I guess when you lose in the first week at Wimbledon you find ways to fill the time. Like playing on red clay (Serena in Bastad, Federer in Hamburg), switching out your coach for a legend (Maria Sharapova) and ditching your most trusted tool for a brand new gizmo (Federer – really!?).
And for a second newly minted Hall of Famer, Martina Hingis, was thinking her return to pro doubles was going to be the big news post-Wimbledon. (Hey, I’m happy about it!)
So let’s start with Maria Sharapova, who lost to Michelle Larcher de Brito in the second round at Wimbledon and announced after the tournament that she and post-surgery miracle worker/coach Thomas Hogstedt were calling it quits, apparently due to “personal issues” that made travel difficult for the coach.
“I am very thankful for all his work, and wish him much success in the future.” she said on her website. “I will be announcing my new coach in a few days. Very excited!”
Wonder if Thomas’s bruise has healed from the door hitting him on the way out.
But seriously, whatever Thomas’s “personal issues”, the big professional issue for Maria – despite that shocker loss to de Brito – continues to be Serena. And after leading a damaged, yippy Maria back to the No. 1 ranking and a career slam last year at the French, it’s hard to imagine that Thomas could offer up much more in terms of success. He helped Maria win on clay, but finding a way to beat Serena for the first time in nine years was just too much to ask. I was starting to think the only strategy left was simply to wait Serena out. Maria’s only 26 years old, after all, and must feel that she has more good years left than the 31 year old Serena. But apparently my brilliant plan is not good enough for Maria, who has taken the provocative move of hiring provocateur/tennis legend/sometime coach Jimmy Connors, the man with a chip on his shoulder so large, the entire Federer family could vacation on it, including both sets of grandparents, the nannies and the Stefani-Rossdales.
I know it’s simplistic, but I can’t help but wonder if Maria’s looking more for an attitude adjustment than a new game plan from her coach. You know, someone to help put the “B” in the plan B. That was Jimmy’s specialty, after all, and I can’t help but wish that he gave Maria some pointers on how to respond to Serena’s alleged trash talk in her pre-Wimbledon press conference. Connors has shown very recently, in his own book “The Outsider” that he has no qualms in airing other people’s dirty laundry for his own gain. So maybe digging at Serena’s current coaching relationship was a taste of the new, Jimbo-ized Maria. And hey, it almost worked! Serena lost in the fourth round. Too bad it was two rounds further than Maria got.
What do you think of the pairing? Can Connors make a real impact on Maria’s game?
As for Serena, I’m just enjoying watching her enjoy Bastad, where she’s soaking up the sun, the adulation of sold out crowds and a bit of red clay in her socks. She’s through to the quarterfinals, where she will face Lourdes Dominguez Lino.
Now on to Roger Federer, who, like Serena, took the surprise move of returning to clay after his second round loss at Wimbledon, playing at the awkwardly named bet-at-home Open in Hamburg, a tournament where he’s had much success in the past including a streak-breaking victory in the final over Rafael Nadal. In case you were worried that he was simply feeling nostalgic, or maybe in need of the appearance money, it turns out that the World No. 5 (NOT a nice ring to it) is using this tourny as a testing ground for a big new piece of equipment. And by BIG I mean BIG, as in 98 square-inches big. As in Roger Federer is playing with one of those old man, I don’t want to run anymore racquets.
Okay, not quite. As USA Today pointed out, Murray, Nole and Rafa all play with racquets this size or even larger. It was Roger who was being the old fogie hold out, refusing to see the light and make the change from his piddly 90 incher to the super size racquets of his younger rivals. Whatever. I’m enjoying Roger’s explanation on why he took so long:
“I’ve been very close on numerous occasions to change racquets in a bigger way. But then very often, time was the issue. Maybe also just the records of Grand Slams – I was always keeping on playing quarters and semis – so then it was also a bit more difficult to change it because of the time.”
Damn, winning all the time sure does have its disadvantages. And being booted out of Wimbledon in the first week has its upside – suddenly he has time to get to know a new stick.
This really is a big deal. And I can only assume (or is it hope?) that Wilson and Roger really have been working on this for a while and Will Not Mess It Up. From a PR standpoint, I think it’s brilliant. Now instead of focusing on Roger’s supposed “decline,” the press can focus on the racquet. The racquet will either drive him into retirement or win him another four Majors and a gold medal in Rio! The racquet will have it’s own press conferences, much like Rafa’s knees.
So far, it’s looking pretty good. Here’s Roger during his third round win vs. Jan Hajek:
He gets Florian Mayer in the quarters. It’s a solid field in Hamburg – Verdasco could be his semifinalist opponent, and second seed Tommy Haas will need to beat Fognini and then the winner of Monaco vs. Almagro in order to meet his friend in the finals.
With all this news, let’s not overlook the legend who’s laying low after his first round flop at Wimbledon. So what’s Rafa been up to? Via Facebook:
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a man enjoying a quiet meal with his $700,000 watch. See that cheeky little smile lighting up that otherwise demure expression? It’s a code message to Roger and the rest: “Go ahead and panic, I’m just eating my dinner.” Very subtle, Rafa.
So what do you make of it all?