Monday, June 2, 2008

There For The Taking, and GAAK!

So take an imaginary tennis player, give her set in the bag, up 5-2 in the second set, a match point at 5-3 in the second set, a 5-2 lead in the second set tiebreaker.
Two ways for this match to go...
1. Said player slams the door and capitalizes on one (of many) opportunities to close out the match.
2. Player gets into own head and, as the above trend demonstrates, starts letting chances slip away.
If you pick #1, you're into the French Open quarterfinals
If you pick #2, you get caught in that all too common tennis phenomenon; the choke.
Unfortunately for her current French Open and career Grand Slam aspirations, Maria Sharapova opted for the latter pathway, and like any other tennis player who has lost confidence and gained frustration, completely fell apart and lost 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 to Dinara Safina.
You can look at the score and think "what a tight match" but if you look at the above flow of events in the match, and note that Sharapova lost the final four games of the third set, the magnitude of the collapse is clear.
Now, Sharapova is no naif when it comes to winning big matches, but clearly she could see the implications of a victory: one step closer to a career Grand Slam, cementing number one ranking, tennis immortality on the horizon.
Even with her championship pedigree, those stakes were too much.
This is not to imply that the woman who beat her, Dinara Safina, is some schlub with a racket. She has actually been playing inspired tennis the last few months. However, when a match teeters on victory one way, then rapidly swings the other, that's usually because someone is collapsing above the shoulders.
As the third set got out of control, Sharapova's normally loud grunts reached epic volume, prompting some whistles and boos from the French fans. I think if they could sense the fear, frustation, and anxiety behind them as the match slipped away, it would be clear that she was yelling for help.
Safina wouldn't help her by making bad decisions or getting tight herself, her father couldn't help her with his various antics, and her game completely abandoned her. So Maria has to figure out how to move on, because Wimbledon is a few weeks away, and she'll be favored there as well.

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