movie gig will work out and he’ll have a second career on the big screen.

The Enigma is Back – I’ll be the first to admit that aside from thrilled, I was more surprised to read that Russian Marat Safin is planning to play the Champion Series event in Rio this coming March.  Given Safin’s attitude towards tennis as primarily a business, I never really expected him to play another competitive match again, and certainly not so soon after his November retirement. One thing is for certain, however.  Given the more laid back and jovial atmosphere that exists on the Senior Tour, you can bet that the affable Safin is going to be bringing plenty of laughter to the tennis court and delighting fans around the world once again.