Would Amelie Mauresmo, Victoria Azarenka’s coaching consultant and a woman who was sometimes as flaky as a boulangerie of almond croissants, have dodged that one?
Azarenka was playing Indiana Jones tennis on Court Philippe Chatrier – getting herself into all sorts of trouble, when she was a point away from going a set and 5-0 down against Italy’s Alberta Brianti, and then getting out of it to avoid becoming the first top seed of the modern era to lose in the opening round at Roland Garros.
Would Mauresmo have extricated herself from that position? You have to wonder. Mauresmo probably would have tripped and been flattened by the boulder. The difference between Mauresmo and Azarenka? Azarenka, the world number one, believes that she can win the French Open. Mauresmo never did. Mauresmo couldn’t deal with the pressure of playing in front of her home crowd. Azarenka, through she has not always had the warmest relationship with the Parisian tennis public, is not going to be intimidated by the expectations and pressures of competing in front of the sport’s most demanding audience.
One of the features of Mauresmo’s career was that she could never play through her nerves in Paris – an athlete of her abilities, who won two grand slam titles, should have done better than two quarter-finals. She never felt free on court, not even when she had Yannick Noah working on her mind. What would Mauresmo have done if she was facing a breakpoint at a set and 0-4 down against an opponent everyone was expecting her to beat? Her shoulder would have got tight, she probably would have rolled in a second serve.
Azarenka? She was bold/brilliant/mad, and struck an ace. It could have been horrible, she could have lost the point, the game and then the match, but at least she was still going for her shots. This was a ghastly, ugly match by Azarenka – and she was doubtless helped by Brianti’s emotional tailspin – but at least she won. Azarenka is showing her employee how to play in Paris.
Do we blame Brooklyn Decker for Andy Roddick’s first-round defeat at Roland Garros? Was it the swimsuit model’s fault that Roddick departed the clay in a funk, flinging rackets into the crowd? Thought not. There are double standards in tennis when people discuss how a player’s personal life effects their work. I once heard a leading coach say this about a female player who had dropped down the ranking: “What’s happened to her? Injury? Or is she in love?”
Serena Williams has spoken in Paris about how she has retired from the dating game – and so it is widely supposed that means she has a renewed purpose about her on the tennis court, as if it would not be possible for her to be in a happy relationship and winning slams. Would anyone say that about Novak Djokovic, who has been swinging hands with Jelena Ristic for many years now. There have been suggestions that Caroline Wozniacki’s mixed form – she started the year at one in the rankings and could soon fall out of the top 10 – is somehow connected to her relationship with the golfer Rory McIlroy. That ‘Wozzilroy’ has consumed Wozniacki.
Rarely do you hear anyone suggest that it is Mirka’s fault that Roger Federer hasn’t won a slam for more than two years, or that it is down to Kim Sears that Fred Perry is still Britain’s last male grand slam champion.