Halep and Bouchard’s contrasting paths to ignominy

Eugenie Bouchard, last year’s Wimbledon finalist, and Simona Halep, the semi finalist who lost to Bouchard in said event, were both knocked out in the first round of this year’s Wimbledon.  Both of last year’s rising stars have had a disastrous last few months but their route to ignominy couldn’t have been more different.

After Bouchard got beaten soundly by Petra Kvitova in last year’s Wimbledon final, I wrote about how she had paid the price for hubris that was not backed by enough game to beat a player like Kvitova.  The very fact that I am able to write about how she has fared in this year’s tournament in the first weekend of Wimbledon speaks volumes.  I had hoped in last year’s write up that she would not repeat Martina Hingis’s mistakes and learn quickly.  Yes, she hasn’t.  She has done much worse.  Hingis at least had/has a great tennis mind and bona fide strokemaking ability; she has found a second wind in doubles partnering Sania Mirza.

It is becoming increasingly hard to believe that Bouchard has either great tennis IQ or great shots.  Her conqueror at Wimbledon does seem to lack the former a lot of times and lost to the crafty Jelena Jankovic yesterday.  That’s what separates the stunningly talented Kvitova from the legend that is Serena Williams, who grits through bad patches and uses her underrated tennis mind to find a way to win. You can get by with one of either qualities to some extent in tennis but not without both.  It also seems that even something as fundamental as adequate transfer of weight has not been fixed in Bouchard’s technique.  With the result that after making the Australian Open quarterfinals yet again (where Sharapova drubbed her), Bouchard has struggled to just win matches…against any player on the WTA tour.

Her now much disliked smugness was on evidence again during Canada’s Fed Cup tie against Romania.  Her Highness expressed her unwilingness to shake hands with her opponent prior to the match, calling it ‘lame’.  Shortly thereafter she limped out lamely, losing both of her singles matches in a humiliating fashion.  From that point on, her slump just plummeted to new depths with a first round exit at Wimbledon capping her woes.  Could it get worse for Bouchard from here?  Who knows.  A 4th round appearance at US Open and finals at Wuhan may still prove too much to defend for her, with the result that she may lose yet more points.  While Bouchard has made a reference to learning a lot through this experience, it is not clear whether she is simply referring to the fact that there would be reversals in a tennis career or to the fact that much needs to be done for her to remain in the top 20 on a consistent basis.  It is worth remembering that she referred to the Wimbledon final drubbing as a good learning experience with evident sheepishness and yet little signs of said learning have been evident a year on.

What of Halep?  She too reached the quarter finals of the Australian Open, where another powerful Russian, Ekaterina Makarova, dislodged her with ease.  But after a good showing in the American slow hard court stretch, Halep has faltered with early exits at both French Open and Wimbledon.

If Bouchard reeked of false swagger and a possibly deluded bravado, Halep seems to struggle to cope with the weight of expectations.  She made a reference to it as early as the US Open last year, where veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni beat her.  Since then, it’s not clear if she has made much progress in handling nerves.  Considering that she was a finalist at the French Open last year (apart from making the semis at Wimbledon),  it would only appear that she has regressed further in this regard.

Halep, like Bouchard, is grossly underpowered in the “Strong is Beautiful” era of women’s tennis.  Like Bouchard, she needs to use her brains to select her shots intelligently and scramble to win, as she cannot blow her opponents off the court.  But what is noticeable even in Halep’s wins is her shot selection and court positioning can go completely awry in patches (which is why she often wins in three sets rather than just two).  Many a time, I have noticed her getting caught mid court for no apparent reason and losing the point.  For a petite player like Halep, such lapses can be costly and combined with what appears to be timidness in the face of pressure, it’s going to be one hell of a monkey to get off her back.  The saving grace is unlike Bouchard, she doesn’t seem to have any serious problems with her technique.  It’s just that she can’t possibly hit the ball much harder even if she tried.

Signing off, the media, including commentators who have played the game, made references to attitude-related aspects of Bouchard and Halep in talking them up.  With Bouchard, it was her mental strength and immense self belief and with Halep, it was her feline-like demeanour (which apparently is evidence of aggression).  The problem is an appearance of mental strength or aggression cannot win matches on a tennis court.  I would be the last person to downplay the importance of the mental side of the game, especially at the highest level where thin margins separate winners from losers.

But it is no substitute for a bare minimum level of ‘game’.  Shots struck with a certain amount of power and produced with precision, aiming for the lines, with consistency.  Much has been written about Sharapova’s grit and intensity too, but she basically has two amazing shots that she can rely on to generate winners.  The backhand cross court and the off forehand. She can aim for the corners with these shots relentlessly to break down the opponent.   This is how she’s got to 5 slams, not because she clenches her fist ever so tightly between points or because, ahem, she is easy on the eye.

Hollow, superficial contextualisation of tennis is understandable from media pundits since they seemingly know no better.  But at least former players owe it to us to make intelligent, objective analysis of the game instead of making an utter mockery of women’s tennis by refusing to engage with it deeply.  Whatever Halep or Bouchard may or may not have learnt from their terrible slump, I hope it has also been a learning experience for the commentators.  Else, we are probably better off without having any commentary at all.

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One Response to “Halep and Bouchard’s contrasting paths to ignominy”

  1. bradleypvfc Says:

    Follow back pls

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