Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Guns of Navarro...

I wasn't going to post until tomorrow but exceptional circumstances warrant that exceptions be made. I've just witnessed what I've no doubt in proclaiming as the highest quality match of the post-Henin era. To think of the mere fleeting reference I made to it in my last post as a match that was 'not to be missed'. Indeed.

I didn't think of Navarro as a particularly convincing player when I saw her get to the Roland Garros quarters last year - true, her single handed backhand was a
captivating feature of her then less rounded game, borne of natural talent I'm sure, and with a quite uncoached feel to it - but there were then simply too many things missing for me to consider her anything more than a good prospect of the 'one to watch' variety.

And I wasn't far wrong - after that performance last year she won
only eight further matches on tour. Room to improve then.

It was in this vein that I thought the Williams-Navarro match up would provide us with some engaging tennis - a good warm up for Venus against an up-coming opponent who plays a slightly differently type of tennis. And yes because of that single handed backhand :P

Things I got right:

"Oh and be sure not to miss Venus' 2nd round encounter with 20 year old Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro."
, did you?

"This girl has a single handed backhand to die for..."
Ok, you shouldn't perhaps take your own life, but that is one sweet stroke. Check out this half volley backhand flick up the line (the rally begins at 8:44 in the video). Federer-like almost.

"...this is a truly Henin-like picturesque stroke that the commentators said is better than Henin's backhand was at 20"

Things I got wrong:

"...the rest of her game has a very under-developed quality that leaves much to be desired..."
(Clears throat and looks the other way.)

Things I didn't know about:

1. She now has a forehand too.
2. She moves well enough, hitting like a clay courter for the most part but staying close to the baseline and taking the ball early when required.
3.She seems to be very aware of how big the court is and what great use she can put it to.
4. The incredible levels of poise and composure she shows on court: just how amazingly acclimatised she seems with pulling off the biggest win of her career (to quote the commentators: "Someone should tap her on the shoulder and tell her who she's playing, where she's playing and what her ranking is..."

Things that could go wrong:

Hope she doesn't, but could follow the timeless rookie tradition of following up an upset with a crashing-out in the very next round as many have done before her (none more distinguished than Federer who after beating Sampras in the 4th round of Wimbledon in 2001, went out to 'Our Tim' in the quarters).

Things she could improve:

Needs to approach the net more - she might be as natural there as she is everywhere else, and I think it would fit well with her natural tendency to use every possible opportunity to creep into the court. Can also throw in the odd short ball, which when you're not playing at the high levels she was yesterday, can cost you very dearly...

Venus' performance and chance to win the title:

She said she was confident of going all the way and I understand why. Aside from a couple of games at the very end, Venus played on the whole a very well rounded game. She was perhaps as she said in her post match presser, a little too defensive at times. But I found this statement from her more telling:
"Yeah, I wasn't in control of the points. I definitely noticed that she kept getting the first shot."
Venus hitting as many short balls as she did and playing for large portions of the match, an uncharacteristically defensive game, was as much a product of Navarro's aggressive and irreverent groundstrokes as any uncertainties Venus might have had.

Navarro plays fellow Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez next, followed by a likely fourth round encounter with Penetta. If she gets past that she may face Dementieva in the quarters followed by a likely semi final with Serena Williams. I doubt she'll get that far, although the Penetta and Dementieva matches could make very interesting viewing.

Not least because, as Virginia Wade said, Navarro is a very
natural player. She spent her early years in the Canary Islands and has only undergone a more formal coaching regime in Barcelona in the last few years. This perhaps more than anything else may have fostered a more free spirited, unregimented style of play. I'd love to see that juxtaposed against some of the other (maybe slightly less celebrated) members of the top ten.

It would in my opinion, expose some of the 'sameiness' I've complained about on so many occasions.

Is she the saviour of women's tennis? Probably not. She's still it seems is best suited to the clay courts and it remains to be seen whether or not she's going to follow up on this big win (both at Melbourne and the rest of the season).

But though she's currently ranked at what seems a desultory #46 (from which I fully expect her to rise) her performance today gave me both hope and reasons to fall in love with Women's tennis all over again.

It is perhaps befitting she is only 5'4" - it would have a less poetic Carla-and-Goliath like quality and maybe only be half as entertaining if she were able to stare out Sharapova and Ivanovic eye to eye.

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