Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wimbledon: Parting Shots (Petra edition)

I make no apologies for devoting the first half of these ‘Parting Shots’ to Petra. She’s the best thing that’s happened to women's tennis in years.

» Petra Kvitova is the best WTA Grand Slam ingénue since Maria Sharapova and I hasten to add, Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Its been seven years and no one’s even come close.

In some senses she’s no different from a lot of her generation – a huge backswing, a lasso FH, a tall imposing frame, not the greatest looking mover and someone that looks to out power her opponents.

Then there’s all the little things that set her apart, like the ability to slice/volley, the foibles and curious ticks, like that mild look of annoyance she sometimes wears after an UFE – all of which conspire together to make her ‘Petra’.

» All throughout the fortnight comparisons were being made to Mary Pierce. I have to say I couldn’t really see it.

Not at first. And even though I’ve come round a little since, I think there’s a more valuable comparison to be made with Svetlana Kuznetsova.

You’ll see where I’m going with this.

» Petra’s not in the business of getting down on herself.

If she fires off an UFE, she winces a little, may stare pensively at her frame but then moves on. That furrowed look of minor vexation and bemused disappointment she sometimes wears helps keep her focus rather than detracting from it.


» The effortless winners are, like Sveta, the tennis equivalent of “easy listening”.

Sveta has the shortened backswing which I’m not going to pretend I don’t prefer. The easy flamboyance is common to both.

» The flip side of such easy flamboyance is that neither deems it necessary to take any corrective action when things go awry. As they often do.

They simply have too much faith in the quality of their shotmaking to start doing anything differently. I know I wouldn’t either if I were half as gifted.

But when the wobble doesn’t auto-correct, it often costs them matches rather than mere sets, sets rather than mere games, and games rather than mere points.

» Not gonna lie: Her lanky frame can look a little clumsy chasing down balls along the baseline, yet she’s mostly – mysteriously – in position, and is somehow able to maintain the same depth on the run as she does when lining up for a shot on her terms.

That’s them muscles at work. And it gives rise to an athleticism that is completely beyond someone like Pova – although I adore her all the more for it.

» Let me say that again: Petra maintains the same depth on the run as she does when she’s able to line up for a shot on her own terms.

It won her countless rallies in the final as poor Maria simply wasn’t able to keep up. You just don’t see that very often, except maybe from Venus Williams on a good day. New breed of competitor.


» The easy shotmaking is a function of an even easier temperament.

After seven years of tantrums, chokers and cry-babies, I’m unashamedly in awe of it.

» Make no mistake about it, Petra deplores UFEs (I don’t see how you cannot when you’ve seen the excellence you’re capable of).

But she doesn’t erupt in emotion the way Marat or Bepa used to, or silently burn herself out in seething resentment the way…..many others have done.

Neither does she choke as overtly as a Sam Stosur or an Amelie Mauresmo. No, Petra (and Sveta) occupy a quieter middle ground known as ‘Erratica’, which can lead to downright reckless or maddeningly efficient shotmaking.

» Aside: Born 150 or so years ago and Petra would have made a quite EXCELLENT pre-Raphaelite muse.

» And now, for the clincher: both Sveta and Petra wore braces when they first burst on the scene in a maelstrom of dorkish affability.

What do you mean that’s not relevant?

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