Is American Women’s Tennis Devolving?

I can’t mask my upset. Pure frustration. Rogers. Keys. V. Williams. All ousted removing the possibility of four Americans in the quarterfinals and more importantly an all-American final at the French Open ’16.

Rogers entered the tournament #108 and will leave #59 having defeated K. Pliskova (17), Vesnina, Kvitova (10) and Begu. After what will be labeled a cinderella run, Rogers was defeated by Muguruza 7-5, 6-3. She played a solid first set, even dictating much of the rallies. She was up a break for most of the set and at set point Muguruza halted her with a swinging volley. Rogers then lost control as Muguruza found her footing. Rogers held-up decently against a more experienced and powerful player. She held her composure nicely. Let’s hope there is no major let down in her game at the next tournament ala Stephens or Odin.

Venus’ two set loss to Timea Bacsinszky 6-2, 6-4 was not entirely unexpected. Bacsinszky is in top form and plays well on clay; her game is all court. She is also a major step-up in competition. Venus has played Kontaveit 7-6, 7-6, Chirico, 6-2 6-1, Cornet 7-6, 1-6, 6-0. I always appreciate the grace with which Venus shakes hands, regardless of the match outcome.

Keys’ loss to Kiki Bertens was sad 7-6, 6-3. Keys had a great draw. She has a beautiful serve and forehand. But she lost to a more determined and focused player in round 4. She relies too heavily on the weight and speed of her balls. With the heavy conditions, she was unable to adapt, to think through the match. When balls were returned she was left without a plan she could implement. Point construction continues to be her nemesis!

This leaves Serena Williams as the lone American woman in the draw. She quickly and easily defeated Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-1. Looking confident and calm, she is poised for victory. Up next is Yulia Putintseva, then likely Timea Bacsinszky in the semi-finals and Garbiñe Muguruza in the final. This is the match I am eagerly awaiting. Strong, confident players with complete aggressive games. Players who rarely devolve under pressure. Players who have proven time and again that they are not wilting flowers. They will not collapse under the enormous weight they must bear to claim victory.

This is not the case for American women this generation. Stephens, Keys, Van DeWeghe, McHale… This is not exclusive to American players (think Sam Stosur) or even women. How many times have we seen Tsonga, Gasguet, Monfil, even Murray lose winnable matches?

Of course, we can’t underestimate the difficulty of coming into womanhood on the tour. Though these players are older than their predecessors, their games are less complete. Their toolboxes are far more limited. On the court they lack confidence, maturity. With few exceptions, the woman’s game seems to be devolving. No doubt the game, the tour, the world is very different than it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago. No one can conclusively say how Graff, Hingis, Henin, Evert or Navaratola would fare today. It is clear that current American players don’t possess the same mental dexterity as their predecessors or even many of their non-American peers on the tour. This is far more concerning than the often castigated inconsistency of the woman’s tour. Yes, many seeds were  unexpectedly dismissed last week, including Kvitova, Azarenka (injury), Pliskova and Radwanska. This was also true of Nadal (injury), Nishikori, Kyriogios and Tsonga.

There are currently thirteen American women in the top 100. This feat is minimized by the devolving nature of the women’s game. They have power, shots, speed, spin…With the exception of the Williams sisters the women’s game is lacking mental dexterity. 

mental dexterity

Intelligence as revealed by quickness and alertness of mind

Synonyms: nimbleness

Type of: intelligence the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience

Far too many American WTA players lack tennis intelligence (IQ), independence and ambition. Whether they are crippled by their ever-growing teams or are crippling themselves, they are drowning in first world problems. They have a wealth of choices and opportunities. Until they take the reins on their games, careers and lives, they will not emerge as Serena’s successor. Nearly eight months ago I named Muguruza Serena’s heir. She exhibits mental dexterity. She appears to have the reigns on her career. She left her long-time coach last year after a great run. That takes strength and foresight. She is ambitious. She has a complete game with an admirable toolbox. She constructs points!She adapts. She works through problems on court. I would love to see her remove the coaching visit crutch. She can work on that. She has something few seem to have or work on, mental dexterity.

The most surprising match today was Stosur vs. T. Pironkova 6-4, 7-6. Stosor played a thoughtful and confident match. Though she is no example of mental dexterity, she played like she has been working with a sports psychologist. Whatever, her fears were, she seems to be successfully tackling them, at least on the clay away from Australia. I wonder how many women on tour work with a sports psychologist or a life coach. In my estimation this is as important as a hitting partner, physical therapist or a coach. If the USTA and the many training academies don’t work with their charges in this area, they are failing them. If these players leave any academy without an understanding of their game, how can they continue to develop it? The floundering games of American players can be salvaged! Hire a sport psychologist or a life coach and get your life together!

What do you think?

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