As amazing as it is to see Sveta finally, finally, deservedly end her major title drought, today it's hard to see past this:
It's entirely too depressing to think of what must be going through her mind right now although, oddly enough, I did actually believe her when she said in her (horrible, tremendously depressing) press conference that she'll be fine for her next tournament next week. She's so infamous for clawing her way back in matches when she's down-- at least to push things to a third set-- the mental block seems only to really grab and hold on tight in Slam finals. Naturally, this one will probably hurt more than the other two: at RG last year, just getting to the final was an amazing accomplishment for her, at AO (besides the mental block) the food poisoning she got hit with the day before probably would have made it impossible for her to put up much of a challenge anyway.
Today will always be full of could have, should have, would have for Dinara, though. There was no reason to believe that she couldn't have at least made this an actual match. Sure, losing a tough match to Svetlana would have hurt, too, but not like this.
It's clear that something's not right in her head when it comes to Slam finals, and it's clear that something needs to change to give her a chance to give herself a chance. It's not as easy as "just believing", and it's not as easy as "get a new coach". I mean, this year, counting Hopman Cup, Dinara's played in 10 tournaments and been in 7 finals.
10 tournaments. 7 finals.
So, uh, something's going right.
For that reason, and that reason alone, I don't think firing Zeljko is the answer. 95% of the time, their relationship works for her. But that 5% gap is the most important one, so here, humbly and pointlessly, are some suggestions (read: venting):
1. Learn to trust someone other than Zeljko: Seriously, sometimes you'd think he's her own personal cult. He's just a tennis coach, Dinara. And, according to Ivan Ljubicic, an all-around quality guy. That's great. But he is not omniscient. Really. Say it until you believe it. Which leades me to...
2. Get a sports psychologist: Hey, don't knock it 'til you try it, right? And no, Dinara, despite his status as keeper of all your secrets, Zeljko is not one.
3. Get a serve coach: Wacky idea, right? But she's 6'3". There's no reason 40% of her serves should be dumping in the net.
4. Use your next three tournaments to experiment: s'-Hertogenbosch, Wimbledon, Portoroz. Two international level tournaments and her least favourite Slam where she's only defending 3rd round points. Don't worry so much about winning, use each match to concentrate on executing a few specific things. Take the speed off the serve a little and make getting it in as often as possible the goal until she starts to have confidence in something that simple. Vary the game a little bit-- concentrate on staying inside the baseline as much as possible, make a point of coming to net. She's got a doubles Slam and she was a top 10 doubles player less than a year ago. She's not incapable of variety. Which brings on...
5. Play more doubles: Has anyone else noticed that as soon as she stopped playing doubles (USO last year), her singles game almost immediately tightened up? And that when she started playing doubles again (Rome this year), she started to look a little more relaxed? It gets her out on court in matches, but not particularly important ones, where she can play around with her serve, play around with some variety, be on court and strategize with someone else but without Zeljko. Which, painfully, brings me to...
6. Wean self off of Zeljko: She's obviously perfectly capable of playing without him. In the past 12 months that's gotten her to 3 Slam finals and a semi. It seems more emotional than strategic. You're a big girl, honey. You've been playing tennis for 20 years. You really can think for yourself. On-court coaching is optional, not mandatory. Wean. It doesn't have to be cold turkey, but wean. This will make my YouTube life significantly less entertaining, but hey, we'll always have Sydney.
And finally, speaking of Zeljko...
7. Calm him the fuck down for Slam finals: Look, so him kvetching and moaning in the stands works almost all the rest of the time. But it's clearly not working for Slam finals. While she's on court experimenting with staying in the baseline and volleying and generally not going crazy, it would be nice if he could experiment with some general supportiveness and not reemphasizing what is clearly already her worst habit-- focusing on the negative.
The most important thing in the extreme short term, though, is for her to have had someone around to give her a big hug and tell her she is still a great tennis player. Pick up and dust off, Dinara. Cry your eyes out for a day and a half and try to move on. It's the only choice you've got.