Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Safina: It's a Process
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Safina: It's a Process 07/27/2009 - 2:19 PM

89264551  by Pete Bodo

There must be a higher purpose in Dinara Safina's life than serving as part of Serena Williams's fitness regimen (Safina has been her heavy bag, to borrow from the sweet science), or the object of scorn and derision that might be better directed at the WTA computer-ranking system. For as most of you know, and Safina is never allowed to forget, she earned the No. 1 ranking in April without having bagged a Grand Slam title, and she hasn't let it go despite two majors - won by others - having played out in the interim.

You might say that Safina hasn't advanced her own cause by failing to bag any of this year's majors, or enhanced her credibility with the way she lost in them: She was simply crushed by Williams in the Australian Open final, fell prone to anxiety in a severely disappointing loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the championship match in Paris, and Safina was humiliated  by Venus Williams in the semifinals of Wimbledon.You'd think the poor girl can't play, and at times on major occasions that suspicion is abetted by Safina.

On the other hand, the last WTA No. 1 (Jelena Jankovic - surely you remember the name?) blew herself up just minutes after earning the No. 1 ranking; by contrast, Safina is an Amazon-grade warrior. I can think of a few players who wouldn't exactly mind being in her shoes - two Grand Slam finals and a semi in the last three majors.

Safina won again on Sunday, in Portoroz. She beat Sara Errani in a three-set roller coaster ride after losing the first set tiebreaker. After winning, she recited an all-too familiar script: "After losing the first set, I started to play exactly how I had to. But then when I was up 2-0, 30-0 in the third set, suddenly I lost my game. I got tight. That's why it was so complicated. When I won the match it was a relief. I really wanted it. These tough matches give you confidence and I hope with this I can go to the States and play my best tennis there."

Three words Safina should have engraved on her forehead (for our benefit), or on her wrist for her own: It's a process.

That is, taking a place at the top of the game and holding it is a process for anyone not named Williams, or Roger Federer, Chris Evert or John McEnroe. Champions who mature relatively late (think Martina Navratilova, Patrick Rafter, even, in some ways Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi and Justine Henin) can tell you that unless you're blessed with a combination of extraordinary drive, surpassing talent, and a level head, the key ingredient in becoming a Grand Slam champion is steady nerves - more precisely, the ability to keep your level extremely high while resisting the chorus of critics who suggest that winning a major is one task too many for you to handle.

So the more sanguine way to look at Safina's adventures since the end of 2008 is that she's been "gathering information." And everything we know about Safina, from her earliest days on the tour, suggests that she's had an awful lot of information to gather, beginning with the intelligence on how to emerge from her famous brother Marat's shadow to achieve stardom, while lacking some of the natural advantages he enjoyed. Those advantages include a game that even in proportionate terms is much bigger than Dinara's, a dangerously effective indifference to the so-called "pressure" of expectations, and a type of personal charisma that somehow greases the skids of life.

I mean, it's probably much easier to play second-fiddle to a stud like Marat, while no pony-tailed little hottie can be very pleased to suffer a bludgeoning at the hands of beady-eyed and often downright gawky Dinara. Sometimes those kinds of things count, although they probably shouldn't.

There's a flip side to Safina's poor defense of her No. 1 ranking in those train wrecks dressed up as major finals. She's endured those terrible whippings without spiraling off into deep depression or chucking her racquets into the Thames and entering a nunnery. Something Marat said in a teleconference the other day is pertinent here: "She's really competitive and really tough girl. She wants to crack it down (win a major), it just takes a bit of time."

Time, of course, is the one thing that nobody wants to grant any player who seems to perform below the standard of his or her ranking. This, partly, is what made life so difficult for Jankovic in 2009. The table was set for her personal banquet in Melbourne, but when she showed up - so bent on proving herself a worthy No. 1 that she over-trained - she was so nervous she couldn't lift the fork to her mouth. Over the ensuing months, she got a lot of food of food on her shirt and lap, but she's been no more capable of finding her mouth than an infant in a high chair.

Safina's history has been dramatically different. She's recovered from those notionally devastating losses by holding on to what she has - confidence, drive, attitude and even ranking-wise - as she continues to gather information. This is something that only destined champions seem able to do, and it suggests that despite the momentary, bitter disappointments, her wounds are like those of a teen-ager who mildy mutilates herself out of boredom, or anxiety. This is a common rite of passage, as any reformed Goth princess can tell you.

And as much as the pundits and critics enjoy denigrating a talented or highly ranked player who chokes away significant opportunities (and trust me, it can be an exquisitely pleasurable if downright mean indulgence), a player is only broken by himself. The players who stay the course almost always prevail. And in tennis, staying the course means winning. For winning begets winning. Safina may have struggled in Portoroz against Errani, but she won. Again. Maybe having won despite struggling against the over-gunned Errani, instead of tacking up another routine 2-and-3 win, will be of greater long-term value to Safina.

Patience is an especially handy virtue for someone in Safina's shoes, and she seems to have it. Consistency is another key to long-term success. This she has as well, and it's of a different order of magnitude than the consistency of all those perennial semifinalists and finalists who hover around the upper reaches of the Top 10. Safina wins tournaments consistently, and that neutralizes to some degree the uncomfortable fact that her most formidable rival isn't able to grind the heel of a stiletto into Safina's heart often enough to break her spirit. Safina may never beat Serena, but she's beaten some comparably unnerving demons and goblins and they're always a bigger enemy. One rival at a time.

When Marat was asked if his sister needed to make any major changes, or change her way of thinking in order to bag that elusive first major, he replied: "It's more that it just takes some time. She been unexpected the No. 1 in the world, because not many people really believe that she would become one day, and finally she became. But the next step, maybe she was not really ready for that, now she's been through a few finals and she's more experienced and the next one will be hers. I'm pretty sure sooner or later she gonna make it. Once she gonna crack one down, first one, and then much more will come."

Given Safina's relative youth (she's 23) and the volatile state of the WTA Tour, it's hard to argue with that sober analysis. Marat doesn't even mind the sniping that's gone on, saying of Serena's recent comments:

"It's okay. It's a girls' matter. It's just girls talk. Well, they're two big players. Serena is more experienced and she been on tour much more time. She been out there for much longer time. My sister, she's a new one, basically new No. 1 in the world. The rivalry, the next time they're gonna play, it's gonna be a nice match. Serena, she is a nice girl, but it's her own fault (that she's not No. 1). They are tough actors, and it's what happens. But I think it's good to see that it happens on the tour that they are fighting for No. 1 and giving a little bit of trouble to each other, but without any harm to each other."

In other words, Marat thinks his sister is a big girl, who's capable of taking care of herself. And apart from the hardship Dinara's had clearing the final career hurdle in her path,  Safina's been proving him right.

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Posted by Peg 07/27/2009 at 11:04 PM

Charles comments, "I'm thinking back to the days before computer rankings. Determining the number #1 player or top 10 was largely the opinion of journalists and other players, maybe tournament directors doing seeding..."

Johnette Howard's THE RIVALS (about Navratilova and Evert) makes mention of this -- I'll have to go look it up, but I remember Howard mentioning it as a point of contention because of the popularity contest feel to it (and Navs feeling like she was never going to catch a break in that department). There's something to be said for strict formulas.

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever 07/27/2009 at 11:08 PM

Hey all

We have two options:

1) Dinara is not the #1 player. And that's a gut feel looking at the results in a cursory manner.
2) The ATP computer based rankings has its merit and by that she is #1. Ergo, we respect that.

Simple as that.

I would go with the 2) as we all seem to respect and go by the ATP computer (given the Fedal situation and where the top 10 stands as of today) rankings all along. Why would WTA be different. We cheered and hoo-hawed when Rafa took over the #1 and he deservedly so. Now Fed has it. So we hoo-haw all over. And hey, Roddick might move higher. Nole might move down. Murray may or may not (one who doesn't have *a* slam) move. If we go ahead to play by the rules, we need to respect the rules. Period.

The quite snigger we enjoy, the haughty smirk we afford to put on...of course we are allowed. And the said subject (here Dinara) feels it. And that's the irony they live with in the interim.

Posted by Davor 07/27/2009 at 11:10 PM

VC: no, unfortunately, just the live scores.

Posted by VC 07/27/2009 at 11:29 PM

Davor : Ah, ok.

Posted by Davor 07/28/2009 at 12:18 AM

Even though it was a 'fun' exhibition match, wouldn't it be funny if this gets Marat rolling, lol!?!

Posted by Amit 07/28/2009 at 12:43 AM

Ruth @9.35 pm,

I wasn't being facetious, and I don't quite see the logic why both cannot get an A. I have been a teaching assistant in an earlier life, and had no qualms about sliding the scale as I saw fit to reward home run-hitters.

Posted by court1234 07/28/2009 at 02:23 AM

Safina seems more consistent then either Jelena or AMelie were before there stints at #1...

The only player who was more consistent and couldn't win Majors was Kim Clijsters, who played 4 Major finals before finally winning her first in her fifth try back in 2005.

Posted by mick1303 07/28/2009 at 03:05 AM

The situation with WTA is different from ATP, because unlike men, ladies have easier conditions in Slams than in regular tournaments. If they would play best of 5, then “mental strength” would play less of a role and real fitness – more of a role. And Slams would really deserve to have higher ranking value. As it stands now, part time players have more chances in Slams on WTA side. If Federer stops play regular tour events, and “concentrate” on Slams, his fitness will suffer, and his streak of semis will come to an end.

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/28/2009 at 05:06 AM

Mick, I would agree and disagree with some of what you said. I don't believe that playing 5 sets would make mental strength play a lesser role for someone like Dina. Dina said about her FO loss to Kuzzy that she wanted it so badly and this was the reason she froze. I think her problem are in her head not her game and she would just freeze through five sets unless she can fix that problem as Amelie did with a sports psychatrist and went on to win 2 slams in one year. I do agree that fitness issues would come into play for some players if the women played five sets. I also feel that the slams deserve the higher ranking value in fact I think the points should be increased for them allowing a better corelation between who is the best and the world's no 1. Riight now most people would agree that Serena is the best player in the world and Dina is the no 1 player. As many people have said there really is no argument to support that Dina is a better player than Serena. The H2H doesn't support it, and when Dina said of Serena saying she's the best. "Well, she can say that because she won so many slams." Even she isn't disagreeing with Serena who is correct to say she's the best in the world. Not sure that part time players have more chances at the slam. Since the WTA made more events mandatory, Serena has played more events in 09 then she ever played in previous years, but is still the current holder of 3 of the 4 slams. I don't think being part time or full time gives her any more advantage at the slams. I think the fact that her game is better than other top players is the reason she beat them. Demmy said it best after she lost to Serena playing some of her best tennis, Lena said, Serena bring a different level when it comes to the slams because as Serena said that is her main goal in playing is to win slams. I think this is because she recognizes the fact that this is how players are measured. If players were measured by lower tier events, Kimmie C would have been one of the all time greats. Serena has a better serve and game then any current player and this is why she's the current holder of 3 slams. I do believe that Dina maybe a better player on the clay than Serena, but that is the only surface where she matches up well against her.

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/28/2009 at 05:15 AM

Forgot to add that I think Demmy matches up better against Serena and can challenge her more than Safina. The semi final could have went either way and she had match point. Even Cliffie said that Dina was out playing Serena in the semi and should have won it. Serena's will and mental strength to win matches like that is amazing. However Venus seems to have a pretty easy time with Demmy. Their H2H is lopsided.

Posted by bill 07/28/2009 at 05:37 AM

The key for her is to avoid judging herself by whether she wins, and judge herself by how she competes....the, if she wins, she wins, and if she loses, at least she didn't beat herself

Posted by great gams 07/28/2009 at 07:39 AM

don't understand why Safina is force to take the flack for the number one controversy and is constantly being asked to defend her ranking. the WTA created the system. Safina just plays as well as she can, week in and week out, with her gifts and limits.

the WTA should speak out on behalf of their number one (and thereby defend their precious roadmap).

Posted by mick1303 07/28/2009 at 07:40 AM

Samantha, Idk if you honestly do not understand my logic, or choose to ignore key elements.
“Part time players” do not have advantage in a strict sense. BUT, if they were made to play 5 sets rather than 3, then their lack of fitness would’ve been exposed.
It is no coincidence that beside Slams, Serena also does quite well in Miami and loves this tournament. What Miami has in common with Slams?

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 07:41 AM

My slam winning prediction for Dina, she will win the FO next year. I don't believe her slam win will occur on the faster surfaces, there are to many players who are better on this surface.

Posted by mick1303 07/28/2009 at 07:45 AM

If you or somebody else will say – “but what is the evidence of Serena’s lack of fitness?”, my answer would be “why she can’t win a regular tour event, where she has to play quarter, semi and final without days of rest in between?” Only because these events are so lowly and unworthy?

Posted by Jbradhunter 07/28/2009 at 08:01 AM

Mick- what a great idea- the gals should play best of 5 at the Slams

I agree that Dinara can win a Slam- and she can do it by beating Serena, Vee, Elena, Kuzzie, whoever she faces... I just believe that she'll persevere. I saw the RG final, the AO final- the latest examples of her mind going on walkabout- but this is what makes her journey so compelling to me
Plus, when Dinara is on- like her early RG form indicated- she has the weapons to dominate her opponents-- I also think about her run to the RG final the year before, where she pulled herself out of matches against Elena and Maria in which she saved match points-- she's got mental toughness.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:05 AM

Mick, don't you think there is some merit in what Lena said about Serena and the slams? Lena has known Serena for a very long time and has played her many time so I think she has some insight into what makes her tick. Lena said that the reason why Serena win the slams is because she bring a different level when she's playing the slams compared to other tournaments. I would agree with Lena, I have seen Serena playing withs her nail and not focus at smaller events but at the slams her entire demeanor changes, she simply wants it more. Her grunting increases and she gets that determined look. I just think Dina is right on this one. Is Serena unfit, she sure stayed with Demmy in a two hour and 5o minute match point for point, going for every shot.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:12 AM

Mick, please see that I also agreed with you that five setters would definetly expose if a player was unfit. I believe the quality of their play would decrease in a five setter. I didn't disagree with that part. The part that I disagree with was that mentally I don't feel a five setter would help someone like Dinara. A player who has mental problem with big matches like Dina isn't help by longer matches. It merely exposes the problem for a longer period of time.

Posted by mick1303 07/28/2009 at 08:19 AM

Samantha, this maybe true.
But think about one thing: Sveta Kuznetsova played two very similar matches against Serena this year in quarters of Australia and French. One she lost, another one she won.
You may disagree, but I think she was able to turn around the second match because she had more time to gather herself mentally, helped by the fact that everything is slower on clay.
She was outplaying Serena in both these matches.
Additional time, provided by 5-set format, IMO would also helped in a similar way.

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 08:24 AM

L. Jon Wertheim said in the past that one reason Serena does well in Slams is the off day b/w matches therefore, you can bring 2 different mindsets(Slams and WTA events) depending on the occasion. Dinara's consistency is even more amazing as you made a good point on when they have to play 3 consecutive days to end the week at a tour event and also, she made SF or better in the last 4 Slams played(3 of them stopped by the Williams Sisters). Before Serena knee issues at Key Biscayne this year, she was making SF or better. Her clay season before the French Open was one to forget as she went 0-3 (Zakopalova-Marbella, Schnyder-Rome, Schiavone-Madrid) but she has turned that around by making the QF at the French and winning Wimbledon.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:24 AM

JBrad, I would agree that in some incident Dinara has shown mental toughness. But in the finals she has clearly not. Although Mats quote on her was harsh, it was factual. Mats said and this is his words not mine, "It's fu**ing embarasing the way she looks up her coach after every point." Sorry but I don't think that shows toughness when she looks like she is looking up to her coach for answers with that crying look she has. And of course I would totally agree that she has the game to win a slam.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:26 AM

And JBrad like you said she goes on "walkabout". She did it at both FO finals, Wimbledon semi, AO final. Is this mental strength or mental weakness? I think it is the latter.

Posted by mick1303 07/28/2009 at 08:27 AM

Also after Serena got a lead in a third set in Paris, she had to sustain her high level for a bit longer, because it was clay. And she wasn’t able to do so.
On a faster surface in Australia she had no trouble, once she got a lead. It required less time, because conditions were faster. Likewise, if she had to play one more set, it would require more sustained effort for her, while Sveta may had additional time to recover from her brain freeze.
5-set format requires a little bit extra. Why Murray is so good in regular ATP events but wasn’t able to come through in Slams. Is it only mental? I don’t think so.

Posted by Jbradhunter 07/28/2009 at 08:32 AM

You're right Mick, the lack of reliance/trust/accountability Dinara showed in the RG final was a weak display of mental fortitude... maybe Dinara's coach shouldn't attend her next GSlam final!! Justine used to look at Carlos a lot, but then again Justine usually won those GSlam finals

Posted by FAYLOVE 07/28/2009 at 08:32 AM

Well I think WTA ranking is bullshit. A #1 player should have one GS under their belt. Even Justina spoke about that.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:37 AM

Mick, I think the difference between Kuzzy and Serena at the AO vs the FO was largely a result of the difference surfaces. This year Serena lost 3 straight clay torney to player who are lesser player than Kuzzy who I think maybe the best clay courter along with Safina. So no surprise there. Also, what surprise me in the FO match is the closeness in the match between Serena and Kuzzy. That was a match which I have heard many people say could have went either way. Serena I believe was up 5-3 in the final set. Again, I believe Lena is right that Serena brings a different level at the slams than the lesser tier events. Mary Carillo once described Serena and Venus has "cherry pickers" which is the same thing Lena is saying. I agree with this and I'm not being critical because I'm a strong supporter of the slam. I wish Caro would cherry pick more often. Apology for using Mats quote about Safina, I love Mats, but sometimes he could be more discreet in what he says.

Posted by Jbradhunter 07/28/2009 at 08:39 AM

There's that funny thing too, about having the "worst thing happen".... And moving thru it... Suddenly what seemed like it would be so bad doesn't live in the imagination anymore and psychologically loses it's power to create fear & doubt.
I can't think it'll get any "worse" for Dinara as far as meltdowns/losses go than what she endured in Paris and London this year

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:39 AM

Patrick, wouldn't you agree that the FO match between Serena and Kuzzy was close and could have went either way?

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 08:41 AM

Samantha Elin,
Serena did lead by a break in the final set(believe at 3-1 and not 5-3 as Serena never served for the match) at the French Open. Matter of fact, Serena had 40-0 in the game Svetlana broke to even the match and Serena said later that she "choked" at that moment. In the past, Serena would have put her away like 6-1 or 6-2 no matter the surface.

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 08:41 AM

Samantha Elin,
Yes, that match could have gone either way but Svetlana won the crucial points late in that set.

Posted by Samantha Elin 07/28/2009 at 08:50 AM

Faylove, LOL, you're correct, Justine did say that and I can't say I disagree with her. Justine could teach Safina a lot about mental toughness that is for sure. She was something special.

Posted by Ruth 07/28/2009 at 08:55 AM

Samantha: I don't blame Serena or any other player for "getting up" for the Slams. That is where the masses of fans see them, that is what people tend to remember most, that's where the sponsors $$$ run. I love the Slams, and I would cry buckets of tears if someone told me that I couldn't head to NYC in exactly 34 days to experience one of the most enjoyable weeks of my year -- Week 1 at the USOpen!

But that will never mean that I think that the challenge of playing at the Slams is wildly greater (especially for the women) than playing at the top-level events of both Tours that are listed just under the Slams in points, prize money etc (the Premiums and the 1000's -- new names).


How can playing Ms/Mr what's His Name, take a day's rest, then Mr/Ms Who's That? take a day's rest, followed by Mr/Ms Never Heard of Him/Her, take another day's rest -- followed finally by matches against the best players compare with facing top competition from Day 1 (see Stanford) or any Masters event and having to play almost every day for a week -- if you go on to win that Premier or 1000 event. (BTW I've heard many of the men, including Federer, say that the Masters events are more challenging and competitive for them than the Slams, even though I'm sure they'd never deny the greater public GLORY of the Slams.)

I'm gulity of a little hyperbole in describing the first 3 matches of the Slams; but you get my point, I hope. As someone who has attended the first week of the USO for the past 12 years, I'll tell you that if I had a dollar for every time in my first years of attending that I left a Serena vs Anca Barna wipeout or a Sampras-bludgeons-#94 to go watch a more competitive match between a #24 and a #40, I'd have enough dollars to buy quite a few buckets of my favorite USO spicy, curly fries. :)

Eventually, my USO buddy and I stopped going to those "easy" or lopsided matches, and we spend our time watching the really good matches, the new players that we don't see on TV , the doubles matches etc. We almost never even go into Ashe Stadium to see the STARS anymore, preferring the action on Armstrong, the Grandstand, and the outer courts.

Posted by Jbradhunter 07/28/2009 at 08:56 AM

I do think ultimately, the winner deserves the kudos in these matches where the loser displayed nerves, mental breakdown, etc because the winner had just as many opportunities to have a mental letdown as the loser did

For Dinara, she assess her performanc, look objectively at her weaknesses, accept her own shortcomings, but like Samantha says, Serena showed up for the AO final with a ferocious attitude to win. Kuzzie was not as obviously ferocious, but in her own way she brought the mental tenacity to the RG final

it's a credit to Dinara to say her mental frailty is a main reason why she lost, but she lost to women who'd proven to themselves that they could win GSlams

Posted by Game Lover 07/28/2009 at 08:59 AM

Lol at lollipop's

"that picture-- a little scary to be honest."

Never served much?

Other then that nice article and good insight from Marat.

As Safina's manager (Ion Tiriac) put it: " If only Safina had 1/10 of Marat's talent, she'd have many GS by now"

As it is, she just works hard (and has flaws in her game, maybe not as much talent either, as other), but hard work pays divident. That reminds me of Rafa when he was the longest #2 in history, excelling only on clay at the time...

How is your own tennis going guys?

Do you get out and play at least once or twice a week?

If not, maybe you should give it a try, it's great and summer is here!


Posted by streams 07/28/2009 at 09:00 AM

Thanks Pete, Thanks Marat ...
love Dinara ... hate the mindless belittling she's had in some quarters in recent months

2 finals and 1 semi in the last 3 majors on 3 different surfaces ... sounds like pretty good tennis to me

Not saying there's not some things she needs to work on (dependence on coach, nerves in finals), but she's young and she hast time to work these things out....

Go Dina!

Posted by Cayman Karen (as defined by Ruth and Master Ace) 07/28/2009 at 09:12 AM

Morning All. I have read through most of the comments here and I just wanted to add that Marat is wrong when he says that becoming No. 1 came as a surprise to Dinara. Dinara had 3 opportunites before she became No. 1 of becoming No.1. It certainly did not come as a surprise to her. At last year's USO, if she had won the title she would have been No.1. At this year's AO, if she had won she would have been No.1., and at the spring hardcourt swing, if she had won any of those tournaments, she would have become No.1. She became NO.1. after Serena got injured playing Miami, and was unable to add to her points that came off Charleston (which was a Tier 1 the year before, but now awards less points as a result of Roadmap. When she finally got the No.1. ranking she did what all successful business people do, she took advantage of her opportunities and made the most of it. She has now solidified herself as the No. 1 player as a result of her consistent showing in all events that she has played. At no point will I ever begrudge an athlete from taking advantage of their opportunties. The fact still remains however, that as Ruth said upthread, to see the No.1 player in the world playing a mid-level tournament and trying to beat a player who basically chases down balls and has no effective weapons but has to call down her coach just to get whatever reassurances he can give to her is what in my mind makes her fragile and does not make her ranking look as successful and hard earned as it undoubtedly is. I would love to see her make her breakthrough and silence critics like me, but until she fixes the deficiences in her game, and believe me they are not all mental, then she will continue to be the person who holds the plate at these major events.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/28/2009 at 09:20 AM

New York state wildlife technician blows chance at achieving Internet immortality.

From a New York Times article on a talented bear who has defeated state of the art "bear proof" food containers.

Ben Tabor, a state wildlife technician who has tracked Yellow-Yellow [the MENSA black bear], said the evidence on the canister supports that theory. (He watched her tackle a BearVault two years ago, although he was too far away to determine her method. ) He doubts, however, that she has out-of-the-ordinary intelligence. “I don’t think she’s smarter than most bears,” he said.

Why, oh why, couldn't Tabor have substituted "the average bear" for "most bears" in the last sentence of the above paragraph?

Posted by Sandra 07/28/2009 at 09:31 AM

Does anyone know of a website that will show the Stanford WTA matches?

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 09:40 AM

Please see page 3 on Victory Junkies for the link used to show matches from Stanford but there is NO audio. This is a red meat post.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (Winner of Wimbledon Suicide Pool) 07/28/2009 at 09:48 AM

I like the pic of a determined Dinara, totally agree about once the monkey is off her back she will win a few gs. I wish she didn't lean so much on her coach Zelko. She knows she can fight back when she is down. Saying that it is one thing being down against a lesser player than being down against Serena. I'm hoping she wins the USO.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/28/2009 at 09:50 AM

Trying to do some legal research and bear matters continue to indrued. For example, I just came across the following:

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

--W. T. Pooh (aka A. A. Milne)

Incidentally, legal fights over this humble bear have generated millions of dollars, if not tens of millions of dollars, in billings for attorneys.

Now to generate some of my own billables.

Posted by Game Lover 07/28/2009 at 09:51 AM

Master Ace, I've tried to ask you before, but you didn't bite: with so much passion for the game, do you play yourself? :)

Posted by Game Lover 07/28/2009 at 09:53 AM

ManuelSantanaFan: As much as I love W. T. Pooh, can't it be said instead, that everything is a matter of perception/interpretation/taste?

Posted by tina 07/28/2009 at 09:59 AM

JJ doesn't have the game to win a Slam? A long time ago, they used to say that about Mats, too.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/28/2009 at 10:02 AM

Game Lover:

1. I can only aspire to be as smart as the average bear and I often fall short.

2. Not surprisingly, in the above case, I'm not sure what Mr. Pooh was getting at.

I'm truly out of here.

Have a great day, everyone.

Posted by Babe 07/28/2009 at 10:09 AM

marktennisuyar at 07/27/2009 @ 9:28 PM --I absolutely agree with you. To hear them tell it, Sveta wasn't even on the court that day. But you know what, she was. She played very well. She mixed up her shots well & she beat Safina. Yes, Safina was nervous, but that was not the reason she lost. People forget that Sveta had beaten her a couple of weeks earlier. She said that she decided to play agressive tennis & take it away from Safina rather than choosing to remain on the court when Safina looses. She had been playing terrific tennis all two weeks & she stayed the course in the final.

People forget that Sveta has much more talent than Safina; a natural well rounded game. A very well varied game. She has a much better serve than Safina as well. Yes, they are both headcases--but the one who played better & remained stronger won. Safina double-faulted on the last point--but before that she was being soundly beaten by Kutzy.

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 10:17 AM

Game Lover,
Have not played in a while due to back issues.

Posted by Game Lover 07/28/2009 at 10:29 AM

MA: sorry to hear that.

Btw, I too have back issues and used to have more (after a basketball injury), but I find out that moderate exercise (ahem tennis included) helps :) Or are they so bad, that it's a definite no?

Posted by mick1303 07/28/2009 at 10:37 AM

JJ doesn't have the game to win a Slam? A long time ago, they used to say that about Mats, too.
This is odd, considering he won his 1st as a 17 yo.

Posted by Babe 07/28/2009 at 10:42 AM

mick 1303--I think you miss the point entirely. There is a good reason why historians, pundits, media & fans attribute a lot of importance to the slams--it is the venue where history is made. That is why slams are more difficult to win becuase the importance is obvious & therefore they come with much more pressure. Serena--correctly--attributes much more importance to the slams because she knows that she will not be remembered for winning Zurich, Rome or Queens. She will be remembered for winning the OZ, RG, Wimby & the USO. That is also something Dinara knows & that is why she--as yet--can't win them.

Elite players get up for the biggies; they use the smallies to garner match play, but that's it. For the fans, it may be nicer to have a player play week-in-week-out so they can see them play, but pleasing the fans should not be the priority for an elite player. Their goal should be to do what they were raised to do, which is: to leave their mark in the annals of history.

For the record, Dinara thrives in environments where she feels less pressure & where she faces lesser players. Her success at the slams are more attributed to the fact that she has faced lesser players or players who have choked away their victories to her. She is not mentally tough, she is just tough. She fights hard for every point but when a superior player is across the net, she is outplayed & she folds. She reached the OZ final because she had a great draw. She reached the French final because she had a great draw. Besides, Azarenka had her beat & then went south. Who did she play at Wimby, NO ONE. When she finally reached someone--Venus--look what happened. #3 made #1 look like a chump.

At these events, when she came across the elite players she has been soundly thrashed. To her credit--she is an over-achiever. She fights extremely hard. But her losses are not because she is giving the matches away. No, she losses because her opponents beat her into submission.

Besides, Safina has been tethering around the top for a while so her ascension to #1 should not have been a surprise. If she stays there she will continue to experience the same difficulties because she is said among the crop of players who cannot step up & win when they are expected to win. Pressure goes hand-in-hand with competition; if you can't handle it then you cannot be considered the best in any worthwhile category.

Serena is absolutely fit. When she is injury-free she can stay out there as long as anyone & will beat anyone she wants to beat. She played singles & doubles at Wimbledon. She did the same at the Oz & at the French. She won 2 out of 3 of those tournaments--singles & doubles.

Posted by CherryNYC 07/28/2009 at 10:54 AM

Hi all -- I'm suffering a total lack of motivation despite the mile-high pile of work I have to get done. Not even the Dina/Serena catfight perks me up. Is it awful that I just really don't care about this topic?

Looking forward to baby pictures, though. Wonder if TMBs are home yet -- probably not, would be my guess.

Posted by † Hallelujah 07/28/2009 at 10:58 AM

We've essentially heard this all before. Why waste so many words when the facts speak for themselves? Safina beats players who aren't Grand Slam Champions, against these she struggles and the bigger the stage the bigger the struggle. Until she flips the script that's what it is.

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 11:24 AM

Babe and Marktennisuyar,
Good point about Svetlana being her opponent on that day and Svetlana was the one with a Slam title in the past and also defeated Serena in a tight 3 set match rallying from a break down in the final set to win after Serena rallied from a break down in the 2nd to even the match and had momentum on her side. That win against Serena was huge for Svetlana. Svetlana also had pressure that day as she did not want to be known as a one Slam wonder and her title at Stuttgart was the first one she won on the court since 2006 Beijing when she defeated Amelie Mauresmo.(yes - Svetlana did win New Haven in 2007 but Agnes Szavay retired in the final). In that span, Svetlana lost numerous finals therefore that French Open title was well deserved. Also, agree that Svetlana has a more defined game than Dinara but her problem was her mental state(just like Safina).

Posted by Dreamsonfire 07/28/2009 at 11:36 AM

In a way this reminds me about the criticism about Arod playing for the Yankees and just not winning it in the playoffs. Regular season accomplishments are nice but if you haven't done anything in the postseason, nothing much can be said about the season you just had besides it being "nice".

Posted by RowdyGowdy 07/28/2009 at 12:12 PM

The WTA ranking should be changed. A grand slam win should be required for #1 consideration. Being the best player means withstanding pressure on the grand stage - the 4 grand slams. The fact the Dinara Safina was blasted of the tennis courts in Australia, France and Wimbeldon is enough to drop her down to #10 and make her climb to the top all over again. Dinara just played in a tourny where she beat Errani. There was not another top 10 player present. So in short, you can rack up many points beating the nobodys, the true test comes to withstanding pressure and performing at the top of your game in the slams. Dementieva should have risen past Safina resulting from her performance at Wimby. Hats off to Dementieva as the true final was the semi-final match between Demetieva and Serena.

I see no one is questioning the ranking positions of Federer and Nadal. Both men have validated that they are true #1's. The women should follow suit. Serena is indeed #1 in the world.

Posted by Babe 07/28/2009 at 12:29 PM

Yes--Masterace, but I also think that Safina's problems are sometimes too much attributed to just her mental state. She is a headcase no doubt. However, there are stark deficiencies in her game which leads me to believe that she will always struggle on the big stages. For one, her game is extremely mechanical. She doesn't seem to flow naturally. Secondly, she is not a good mover--therefore, when her offensive game deserts her she doesn't have an alternative. Thirdly, for a top ten player, her serve is bad. Consequently, I think when everything isn't working like clockwork the problems become that much more magnified & she panics because she has nothing else to rely on.

When she faces a player who has great timing & takes the ball early you can just see Safina begin to disintegrate. Unfortunately for her, these are the players she will more often than not face on the big stages. Players that make her look really awkward.

But, I will continue to state that I admire Dinara's spirit. She fights like a dog & she has not allowed herself to wallow in her struggles--& that to me, shows tremendous character. But, I can't agree with those who want to blame everything on stage fright. She is frightened of the big stage but that is only a part of the problem. Her dependence on her coach when things go a little awry is testament to her lack of trust in her game when the slam-bang-wham isn't working.

Posted by Babe 07/28/2009 at 12:32 PM

Succintly put--Dreamsonfire---you said it well & did so with few words.

ICAM RowdyGowdy.

Posted by tina 07/28/2009 at 12:36 PM

Croatia loves to "claim" Safina due to Zeljko Krajan - but I am not a fan of on-court coaching at all, I don't see why the ladies should not figure it out on their own.

Posted by Alice 07/28/2009 at 01:13 PM

I'm glad you mentioned early Agassi, because I think that is comparable here. Before he won his first Slam at Wimbledon Agassi was the object of much scorn and derision - he had some poor efforts in majors against guys like Sampras and Courier. The scorn was heightened because the young Agassi was very flashy in dress and had some attitude, plus endorsement contracts that exceeded his tennis accomplishments. In particular the "Image is Everything" camera commercial was thrown back in his face as identifying him as a flashy player without the character to win the big matches.

Of course Agassi overcame this and became one of the greatest men's players of all time, certainly in the top 10 of anyone's GOAT list, plus becoming one of the most popular men's champions ever. So you're right, there is definately hope for Safina.

Posted by Babe 07/28/2009 at 01:18 PM

There is no correlation between Agassi & Safina. Not in their game-style, endorsements, ranking, talent--NOTHING!

The only thing they have in common is that they are both tennis pros. There may be hope for Safina, but not because of anything she has in common with Agassi.

Posted by Tom 07/28/2009 at 01:21 PM

this is so american article, Serena is not real number 2 but 5

Posted by sblily (Meh > Wheeeee!!!/Vamos Maymo!) 07/28/2009 at 01:52 PM

Karen - Re: Dinara as surprise #1. . . I interpreted Marat's comment more broadly as him saying (again) that given her talent, no one expected Dinara to get to #1. For a while, her biggest "accomplishment" was being Marat's little sis; if you'd said two years ago that she'd be #1 in the world, no one (not even Dinara) would've believed you.

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/28/2009 at 04:16 PM

Say what Tom, Serena is holding 3 of the 4 GS and she is no 5??? Who the heck are the four players in front of her. Obviously if she's holding most of the slams, then there a lot of slamless players in front of her. Make sense to me. Serena is clearly the best player in the game, no matter what her ranking is. Ask any player in the WTA whose record they would want and Serena would wins hands down. Tom, You know any player who doesn't want the Wimbledon trophy?

Posted by Master Ace 07/28/2009 at 04:55 PM

Samantha Elin,
Here is why Serena is 5 in my book for now, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert. However, I would like to know who Tom has ahead of Serena, too.

Posted by Alice 07/28/2009 at 05:19 PM

Babe, I never said that Safina and Agassi had anything in common regarding game-style, talent, personality or anything else. The comparison I made was that they both were saddled with the choker, can't win the big one reputation, and I think that is a valid comparison. There are a number of other players that also have had this reputation - some have overcome it, some not. This comparison even applies to other sports - Peyton Manning before he won a Super Bowl was viewed as a great regular season QB who folded in the big playoff game.

I think you misunderstood my post.

Posted by coreydnyc 07/28/2009 at 05:26 PM

It's just sop hard to believe that someone could hold 3 of the grand slam title and Qtr finals of the 4th, and not be number 1 in the world. I could almost stomach it if was a close race but Safina is SOOOO far ahead it just makes the rankings look like the biggest farce in all sports

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 07/28/2009 at 06:31 PM

I'm curious.....the grand slams are already worth double the points than the next highest tournaments, if they were worth any more points why would someone like serena ever play much more than the four grand slams in a given year?

I, too, believe serena to be the superior player, but her poor results in non-gs tournaments frustrates me as much as dinara's performances in gs finals.

--Ruth, I'm sure all the nodding while reading your posts makes me look just like a bobblehead:)

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/28/2009 at 08:38 PM

Patrick, I could be wrong, but I read Tom's post to mean that Serena isn't "the real no 2" player in the world. But should be ranked no 5. I don't think he was talking about all time greats which is what you're talking about. I think he's talking about currrent players. Yeah Tom who are the four current player you would put ahead of Serena?

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/28/2009 at 08:38 PM

Patrick, I could be wrong, but I read Tom's post to mean that Serena isn't "the real no 2" player in the world. But should be ranked no 5. I don't think he was talking about all time greats which is what you're talking about. I think he's talking about currrent players. Yeah Tom who are the four current player you would put ahead of Serena?

Posted by blueybird 07/28/2009 at 10:12 PM

I like Marat's statement about his sister and Serena. I think he
understands that Serena actually likes Safina but in press conferences she some time sticks her foot into her mouth (in an inocent way) when being pressed by the media.
Safina will get her Gran Slam one day.

I an also a big Serena fan and wish her the best!

Posted by darryn 07/29/2009 at 12:33 PM

Once Dinara settles into being the best in the world she will become Serena's new "justine". Serena without justine is equivilent to steffi without monica. Make hay while the sun shines serena because it is setting on you

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/29/2009 at 04:08 PM

Wow, Darryn is a Serena fan. LOL!

Posted by Julia 07/29/2009 at 10:18 PM

Safina's "relative youth"? How many multiple slam winners won their first after age 23? Same applies to Jankovic. Williams sisters, Sharapova, Hingis etc etc were all in their teens ...

Posted by harold brown 07/30/2009 at 01:25 AM

I love Dinara. She is great tennis to watch and is humble about her struggles. She has earned what she has. I don't think she will ever head Serena. Serena has that extra % of athleticism that makes the difference. So what....we'll see.

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