Tennis in the Time of COVID-19

It is no coincidence that the first domino to tumble was a tennis tournament.

On Sunday, March 8th, 2020, Indian Wells, the fifth-largest tennis tournament in the world, announced that its 2020 edition was canceled. The decision was met with mixed reactions from players, fans, officials, and journalists alike. In fact, some felt that canceling the event was blowing the emerging COVID-19 threat out of proportion.

Indian Wells Cancelled COVID-19 2020

However, as the invisible threat loomed closer and closer, the world followed suit. First, there were the sports leagues, such as the NCAA and NBA, suspending their seasons. Then there were governments suspending travel and instructing their citizens to quarantine.

It is crazy to think that less than two months ago, the tennis community was wondering whether the Australian Open would take place due to the bushfires ravaging the Australian continent. Due to the novel coronavirus, Roland Garros has already been postponed and Wimbledon & the U.S. Open appear under threat.

The postponement of a Grand Slam is unprecedented. Never before in the history of Grand Slam tennis has a major tournament been postponed. During WWI & WWII, the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon were all suspended. However, the U.S. Open has never been canceled since its inception in 1881.

 

Wimbledon Centre Court 1940 Bombing
In 1940, Wimbledon’s Centre Court was hit by two by two WWII bombs, causing damage that would take more than eight years to fully repair.

Tennis is a truly global sport. Every week, for eleven months of the year, players, officials, and fans from all over the world gather in celebration of the sport. Not even international sports like football (i.e. soccer for us, Americans), can boast of global congregations week in and week out.

Due to the global nature of this sport, the future looks bleak in terms of returning to action anytime soon. Former World No. 1, Lindsay Davenport, explains the complexities of the situation:

“Wimbledon might be ready to host the tournament, but it’s become a much bigger issue.

Now governments have to open their borders to everybody, all nations, for these tournaments to go on. Every player has to be able to get into the coutnry [and] the tournaments don’t control that anymore.

We have to hope that the virus clears up. But, it’s a much bigger issue now than the players want to play [and] the tournaments want to host them.

There’s a lot of different loopholes for these tournaments to take place. I’d be surprised if we saw tennis before mid-August.

Furthermore, Paul Annacone elaborates:

“Our biggest challenge is it’s international [and] it’s individual.

Lindsay talks about the borders and the possibliltiy of players, fans, umpires, [and] sponsorship people coming in and out from all over the world.

It’s very different than the NBA starting again.

Essentially, in order for professional tennis to return, the entire world needs to outlast this virus–not just one city, one country, or one continent.

Tennis is an example of what can be achieved with international cooperation.  While COVID-19 has rendered the tours on pause, tennis will be a barometer of when we’ve emerged from this nightmare together.

Maria Sharapova’s Top 10 Shadiest Moments

Maria Sharapova made a career by hitting the felt off the ball like no other. However, her uncanny ability to throw shade at her opponents certainly helped cement her status as a bonafide diva icon.

As the five-time Grand Slam champion and former World No. 1 hangs up her racquets, let’s count down the Russian’s most memorable verbal clashes.

Sharapova Dimitrov

10. Sharapova vs. Dimitrov

We will not be seeing any more of Maria Sharapova in 2020. However, both her & her ex-boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov have already delivered an exchange that will undoubtedly rank amongst 2020s more memorable off-court moments.

In 2013, news of Sharapova and baby-faced Dimitrov’s budding romance took the tennis world by storm. However, by Wimbledon 2015, the couple reportedly called it quits.

In her biography “Unstoppable: My Life So Far”, Sharapova writes:

I was supposed to be focused, getting prepared for my own matches, my own triumphs and defeats, on the largest stage of my career. I had been watching his match that day only because I’d lost early at those championships. So his good memory was my bad memory. What meant everything to him happened only because I had lost.

Fast-forward five years, Sharapova was approached by Dimitrov while taking a spin in the commentary booth at the Kooyong Classic (an Australian Open tune-up exhibition). As the Bulgarian ducked inside the booth, the Russian quickly questioned Dimitrov’s choice in attire:

“What’s this yellow thing going on?”

“You like it, huh?” he asked.

“Not really,” she chided.

“You used to like yellow on me, but that’s OK,” he replies. “People change, I get it.”

I think it goes without saying that the term “just friends” might not be the most appropriate term to describe the state of this duo’s current relationship.

Sharapova Radwanksa

9. Sharapova vs. Radwanska Pt. 1

Masha leads Aga in their H2H 13-2. Despite this lopsided record, the Pole has never shrunk back from criticizing her Russian rival — especially for her signature grunt shriek.

In response to Aga’s comments, characterizing Maria’s grunt as “really annoying”, Maria poses a simple question: “Isn’t she back in Poland already?”

Enough said.

Sharapova Serena 2013 Roland Garros Final

8.  Sharapova vs. Serena Williams

Sharapova initially rose to prominence with her underdog win over Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. However, since that signature win, Serena has owned the rivalry. While their on-court head-to-head should be considered anything but a rivalry, the pair’s intensity off-court certainly can.

Heading into Wimbledon 2013, Sharapova and Serena had re-ascended to the summit of the women’s game. They had just sparred in the 2013 Roland Garros final and looked fated to face-off at Wimbledon yet again–nearly ten years after Sharapova’s iconic win.

Before the first ball was struck, controversy sparked when comments from a Rolling Stone profile of the younger Williams seemed to target the Russian:

There are people who live, breathe and dress tennis. I mean, seriously, give it a rest.” Serena exits the car and the conversation moves on to a top-five player who is now in love. “She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ – it’s so boring,” says Serena in a loud voice. “She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.” (An educated guess is she’s talking about Sharapova, who is now dating Grigor Dimitrov, one of Serena’s rumored exes.)

During her pre-tournament media day interview, Sharapova didn’t hold back:

Obviously I have a tremendous amount of respect for Serena and what she’s achieved on the court. You can never take anything away from that.

As for myself, or whether it was about somebody else, nothing personal, you know– if she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids. Talk about other things, but [don’t] draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about.”

Unfortunately, we never got to see the pair translate these tensions into a grudge match (both fell before the quarter-finals that year). However, given Sharapova’s measly 2-20 record versus the American, it’s probably better for the Russian that that encounter never came to pass.

Sharapova Radwanska WTA Finals

7. Sharapova vs. Radwanska Pt. 2

As aforementioned, Sharapova and Radwanska’s relationship can be described as testy-at-best. However, the Russian’s pulverization of the defensive-minded player can be seen as a metonymic example of Sharapova’s ability to pummel the rest of the tour into submission throughout her career (save Serena, of course).

At the 2012 WTA Finals, the pair played a grueling classic, with Sharapova emerging victorious by the score of 5-7, 7-5, 7-5. During the third set, after a point that required the former World No. 1 to hit not one, not two, but three overheads, she jeered at her rival: “Run! Run!”.

You can “run, run” all you want, but in the end, even fast feet aren’t enough to quell the mighty power of Sharapova.

Sharapova WADA violation

6. Sharapova vs. Retirement

In 2016, when Sharapova sent a mysterious invitation to tennis journalists to attend an unexpected press conference in downtown L.A., many speculated that the Russian superstar was set to announce her immediate retirement from the sport.

In the end, Sharapova shocked the world by disclosing her failed drugs test.

Whereas many other players who have failed drugs tests in the past (Marin Cilic, Richard Gasquet, Sara Errani, and Barbora Strycova to name a few) have retreated from the public eye, Sharapova instead chose to face the public directly.

While wrapping up proceedings, Sharapova affirmed her intentions: to fight the charges and return to the sport. In fact, she addressed the rumors about her retirement head-on:

I know many of you thought I would be retiring today and announcing my retirement. But, if I was ever going to announce my retirement, it probably would not be in a Downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet.

Leave it to the always design-savvy Sharapova knock the hotel carpet whilst in the midst of attempting to save her reputation.

Sharapova Wozniacki Australian Open

5. Sharapova vs. Wozniacki

When Sharapova was granted a wild card into the 2017 U.S. Open, her first Grand Slam match following her 2016 doping violation. many players felt the preferential treatment wasn’t deserved.

None were more displeased than two-time finalist, “sweet” Caroline Wozniacki. On a day in which the Dane bottomed out in the second round (to a player ranked outside the Top 100–no less), Wozniacki arrived at her press conference with guns blazing. Upset about having to play on Court 17, Woz slammed tournament organizers for placing “cheater” Sharapova on a stadium court for the second consecutive match.

When asked about Wozniacki’s comments in her presser, Sharapova retorted:

As you know, I don’t make the schedule. If they wanted to put me on a parking lot in Queens, I’d be more than happy to play there.

That’s not what matters to me. What matters to me is that I’m in the fourth round. I don’t know where she is.

I think we all know that if Sharapova were to play in a parking lot in Queens, that would be the hottest ticket in NYC that night– not a stadium ticket featuring Wozniacki.

Sharapova Ivanovic Brisbane Final 2015

4. Sharapova vs. Ivanovic

In 2014, Ana Ivanovic re-entered the women’s Top 10 and the Sharapova-Ivanovic rivalry was renewed. Meeting in the Cinncinatti semifinals, Ivanovic led 6-2, 5-2 before completely falling apart.

In the blink of an eye, Sharapova stole the second set and led by a break in the final. In the middle of the 4-3 game, Ivanovic took an unusual medical timeout, asking the physio to check on an irregular heartbeat.

When play resumed and Sharapova double-faulted the break away, she tapped her wrist and instructed the umpire:

“Check her blood pressure.”

Needless to say. the comment was heard around the world. Unfortunately, Ivanovic would have the last laugh, winning the match 7-5 in the third.

Sharapova Bouchard Handshake

3. Sharapova vs. Bouchard

When news broke about Sharapova’s failed drugs test, none were harsher on the Russian than Eugenie Bouchard.

Eugenie was quick to call Maria a “cheater” and go so far as to say “a cheater should never be allowed to play the sport ever again”.

When Maria returned to tour in 2017, the young Canadian elaborated, “She’s not someone I can say I look up to anymore.”

However, tensions between the two were fraught years before Maria’s doping violation came to light. The similarities between the two players are uncanny. From their blonde hair to their supermodel looks to their flat, aggressive baseline games. In the words of Chris Evert, Bouchard is Sharapova’s “mini-me”.

In 2014, the young Canadian looked ready to surpass her older counterpart, leading Sharapova in their Roland Garros semifinal. However, Maria ultimately gritted out the match, winning the second set 7-5 before running away in the third.

By 2015, Sharapova had figured the young Canadian out, asserting mastery over Bouchard in a straight-sets drubbing in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

Needless to say, the two losses left Bouchard hungry for revenge.

Somehow, the draw gods heard her pleas and just a week after her dismissive comments rocked the tennis world, the two were projected to face-off in the Madrid Open second round. In response to Genie’s comments, Sharapova answered: “I’m above that.”

In the end, Bouchard emerged victorious over Sharapova, a jaw-dropping victory given that the Canadian had been in a slump since her breakthrough 2014.

However, Sharapova would have the last laugh. Without uttering so much as a word, Sharapova mocked the Canadian’s affluent upbringing with a simple Twitter-like heard around the world (see below).

Bouchard Insufferable Like

2.  Sharapova vs. Misogyny

Women face a host of unfair social expectations, and none carry the weight of those expectations more than the female athlete.

In a world that overemphasizes the worth of a woman’s physical appearance and undervalues characteristics such as her strength and intellect, Maria Sharapova shatters these expectations.

Exhuming both strength & beauty, Sharapova teamed up with Nike ahead of the 2006 US Open in order to silence the misogyny of some critics.

The ad follows a young Sharapova heading to her US Open match from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The people she passes along the way each sing a line from the iconic West Side Story tune “I Feel Pretty”.

However, as the song climaxes, the match begins and Sharapova smacks down a return ace punctuated by her iconic grunt. Silence.

Sharapova Roland Garros

1. Sharapova vs. The French Crowd

In 2008, Sharapova was at the peak of her career. She recently won the Australian Open (in straight-sets) and rose to World No. 1. The only hole in the 21-year-old’s resume was a French Open title.

With an open draw, 2008 looked to be the year that the “cow on ice” would finally reign supreme on the terre-battue. However, in the fourth round, Maria found herself in a battle on Court Suzanne Lenglen with compatriot Dinara Safina and the French Crowd.

While Maria was fending off break point after break point, the unruly French crowd was shouting during points, applauding her double faults, and mocking her trademark grunt.

After saving another match point by firing a missle of a forehand onto the court’s tramline, Sharapova let out a shriek:

Allez up your fucking ass!

While Sharapova would lose that day, she would silence the Roland Garros crowd by winning Roland Garros not once, but twice.

 

The Legacy of Maria Sharapova: To Live & Die by Commitment

After nineteen years on tour, Maria Sharapova has decided to call it a career. While the news might not be completely unexpected, the announcement certainly sends tremors throughout the tennis world and beyond.

The Russian is undoubtedly an icon, With five Grand Slam singles titles, a career Grand Slam, an Olympic silver medal, and twenty-one weeks atop the WTA rankings, Sharapova’s career belongs in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, off-court, she’s been able to translate tennis stardom into mainstream cultural relevance, reaching a level of ubiquity that few other players have been able to achieve.

From her meteoric rise through her sputtering downfall, the foremost trait that defines Sharapova has been her commitment.

Sharapova 2004 Wimbledon Trophy

When she swept aside Serena to win Wimbledon in 2004, the commitment was obvious. With the way the rangy teenager launched herself into each of her shots, sending flat bullets onto the court’s tramlines, Sharapova committed to each and every one of her groundstrokes.

In the next two ensuing seasons, under the scrutiny of the spotlight, the young Russian struggled to replicate Grand Slam success. While critics lambasted the ‘one-dimensional’ nature of her game, which could easily unwind with streams of double faults and unforced errors, Sharapova never shrunk from her aggressive nature. From the staredown she gave her opponents at the baseline as she readied her serve to the shriek that she delivered as she pummeled the felt off the ball, Sharapova was a baseliner who came to pulverize.

sharapova wimbledon

In 2008, while at the peak of her career, Sharapova succumbed to a shoulder injury that required reconstructive surgery to fix. She returned the following season, however, it took her over two years to return to the game’s elite. Her serve never regained its potency. And, without that weapon to reliably start points on the front-foot, the Russian found it increasingly more difficult to navigate her service.

Nonetheless, she grinded away. She bottomed out early at many big tournaments. And, she suffered countless humiliating losses. Eventually, she found her stride and in 2012 she hoisted a Grand Slam trophy once again–at Roland Garros of all places. The commitment paid off.

As it stands, Maria Sharapova is the only player to win a major title after undergoing a shoulder reconstruction– a feat that she’s accomplished not once–but twice.

While the final chapter of her career will always be tarnished by the meldonium controversy, it perhaps highlights Sharapova’s unparalleled commitment more than any other. When the Russian invited the tennis media to an L.A. hotel (with a “fairly ugly carpet”), to reveal the failed drugs test, she displayed a commitment to her actions. Not once during the ensuing six-month series of tribunals did she deny using the substance. Instead, she committed to her argument: she had been taking the drug legally for the past decade and was not aware of the change in the drug’s legal status. Furthermore, this period demonstrates Sharapova’s commitment to come back.

Unfortunately, while she returned to the tour in 2017, the results never returned with her. Suffering numerous aches and ailments, her body did not want to cooperate. Nonetheless, for the better part of three years, she trained while waiting out these nagging injuries (undergoing at least two minor surgeries in the process).

Sharapova Retirement

Maria Sharapova’s legacy is a complicated one. However, if it weren’t for her undying commitment, we would have never been able to experience her meteoric highs and miserable lows. Whatever she sets her sights on next, her unwavering commitment will take her there and beyond.

Coco Gauff & the WTA’s Age Eligibility Rule

The talent & star power of fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff is undeniable.

There are maybe five or six tennis players who are truly household names. Now, when I say “household name”, I mean a name that doesn’t require any introduction or commencement of their Grand Slam titles or Weeks at No. 1. Household status belongs to only a select few, players like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova.

After her Cinderella runs at Wimbledon and the US Open, Coco Gauff is already one of those names.

Call Me Coco

However, arriving alongside her crossover success is scrutiny of the WTA’s Age Eligibility Rule by tennis analysts & media alike.

The WTA’s Age Eligibility Rule is a core element of the WTA’s Player Development Program, which aims to “promote and enhance players’ career fulfillment, safety, and well-being.”

As the rule states, “A 15-year-old may play up to 10 professional events (WTA & ITF Women’s Circuit), WTA Championships (if she qualifies), plus Fed Cup.” However, as a player grows older, the number of tournaments they are eligible for increases.

In light of Gauff’s recent success, many have called upon the WTA to revise the Age Eligibility Rule or do away with the regulation altogether.

Lindsay Davenport argues that the Rule limits Gauff’s ability to climb the rankings and win titles, citing a 17-year-old Martina Hingis’ 1997 season to support her case. Similarly, Martina Navratilova contends that the rule unnecessarily piles more pressure on the young American to produce her best results within her limited tournament appearances. Lastly, some argue that the Rule robs fans of the chance to view one of their favorite players in action (and, after all, tennis like all sports is about the fans).

However, we can’t lose sight of why this Rule exists: to protect young players.

Consider Andrea Jaeger, who vaulted to the top of the sport at the age of 16. She reached the 1983 Wimbledon Final by beating Billie Jean King 6-1, 6-1 only to succumb to Martina Navratilova 0-6, 3-6. The reason for the shockingly lackluster performance? Emotional fatigue. The night before the match, Andrea’s notoriously controlling father locked her out of her apartment due to an argument from practice. Ultimately, Andrea had to rely on Navratilova’s help to convince her father to let her back in.

Andrea Jaeger

Consider Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who reached the semifinals of Wimbledon at the age of 17. She seemed destined for a fruitful career, only to retire three years later due in order to escape physical and financial abuse from her father. It was only after fleeing to Florida and rediscovering her love of the game with a new coach that she returned on tour, returning to a Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open at the age of 35.

Consider Jelena Dokic, whose years of mental abuse by her father led to her changing her nationality not once, but twice, and caused her to miss the middle section of what could have been a storied career.

The tennis world seems to be in agreement that Coco’s parents aren’t your usual tennis parents. Even Andrea Jaeger has taken note, observing in the WTA Insider podcast, “I’ve seen some interviews with her parents and they seem really well adjusted.”

However, it’s impossible to alter the Rule à la carte for Coco, a player who seems adjusted and ready for primetime, without simultaneously making players with less stable teams & families vulnerable.

When asked about her opinion on the issue, Coco admits, “I definitely understand why the rule is there; it’s to protect the player.” When pressed further on whether she’d play more, she explains, “Even if the restrictions weren’t there, I wouldn’t play as much as the older players do, just because I am still trying to develop my game and train.” “I would obviously play more than the [current] rules state, but I don’t want to over-do it because I’m still fifteen…”

While we all want more Coco, it is extremely important to find a happy medium that allows these young players to play while instilling further safeguards protecting these same players from potential abuse.

Bianca Andreescu: Willpower as a Weapon

We are in the midst of another jaw-dropping run by Canadian phenom, Bianca Andreescu.

Never before have I seen a player imbue so much panache in her game. 

She’s got it all. She’s got power. She’s got placement. She’s able to run down just about every ball. She owns every shot in the book (and I mean every shot–she very rarely hits the same shot twice). 

She’s been thrown the gauntlet of draws in 2019 and she’s thrown the gauntlet back, amassing a 38-4 record as she heads into Sunday afternoon’s Rogers Cup final versus Serena Williams. 

Despite all of those weapons, I’d say that the biggest of them all would be her unparalleled willpower. 

Bianca comes to win. End of the matter. Time and time again this year, we’ve seen this will to win carry her over the finish line versus the cream of the crop on the WTA Tour.

Wozniacki. Venus. Muguruza. Svitolina. Bertens. Pliskova. Kerber (twice). Andreescu has claimed the scalps of each of these WTA veterans this year, collecting a 6-0 career record versus Top 10 opponents in the process.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 9.29.29 PM

The force of her willpower is so strong that it seems to take the racquet out of the hand of her opponent–no matter who is on the other side of the net. In Friday’s quarterfinal match versus Karolina Pliskova, her presence intimidated the Czech into submission. Following her second consecutive win over Angelique Kerber in Miami, the typically cool German was clearly unsettled, calling Andreescu “the biggest drama queen ever” while shaking hands at the net.

However, that’s not to say that the strength of her willpower doesn’t lead to her detriment. She seems to have a tendency to ignore when her body has called it quits, racking up a recurring shoulder injury in the process.

Andreescu Injru

I see a lot of parallels between her and the immensely talented Argentinian, Juan Martin del Potro. Del Potro has often been described to have “a heart as big as his forehand” (his comeback run to the 2016 Olympic Final has to be one of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking runs in recent tennis history). While del Potro has tasted tennis’ ultimate glory, hoisting the US Open trophy in 2009, he has also stomached the pain of missing many years due to injury. 

In terms of a career, I think Andreescu’s willpower is a weapon that will undoubtedly lead her to Grand Slam glory in the future. However, I also fear it can affect the longevity of her career if not harnessed by the right team.

The Changeover: The Uncomfortable Relationship of Garbiñe Muguruza and Sam Sumyk

Is there a more uncomfortable coaching relationship to watch in tennis right now than that of Garbiñe Muguruza and Sam Sumyk?

After watching their not one but two heated exchanges that went viral in Zhuhai this past week during the WTA Elite Trophy, I’d answer that with a de facto, “No.”.

The first made headlines when, in the middle of berating her coach, Mugurza snapped at a nearby cameraman: “Are you going to fucking bother me with a camera?”

 

The second was much shorter, with Sumyk pleading for her to calm down before storming off in fumes:

Sumyk: “Please don’t be upset.”

Muguruza: “But I’m not upset.”

Sumyk: “Fuck you.”

This isn’t the first time that the two have been caught in profanity-laced exchanges. For example, during a tense 0-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 win over American Christina McHale in Miami last year, Sumyk began the changeover with a threat: “Don’t tell me to shut the fuck up ever again.

Muguruza is one of the fiercest and most talented competitors of her generation, being the third-youngest Grand Slam champion and the youngest player currently holding multiple Grand Slam singles titles (defeating the Williams sisters in both finals, no less). She is known for her explosive game, which requires nerves of steel in order to execute.

Whereas when she was new on the tour, she was content with winning a few matches over top players, or a couple titles here and there, since she’s held herself to a much higher standard. In interviews, she’s been candid in admitting that winning is one of the best feelings there is because it validates the work. However, the pressure she puts on herself to win seems to make every match do or die.

More so, she’s known for maintaining this cold composure off court as well, calling it “the mindset of a champion”. (According to fellow head-case, Alizé Cornet, she’s the least friendly in the locker room.) Whereas after her breakthrough, she was known for her humility and down-to-earth persona, since tasting Grand Slam glory, she’s been characterized by a more pompous and dignified aura.

Sumyk’s resume isn’t too shabby either. He’s coached the likes of Vera Zvonareva, Eugenie Bouchard, and, most notably, Victoria Azarenka, leading her to two Grand Slam titles as well as the No. 1 ranking.

While Azarenka seemed to thrive off of his intensity, his other two students seem to have been crushed by his overbearing coaching method that requires total submission of the pupil. Vera Zvonareva reach her two Grand Slam finals after he joined Azarenka’s camp, whereas his stint with Bouchard only lasted six months, with the Canadian stating at the time: “It definitely wasn’t working. There were some big problems, and I just had to make a change.”

While Sumyk certainly deserves credit for coaching Garbiñe to her maiden Grand Slam singles titles at the French Open title in 2016, her results certainly dropped off of a cliff shortly after.

Yes, she did win Wimbledon the following year, but that occurred in Sumyk’s brief absence in order to attend the birth of his daughter. With former No. 2 Conchita Martinez taking over coaching duties, Muguruza notes that the change in pace and coaching style played a major factor in her unlikely victory at the All England Club that year. In fact, the change in temperament was so noticeable that official WTA correspondent, Courtney Mace Nguyen, noted “the look in her eye”, during her Wimbledon preview podcast.

Since that Wimbledon victory, she’s dropped to No. 18 in the rankings, posting a 33-20 record in 2018 alone.

I think the problem belies in a combination of Mugurza’s perfectionist nature and Sumyk’s coaching philosophy. In an interview with the New York Times before her 2018 Roland Garros semifinal encounter with Simona Halep, Sumyk admits: “When she’s suffering on the inside, I know it’s good.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Garbiñe lost that match to Simona, who had her own infamous on-court meltdown in Miami in 2017.

Simona too used to force herself to suffer in order to win. However, more often than not, that suffering forced her to lose many matches from a winnable position. In the end, Darren’s decision to dump his charge and forcing her to learn cold turkey ultimately proved successful in developing Simona into a No. 1 player and one capable of tasting Grand Slam glory.

While I don’t think that either Muguruza or Sumyk are fully to blame for the tenacity in their relationship, I also don’t believe that the partnership stands any chance of bearing fruit come 2019.

A Lesson on Greatness

 

 

What exactly is it that enables raw talent to develop into greatness?

The factors that separate champions from all-time greats are so minute and difficult to discern that even the Greatest Players of All Time often find that question difficult to answer.

I mean it makes sense. We’re each trapped inside of our own skin. We’re only able to perceive the world from this perspective and none other. As such, our outlook is an accumulation of our unique set of lived experiences. How is one discern the quality that sets oneself apart from the rest of the world if one has only ever perceived the world from one’s own eyes.

It’s the human condition.

And yet, on Saturday July 7th, 2018, while answering a seemingly routine question, “what is it like always being the one to beat?”, Serena went off-script.

She begins to answer the question in routine fashion:

Serena: Every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or surgery, it doesn’t matter. These young ladies, they bring a game I’ve never seen before. And it’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much because when I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me.

However, when she takes a breath, seemingly about to reiterate the above, something special happens. In fact, you can pinpoint the moment in which her internal gears turn and she slips in a trance (0:53) and comes to a candid realization:

Serena: That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest. So I have to be greater.

Interviewer: It must suck to be you.

Serena: At first it did, but I like it because it kind of backfires because everyone comes out and they play me so hard and now my level is so much higher because of it. From years and years of being played like that. So it’s like, you know what, my level, if it wasn’t high, then I wouldn’t be who I am. So I had to raise my level to ‘unknown’ because [it forces them into] playing me at a level that’s unknown … so now I’m used to it.

With clarity, humility, and poise, Serena’s answer is humble; while, obviously, she’d be nothing without raw talent, greatness has been rung out of her by the strength of the entire tour.

Now, the only question remains, if any other player either currently on the tour or to come, can exhibit such fearless and resilience under the same conditions and make their case that they are indeed the greatest…