Comment: Simona Halep's Tenacity Too Much For Stephens' 'Easy Power' - UBITENNIS
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Comment: Simona Halep’s Tenacity Too Much For Stephens’ ‘Easy Power’

Tennis columnist James Beck looks back at the French Open women’s final.

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Sloane Stephens (zimbio.com)

Sloane Stephens looked invincible, her game not penetrable by Simona Halep’s smaller tennis game. Stephens was totally in her comfort zone as she appeared to be headed for a second Grand Slam tournament championship in less than a year. She was up 6-4, 2-0 in Saturday’s French Open women’s final. What could Halep do with her smaller package of dynamite? Stephens’ armor appeared to be too strong. When Stephens needed to win a big point, she could just ramp up her “easy power”, and Halep was virtually helpless.

EASY POWER TOO EASY

Stephens made things look so easy. Her ground strokes were flawlessly deep and penetrating. She didn’t have to go for winners. Stephens glided around the court, seemingly unflappable as she appeared to be wearing Halep into submission when she came up with a service break to start the second set. At that time,  Stephens simply appeared to be the best player in the women’s game.

Then, it happened. Stephens netted a backhand that snapped her four-game winning streak.

Just like that, Stephens snapped. She no longer could win the pressure point. When she tried to turn up the amps, her feet, and hands and arms wouldn’t cooperate. They were getting the wrong messages from Stephens’ mental side. Everything looked tired.

THE TIDE CHANGES

The tide had changed for Stephens. The 25-year-old American suddenly didn’t get set up for backhands. Backhand balls started to consistently fly left off her racket, outside the lines. She even missed an open court to two.

Plus, Stephens’ somewhat lazy habit of reaching out in front of her without moving her feet forward to set up had  looked a bit suspect in the first 10 games. And now that habit became a liability for Stephens.

The footwork had been good enough to keep Halep pinned deep on the baseline until Stephens could find an opening to exploit. That habit started producing balls that sailed over the baseline as Halep applied more pressure and power to her game. Stephens no longer could keep Halep’s relentless attack at bay.

Halep started flying around the court, making Stephens hit extra balls. Stephens couldn’t seem to put away shots, not even easy ones. Halep was everywhere, covering the red clay court like a blanket.

PANIC ARRIVES

Indecision started showing on Stephens’ once calm face. She didn’t panic for awhile, not even when she was dropping two straight love games to fall behind 3-2 in the second set.

But after Stephens got back to 4-4, she dropped back-to-back games that had been 30-30 to allow Halep to win the first set, and then lost four close games to start the third set. Stephens was in deep panic mode by then. She was far out of her comfort mode.

NO KEYS TO THE RESCUE

Madison Keys wasn’t on the other side of the net to donate points to Stephens with over-aggressiveness as she had been against Stephens in the semifinals and in last year’s U.S. Open final.

Trim, little 5-6, 130-pound Simona Halep wouldn’t give up even one point without a gallant fight. There were no free points for Stephens. No rest. No comfort.

Halep is as relentless as any player in the game, just smaller than most. But she has a giant heart.

This 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 breakthrough in a Grand Slam should push the Romanian fireball to new heights, even greater than her current No. 1 world ranking.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at

http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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Stefanos Tsitsipas’ Rapid Rise On The Tour Draws Admiration From His Rivals

The 19-year-old is set to break into the world’s top 25 after climbing more than 100 places in the rankings over the past 12 months.

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Prior to this year, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas had only won four matches on the ATP World Tour in his entire career. Just eight months later, some of his rivals are already tipping him for future stardom in the sport.

Tsitsipas’ rapid rise in the sport has been one of the most impressive among the Next Generation contingent. His first breakthrough occurred at the Barcelona Open in April where he defeated Dominic Thiem and Pablo Carreno Busta on route to the final. Only to be denied the title by the formidable Rafael Nadal.

“I felt emotionally connected with the fans and the crowd and the place and the location I was playing. But that loss matured me. Made me braver and more experienced, I would say.” The 19-year-old reflected about his Barcelona run.

Since Barcelona, the Greek has managed to reach the quarter-finals or better at tournaments on three different surfaces in Estoril (clay), ‘s-Hertogenbosch (grass) and Washington (hard court). At Wimbledon he became the first ATP player from his country in the Open Era to reach the fourth round.

Blessed with a blistering forehand, Tsitsipas continues his rise this week at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. In his tournament debut, he powered through the first two rounds with straight sets wins over Damir Dzumhur and French Open finalist Thiem. The Austrian is the first top 10 player Tsitsipas has defeated on multiple occasions.

“He doesn’t really have any weakness. He’s playing fast and aggressive from both sides. I think he will be a top player in the future. I think in the next one, two years, we will see him in the top 10.” Thiem commented about his opponent earlier this week.

On Thursday, Tsitsipas recorded arguably the biggest win of his career to date. Taking on former world No.1 Novak Djokovic, he battled to a shock 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, win. There was no fear shown by the rising star against a player considered to be one of the greatest of the Open Era. Throughout the 139-minute encounter he only faced two break points, saving both of them. Scoring back-to-back wins over top 10 players for the first time.

“I feel very proud for me, myself, and my country. I’m putting Greece more deep into the map of tennis. So I’m pretty sure I’m making my family proud, all of those people that are watching, my coach, my father. It was a very emotional win,” Tsitsipas said during his press conference. “I’ve never felt so many emotions after a victory.”

Tsitsipas’ latest win has won praise from Djokovic himself. The Serbian, who was playing his first match since winning the Wimbledon title, refused to be disappointed about his loss. Acknowledging the performance of his opponent, who he has tipped for future success.

“He’s definitely one of the leaders of NextGen without a doubt, especially this season. He’s had some terrific results and terrific wins.” Said Djokovic.
“He’s showing a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline. He’s putting in the hours in the gym, on the tennis court, and it’s paying off. I mean, he’s very talented. He was the best junior in the world.
“If he keeps on going this way, he’s got a good future.”

Admitting that he is still learning on the tour, Tsitsipas will play in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final on Friday. He will take on defending champion Alexander Zverev for the second consecutive week. At the Citi Open in Washington, the two clashed in the semi-finals with Zverev winning 6-2, 6-4.

As a result of his latest win, Tsitsipas is set to rise to a ranking high of 23rd in the world. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 32-20.

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Italian Hopeful Berrettini Is Becoming Reality

The newly-crowned Gstaad champion is climbing the ranking with his well-contained demeanour and his hard-to-contain first serves

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It was only six months ago that Matteo Berrettini was standing on Court 20 at the Australian Open hitting a ball towards the tram stop and shouting “I want to die, what the f**k did I do to deserve something like this?”. He was playing against Denis Kudla in the third and final round of the qualifying tournament and a few minutes earlier he had squandered two match points on 5-3 40-15 in the third set to end up losing the match 4-6 6-3 7-5. That was his first chance to make it to the main draw of a Grand Slam (a few months earlier he had lost to Tsitsipas in round 2 at the US Open qualifications tournament), which he was able to clinch anyway as a lucky loser.

Fast forward to July 2018, and we find him lifting the trophy at the Swiss Open in Gstaad where he conquered his first ATP title not only without dropping a set, but without ever losing his serve. This win propelled him to the 54th spot of the ATP Ranking, with not many points to defend in the last part of the season and a great chance to use his thunderous serve and blistering forehand on the hard court in North America and in Asia.

After a six-month stop in 2016 due to a knee injury and a first part of 2017 when he won his first ATP Challenger title in San Benedetto, Italy, he started feeling the pressure of his own success and missed one of the main goals for the season: in the play-offs for the Italian wild-card at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan, he lost in his first match as n.1 seed and overwhelming favorite to underdog Liam Caruana, forfeiting the chance to meet the best young guns in the circuit on a world-class stage. “In general, he is a very calm player – said his coach Vincenzo Santopadre, a former Top 100 player – but during the last few months of the last season he was a lot more tense, he had lost some of his usual tranquillity”.

But the golden boy who is lighting up the enthusiasm of the Italian tennis fans, still waiting for a Top-10 player since the end of the ‘70s, kept maintaining his general composure in the face of burning defeats like the one in Australia against Kudla or some of the Challengers finals lost in 2017 against top-100 players like Malek Jaziri and Sergiy Stakhovsky after having led the match on multiple occasions. “I often re-watch my matches to analyze them – declared Berrettini in an off-season interview to Tennis World Italia – I am very critical towards myself, and seeing the mistakes I’ve made can only be good for me. Vincenzo [Santopadre] was very good at making me see the positive aspects of the finals I lost, even if I was feeling quite down for having missed those chances”.

Neither Matteo nor his coach Vincenzo were not targeting a specific position at the beginning of 2018: “It’s not time to focus on ranking and points, not yet – said Berrettini – it’s more important to be healthy and work on my fitness”. “Our objective for this season is to improve on his strengths, serve and forehand, to make sure they are worth of the top 100 – commented Santopadre – but we also need to reinforce his backhand and his return. I would love for him to take the net more often, but I believe that will come with time”.

In six months Berrettini not only has consolidated his serve+forehand play, making it a Top-50-worth cornerstone of his game, but has also made significant progress on his backhand. “Last March in Indian Wells I watched [Berrettini]’s last training session with Shapovalov: on the backhand side it was one in the court and two in the net or on the fence – says Ubitennis’ technical expert Luca Baldissera – now he is incredibly more solid in the rallies and can even go for winners at times”.

During the final in Gstaad, the Italian served 11 aces in the first set alone, four of which during the tie break he won by 10 points to 8. And after his triumph in the singles final, he went on to take home also the doubles’ title with his fellow countryman Daniele Bracciali, completing a memorable week for him on the Swiss Alps.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s like a dream” he kept repeating after that triumphant Sunday, but he may have to get used to this more quickly than he expects: his 135mph serve demands it. However, anyone who has had the chance to spend an hour talking to this very balanced young man has very little doubt that his early successes will not distract him from the long term goal, which is “becoming the best that I can be”. And in order to achieve this goal, Berrettini has included in his team a mental coach (Stefano Massari) who works regularly with him when he trains at the Rome Tennis Academy, a venture launched at Circolo Canottieri Roma by Santopadre himself, whom Berrettini followed to that club when he was 14. “The time I spend recovering from the injury in 2016 was very important for me: I spent a lot of time in Rome, with my family, went on vacation, all things I hadn’t done in a while. I started dating my girlfriend and this gave me a good perspective on life. Vincenzo made me work with the kids of the tennis school and all this made me click: when I was able to return to practice I was a different player, more mature, more focused”.

The disappointment of ATP Next Gen play offs and the desperate words shouted on Court 20 at Melbourne Park are nothing but a pale memory now: Berrettini’s focus is locked in on the rest of the 2018 season now, and it sure is looking bright.

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Serena Williams Feels The Magnetic Power Of The Couch As Well

Danish sports psychologist Adam Blicher explains why commitment is more important than motivation in tennis.

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When we look at Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic, we tend to believe that they are always motivated. That they are always ready to go out there and practice extremely hard and compete with all of their heart at any point in time.

We think that they do not feel that magnetic power of the couch that all of us other normal human beings feel.

However, the difference between Serena and Novak and then all the rest of us is not in the feelings we experience. If you watch the Serena documentary, you will clearly see how she is often times struggling with motivation, and if you listen to interviews with Novak Djokovic after his long anticipated French Open victory, you will get to know that he has struggled to find the motivation to keep pushing himself further.

The difference is in whether we sit back in our couch and wait for the feeling of motivation to arrive. And if it doesn’t, we will stay in the couch not putting in the necessary work to simply have a shot at fulfilling our long-term goals and acting in accordance with our values.

A lot of us believe that tennis should be fun, and if it is no longer fun, we shouldn’t be doing it.

But in reality, getting out of the magnetic field of the couch, all depends on how committed we are to achieving our goals. Being committed is much more important than being motivated.

Committed to a bigger purpose. Having a clear set of goals and values that you follow.

If you do decide to go out on the practice court instead of sitting around waiting, you might just experience the motivation that you have been looking for. You might feel it as you step foot on the court, you might feel it half way through the practice session, or in some instances you might not feel it at all. But at least you did what was necessary to achieve your goals and follow your values – key ingredients for successful players.

So remember that what is important is to not sit back and wait for the feeling of motivation to come. Instead, get out there on the practice court. You may not have a perfect practice, but you have still come a long way if you are having a good practice on the days where you have no motivation at all.

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