Venus Williams he lost in the first round, defeated 6-2, 7-6 by Zarina Diyas, current number 89 in the WTA rankings. At 41 years to go in two months (June 17), Venus has returned from a period of not very encouraging results and today has dropped to position 90 in the ranking.
In 2020 had disputed 9 games, losing 8. The only victory had come against Victoria Azarenka in Lexington, but it should be remembered that Vika was in the first match after the lockdown, and since August 2019 she had taken the field only once (in March 2020), after having also thought about retirement; so it was understandably rusty.
Compared to the budget of 1/8 of 2020, in 2021 for Williams, things went a little better: 2 wins and 3 losses. At the moment she managed to overtake Arantxa Rus (current WTA number 74) and Kirsten Flipkens (number 90). The success against Flipkens earned her the second round at the Australian Open, where she then crossed paths with Sara Errani. In the first set against Sara, Venus had had a knee problem, but he had decided not to retire anyway, ending up losing 6-1 6-0, playing practically standing still.
It is always very difficult, and even presumptuous, to judge these situations from the outside. Of course the first thought that comes is associate the decline in performance with age. Because if it is true that advances in medicine and athletic training systems have lengthened the careers of many sportsmen, at some point the identity card still claims its rights. In the case of Venus, the problem determined by the Sjögren’s syndrome, which had been diagnosed ten years ago and which had caused her a decline in performance for a few seasons, before she could find the appropriate countermeasures (pharmacological and dietary).
Who knows what Venus thinks about his sporting future, especially in a season in which all programming is put at risk by the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. For a great champion, able to reach two Grand Slam finals (Australian Open and Wimbledon) and a semifinal (US Open) again in 2017, it must not be easy to decide to stop, when to do it and how to do it. Let’s say he has in mind to retire to Wimbledon, the Grand Slam he has won five times in his career. In 2020 it did not take place due to a pandemic, and we cannot have absolute certainty that it will be played in 2021. And if it were held without an audience, what greeting would it be in front of an empty stadium? On the other hand, would it be worth continuing to play and train, also facing the various quarantines, if the results continue to disappear?
The way I see it, the great athletes of the individual sports however, they have a fortune: compared to those who practice team sports, they have no companions to penalize in the event of a decline in performance. In tennis, the ups and downs are experienced entirely on your skin, and this gives players the right to decide in full autonomy how and when to say enough.
I’m almost afraid to say it, but it really seems that Ana Konjuh is once again in a position to play tennis at a high level. After four elbow operations, distributed over five years (from 2014 to 2019, find the exact dates HERE), and practically three whole seasons lost due to physical problems, Konjuh is back to being talked about for the results on the field.
He is still on the road to full athletic recovery, with the weight to be regained, but the technical talent has already emerged very evident. Number 338 of the ranking, present in Miami from wild card, he defeated the number at his debut 70 Siniakov. Victory not impossible, considering that Siniakova is not in a good moment. But then he passed in two sets Madison Keys (who is still a tough opponent on American hard courts), number 19 in the ranking, and therefore in three sets Iga Swiatek, number 16 WTA underestimated for the safeguard mechanisms of the ranking introduced last season.
Unfortunately I saw only the highlights of the match against Keys, but I followed the performance against Swiatek: 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 with a final balance of +22 (40 winners / 18 unforced errors). An exceptional match, at the level of the two played against Radwanska in 2016: one won at the US Open (6-4 6-4), one lost at Wimbledon, also due to an ankle injury in the final games (6-2 4- 6 9-7).
Of the five players born in 1997 and all capable of entering the Top 50 WTA at just 18 years old (Bencic, Ostapenko, Kasatkina, Osaka, Konjuh), Ana was the youngest (she was born on December 27) and the earliest: number 1 in the world from Junior to just 15 years old, and with two Grand Slam titles won. Konjuh was astonished by the extraordinary ease of coordination: elastic in the movements, always in control of the body, she was able to hit in counterbalance or slice with the same ease with which she performed her two excellent basic hits, forehand and backhand in topspin.
Compared to that player, it seems to me that today she has modified the movement of the forehand, perhaps to safeguard the elbow. But I’m not sure if this is a limitation, indeed it could result in progress. In this regard, I will tell a little background, relating to Wimbledon 2017. I was there as a correspondent with Luca Baldissera. Since I was not completely convinced by Konjuh’s swing on the forehand side (particularly wide, perhaps a little too much), and I wanted Luca’s opinion, I had snatched him from his commitments and dragged him for a few games on Court 12. It was the match ideal in the ideal stadium: against a strong opponent like Dominika Cibulkova (quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2016 and 2018) and with press posts on the sidelines, therefore perfect for seeing individual athletic gestures up close. That day Konjuh would have ended up winning (7-6, 3-6, 6-4), proving that, beyond my doubts, his forehand was still very effective.
Today Ana no longer plays the forehand with that movement: she tends to hit the ball closest to her body, with the elbow less extended. My impression is that it has gained in terms of stability and consistency in the swing. In Miami 2021 her adventure ended against Anastasija Sevastova, more than for the strength of the opponent (not really in her best moment) for the back problems that emerged during the match, which impaired her in service (6-1 , 7-5). Probably a problem caused by the desuetude in facing more high-level matches in the space of a few days.
After this amazing tournament in Florida, Konjuh is ascent of 98 positions in the standings: number 240. Beyond the ranking, however, we can only repeat the most obvious thing: what really matters is that he keeps healthy, and the fruits of his talent will surely come.
on page 2: Sara Sorribes Tormo and Maria Sakkari
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