Old Habits Die Hard
At a certain point, it’s probably best to stop hoping that a player will ever change from what she has always been. How many pros succeed in transforming themselves, in fixing their flaws and solving their riddles, in the middle of their careers? You can count them on one hand. Sometimes beating No. 1 players and winning major titles isn't enough to manufacture confidence over the long term. As two women have shown this summer, even reaching the summit of the sport, the final at Wimbledon, won't lift your game for long.
The latest player to remind us of this cold hard fact is 24-year-old Petra Kvitova. Watching her refuse to be beaten at Wimbledon, I had held out some small hope that she would take that attitude with her when she left Centre Court. She had been so determined there; why should it be different anywhere else?
But, of course, it has been different. After a month-long break, Kvitova lost her second match in Montreal, to Ekaterina Makarova. Yesterday she lost her first match in Cincinnati, to Elina Svitolina. A pattern has been repeated: In 2011, after winning her maiden Wimbledon title, Kvitova lost in the second round at each of these two events, before going out in the first round of the U.S. Open.
This time even Kvitova was left scratching her head.
“From the beginning I didn’t feel comfortable out there,” said Kvitova, who has struggled in the North American humidity in the past. “I was really trying to fight, but I just wasn’t able to do it today. I’m not sure why. But it happened.”
Credit Kvitova for being honest: When she was asked if she was hitting the ball well in practice, she said “Not really.” You rarely hear that from a player.
So now we know: Petra is still Petra. She says she’s happy she has entered New Haven next week, to get some more match play. Let’s hope she can avoid a repeat from three years ago and win at least one match in New York.
Are we starting to see a pattern from Kvitova’s opponent in the Wimbledon final, Eugenie Bouchard? To start the season, Bouchard reached the semifinals at the Australian Open, then followed it with a first-round loss in Doha and a loss in the qualifying event in Dubai (yes, the world No. 8 was still qualifying as of February). In the spring, she reached the semis at the French Open, then followed it with a first-round loss in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Now, after reaching the final of the year’s third major, she has lost in the opening round in both Montreal and Cincinnati.
There were, if you look for them, extenuating circumstances involved in all of these letdowns. After Australia, Bouchard flew around the world for a Fed Cup tie before finally making it to the Middle East. She’s also not the first player to struggle to make the transition from clay to grass right after Roland Garros. And last night, her opponent, Svetlana Kuznetsova, was no pushover—the two-time Grand Slam champion had won their only other meeting in straight sets.
But this time especially, there has also been a lot of attention, and a lot of media commitments for Bouchard. In her hometown return in Montreal, she seemed uncharacteristically unnerved by the spotlight. There and in Cincinnati, there was a heightened glare: She wasn’t just another player; she was The Game’s Next Star. The 20-year-old Bouchard, after looking so mature and assured at Wimbledon, has looked her age again in these night matches in North America.
Still, from a playing standpoint, she was better in Cincy than she was in Canada. Her serve wasn’t clicking, and those approaches she made look so easy on Centre Court didn’t look so easy last night. Whatever her accomplishments, her ground strokes will never be the smoothest and most natural on tour, and her timing will always go off at some point. Like Kvitova, Bouchard is also probably happy that she’s scheduled to play New Haven next week. As she heads for the East Coast and the U.S. Open, Genie can remember the upside to the pattern she has set in 2014: She has made at least the semis at all three majors so far.
See Thursday’s Order of Play here.
Andy Murray vs. John Isner: Murray leads their head to head 2-0, and with his excellent return, he makes for a tough matchup for the all-serve Isner.
Serena Williams vs. Flavia Pennetta: Two over-30s take the court against each other. Serena is 3-0 against the Italian in completed matches.
Lucie Safarova vs. Simona Halep: Court 3 starts with what would have been the third-place match at Wimbledon.
Roger Federer vs. Gael Monfils: The evening special. Federer leads their head to head 6-2, but Monfils won their last one, in three sets, in Shanghai in 2013. This should be good, as long as the right Monfils is in the house.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Ana Ivanovic: The 14th meeting between the two, dating back to 2005. Ivanovic has won the last three.
Sloane Stephens vs. Jelena Jankovic: They went down to the wire a week ago in Montreal. I'd expect something similar today.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sabine Lisicki: Last week, in their first match since The Drive-By, Radwanska won in three sets. Their power-vs-finesse matches usually go the distance.
Maria Sharapova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Sharapova has been shaky so far this summer. This will be the third meeting of the two Russians in 2014 alone; they split the first two.
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Angelique Kerber: Hopefully the crowds will stay after Federer and La Monf. Both of these women have been playing well of late, and they’re as competitive as it gets. Kerber leads their head to head 5-3.