They Said What? Jan. 2

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 /by

My advice would be to forget about everyone else and be extremely selfish for the next three weeks. … You need to try to get into a little bubble. It can be difficult to manage your energy and your emotions, to concentrate on your practice and not think about anything else. I don’t read the papers or watch TV. I don’t see it as beneficial in any way. Sometimes if you read bad things it can be motivation, but if you read good things I don’t think it helps.Andy Murray, on how he’d advise Sam Stosur to handle the pressure of playing in her homeland.

Before the ongoing tournament in Brisbane, world No. 9 Stosur had lost to No. 41 Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden just once—way back in 2004, when the Aussie was still a teenager. But Arvidsson knocked Slammin’ Sammy out of Brisbane the other day, which means that Stosur has now lost four of the last five matches she’s played in Australia.

It appears that age and experience are, if anything, a hindrance to Stosur, who beat Serena Williams—in straight sets—to win the 2011 U.S. Open but has never been past the fourth round in Melbourne. She stunned the home crowd at this time last year when, having just won the aforementioned U.S. Open, she bombed out against Sorana Cirstea, 7-6 (2), 6-3, all the while looking nervous as a cat at a dog run.

Murray has good credentials for dispensing advice on this subject; fans throughout the U.K. have been hoping (and in some cases, expecting) that he’d win Wimbledon since long before that prospect could be termed realistic. Murray has handled the unique pressure that greets him at Wimbledon beautifully, especially when you recognize that the Brits are in far more desperate straits than the Aussies when it comes to producing champions worthy of vying for what is in effect their national championships.

Stosur is a mediocre 14-10 at the Australian Open. Murray, by contrast, is 30-7 at Wimbledon. He reached the third round in 2005, in his debut as an 18-year-old, and has yet to lose there at an earlier stage. Since 2008, Murray has been to the Wimbledon quarterfinals, three successive semifinals, and last year’s final. And while he was beaten by Roger Federer in that championship clash last July, Murray turned the tables and won the Olympic singles gold medal on the same Centre Court just weeks later—with back-to-back wins over Novak Djokovic and Federer.

Realistically, there’s not a whole lot Murray or anyone else can say to help Stosur. She’s always been a gifted player prone to choking, a process that’s always exacerbated under pressure. What I find really interesting, though, is the last three sentences of Murray’s quote. He obviously derives inspiration from criticism, yet is unmoved by praise. That’s almost exactly the opposite of what we might expect, and a great measure of how unpredictable a player’s psyche can be.

***

It was two months, 50 days before the tie, I didn’t think it was something to decide now, whether or not you are [going to play]. … It’s hard, it’s difficult. I think it’s a tricky little thing these last few days of things that were spoken, messages that ‘I told you before’ or ‘I told you after,’ and that does not help.—Franco Davin, Juan Martin del Potro’s private coach, on Argentine Davis Cup captain Martin Jaite’s exclusion of del Potro from the team that will meet Germany in their February first-round tie.

Is there any greater example of a dysfunctional sports team than the baby-blue-and-white Davis Cuppers? It’s no coincidence that despite extraordinary national pride and a deep passion for international team competition, Argentina remains the strongest tennis power—by far—never to have won the Davis Cup. Bickering, backstabbing, and political infighting among players and coaches has become a national tradition for the Argentines, even though the Indians are giving them a good run for their money.

It would take a lot more space than I have to go into all the details, but this latest controversy was sparked when, according to the Argentine press, Jaite gave players until Dec. 10 to declare whether they will be available for their country’s first-round tie against Germany (Feb. 1-3, in Argentina). Apparently, del Potro never got back to Jaite, who then took his star player out of consideration. Del Potro then claimed in a press conference that he heard about Jaite’s decision through the media.

Davin makes a good point when he questions the wisdom of making such big decisions so long before a tie; a lot can change in two months. And of course, there’s no rule saying that del Potro still can’t be named to the team as the event draws nearer—the official nominations must be made not later than 10 days before any given tie.

Curiously, though, del Potro said that he doesn’t like to play first-round ties on clay because they have a negative effect on his form during the early hard-court season. And the one thing we know for sure about this tie is that it will be on red clay in Buenos Aires. Davin has said, with real—or is it feigned?—regret, that the captain and player just might not be able to resolve their problems.

Okay. On the surface, this looks like a plot to keep del Potro off the squad. Or, since Davin isn’t exactly screaming bloody murder, it could be a plot by del Potro to get Jaite fired. Davis Cup committees like for their captains to get along with the nation’s best player(s), and if nothing else, it’s clearly insulting to have ignored Jaite’s replay request date of Dec. 10.

My guess is that, given the nature and force of public opinion, del Potro didn’t want to flat-out say he won’t represent his nation against Germany; that would seem, well, selfish and un-patriotic in a nation of Davis Cup fanatics. And he already came under fire last year for refusing to play a critical fourth rubber against Tomas Berdych (with the Czech Republic leading Argentina, 2-1) because of a wrist injury.

By basically ignoring Jaite’s call (if del Potro indeed did that), the captain becomes the fall guy when he leaves del Potro off a team he didn’t want to be on anyway. Jaite, in turn, seems to have been content to let the deadline pass without sending del Potro a friendly reminder, which doesn’t say much for their relationship—or the state of Argentina’s Davis Cup team.

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