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Vanishing Act 01/22/2009 - 8:47 AM

After her quarterfinal appearance at the French Open last year, Carla Suarez Navarro won six matches for the rest of the season. Apparently she's been saving up her best tennis for the proper occasion.Suarez_navarro

Suarez Navarro jolted the women's draw on Thursday evening in Melbourne when she upset Venus Williams, a fashionable pick to win the tournament (no need to remind me, dear readers, that she was my pick, too). The Spaniard had other ideas about how the tournament ought to unfold. After dropping the first set in her first match inside Rod Laver Arena, Suarez Navarro reduced her errors and increased her aggression: Essentially, she played the match of her life. She also saved a match point in the third set.

In the hallways of Rod Laver Arena, a collection of Spanish coaches, trainers and friends celebrated with smiles and hugs as Albert Costa, Spain's new Davis Cup captain, handed out cigarettes. Spain is the king of men's tennis--it's home to the No. 1 player and proud defender of the Davis Cup--and the king of soccer, too. Is women's tennis its next conquest? Before you answer, consider that the 20-year-old Suarez Navarro is one of three Spaniards in her quarter of the draw. She had no explanation for her victory.

"I don't know what I do," Saurez Navarro said in her on-court interview after the match. "I only play--I don't know what to say." She can't say much more than that in English, but several Spanish reporters told me she's rather shy in Spanish, too.

No need for words, though, when you have a beautiful backhand, a long, flowing, swashbuckling one-hander that gives one the urge to dig up grainy clips of Gabriela Sabatini on YouTube. Her shoulders whipping open time and again, Suarez Navarro pushed and pulled Venus for much of the evening, coaxing errors and opening alleys for down-the-line winners. Venus, in a stunningly poor display of problem solving, did nothing to stifle her opponent's tactics. She rarely attacked the net, far and away her best strategy in recent years. She served a mere four aces. Instead of looking like an imposing, 6-foot-1 power player, Venus retreated behind the baseline and settled for loopy rallies.

Though her failings were many, Venus, to her credit, said not a word about them.

"She was super consistent and aggressive and just went for her shots," Williams said. "I think she just played really well."

Suarez Navarro is an oddity in women's tennis. She didn't begin to play until age nine and didn't take up serious training until age 17, after she finished her basic education. For the last two years she has worked with Xavier Budo and Marc Casabo of the Pro-Ab Team Tennis Academy in Barcelona. Casabo, whose English is limited, gamely tried to answer my questions after the match. With a little help from a Spanish reporter, it was easy to identify Suarez Navarro's improved fitness as the key to her success in the last year. Everyone who spoke about her agreed that her backhand is a gift. Most everything else she has learned.

As Saurez Navarro left the court, she smiled, waived to the crowd, and signed a few autographs. One man shouted down to her, "Thanks, you made me a fortune!" Autographs, or course, are not worth that much. Just goes to show that even when you're Venus Williams, seven-time major champion and smart pick to win the Australian Open, there's at least one person who will place a wager--and a sizeable one at that--against you.


31 Comments

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Posted by erickson 01/22/2009 at 10:03 AM

It is a shock...

bit events like this do happens...and somehow, venus, when rattled by her opponent, would just lose focus and would not find think how to address her situation...

it seemed the problem is her problem solving skill when faced with that situation... a complete opposite of serena who would rather hit more with power than be cautious with shots...

Posted by 01/22/2009 at 10:17 AM

This SUCKS!!

Posted by Ruth 01/22/2009 at 10:25 AM

"She rarely attacked the net, far and away her best strategy in recent years."

Tom: I didn't see the match; but when I read that line in your analysis of it, I almost felt like not reading any more. (But I didn't stop.) I just can't figure out Venus, my alltime favorite player, would abandon one of her strentgths (her net play) or why her serving seemed to have abandoned her. But, that's life...and tennis, I guess.

Posted by Master Ace 01/22/2009 at 10:37 AM

Tom,
A question for me on Venus was could she bring her Hong Kong form, where she plays well, to Melbourne and by reading your report, Carla won the match by being aggressive and going for her shots and took away the net from Venus.

Posted by Black Matt 01/22/2009 at 10:41 AM

Spain is not the king of soccer. Not even close. Winning the last Euro championship is nice, but it's not a World Cup.

The king is still Brazil, and will always be until someone surpasses their 5 World Cups.

The rest of your blog I enjoyed and agreed with, however :)

Posted by Ryan 01/22/2009 at 10:53 AM

Wow--that backhand truly IS a gift if she's had it only since she was 9. To have that kind of one-hander with so little training...amazing. I think her fitness still needs more work, but I'd love to see where she could go.

Posted by Unknown 01/22/2009 at 11:03 AM

Maybe Venus should focus more on her tennis and less of the fact her ex-boyfriend dumped her

Posted by believer 01/22/2009 at 11:06 AM

Next Justine Henin? may be! The back hand is a beauty to wtach. I miss Justine.

BTW can some one fire Justin Gimel? He is gibberish ....

Posted by elisse 01/22/2009 at 11:14 AM

well this sucks for vee considering she was in good form. the girl just played with nothing to lose and obviously has a good game. that being said, i didn't see vee going all the way. this isn't wimbledon and it isn't grass.

Posted by roGER 01/22/2009 at 11:20 AM

Fantastic!

Really made my day!

Well played Ms Navarro!

Ole!

Posted by Budour (Break the Siege!!!) 01/22/2009 at 11:27 AM

Second Black Matt, Tom. Spain have never even been to a World Cup fina. They haven't been past the QFs since 1950 so how on earth can they be considered kings of footbal!? FYI, their victory in the Euro last year was their first major title since 1964... nothing against Spain; they are one of my favourite teams to watch but unless they win a WC, they will remain underachievers IMO.
Back to tennis:
I actually thought Venus was decent. Sure, she didn't adjust or change her tactics after the loss of the second set, and she was relatively passive but you have to give Carla the credit for that. She was hitting her heavy balls with great length keeping Venus pinned back. I think Venus would have won against most of the players playing the way she did today. Unfortunately for her, Carla was just inspired.
This match should be remembered for Carla's brilliant performance and not for Venus' failures. Hats off to Venus for admitting that her opponent was just too good on the day.
Love the Sabatini comparison.
BTW, it's Albert Costa not Carlos Costa. :)

Posted by Budour (Break the Siege!!!) 01/22/2009 at 11:45 AM

Carla's fitness will be crucial. She doesn't have the physcal strength of most of the players and she is very short. Her fitness was clearly an issue in her FO QF loss against JJ where she looked out of gas after playing 7 matches including qualies to get to the quarters.
She beat Chaka in a warm-up tourney so it's been a really good start to the year for her. Not that beating Chaka is all that difficult considering her slump but still... I hope she doesn't have a letdown in her next round match against MJMS. It will be a shame if she goes down in the third round after such a momentous win. It's difficult to see her maintain this kind of form.
Vamos Carla

Posted by Markic 01/22/2009 at 11:54 AM

Not seen the match, but I would think the high bounce will help her with all that spin...

Posted by Cage 01/22/2009 at 12:10 PM

I love carla! She is d next justine. Small but armed with a deadly 1 handed backhand.

Posted by marron 01/22/2009 at 12:46 PM

Budour (Break the Siege!!!),

There are two Costas - an Albert, and a Carlos.

Both involved with the Spanish players.

Posted by Ruth 01/22/2009 at 12:52 PM

Regardless about how anyone feels about Venus's loss, it must be nice to see a new player (especially one with a great OHBH) do well. Althoug I referred to Navarro as someone we "barely know," I didn't realize, until reading Tom's post, how dismal her performance had been after we all saw her at the FO.

Let's hope that she does better after her big upset yesterday. It would be good to see someone who wasn't born with a racket in her hand -- or start serious tennis training at 8-- succeed in the tough world of professional tennis.

BTW Tom, I realize that you're complimenting Venus for not dwelling on her own bad moves/decisions in this match; but I really believe that there's nothing wrong in admitting to one's own contribution to stinking up the place -- in addition to complimenting one's oppnent (as Venus) did for his/her great play.

Posted by paul 01/22/2009 at 01:14 PM

VENUS OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!
NOW BEST CHANCE IS FOR DEMEN.............
DEMENTIEVA
DEAR DEMEN KISS ON AUS CUP :-)

Posted by pretty 01/22/2009 at 01:38 PM

Wow. Great match. I liked how Carla mixed it up against such a power hitter as Venus. Carla's strokes have such clean lines that create accuate shots. Henin like. One handed backhand down the line. Henin. Also Henin like, Carla displayed nerves of steel against the heavy ball and her ablility to strike quickly when the opportunity arose. Amazing. Venus just muscles everything and ran out of gas. I disagree about coming to net. I don't think she had that many opportunities in the last set and Carla's lob unnerved Venus at net. I still think Venus is wonderful but she needs to add another game besides the her big power game.

Posted by Budour (Break the Siege!!!) 01/22/2009 at 02:26 PM

Marron: I know about Carlos Costa but I guess Tom was actually talking about Albert:
"Carlos Costa, Spain's new Davis Cup captain, handed out
cigarettes."
Spain's new DC captain is called Albert Costa, isn't he?

Posted by Budour (Break the Siege!!!) 01/22/2009 at 02:29 PM

Stop the Henin comparisons, Foks. If Samantha stops by and reads this blog, she will get a heartattack. :)

Posted by Master Ace 01/22/2009 at 02:45 PM

Unknown,
When did Hank dump Venus?

Posted by marron 01/22/2009 at 03:07 PM

Budour:

Yes.

Posted by fedfan 01/22/2009 at 03:24 PM

I remember Suarez Navarro being praised on this site by one or more of its resident columnists during the French. I saw a bit of this match early this morning, but didn't watch all of it after Venus took a lead in the third. I agree that the S-N backhand is gorgeous and she looked as though she could move quite well. When I found out Venus had lost, I wondered if the slower court was a factor, and speculated that the reported slowness and higher bounce could help Nadal as well.

Posted by Master Ace 01/22/2009 at 04:44 PM

Fedfan,
Good observation on the court. Think Cliff Drysdale said that a flat ball is flying but not taking slice and another shot too well which favors the high bounce.

Posted by Iky4lyf 01/22/2009 at 05:05 PM

Well i was watching the 3rd set and venus clearly didnt want to attack ! She totally stayed at the back of the baseline waiting for the balls to come. I just think venus in to 1dimensional when her game plan falls apart she doesnt know what to do. Unlike serena who knows what to do... Venus needs to wrk on a new game plan.

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