Thursday, August 7, 2014

YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER, ANA

By all accounts, Ana Ivanovic is having something of a revival this year - she won Aukland, defeating Venus Williams (for just the second time in her career) in the final.  She made the quarterfinal in Melbourne, losing to Genie Bouchard in a tough 3-set match.  After some mixed results in the premier spring hard court events of Indian Wells and Miami, she won Monterrey with a semi-final victory over Caroline Wozniacki.  She followed this up with arguably her best performance of the year at Stuttgart, despite losing the final.

It was the first time in 5 years that she made consecutive finals - not too shabby.  Along the way, she defeated Julia Goerges (meh...) Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-time major winner and winner at the Citi Open last week) and her personal nemesis Jelena Jankovic, who always puts up a good fight - particularly against her.  In the end, she succumbed to the best clay-courter on the WTA tour, Maria Sharapova (7 of her last 8 titles have been on clay, BTW) in the final.  She capped off the highlights of this season so far with an impressive victory at the Aegon classic at Birmingham, where she never lost more than 5 games in a match and won the only grass court title of her career.

But a strange thing happened after that - she lost a match in the 3rd round at Wimbledon over Sabine Liscki after winning the first set on Saturday, and appearing to have the match in hand before the match was suspended due to poor light.  Because Wimbledon doesn't play the middle Sunday, the match didn't resume until Monday, but she was still up a break in the second at 5-2, when the match was suspended again due to rain. This proved to be a tipping point, because upon resumption she proceed to lose 7 of the next 9 games, and the match, showing once again that in tennis it is just as easy to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Following that capitulation, in the context of the previous 7 months that saw her most successful season since 2008, she took the curious decision of splitting with the coach whose tenure coincided with those results, Serbian Nemanja Kontic.  In and of itself, that is not unusual - players split with coaches for a variety of reasons and often do it when they appear to be really well and/or making great progress. At the end of the day, the player is the employer and they have the prerogative to make changes whenever they like.

What's strange is the reasons she gave for the change:

"You want someone who's going to be there to support you no matter what...to make you motivated, to make you hungry for success.  I really wanted to get higher in the rankings...I definitely look for someone in that manner rather than someone who's going to be technical."

That's my emphasis precisely because I can't believe what I'm reading.

First, she emphasizes that she really wanted to move up in the rankings, and ironically, that is precisely what she did in 2014.  In fact, she not only moved into the top 10 for the first time since 2008, but she also won 3 titles (where she had no titles the previous two years).  You could hardly blame Kontic for scratching his head on this one, if winning titles and moving up in the rankings was truly the objective - in that case he did his job quite well.

She then goes out of her way to imply that Kontic wasn't giving her "unconditional love" so to speak, didn't motivate her, or keep her hungry for success.  Now this is pretty damning for any coach hoping to get a job with the multitude of female professionals who seek a coach that will provide these exact same things for them.  In that regard, Miss Ivanovic did him no favors here - in fact, if I didn't know any better, that really comes across as the last throes of a woman scorned.

But I digress.

The real question is, why in the world does she need someone else to motivate her?  Isn't that something that is really her responsibility to herself?  If she isn't self-motivated, isn't that problem hers and hers alone?  Maybe she should look at the reasons she isn't motivated - too much money, too many matches, too many people around her putting pressure on her to earn their living?  None of those have to do with the coach, because at the end of the day she is the final arbiter of her career decisions, including all of the above.

But the most incredible sentence is the last - that she's less interested in the technical than the motivational and psychological - I just can't believe or understand that.  I mean, after all, this is a sport - a physical activity.  Striking a tennis ball is not like moving pieces on a chess board - it does matter how you do what you do, so it behooves anyone who wants to do what they do better, to find someone who can help with that pesky "doing" bit..i.e. the technical.  Furthermore, even if you work off the assumption that the body follows the mind (despite ample evidence to the contrary) the body still has to follow - in other words, even a mental edge has to translate into a technical edge, so why not cut out the middle man and work on the technical?

The mental game is by far the most overrated aspect of tennis - for a variety of reasons people attribute way too much importance to it, and because this attribution is so pervasive, a lot of people who should know better lap it up like a stray cat over a saucer of milk.

But Ana Ivanovic, you really should know better.
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