Monday, 17 October 2011

Charting Petra Kvitova’s success and other ‘Voodoo Economics’

I suppose we can say Petra’s back. Her demolition of Dani was the best match I’ve seen her play since Wimbledon, and the rest of her week wasn’t half bad either. 


Trouble is, ideas about form and consistency never really resonate very much with players like her. I daresay they’re not meant to.

I’ve heard her being compared to a number of players – Mary Pearce, elements of both of the Williamses, and even Juan Martin del Potro.

All those analogies have some truth to them but she seems to me to have more in common with someone she neither looks like nor plays like. Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Neither has the the sense or it seems the desire to control their seemingly unending (surface-neutral) talent – they simply don’t come equipped with the requisite hardware. Neither seems very fussed when things go awry, as they often do. Both are hard-wired to keep on doing what they do, however gloriously stupid – corrective action, it seems, is for pussies….and for those silly people concerned about winning matches.

It’s this unrestrained yet frustratingly laid-back approach that can either lead to the most frightening (and in Sveta’s case the most symphonic) beatdowns you’ll likely ever see, or simply days where neither would last even a few games on the Challenger tour.


And it’s for this reason Sveta has two rather than five or six Slams. The truth is, at this point, I can’t see Petra’s career trajectory being all that different – she’s definitely no week-in-week-out type, but you just know she’ll pull off something utterly astonishing when all the working parts of her mental apparatus (of which there are many) synchronise.

Since I recounted her win at Wimbledon, precious little appears to have changed, except maybe, for one thing.

That look of mild annoyance she sometimes exhibits after an UFE  is still there. It’s her modus operandi – her way of dealing with errors. It doesn’t last very long and she’s generally ready to move on almost immediately. No need to linger in negativity the way some do. Exactly the way it should be. Except when things go wrong. Which is when ‘moving on immediately’ becomes precisely the wrong play. You rob yourself of time to reconsider. Valuable time in which she needs to reconsider.

But in Linz I saw more than mild annoyance. There was a lot of stopping and starting and staring, perhaps even some flouncing. She appeared almost to be have been coached to take stock, to take a moment to really see and to really feel the error of her ways. Or, to put it another way “to go to the naughty zone and think about what you’ve done”.

It worked. This time. Particularly in the way she was able to stop herself from going completely haywire against JJ – you got a sense, at times, she was headed for precisely that. You also got a sense that ploughing through recklessly the way she normally does would have hastened her demise.

But there’ll still be days when she’ll have more success ploughing through in exactly that way – for that too is her modus operandi, it’s written right into her DNA. And that will have been ok too.


There’s no universal recipe for success. It simply doesn’t exist. Don’t buy the dope being peddled by those pretending it does.

Individual success is dependent on an unruly and an unholy blend of factors including your own temperament, your opponent, the type of day they’re having, the type of day you’re having,  surface, conditions, the matchup,  sheer luck and the colour of your socks. It’s not a stretch to think of it all as a type of Voodoo. You hire coaches (perhaps we should think of them as tennis shamans)  to get a handle on all that volatile shit.

And some days there’ll simply be no rational explanation for why exactly you won a match. It just happens. Most players are simply happy to put it behind them. Yet scores of commentators will be professing confident sounding theories on exactly what you did right and why you should keep at it. Just like they do in the stock market. Voodoo Economics.

Trouble is, if you lose using those same tactics, they’ll suddenly all be construed as mistakes, miscalculations and mayhem. Also just like the stock market. And just like ARod said they always do.

The truth is, Petra, like many alongside her, is simply learning to navigate that treacherous balance of guile, pace, steel and hard work. Learning to apply just the right amount of each at just the right time. Knowing when to hold back is just as important, and a lot of times you’re simply winning ugly.

If there is a deep, mystical truth in any of this, perhaps it’s this: no two players’ experience can every be the same because no two players are the same. Ergo, no two players’ journey should be the same. Everyone has their own bag of tricks they’ve been endowed with and you’ve just got to figure it for yourself.

You won’t always win. But someone will always be ready to explain why you didn’t.

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