Let’s talk about Errani

The rather unheralded Sara Errani has made impressive progress at Roland Garros 2012.  She has taken out Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova to set up a quarterfinal clash with 10th seed Angelique Kerber.   It is her best result so far at this tournament even though clay is obviously her favourite surface.  A petite, scrapping defender taking out powerful players is rather surprising (and perhaps disappointing for those who wanted to see the stars in the semis).  Or is it?

The progress of Errani and what tennis watchers make of it might say a lot about how much each one judges a player by their rankings.  As opposed to how they play, that is.

I first saw Errani earlier this year at the Australian Open when she took on Petra Kvitova, one of the contenders for the title.   She lost to Kvitova after mounting a valiant fight in the face of the former’s impressive firepower.  But two things immediately stood out to me:  her skills at the net and her footwork.   What she lacked in size and power, she made up with movement.  Perhaps, all she could do would be to put the ball back in play but she could consistently make Kvitova play one more ball and make another attempted winner.  I felt right then that this player ought to do well at the French Open 2012 barring some misfortune, injuries or loss of form.

She backed it up with some good results in the clay season and was also winning consistently in doubles, partnering Roberta Vinci.     I think it was around the time Radwanska won at Miami that somebody asked me on youtube who I thought were the top contenders for the French Open.  I mentioned Azarenka and probably also Sharapova, though I am not sure.  I also said that I expected Errani to do well though she might not be a contender for the title.  The other guy LOL-ed on me and politely implied that I was being ridiculous.

Here we are, approaching the end of the first week, and Errani has indeed done wonderfully well for herself.  I would like to take it up with that guy again if I bump into him but I guess I don’t remember his id and wouldn’t want to be a tool and drag it. 😀  I am just curious why he thought the idea of Errani doing well was ridiculous.  Was it her not too sparkling ranking, her prior record?  Or have we started believing that petite, un-physical players cannot do well in tennis, irrespective of surface or skill?

It must be a really long while ago, then, that Justine Henin ruled Roland Garros.  Or, Martina Hingis enjoyed a tremendous season (1997) which has only been matched or bettered by the likes of Serena Williams.   Today, Errani played some monster volleys.  There was one backhand pickup barely inches above the floor that, in particular, stood out.   It must probably be her doubles success that helped her execute volleys that you rarely see in either men’s or women’s tennis these days.

When she beat Ana Ivanovic, they said Ivanovic played an awful match.  They’ll probably say the same thing about Kuznetsova.  And while that is largely true, Errani also skilfully exposed their over-dependence on power and on hitting through, which doesn’t work so well on clay.  She retrieved relentlessly and forced them to work her into positions from where she wouldn’t be able to make a shot, rather than blast winners.   Confronted with a rather stern test of their groundstroking skills, both came up short.

Up next is the German Kerber who has steadily progressed through the ranks and will certainly mount a stiff challenge to Errani.  Don’t count out another upset, though.  These power girls don’t move like Steffi Graf and they may have their work cut out if they can’t win free points on their serve.  Errani also seems to enjoy a degree of comfort on clay that practically nobody else left in the draw seems to.  Perhaps Li Na or Maria Sharapova, but they too depend on muscling their way through to some extent.

As I write, Azarenka has lost to Cibulkova.  Kvitova had a torrid time against Bratchikova yesterday and doesn’t look particularly convincing on current form.  But even if she loses, Errani has already exceeded expectations.

I would not like to advocate one style of play as inherently superior to the other because it ultimately depends on the player’s execution and also his/her mental strength and confidence.  But I do believe we can enjoy tennis, or any other sport, if we rely more on what our eyes see and less on expertspeak and media publicity.  Also, look at a player’s arms and legs and what they are capable of doing and not just her physical stature.  A handy pair of arms and legs can still neutralize a lot in tennis, as Errani is showing.

I speak here from my own experience.  I missed out on the Erranis of my childhood years but I don’t, now.   There is not much fun in following a player after he/she has won a Grand slam or two.  The thrill of assessing a player’ potential when she is still trying to find her range and finding yourself at least partly vindicated is something else and, in my opinion, enhances your enjoyment of the game.  Cheers!




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