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Rivard: Emma comes back down to earth

Oct 13, 2021
written by: Paul Rivard
written by: Paul Rivard

Indian Wells was breathlessly awaiting the respective debuts of the two 2021 US Open finalists.

But Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez had contrasting fates. The Grand Slam champion was forced out after 86 minutes of play, while the runner-up progressed to the next rounds.

Chalk it up to experience? Maturity? Hard to say, but it was a stinging loss for Raducanu. The British sensation was curtly leveled by No.100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich (6-2, 6-4).

In last week’s blog, I wrote about Fernandez’s astonishing emergence and how the real work was just beginning. Card-carrying members of the WTA Top 50 find ways to adjust to a newcomer’s game and are usually dead set on asserting their dominance. Just ask Emma.

As for Leylah, her first duel in the desert went swimmingly as she posted a 6-2, 6-3 win over No.64 Alizé Cornet of France in just 81 minutes.

In her next match, the Quebecer proved her tremendous resilience in a nearly three-hour (2:43), three-set brawl with No.13 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia (5-7, 6-3, 6-4) to secure her third win over a Top 20 player since September 3.

Eliminated in the 4th round, Fernandez faced the World No. 44 in the world, Shelby Rogers, who actually played sometimes like the No. 4, and the Canadian lost 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (4). After the two traded bad sets, Fernandez can’t be blamed for losing the decider, that lasted 1:25, after a harsh and spectacular fight.

Great sportsmanship from Fernandez after her loss to Shelby Rogers
Photo: BNP Paribas Open

But let’s get back to Emma Raducanu.

After her swift exit, it didn’t take long for analysts to place a lot of blame on her change of coach.

Actually, on her changes of coaches.

Nigel Sears (father-in-law to Andy Murray) coached Emma during her groundbreaking Wimbledon run, and Andrew Richardson, who had coached her a few years earlier, was with her in New York.

In Indian Wells, Jeremy Bates, former British no.1 in the 80s and coach at the Law Tennis Association, was in the Raducanu box. It was a short-lived partnership, since Bates is now working with Katie Boulder.

That said, two days before her opening match in California, Emma seemed pretty OK with the situation. James Gray at Inews quoted her as saying: “At the end of the day, you’re out there on your own and you have to be your own coach on the court, so I’m comfortable.” It’s a statement one may have an expected from a more seasoned athlete. She then confirmed she was in no hurry to hire a coach, preferring to wait and find the right person to develop a long-term trust relationship with.

In her post-match presser, she was singing a different tune. “I would love to have someone with great experience right now by my side, so if any experienced coaches are out there looking, you know where to find me,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m sure my team and everyone will try and find a solution. I wasn’t joking. If anyone knows any experienced coaches…”

So, who might be on the shortlist?

Perhaps the highly respected Ozzie Darren Cahill, who invested a lot in Emma’s childhood idol Simona Halep? Or Patrick Mouratoglou, whose greatest protégée may be on the brink of retirement? Or Bates again?

A few days before her match in Indian Wells, Inews and Betfair drew up the odds:

If she wants to compete, tennis’ newest darling has a few tournament options left in 2021, like the indoor events in Moscow, Romania and Austria.

Or will she prefer to take a step back to hone her game and consolidate a new coaching relationship?

Andy’s underarms

In his second-round match in Indian Wells against Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, Andy Murray capitalized on the element of surprise that is the underarm serve. The Grand Slam champ fought off two break points in the second set to close out the game with a shot that totally mystified his young opponent.

How did the crowd feel about it? Fans seemed surprised, delighted (vintage Andy is great Andy) and perhaps a bit miffed.

Let’s face it: the underarm serve still causes a lot of purists to get all up in arms.

But why?

Wasn’t the drop shot considered a low blow not too long ago? Today, it’s a go-to that never fails to impress—a surgical shot that backfires when not executed to perfection. Too long and it’s too easy to defuse; too short and it snags in the net.

I think the underarm serve falls into the same category.

We actually have Nick Kyrgios to thank for the controversial shot’s reappearance. Players like Monica Niculescu and Alexander Bublik are big fans, and Daniil Medvedev went with one against Zverev in their battle at the year-end finals. Tennishead put together a quick compendium right here.

While Rafa views the serve with disdain, Roger’s cool with it, especially when his opponent is 15 feet from the baseline, practically up against the wall. The venerable Ivan Lendl—who hit an underarm serve in his final in Forest Hills against Eddie Dibbs in 1982—agrees. “He was sitting on the back fence, and it was successful,” Lendl said. “What is the difference between hitting a serve and then a drop shot or just a drop shot right away? I don’t see a difference. I think it’s a very good strategy. You take them out of their comfort zone.”

Seven years later, Lendl got a taste of his own medicine, French style. Against Michael Chang at Roland-Garros, he fell victim to the most famous underarm serve in history when the 17-year-old American, who was cramping up, tried the shot and then went on to raise the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Incidentally, Chang never attempted it again in competition.

As for Andy, he was crossing swords with a player born in the 21st century for the very first time and basically chose to teach him a bit of a history lesson. It just goes to show that regardless of how young the young guns are, one should never underestimate a skilled veteran. Here’s a look back on 2019, the year of the underarm serve according to Tennis TV.

Andy makes a big stink

Speaking of Andy Murray, his recent plea on social media caught my attention.

As phlegmatic as any good Brit (or Scot) should be, he took to Instagram on October 7 to ask his followers for help.

Here’s the story. After his match earlier in the day, which went down in nearly 40-degree desert heat, he went to his car to drop off his things before going to dinner. When he hopped back in the car to head home, his steaming sneakers had stunk up the entire vehicle. Seeing as he didn’t have a balcony in his hotel room and knowing the stench would permeate the room, Sir Andy decided to leave his gear under the car for the night.

When he went to get it the next morning, the shoes had gone missing.

Now, shoes are important to any player but especially to someone who makes a living on the court. Still, admitting it wasn’t the end of the world, he resigned himself to getting a new pair (not his regular brand, though) at the pro shop.

It’s only about 74 seconds into his story that he finally gets to the real reason he was posting.

Andy only grasped the magnitude of the problem as he was preparing for practice, when his physio asked him what he’d done with his wedding ring. Since his 2015 wedding, he’d always tied the ring, which he can’t wear to play, to his shoe. Only this time, his endearing habit had done him wrong. “So yeah, my wedding ring has been stolen as well. Needless to say, I’m in the bad books at home,” he said with a sheepish grin, hoping his followers could get the word out and help him find it. He didn’t mention anything about the stinky shoes, but we all get why they weren’t his priority.

Don’t worry, though. Two days later, things were looking up as he reappeared in an Instagram selfie looking quite satisfied. Swipe and there’s a video of him taking an off-putting whiff of a pair of tennis shoes and triumphantly showing off his wedding ring.

Andy didn’t provide any info on who took the shoes and ring but was likely just grateful to be back in his wife’s good graces.

Get all the details here.

Pam and Martina double down

One can only imagine how much fun they must have had working together, especially considering how often (and how long) they dominated women’s doubles in their respective careers. They share 74 titles and are still the only pair to have won a calendar Slam. Shriver hung up her racquet in 1996, but Martina stuck around for 10 more great years.

Of course, their story reminds me of two other former WTA players who pursued their careers at Tennis Canada and provided commentary on the 2017 Granby Challenger for a Québec sports network—our very own Valérie Tétreault and Marie-Ève Pelletier

Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova in the commentators booth
Photo Susan Mullane / Camerawork USA, Inc.

One can only imagine how much fun they must have had working together, especially considering how often (and how long) they dominated women’s doubles in their respective careers. They share 74 titles and are still the only pair to have won a calendar Slam. Shriver hung up her racquet in 1996, but Martina stuck around for 10 more great years.

Of course, their story reminds me of two other former WTA players who pursued their careers at Tennis Canada and provided commentary on the 2017 Granby Challenger for a Québec sports network—our very own Valérie Tétreault and Marie-Ève Pelletier.

Photo : TVA Sports

Get in touch with me!

Email: privard@tenniscanada.com

Twitter: @paul6rivard

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