Thursday, 6 November 2008

Kuznetsova Gets Courtside...

The quality of the action thus far in Doha this week has not quite been what I had expected.
Of the qualifying eight players, only
Zvonareva and Jankovic have been able to produce the standard of tennis we know they are capable of.

I must admit to being wrong about
Jankovic; I had expected her to be worn out and put in a performance only marginally better than last year (when she went 0-3 in the round robin stage having already played a grand total of 27 tournaments, ouch - this year she 'only' played 21); instead her performances against Ivanovic and Kuznetsova were replete with the kind of aggressive shotmaking that brought her so much success since that defining US Open final. Having said that, she did take an injury timeout for her lower back - so her next few matches will be very telling.

Other than these two, the performances have been inconsistent (
Safina), error prone (Ivanovic), moody (Serena) and, well just plain average (Venus & Dementieva).
Somehow I don't think we'll be getting the final we did last year.

Its been a case of back to the drawing board, or more accurately
courtside for Kuznetsova since partnering with Olga Morozova. She can frequently be seen in the stands recently with her new coach, who presumably wheels her out to boost her confidence in and understanding of her own game. Olga appears to be doing most/all of the talking, which is probably as it should be. This is very evidently a different approach and although you can infer pitifully little from these brief glimpses, I'm pretty sure her pep talks focus mostly on bolstering Kuznetsova mentally. Yes she probably talks tactics as well, but only to forge a game plan out of Kuznetsova's already very abundant skill set.

I'm all for this new introspective approach; if you haven't heard me say it before, let me state it here again:
Kuznetsova is by far, in my opinion, the most complete player in the top ten. Unfortunately, that doesn't always correlate to success on court. She's got some of the best groundstrokes in the business (especially that backhand), a strong serve, very capable hands at the net (due in large part to the amount of doubles she's played) and doesn't appear to suffer the fitness/injury problems other players do.
That she falls short time after time and has yet to follow up on her US Open success of 2004 is not just a source of frustration to me I'm sure.

Although she's most likely out now in Doha, there were some promising glimpses in her match against
Jankovic today, of the type of changes Morozova may have brought to her game.
Kuznetsova has it all, but rarely it seems puts much thought into her tennis, relying more on her natural ability. I'm sure she has a gameplan when she walks out on court but doesn't seem to execute it or else abandons it very quickly.

Jankovic was playing at a level above her for most of the match today, she was at least responding more thoughtfully with several calculated and effective approaches to the net.
She needn't worry about losing early on here. Its often necessary to take a step (or two) back to make progress. She was getting nowhere (fast) with her existing approach - or lack of it.

Kuznetsova image by Gordon Dionne distributed under licence.
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