Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kvitova, Li and The Infinite Sadness

The chaos is starting early in the US Open women's singles draw. In 2 days of US Open play we've lost the 2011 French Open and Wimbledon champions. This marks the first time that three Grand Slam champions from the same year have missed the 2nd round of the US Open since 1971.

Li Posted 54 errors in 2 sets against Simona Halep. Kvitova was not much better. Some would argue that she was worse. The Czech put up 52 in her loss to the Romanian, Alexandra Dulgheru.

Just like Li did on Day 2, Kvitova puzzled onlookers with her befuddling capacity for making unforced errors on day 1. Instead of reining in her shots and taking on less risk, Kvitova was unrelentingly aggressive; she was unrelentingly erratic as well.

Li was no better. Her haphazard ground strokes lacked bite, and she routinely floated simple shots several feet beyond the baseline. Watch the YouTube video above to see the carnage: Li plays one solid, unspectacular point (the first), then proceeds to botch the next 4, inluding match point. At her best, Li was tense and timid. At her worst, she was flat-out pitiful.

To be fair: it's only natural that Li and Kvitova encounter some turbulence at this stage of their careers. Each is adjusting to the new set of expectations that have accompanied their success. Currently, both seem overwhelmed. "Someone like Sharapova or Serena, they're used to that, they know how to budget their time," said Lindsay Davenport, while commentating for the Tennis Channel on Tuesday. "For someone like Li Na, who all of the sudden has all these offers coming in, she's probably doing a little bit too much off court."

Unfortunately for fans, neither did much on court.

Seeing Kvitova reel off six consecutive errors to conclude her match with Dulgheru was a pretty clear indication of where the 21-year-old Czech's game is at. It might still be in England, or perhaps it remains sitting unclaimed at the baggage check at JFK.

Li's game might be in China or in the bottom of her racquet bag for all we know.

The 29-year-old Wuhan, China native was despondent in the press room after her loss, when she spoke openly of her maddening inconsistencies of late. She spoke of telling her recently-hired coach (Michael Mortenson) that she felt her timing was off just prior to taking the court against Halep: "He tell me 'everything is perfect, everything is fantastic," said Li. "I say yes 'everything is fantastic, but I always lose first round.' I mean, this is not fantastic."

Li will turn 30 next February, and is the only Asian player to ever win a Grand Slam.

Kvitova won the Paris and Madrid titles this year, in addition to winning Wimbledon. But she's gone from trailblazer to disconcerting flameout in a matter of months. If her Wimbledon title was her crowning achievement, today's loss was her worst nightmare. On Monday, Kvitova became the first player in Open Era history to lose in the first round of the US Open after winning Wimbledon. According to this piece, the winner of the previous Slam is more likely to win the next Slam than they are to lose in the first round.

Should we be surprised?

It's surprising in some ways, but hardcore WTA fans know it can happen. Li and Kvitova are more proof that the women's tennis is a wild kingdom these days. Past results aren't necessarily guarantees of future results.

The road can be rocky, the pressure deleterious.

Li put it best after her match yesterday, when she said half-jokingly, "tennis is too tough for me."

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