It has been an entirely unpredictable week in tennis, beginning with Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli’s shocking announcement of her retirement on Tuesday, Roger Federer’s decision around the same time that he ditched his prototype racquet and gone back to his old Wilson Pro Staff, the USTA’s grand announcement of a roof to be built over Arthur Ashe Stadium, and on Friday the revelation that Maria Sharapova had parted with coach Jimmy Connors after just one month (and only one match).
Bartoli said that she knew she was done after her opening round loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati. She has put her body through the ringer over the past 13 years and just could not face another day of having to spend a half hour just getting herself to walk regularly. Here is a news story I wrote on her comments to a small group on us on Thursday morning.
The Frenchwoman says that there will be no comeback as she approaches everything in her life full on, and she isn’t washy washy about her decision. I, like many others who have covered her over the years, was very surprised at the decision, because I spoke to her on three occasions during the Rogers Cup in Toronto and she gave absolutely no indication that she was ready to retire. She did admit that she was exhausted, but she spoke with bright eyes and enthusiasm about an assault on this year’s US Open and given that she has been a very good hard court player, it was not out of the realm of possibility that she could make a charge to the semis, or even the final, or even win it if her draw broke right again.
But that doesn’t matter as she had lost her motivation and will to compete. She is only 28 years old, and she joins an all-star list of women players who has retired prematurely over the past decade: Anna Kournikova, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva. All of them had different reasons for doing so. Most cited injuries, other mentioned a bit of burnout. Three came back while the three Russians have stayed on the sidelines.
As Bartoli said, every player path is different and hers has been radically so. What will likely be forgotten post her wonderful Wimbledon run is what chaotic year she has leading up to London: her split with her father, hiring and firing coaches, reuniting with him, splitting again. She had some very tough moments this season, but those all seemingly were washed away when she was finally able to raise the big trophy at her cherished locale. But maybe she could not imagine continuing on the tennis treadmill without her dad around anymore? Do not dismiss that possibility as she had some very difficult and at times lonely periods without him this season.
But what did Bartoli see the future hold for her after that? She isn’t sure other than attending tournaments to watch her new set of friends (other French players on the Fed Cup team), going to some art galleries and maybe taking up ballet again. She has been the center of attention since she won Wimbledon. Even today she was exchanging tweets with other players. She will head to New York for the US Open and is sure to get some more attention there.
But what then after the lights go down, people stop calling her as much, the thrill of competition is no longer there and she has no tangible goals? That’s when the full weight of her decision will fall on her. The tennis world is hoping she makes an easy transition, but the thought here is that it won’t be anything close to that.
The Sharapova-Connors split
No one who has spent a fair amount of time around Sharapova and Connors were surprised that they split after just a month. In fact, folks close to both were surprised that they were going to try out a full time coaching pupil relationships to begin with. Neither is easy going, they are both Type-A personalities with a lot to say about everything and have very definitive ways of seeing how the sport should be played. The only tangible thing that Connors could have given to Sharapova was enough self-belief to really know she has enough game to beat Serena. He couldn’t help her with two areas of her game where she really needs help – her second serve and her volley. She thought that he could teach her his wise ways, but she is not that trusting of a person, or that patient, so the impression he made in the first couple of weeks of their partnership could not have been a good one.
The last time they worked together, for to weeks back in 2007, she had a couple of buffers around her in her traveling coach Michael Joyce and her dad Yuri. This time around it was one on one and I cannot imagine how she took to some of his very direct comments when – and this is very important to realize – he has rarely followed her career closely or women’s tennis at all so she probably didn’t think he was offering anything of real value in the context of her (not his) career.
So Sharapova pulled the rip cord quickly and now will head to the US Open without a full time coach, but likely with someone in tow, possibly one of her hitting partners, maybe even her dad or possibly one of her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov’s Swedish coaches. For more info, here is the news story I wrote on it this morning.
Federer and his racquet
Roger Federer is scheduled to play Rafael Nadal on Friday night in Cincinnati in a match where he will be a serious underdog in. Even getting a set in that match given how shaky he’s been over the past few months and how good Nadal has been in the past week and a half will give him a psychological boost. But his decision to test a prototype racket for more than a month and then bail on it in Cincy is not a good sign. Sure, his smaller head Wilson Pro Staff worked well for him for much of his career, but it hasn’t this year. However, if he was feeling uncomfortable with the prototype, he really had no choice if he was going to be comfortable in matches but to chuck it back into his racquet bag for the time being. But that does little more than put him back at square one. A win over Nadal would put him in US Open final four contention. A quick loss would mean he’s in danger of a first week exit.
The USTA has received a lot of flack (especially from some overseas reporters) about the lack of a roof on Arthur Ashe stadium. But on Thursday the organization announced plans for not only a roof on Ashe, but one of the new Armstrong stadium, and a new Grandstand court, and for an entire redesign of the site. It looks very impressive to me (see the Picture of the day on the home page) and eventually will put the USO ahead of the rest of the majors facility wise. Well done. Read here.