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Oh, Dani Girl . . . 03/17/2007 - 10:44 PM

There was no shortage of Irish men and women - honorary as well as authentic - scattered around in the big bowl of the main stadium at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, like so many green M&Ms.But the luck for which the Irish are famous was showered on someone no less likely than a thin young woman from Slovakia (no, it’s not one of the counties) who was dressed like a daffodil, not a shamrock. That was Daniela Hantuchova – Dani Girl, aka Stick – and lordee, did she need ever bit of it.

Dani

It’s been five years since she last won the title here. Wait. It’s been five years since she won a title anywhere. And it hasn’t exactly been an easy five years since she made that spectacular breakthrough, at age 18. There were all those rumors about emotional turmoil, and that weight thing that got so bad that at one point you half expected that Dani would expatriate to Brazil to become a runway model. There was that bizarre, big-belted, Echoes of Ancient Rome outfit she once traipsed around in on the floor of Arthur Ashe stadium.

Then there were all those blown opportunities: she made four finals since she won here at the Pacific Life Open in 2002, and the best thing you could say about them was that at least she lost to quality opponents each time: Kuznetsova, Dementieva, Sharapova, and Clijsters. Largely, though, her career MO has been, fight, fight, fight, choke, choke, choke, fight, fight, fight. . . The truth is that soon after making her big statement here in 2002, she got busy becoming a cautionary tale, although the details of that tale were never really made public.

So  maybe it’s no wonder this girl isn’t all the eager to discuss her psychological transformation. Here’s a telling excerpt on that subject from her post-match presser.

Q. When you turn your back between points and do your ritual of doing some bouncing, reflecting, what is your self-talk to yourself, what is?

A: I think it's a self-talk with myself, so I don't think I have to share it with anyone else.  I guess, everyone does different things, how to be in the best way ready for the next point.

Q: Have you worked with James Loehr?

A:  Yes.

Q.  Is that something you picked up from Jim?
A:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  It's great guy.

Q. Watching you play against Peer, I kind of had the feeling that you have this little mantra that you go through after points.  A point, finishing, your feet behind the baseline, faced the other direction from the net –

A:  Once I'm on the court, I don't really think about what I'm doing between the points.  I just care about what I'm doing when the point has started.

Q. I'm mistaken then, you don't have any little ritual you go through?

A:  Not really.  I just try to get myself in the best shape possible for the next point.

Sheesh, Dani, sorry we asked! Still, this kind of coy stonewalling is irritating, less because I’m dying to shine the high beams into the crevices of Dani’s mind than because it’s haughty and a mite arrogant. It’s not like the world doesn’t know that she has struggled under the strain of competition, and players who have put up far bigger wins (Kuznetsova, who’s made her own life and struggles more or less an open book, among them) have been more forthcoming about the process that finally got them over the hump.

This is one of the reasons I never found Hantuchova particularly interesting; why read a book with all the good passages excised? I don't mean private stuff, either. I mean nuts and bolts, this is who I am, this is how I think stuff. More importantly, it smacks of a kind of defensiveness that probably isn’t in anyone’s best interest, including Dani’s. Which brings us back to the larger issue looming over this win: just how big a win was it, given the depleted field?  As good as you could have expected: Hantuchova hammered Martina Hingis, and beat one of the only two Grand Slam event winners who were seeded here. The other one, Maria Sharapova, was taken out in the prelims. It was an interesting match-up, physically: Sveta clearly hasn't missed too many meals lately, while Dani still looks like she hasn't had enough. You know women's tennis: a game of extremes.Sveta

Hantuchova didn’t choke today. She played a solid, tight, nerve-free match against Kuznetsova, closing her out decisively, 6-3, 6-4.  I decided to give it one more shot on the psychology angle later in the presser, asking her to name the biggest psychological difference in her perception of herself or her game these days. She said:

I learned not to try -- I mean, of course you always want to be perfect, but if you're not perfect all the time.  It's okay.  And I realized that, you know, there are always going to be some difficult times that you have to get through.  But as long as you enjoy what you're doing, I think that's the most important thing.

So there you have it, once again: perfection is the quest that leads a player to transcend the pack and become a successful pro, at which point the quest for perfection becomes a lethal obstacle to achieving the highest of goals. It haunts and taunts a player who isn’t willing to roll with the punches of fate and recognize that, at the end of the day, it’s not about perfection at all – it’s just about beating the person on the other side of the net. Just pray that the person on the other side isn’t named Serena Williams or Justine Henin.

Still, it was a great day for Dani Girl. A great day for the Irish!


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Posted by Luke 03/17/2007 at 11:14 PM

Nice post, Pete. Although I'm not sure if that "coy stonewalling" is really that haughty or, as she said, just something she does without thinking - a subconscious habit she's picked up over time. It can be hard for players to deeply psychoanalyze themselves, and being coy seems to be just another way of dealing with that.

Nevertheless, a great win for Daniela over a tough opponent. Five years is a long time to wait, and I'm really happy for her victory here.

Posted by A-Stanz 03/17/2007 at 11:14 PM

It's interesting to take a look at the career that Daniela Hantuchova has had. She started out so well, shooting up the ranks and doing very well. Then she became stick thin and stopped winning. Following that, it seemed to me like she basically fell off the face of the earth. She has made this recent resurgence, and I think that she can continue to be a factor in majors and other large tournaments. What Daniela has done in falling off then coming back as strong as she did at the Pac. Life is truly, if a bit hyperbolically, inspiring. Such comebacks seemed to be limited to Martina Hingis, and here comes another. I say watch out for Hantuchova at the rest of this year's majors.

Posted by hank 03/17/2007 at 11:37 PM

Wait a minute, Mr. Bodo! Daniel had some muscle on that skinny frame, man! She looked good! And I don't see any arrogance at all in her remarks.

Posted by vuvu 03/17/2007 at 11:52 PM

Agreed hank. She is notone for over-analysis, as that seems to have been her problem in the past with the 5 year choke. She sounds like she has mastered a huge learning curve about self-belief, and over analysing it just takes the joy out of it. She may sound like an agents dream script, but its true - she looked like she enjoyed the whole shabang. Go Danielle - I a new covert to admiring your graceful grit.

Posted by Diane 03/17/2007 at 11:59 PM

I have never been much of a Hantuchova fan, and I found her obstruction of opponents' service games very irritating throughout this tournament. But when the final began, I suddenly found myself cheering for her. It has been so long, and she has been through so much. Once you have tumbled that far out of the top 5, it's very hard to make it back up the rankings, but Hantuchova has developed a new patience.

I remarked to someone a few days ago that I thought Hantuchova would win Indian Wells. She just didn't seem like the old Hantuchova to me. When things went wrong this week, she was shaking them off. And, it should be noted, not that much did go wrong.

Posted by Luke 03/18/2007 at 12:01 AM

Agreed - Daniela seemed surprisingly resilient this week... Definitely not the emotionally fragile girl I've seen in the past. Quite a pleasing development - I hope it continues in the future.

Posted by Vladiator 03/18/2007 at 12:02 AM

Daniela is a joke. I saw her interviewed on the red carpet by The Tennis Channel twice - both times she refused to reveal the name of the designer she was wearing. There's keeping one's privacy, then there's paranoia. This girl just doesn't have any personality.

Posted by Luke 03/18/2007 at 12:05 AM

Paranoid? Or just shy?... Ahh, red-carpet tennis...gotta love it!

Posted by GSte 03/18/2007 at 12:09 AM

Pete, I know you're a reporter and you want the inside scoop, but didn't we hear a few years ago that Hantuchova's sudden loss of weight, confidence, ranking and matches were all due to the combination of her putting too much pressure on herself and her parent's divorce? I remember Matt Cronin leaking some personal story like that...

Anyway, I think Hantuchova's win shouldn't be criticized too heavily. She beat 5 very tough players who all move exceptionally well and give the mostly offensive girls like herself a hard time. Her feat at IW is no less significant than what Roddick accomplished last year at Cincinnati, when he didn't have to face any top 10 players in a depleted/upset field.

Posted by welovedaniela 03/18/2007 at 12:15 AM

wow. i wasn't sure she could do it but i really wanted her to. the reason i think i've admired her all these years was that i could relate to her struggles. i know how it feels to be your own biggest foe. plus there's nothing arrogant about being a perfectionist. the poor girl's been hanging in there and trying the best that she can. i'm happy she nabbed this one... let's hope there's more to come!

Posted by Erik 03/18/2007 at 12:17 AM

Having followed Hantuchova's career pretty closely since her initial IW win, I'd say that her "stonewalling" tactic is likely something that she developed (in part) as a reaction to her horrific 2003 season. She's always been shy-- her outfits notwithstanding-- but after the grilling she got about her weight-loss and on-court emotional collapses in 2003, she clammed up and became even more withdrawn. (Remember, it took two years before Cronin finally got her to acknowledge that her parents divorced that summer of 2003.) I suspect that she's a pretty interesting person underneath the non-communicative exterior-- she's played Rachmaninoff at piano recitals, among other things-- but being boring works as a defense mechanism for her, rightly or wrongly. (Don't forget, too, that English is her fourth language, after Slovak, Czech, and German.)

By the way, Pete, Hantuchova beat two of three Slam winners in the field, not one of two. Or does Hingis not count anymore? :)

Posted by Luke 03/18/2007 at 12:19 AM

Insightfully put, Erik.

Posted by A-Rey 03/18/2007 at 12:38 AM

Though she may be extra slender, you can't question Daniela's fitness or physical durability; she consistently plays more events (singles and doubles) than the average player, always seems to find herself in three-setters, and yet she's NEVER had a significant injury of any kind. So don't confuse her slightness for fragileness; she's physically tough.

I'll agree with the notion that she over-conceals herself in regard to her public image. She's always been a very private person, but it couldn't hurt to know a little bit more about her outside of internet rumors and her SEWTA bio. This may very well be the reason why she hasn't become more popular in the states in comparison to personalities the likes of her long and blonde opposition Maria Sharapova; I personally think she's more attractive that Maria, but not nearly as interesting given her sealed lips and lacking charisma.

Despite the deluded field at I.W., this was a big win for her, especially considering the history that she has with some of the players that she beat this week (two weeks off of a loss from Kuz and one year after a 1 set and 5-1 lead turned loss against Na Li), not to mention the fact that the only trophies she's added to her mantle for the past five years have been for doubles. She conquered more than one psychological demon this week, and that alone makes it big for her.

So is she a viable threat beyond this win? Absolutely. I don't think this was a shot-in-the-dark victory for Daniela; I think there are some fundamental differences in her game that will make her a contender in the future. Since dumping long-time coach Nigel Sears and joining up with the Sanchez-Casal Academy last year, she's finally starting to show some attributes of training with the Spanish, including solid footwork (at least as solid is it can get considering she's basically a baby giraffe) and a more patient gameplan that has her pulling her opponent left-to-right and back-and-forth (she had Kuz on a yo-yo out there) instead of immediately going for the outright winner (though she still loves the outright). In other words, I think she's been in a phase of transition since switching camps last year and now, given her recent success (not just in I.W. but a close 3-set loss w/Mauresmo in Dubai and a semi in Doha), that transition is more or less complete.

Though she's on fuego right now, she'll have to deal with the real calvary in Miami with the likes of Mauresmo, Clijsters, the Williams Sisters, etc. Given her dismal record against the top dogs, one might expect her to get thumped off once she comes across one of them. But if she really has fully transitioned into an improved player now (as I think she has), then she'll see some success against a world beater in Miami. Of course, considering we're talking about Daniela Hantuchova, she could very well lose early to a Roberta Vinci (in which case I'll look like a jack-A lol). Either way, Miami will be a good benchmark as to how much of a threat she can really be in the majors (presently, I'm tipping her for Wimbledon this year).

Posted by jhurwi 03/18/2007 at 12:41 AM

Good for Daniela! My husband and I saw her play doubles at the US Open in 2005 and were very impressed; it seemed odd that she had never been able to put it all together in singles. She was scary thin in those days--she looked a lot beter in that respect this week, and I hope that it wasn't just the TV adding poundage.
I agree with previous posters that you were rather harsh in calling Daniela's comments "haughty" and "arrogant." Some people are naturally shy/reserved. Some people are brought up in cultures or families in which they are taught not to talk about their personal problems to outsiders. Some people (like me!)are both, and I sympathize with those who feel uncomfortable baring their psyches. Being reserved is evidently not the way for Daniela to win popularity contests, but not everyone is cut out to go on Oprah!

Posted by M. 03/18/2007 at 06:25 AM

Go Daniela! You rock!

I wish we would stop being bombarded with Sharapova's smug mug everywhere we look. Daniela has a much more pleasing face, somehow childlike, and her reserved manner befits her.

I'm very glad for her. She earned this victory with every cell in her body. I sincerely hope there will be many such victories to come soon.

You did good, Dani girl, you did real good.

Posted by Andrew Miller 03/18/2007 at 08:41 AM

Have your cake and eat it as well? Oh, come come! Master Bodo - I thought it was you who had previously said you LIKE players that are more difficult to figure out - such as Borg, who never seemed to give anything away when speaking...those incrutable players. Sounds like this piece is more a point of departure than a summary. Like jhurwi I saw Daniela H. play doubles, only at the US Open in 2003, playing with Chanda Rubin (herself a more than solid player with Tommy Haas+ like history of injuries), and I said to myself: this player's strokes are unreal. So...say what you will about the field of players...point is she won it...you can only play who your draw puts against you! (See Agassi, Aussie Open 2003).

Posted by Ruth 03/18/2007 at 08:52 AM

Pete has criticized Venus in pretty much the same way that he's criticizing Dani for what he describes as the "coy stonewalling" (nice phrase) in interviews. So, I give him an A (or, should it be a C?) for consistency on that point. :) I've always considered those kinds of responses understandable, even smart, when they're made deliberately, and they are often quite funny. But I probably wouldn't tolerate or enjoy them as much if I were a hard-working journalist trying to pry some deeper, more revealing -- or just different -- response from the players.

It will be interesting to see how Hantuchova performs after this week. I remember vividly her 2002 win and how most of us were expecting her to join the ranks of frequent winners on the WTA Tour after that IW victory. Even though it came in the first year of the Williamses' absence from IW, her win was very impressive.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/18/2007 at 09:25 AM

I was really impressed with Daniela's performance yesterday -- a solid performance all the way through, not only tecnically (she mixed up things pretty well, from volleys to drop-shots to her lethal accelerations down-the-line) but also tactically (she anihilated Kuznetsova's favourite inside-out forehand by preventing her from positioning on the ad court).

I think the new Daniela champion status was born a couple of weeks before, in Doha, when she came back from a 6-1, 4-1 deficit to beat her 'countrywoman' Martina Hingisova; the way she pulled it was a revelation for me... she now knows how to keep her intensity at a constant level and Big Pedro's right about the 'perfection being the enemy of good' thing.

Now she's mentally solid, she's using time between points the perfect way (btw, I like Bammer closing eyes and visualizing between points as well), she's serving great and mixing her delivery pretty well using her height (also like her kick second serve), plus she's not only constructing but also finishing great (she always knew how to construct, but she never had a constant right frame of mind to finish). The depth of her strokes never allowed Kuznetsova the time to prepare the points with her forehand...

Kuznetsova choked a bit, because she wasn't prepared to face such a tough opposition. She was getting tired and was hoping the Bratislava Barbie would lower her performance sooner or later. Dani just didn't.

I like Daniela, the way she plays tennis. She's always been a tennis player (and I'm a sucker for pure tennis talent before admiring warrior skills), now she's a grinder as well -- blending her own talent with the traditional spanish combat skills (the vamos'ing, the footwork, the endurance).

And I like her looks as well. It's true nerves made her way way too thin a couple of years ago (nerves, not anorexia as some said), but she's just naturally slim. Geez, once I was strolling at the Champs Elysées in Paris during Roland Garros and I saw this beautiful tall tanned woman and I thought «this girl must be a model» and when we crossed I was surprised to realize it was Daniela!

About her not telling too much about herself: I've always felt she doesn't communicate that well, but in an era when everybody is exposing themselves in reality shows or blogs or chat rooms I respect a lot her continental european sense of privacy.

To finish up: I'm a bit of traditionalist in what concerns tennis, so I was against on-court coaching. But I'm changing my mind after covering all these women's events for Eurosport -- getting to listen to what coaches tell their pupils at the end of sets. Listening to both coaches from both finalists, both from the Sanchez/Casal Academy was really interesting, especially Stefan Ortega (Kuzy's coach): he knows what he's doing out there, he reads the game pretty well and he knows his player -- his counselling was fundamental in Kuzy's three set wins over Nicole Vain-isova and Sybille Bammer. Now if only my german was good enough to listen to what former billiard expert Rainer 'the-white-mile' Hofmann says to her wife Patty Schnyder...

So, anyone knows if the Bratislava Barbie (the british tabloids are terrible, thet even say she's got the longest legs on tour... don't know how they measured it, though) has got a Ken out there?

Posted by creig bryan 03/18/2007 at 10:38 AM

Miguel:

I like what you've written, with the exception of OCC. I still believe it's up to the individual, to right the course, or stay the course, (or abandon ship: Murray, yesterday).

Keep Win By Two and,

Keep Smiling

Posted by Rosangel 03/18/2007 at 10:45 AM

This is an interesting story, what's happening with Daniela, and I like it.

Miguel: I can't agree with on-court coaching, but your comments on Daniela are really interesting.

Posted by the walk 03/18/2007 at 11:08 AM

hey, all you dani lovers, this is what pete really thinks of daniela, as he expressed in a blog to me. I quote:

"Because I couldn't care less about Hantuchova, it's my blog, and I write about what interests me (and, I assume, my readers). BTW, that doesn't at the moment include the woman IMG and the WTA are trying to shove down everyone's throat, "teen-age sensation Nicole Vaidisova!", either."

It seems he's not a big Vaidisova fan, either.

By the way, you'd better read this quickly before he deletes it, like he did my last blog.

Posted by SanjaVIC 03/18/2007 at 11:20 AM

I want to be a fan but I just can't because of the turn your back ritual which is an exact copy of $harapova down to the chicken head thrust nod.

That being said - Congrats.

PETE if there is any way that you could get back to Davenport how great she was as a commentator during that match - that would be appreciated. She was fabulous. She also didn't take the bait when MaryJo asked her (or was it Cliff) if she found the turn your back to the server annoying. She replied, yes Daniela definitely likes to turn her back to the server. A Class Act our Lindsey. How can that not be annoying?

Posted by Scott 03/18/2007 at 11:30 AM

This might somehow surprise "The Walk", but I don't think Pete is required to be a "Dani lover" or a "big Vaidisova fan" in order to provide insightful coverage. "Walk", I'm betting that your entry is safe from deletion. Thanks for the breathless scoop though.

Posted by A-Rey 03/18/2007 at 12:19 PM

So Pete doesn't like Daniela; big deal. Considering he's a journalist, I'm not surprised. Daniela hasn't offered anything newsworthy to speak (on court or off) in a long time, and since he seems to see this as largely self-induced on Daniela's part, he probably doesn't like her for it. I applaud him for giving credit to Daniela where credit is due though; I'm sure he didn't enjoy it much ;) .

Concerning the IMG brand Nicole Vaidisova, I still remember a program that I saw on TTC a year or so ago where a brace-faced Vaidisova and Donald Young were taking part in mock pressers to improve their media relations skills. Talk about pre-packaged! My marketing class could do a three week case study on the marketing mix of Nicole Vaidisova!

Posted by ajv 03/18/2007 at 12:37 PM

Daniela's little ritual (the turning her back to the court; the playing with the strings; the little hops before serving), as pointed out above, is an exact copy of Shriekie's.

Why didn't any of the reporters at the presser point that out to her? At the presser, she says about the ritual: "I think it's a self-talk with myself, so I don't think I have to share it with anyone else. I guess, everyone does different things, how to be in the best way ready for the next point". What a great opportunity to point out that yes "everyone does different things" but what she now does is exactly what one of the most famous players on the tour has been doing for years. Coincidence?

By the way, when reviewing her path to the title, I just want to point out that in the Peer match (where late in the match Daniela was choking big time) a bad call in the tiebreaker (which Peer did not challenge) was a key to her win. Peer challenges that and she wins.

I ran into Daniela las year during the Open at my local Au Bon Pain, and she was eyeing the croissant case with adoring eyes. I said hello and wished her luck at the Open. She looked at me as if I were a deranged stalker, and bolted, sans croissant. Maybe it was for the best.

Posted by creig bryan 03/18/2007 at 12:54 PM

Has anyone considered the possibility of Sharapova's having acquired her ritual AFTER having seen someone else (none of the numerous names need be mentioned) do it? Perhaps a quick replay of IW 2002 is in order, no?

Keep Win By Two and,

Keep Smiling

Posted by Ruth 03/18/2007 at 01:00 PM

A-Rey: I saw that TTC piece that you mentioned, and I, for one, was happy to see that IMG or Nick or anyone was giving some training to their young players/stars who have to deal with media meetings that would make grown men and women crumble. I've always assumed that some sort of media training was given, and I have often wondered if or why some players hadn't learned, in those training sessions, that it is sometimes good to avoid certain questions politely or to use the simple phrase "No comment" -- regardless of whether the fans or writers liked it or not.

When players are accused of being whiners because they are honest about an injury or when they're accused of being arrogant (unless they're TMF!) because they are truthful about how good or bad their performances or their opponents' performances were, I have to admire the players for answering any questions at all.

Posted by Jerell 03/18/2007 at 01:04 PM

To be fair here and not bias, DHan did do the come on's even on errors like the now former number one player in the world, but because she and Kuznetsova are friends, I may give her a pass on that one.

Her forehand was more resolute and controlling, but if she able to beat Mauresmo and Henin, players who are more consistent menatlly than Kuznetsova, then I think she is near that level of contending. But only on qucik surfaces

I think she should serve and volley more with the way she can serve, and like Mardy Fish, she is a better forward mover than side-to-side. Still though, she played even defense yesterday and displayed tremendous intensity and grit, like, well, you know who.

But what I loved the most was the subdued celebration for Hantuchova, you would think that having not won a title in 5 years and winning again in the same place of your only title would ensure her a dramatic over the wall but understandable celebration. Instead, bliss was there, but it was controlled and placid. I always liked her because, even with that back to serving tactic like Sharapova and all, she never was a brash in your face personality. She wouldn't back down in matches, nerves and consistency withstanding of course, but she never exulted arrogance that make you not like her.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/18/2007 at 01:38 PM

A few things regarding my last post and the following comments:

On-court coaching -- as I said, I'm a traditionalist in what concerns tennis, that's why I've always been against on-court coaching and tennis is an individual sport where every individual should be able to sort things out on their own. But... as a tv commentator I most certainly welcome that extra feature because it helps us and it makes it much more interesting to the viewers (providing one understands what it's been said in spanish, german, etc). It makes things a lot more interesting to know what's inside a player's mind and how a certain opponent should be dealt... but I still think it's unfair to players who can't afford a top notch coach. We should not forget there's also a lot of illegal coaching going on from the stands, Anyway, there will be a meeting at the French where they'll decide the future of on-court coaching (only available right now in Tier I and Tier II events).

Routines -- I'm not against Dani's ritual of turning her back to the court (not to the opponent) and focus her eyes on the strings. It's just a routine and I don't think it shows lack of respect. And Daniela is 23, Sharapova just 19. If anyone copied that procedure, it wasn't Hantuchova. By the way, there are a lot of players (mostly female) out there doing that. The fist pump and the vamos'ing is just a spanish thing and a trick to keep the intensity high and at a constant level.

The Walk -- I saw your comments on a previous post and found them harsh. If I were in Pete's shoes (and I'm not), I guess I would have followed the same reasoning about the players featured and would have written stories about the losing semifinalists as well, not only because their stories are interesting, but also because I would have the opportunity to write about the winners (just like Hantuchove) later on... because they won!

Posted by Ruth 03/18/2007 at 01:42 PM

I don't know who copied whom, but I do know that in 2002, when Dani was playing Tour events regularly (and winning IW), Maria was still playing $10,000 and $50,000 lower level events. Hey, maybe Evert or someone from her era or an even earlier era started the "turning your back" thing. (Sounds like something the Ice Princess would do... and where is Nancy J, our Chrissie expert, to confirm or deny that?)

Also, I thought that it was quite funny when Peer turned her back to the court and played with her strings sometimes in her quarterfinal match with Hantuchova. I'm not sure if Peer does that regularly, but, as someone who was rooting for Peer, I wish that it had worked better for her. :)

Posted by the walk 03/18/2007 at 01:52 PM

Ruth: Thank you for your defense of IMG and its marketing trainers. Unlike Pete, I don't see them as "the big bad machine" and I certainly don't see any reason to rage against them.

As for Nicole, she's a lovely young talent with grace and poise and I think we should be offering people like her support. I took issue with Pete for dissing her simply because he thought she was being force-fed to us by the WTA and IMG.

Love someone or hate someone, that's up to you. But do it because of their tennis, not because of their "personalities" or their backgrounds.

Posted by ajv 03/18/2007 at 02:01 PM

On the who's copying whom question, doesn't the presser give us the answer? Here's the transcript posted by Pete:

Q. When you turn your back between points and do your ritual of doing some bouncing, reflecting, what is your self-talk to yourself, what is?

A: I think it's a self-talk with myself, so I don't think I have to share it with anyone else. I guess, everyone does different things, how to be in the best way ready for the next point.

Q: Have you worked with James Loehr?

A: Yes.

Q. Is that something you picked up from Jim?
A: Yes. Yes. Yes. It's great

Assuming the Q's and A's are sequential, isn't Dani telling us here that she picked up the "ritual" from Loehr? Now, did she begin working with Loehr after Shriekie started her "ritual"? If so, then maybe Loehr picked up on the idea after watching Shriekie. If Loehr came before Shriekie, maybe they're both Loehr groupies. Loehr may be the answer after all

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/18/2007 at 02:11 PM

Interesting... but has Jim Loehr been associated with the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy?

Shahar Peer has been doing the same thing for quite some time as well.

I think it's a great ritual. I would advise it to players having trouble keeping their mind from wandering.

Posted by the walk 03/18/2007 at 02:26 PM

Miguel - I agree with you about the ritual. Personally, the first time I saw it was masha when she won wimbledon. Possible that Hantuchova copied it after that.

As for my comments, i don't know, i just think Pete's coverage seems to focus on players who he seems to think we'll never see again so let's cover them now while they're around. And he doesn't just cover the losers. When Tati lost to Bammer, all he wrote about was Bammer and her kid and how cute they were. All he could say for tati was a snide comment about getting a new belly ring. Double standards, what do you think?

By the way, keep your eye on these two: Yaroslava Shvedova (Rus) and Tamira Paczek (Aut). Shvedova recently won her first tournament in Bangalore in Mirza's home turf. Tamira (just 16) almost beat Justine in Dubai. She has an unbelievable game!

Posted by ajv 03/18/2007 at 03:02 PM

Miguel, my problem with the "ritual" is no matter how helpful if may be to the player using it, it is inherently disrespectful to the opposing player, at least the way it is employed by Dani and Shriekie. In both cases, it's not just a question of using the time between points to gather your thoughts. They just happen to time their time of reflection in such a way that the opposing player as she is ready to serve is forced to wait. That is poor sportsmanship and should not be condoned. It reeks of self-absorption. I do not buy the theory that a player has the license to do whatever it is that works for "her", and that the opponent does not count. Funnily enough, I view Dani's behavior in this regard as consistent with her overall personality as exemplified in the various incidents chronicled above. Like Shriekie, the other practicioner of the ritual, she strikes me as completely self-absorbed. Her oblivioussnes in her answers to interviews is, to me, not a sign of a lack of engagement, but instead shows her disregard for the outside world.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/18/2007 at 03:11 PM

I don't think Sharapova was the first one to use that kind of ritual... but I'll try to find out who first came up with the procedure.

About this blog, keep in mind that when Tati lost to Bammer there were a lot of other men's and women's matches going on, a lot of stories floating around, and it is difficult to feature everybody and everything in here. One has to make a call, and Pete's experienced enough and a good enough reporter to pick the right stories for his essays; so, give him a break and let him make his call!

About Tamira Paszek: she plays pretty well and I've known her coach for 20 years now -- hard-#%% brasuca Larri Passos, who coached Guga Kuerten to world fame. The money question regarding Tamira's career is: will her parents, especially her father, let the coach do the right think on a long-term basis?

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/18/2007 at 03:18 PM

ajv, I see your point and maybe sometimes the player using that ritual to delay play, but otherwise I really don't think it is that disrespectful. I view it as a way of helping the player to keep it within himself. I can relate to that because my mind wanders a lot when I'm on the court, so... if somehow we get to play and I pull up that ritual, don't think I'm being disrespectful to you!

Posted by the walk 03/18/2007 at 03:33 PM

The other lady I'm keeping my eye on is Lucie Safarova. She had an incredible run at the Paris Open and we all know what she did at the Aussie! I'm still perplexed how she lost to Peer last week as I consider Lucie to be in a different league. I predict she surprises a lot of people and makes the semis in Miami. I can't wait for that draw to come out!

Posted by SanjaVIC 03/18/2007 at 03:45 PM


If the rule is to play at the servers pace within reason, how can you follow that rule if you have your back is turned? I'm always willing someone to shout out "Hey I'm ready to serve but you wouldn't know because your back is turned!"

Posted by creig bryan 03/18/2007 at 03:48 PM

I believe Monica Seles was but one of many players, who would take a walk, stare at her racquet, bounce, etc. prior to the next point. How old were Daniela and Maria in 1991? So, let's wrap the ritual rap and move on.

Keep Smiling

Posted by ajv 03/18/2007 at 03:49 PM

Miguel, I'm a 4.5 USTA rating player, deep into middle age, and at local clubs in Connecticut, even middle age hackers like me would kick the merde out of any player who on point after point forced his opponent to wait to serve. And it would not be on the court that the merde would fly, more like the locker-room. As my daughter would say, that kind of stuff is totally uncool.

Posted by ajv 03/18/2007 at 03:55 PM

Craig, can i keep the ritual stuff going for just one more second to point out that I saw Monica play many times, and yes she did do the back turned string playing stuff, but never the "back turning, string staring, bounce on your toes thingy, followed by a stylish turn of the swan like neck to properly situate the long straight blond hair" routine. That particular combination is currently trademarked by Dani/Shriekie.

Posted by creig bryan 03/18/2007 at 04:01 PM

ajv:

I'm laughing...

Keep Smiling

Posted by Ian of the Desert 03/18/2007 at 05:02 PM

I don't see the value in criticizing Pete's journalistic desire to elicit some sort of self-analysis from the players, related to their games, their wins, etc. After all, these ARE press conferences and given the stark individuality of pro-tennis, the issue of personality is no "small potatoes" no matter how you dice it.

Of course, Daniela has every right ot be coy and/or uncommunicative about specific things, which naturally results in her being perceived, rightly, as...coy and/or uncommunicative! It's no different that saying that it is (or was) utterly painful for journalists and other observers to suffer through a presser with Jennifer Capriati, back in the day. It was painful to hear a young woman in her twenties sounding like her education in grammar and vocabulary abruptly "ended" at age 12. Not that this was JenCap's fault, so much, but watching her in a presser made you instantly want to pick up a book and read it in one sitting before you somehow caught the Virus of Stupid.

The greatest champions & legends have always had their little rituals for dealing with a blown point or a weird error. Evert, for example, would whip her ponytail and do an instant about-face, and you could see the very memory of the mistake immediately leave her brain. She would just go into absolute denial that she had made amistake at all and move on. A nice trick to be able to play on yourself! Federer does the same, without the ponytail. Seles would traipse a bit, stare at the racket, and shake the error straight out of her head, as if she hadn't done it. Graf would do the same thing.

The Danielas and Shahars and Sybilles--they have to rely more on the full-on High Liturgy rituals of Forget-I-Screwed-Up. There must be chanting, certain bells rung, counterclockwise shufflings. That's tennis--such a head trip, and in many of these cases, players are so protective of their little heads that they don't want anyone getting a peek inside (even if their skulls are essentially empty).

When people groan, I usually recommend remembering Mary Pierce and what it took for the woman to merely BEGIN a point on her serve, much less overcome the pain of an untimely error.

As for IMG...why in the blazes should that behemoth get any sympathy from the average tennis fan? Or reporter? Please--I have to agree with Pete, in theory, that the throat-cramming of undercooked players is not only detectable, but annoying, at certain times. Nicole Vaidisova? So NOT champion material. Big Nicky-B factory-strokes, but Vaidisova is nothing more than the second coming of Carling Bassett (look THAT up in your F & W). Consider me underwhelmed.

All this being said, however, I'm tickled that Daniela won, because it was a good win, a solid win to cap a solid tournament, and the girl (the WOMAN! She's 23!) knows how to play real, honest-to-goodness "tennis."

Now, what are we going to do about the Russians? I know Sveta will hit NO. 3 this Monday, but she's got big points to defend in Miami and she's about as big as one of the onion domes in the Kremlin. Nadia Petrova can also kiss last year's huge clay-season point accumulation good-bye. She is SO out of shape. Maria has the service yips so bad that the United Nations Council may have to be called in to do something about it. Serena scared Maria into a chronic case of the "yip-ups."

In Miami, we'll see exactly what's what--if the Willaims sisters really intend to compete or just play four (and win at least one) tournaments a year for the rest of their careers. We'll also see how serious is Mizz Clijsters. Overall, the women need to have their butts kicked. The WTA Tour is perhaps more jokey than ever. They have some 'splaining to do.

Posted by the walk 03/18/2007 at 05:21 PM

ian of the desert (nice name by the way), i have to take issue with you about vaidisova. how can you be underwhelmed by someone who's hit two grand slam semis at age 17? i predict she'll go far in miami.

in fact, let's have a gentleman's (even though i'm a lady) wager. i predict she makes (at least) the semis at key biscayne. how far do you see her going?

Posted by jhurwi 03/18/2007 at 06:56 PM

Daniela is an excellent doubles player--she holds a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles (all with different partners), and someone (Paes?) has been quoted as saying, "The best mixed doubles team in the world is Daniela Hantuchova and any male player." She was also a top women's doubles team with Sugiyama; this was where we saw her in doubles at the U.S. Open. I don't recall her doing any of these tics/rituals/delaying the server routines in doubles. Is that because doubles is less difficult for her, or because her partner offers sufficient confidence-boosting reassurance that she doesn't need to resort to these routines?

Posted by the walk 03/18/2007 at 07:47 PM

people, just checked out the qualifying women's draw for miami. look for shvedova and paczek to make some noise.

in addition, watch out for bychkova, dushevina, and katerina bondarenko. these are tomorrow's ladies today!

Posted by Ruth 03/18/2007 at 08:00 PM

jhurwi: I'm glad that you mentioned Daniela's playing doubles with Ai Sugiyama because I thought of her (Ai) earlier during the discusssion about Dani's tactics. I'll never forget that the only time that I've ever heard the ever-polite Sugiyama criticize another player was when she was asked, after a particularly annoying singles match against her doubles partner and supposed friend (Dani), how she felt about Hantuchova's habit of taking too much time between points between points. I can't remember, but I think that this occurred in the same tourney which Dani lost when the umpire finally defaulted her --near the end of the match -- after giving her the required warning, loss of point etc for her delaying tactics.

I know that Hewitt, Serena, and Monica have developed that staring at and fiddling with the strings to an art form, but I don't remember ever seeing any of them turn their backs on their opponents or use their racket ritual as part of a delaying tactic.


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