Peter Bodo with an interesting look at the end of the year and, I think, fair assessment of Baby E.
I thought this was great:
Heh. So true.
As for the ladies:
The women are done, so what does Doha tell us? Among other things, that the changing of a guard in tennis isn't always as cleanly orchestrated and crisply executed as it is at, say, Buckingham Palace. I saw a lot of rifles dropped, hats flying, and women bumping into each other as they tried to follow the choreography. In the late stages, I found myself thinking a lot about Venus Williams. When the dust finally settled, my thoughts turned to Ana Ivanovic.
Overall, the message seems to be that 2009 is up for grabs: Discount either Williams sister at your peril, Jelena Jankovic still hasn't summited at a Grand Slam event, and Ana Ivanovic leaves more questions asked than answered because of the way she finished the year. And then there's (presumably) healthy and eager Maria Sharapova. But while Jankovic was the firm thread that ran through most of the year, Ivanovic is a more interesting case. I think she's bumped her head on the ceiling of the game and she's well on her way to coming up against something Pete Sampras had to deal with back around 1992, and described this way:
If you want to get to be no. 1 and stay no. 1, you have to get used to living with that target on your back. That's a big decision, because you can have a good life in the Top 10 - eat in the best restaurants, play golf on the best courses in the world, make a lot of money, go deep at tournaments maybe even win a major now and then. . . all without dealing with a whole lot of pressure.Basically, you can hide and have a very good life. The other way is to look at that top ranking and say, "I want this, and I want to hold onto it for all I'm worth, and I'm willing to take the pressure and make all the sacrifices and live my life with that target on my back."
Okay, let's remember that Pete Sampras didn't have that conversation with himself six or seven months after his breakout win at the US Open of 1990. For a good two years, Sampras treaded water, tried to deal with his new notoriety and an improved lifestyle, and wasn't at all convinced that he wanted to don that garment with the bullseye sewn on the back. Slowly, though, he took stock of himself, he took stock of the competition, he took stock of expectations - his own, and those of the world-at-large. Only after that period of drift did he realize that he needed to have that conversation with himself, because he finally understood, firsthand, what was at stake and the issues in play. Deciding that it was worth living with a target on his back was his personal Rubicon, and it shaped the rest of his career. He accepted the garment, and in so doing he laid the foundation for the glories that ensued.
A parallel between Pete Sampras and Ana Ivanovic only goes so far, partly because of the tremendous difference between men's and women's tennis. And let's face it, even on her best day, Ivanovic isn't clearly superior to any number of her rivals in any number of key areas that can determine success or failure. In fact, for her to become a player as dominant as, say, Justine Henin, will demand an extraordinary competitive appetite. It will also take Spartan discipline (something she seems willing to adopt) and unwavering focus.
But other players with less than dazzling physical attributes (a la Venus Williams) or skills (Justine Henin) have taken on those burdens and flourished. In fact, Ivanovic is a present-day version of one of them, Chris Evert. The parallels between them are striking. Both of them are conservative personalities who conformed to the "traditional" model - it's an extraordinary comment on what might be called a general globalization that Ivanovic emerged from Serbia (via Switzerland) so, well, smoothly finished, and seemingly in touch with the mainstream tennis gestalt.
As well, Ivanovic's game is economical, precise, and clean in the same way that Evert's was, and she compensates for a lack of power or explosive ability with good anticipation a shrewd grasp of strategy. Evert showed how far steady nerves, the ability to produce her best shots under the most withering pressure, and recognizing her own strengths and weaknesses can take a player. It's the same territory Ivanovic will have to work, and up until the second half of the year, she did the job well.
Pete goes on to compare and contrast Ana to Chris Evert, which is really interesting. Then he concludes with this:
So I'm willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, and believe that at this stage it's easier to underestimate Ivanovic than to overrate her. She's the forgotten player of 2008. Her late-season swoon certainly exposed some chinks in the mental armor. Injuries also played a part in her unraveling, and I was a little surprised by that. After spending some time with Ivanovic and her team in the late winter, I felt that her approach was extremely professional and surprisingly geared to the long term (she seemed to devote more time to general fitness and strengthening regimens than to short-term technical or strategic objectives). I think that approach will pay off in the long term, because mental and emotional stability lie at the end of the road for the physically disciplined.
A very interesting read. Check it out.