City of Mysteries

There has been an epidemic of star players making early exits at the French Open tourney.  But what’s been particularly worrisome is how badly these elite players have been beaten.  Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Stanislas Wawrinka are three of the most prolific and formidable players in the game today, yet all three have already lost in the 1st and 2nd rounds in Paris.  Why has this happened?  Is there something going on that we don’t know about?  Or is it just that their unranked opponents were that much better than them?

Let’s start with Stan Wawrinka.  In his case, it just seemed like he could never get himself settled into the match, making one unforced error after another.  His opponent was Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, a veteran of the tennis scene.  Garcia-Lopez was at one time ranked as high as #23 in the world, though not currently, but he’s never been a dominant player who can dictate the game like Wawrinka can.  So the fact that Wawrinka lost in four sets is stunning, particularly when you consider that Wawrinka was coming off his first ever Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open earlier this year.

Moving on, Caroline Wozniacki might have an excuse for losing, but in a competitive sport, personal issues must be set aside and they certainly can’t be allowed to affect the game.  For those who don’t know, Wozniacki was set to marry Rory McIlroy, the PGA’s #1 player, but their marriage was unexpectedly called off a few days ago.  But Wozniacki, even though she gave a valiant effort, lost in three sets to Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium, including a total collapse in the third set.  Maybe the sudden break-up caused her to lose the focus required to compete on the world stage at a Grand Slam event.

Last but not least is Serena Williams.  Her performance in her match yesterday was appalling and totally uncharacteristic of her at such an early stage at a major tournament.  She played against Garbine Muguruza, an unranked 20-year-old Spaniard who shocked the world by beating Williams in straight sets, 6-2 6-2.  Williams won four games in the entire match.  Four games!  To put that in perspective, that’s the least amount of games she’s ever won in a match through her entire career.  Yeah, that’s right.  Serena Williams has never played as badly as she did against Muguruza. She couldn’t get her serve down the right way, her second serve percentage was (27%), she made enough unforced errors (29 in fact, as opposed to just 8 winners), she was broken 5 times and she had the commentators talking about her in a way that would make anyone doubt that they were watching the best women’s tennis player in the world.  To Muguruza’s credit, she played a phenomenal match from start to finish, but we’re talking about Serena Williams.  She’s not supposed to lose that badly, let alone lose at all.

There has been speculation that the reason for all these early eliminations of top-flight players has been because of the desire to just grab money and go.  In a new move that just started this year, the entry-level prize money for being in the tournament was dramatically increased from previous years (a 20-25% increase), and it’s awarded simply for playing even one point in the first round.  So, people have been saying that some players have been playing with known injuries or not fully ready to compete just to be able to collect the money and then drop out.  I think that’s bogus.  In order to get into the tournament, players need to qualify, and qualifying requires players to play at high enough levels to show that they should be there.  So implying that players are losing on purpose because they’re injured flies in the face of reason because they wouldn’t have been able to qualify in the first place.

Also, I can’t imagine that some of the top ranked players would risk their ranking just to collect what amounts to a pittance to them compared with their high profile sponsorship income.  Therefore my take is that, Serena’s loss was her responsibility.  No questions asked.

These early round losses while surprising and unexpected are also an opportunity to get to see unknown players making big statements and upsetting the best players, but it’s also disappointing that we can’t see these great players play.  The tabloids would have us believe that it is because of obscure injuries that made them lose, but I don’t believe that. These losses were because of incompetency and an inability to be mentally fit and to adjust their play as all high level players need to at some point in a Grand Slam.  We’ll always have Paris, but Paris will never have players that don’t play their best – as we’ve seen, they may be surprised at the talent that’s coming behind them.

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