Sabine is out of Indian Wells after losing to Johanna Larsson. I don’t believe Johanna is a player Sabine should be losing to. Johanna did play well and deserved to win, I must say, but it speaks volumes to where Sabine’s game is currently at. I believed beforehand that Sabine would win this match. I was quite confident she would. What cost her is what has cost her for a while now. It’s continuing to be the same story each time. I’m going to look at this problem, tell you what I see in her game, and what her next course of action should be from this point forward.
But first I’d like to start off with Maria Sharapova. I know. I know. Totally unrelated right? And who wants to hear more about this story? But please just bare with me. I’m not talking about the PED’s. I want to discuss how she’s handled the situation she’s been dealt because it leads to something I’ve been trying to say for a while now without an example. Now I have one!
Maria admitted she failed a drug test for meldonium. She said in her press conference that she’d been taking it for 10 years. That led to many people in the media to speculate after the manufacturing company of the drug said its typically taken twice or thrice a year in 4-6 week spans. Maria wrote on her Facebook page yesterday that’s what she did. She took it in small dosages as prescribed. Not every day.
Also there were reports that Maria had been made aware meldonium was on the banned list at the start of 2016. Some said they’d warned her as early as October, but that wasn’t the case either. Maria took us through the process. She wrote that the only information she received on it were through emails and pamphlets, which required her to go through numerous steps to get to the actual banned list.
As you can see, people were questioning Maria’s story when she announced she tested positive for a banned drug. They decided to run with news reports that came out from the manufacturer and other outlets claiming she was lying. In reality there was only one person who knew the truth about what happened and that was Maria. We could all speculate and ask questions, but Maria was the only one with the answers.
I’ve been writing about Sabine for a while now. You can see many articles over the past year. Most of them have to do with matches she lost and how upset I was she lost. I’ve written about what I think she needs to change and will in this article too. We can speculate about what Sabine should do and work on. Whether it be her serve, ground strokes, or the mental side of the game, but the only one with the answers is Sabine. Sabine may be working on all of them. Probably is actually. Unless you’re able to ask the player directly, the player does what Maria does and directly refute claims, or, from the fans’ perspective, a media member asks the question of the player, then we don’t know for sure what the truth really is. That’s why it’s so hard when talking about Sabine. I can tell you what I see in her game, but I can’t tell you what work she’s been doing or how hard she’s been working to be the best player she can become. What makes it worse for Sabine is her results haven’t been backing up the work she’s been doing, which is why fans ask these questions every day to each other, because who else can they go to? We don’t have access to questions players get asked. Especially players that aren’t one of the top 5 players in the world. We can only talk about what we see and hear from other sources, which is why so many people were questioning Maria’s story. Come to find out, no one had directly informed her meldonium was prohibited in 2016. Perhaps Sabine has been working her butt off in every aspect of her game. We just haven’t received any confirmation of that.
I talk about Nole a lot using this comparison and perhaps its an unfair one. It’s just that we hear and see of what he does to be best player he can be and we see his success. We see him stretching in practices or even during matches and hear how he’s stretched every day since he was a child. We hear him talk about discipline. How he’s so focused and concerned about being the best he can be that he won’t indulge in anything that could potentially take that away from him. Whether that be a piece of chocolate or skiing. I realize how difficult that is to do. It takes a special kind of person to show that much commitment to something. But we also see him lifting trophies at the end of nearly every tournament he participates in, so it seems well worth all he’s sacrificing. He’s getting every ounce of potential out of himself. That’s what Peyton Manning said of himself in his retirement speech this past week. He said that there were more talented guys, but no one could out prepare or work him and that’s what made him so successful. I see the same of Nole. No one is going to out work him. At the end of your career, you’ll be able to look back at what you were able to achieve with the satisfaction you know you left no stone unturned. You did everything you possibly could. That’s what I’m starting to become concerned about with Sabine.
She’ll be turning 27 in six months. I realize tennis players have become increasingly able to perform well into their 30’s, but it’s not always a given. Look at Andy Roddick who retired just a days after turning 30. Time is starting to run out for Sabine unless she does something now to put herself into position to achieve what she should achieve. That’s what it’s all about. I know how difficult all this is. It’s difficult to be one of the best in the world in anything. But I know she’s capable of it and that’s why I want to see her achieve great things so badly. I’ve seen her beat the best player of all time, Serena Williams, and even compete well with her when not at her best. I know she can beat anyone. She has the talent. But are people out working her?
I noticed a few things in her game vs Larsson, some of which I’ve noticed for a while. But let’s start with the thing that I’ve wanted to be more consistent from the moment I became a fan of her.
Sabine can serve up a 131 MPH ace or a serve that doesn’t even register. That’s like an 80 MPH difference. It’s unacceptable. I’ve said her serve should be top 5 every single year in the WTA because it’s that good when it’s on. The problem is it’s not on nearly enough. I watched her service games against Larsson and I hadn’t a clue what she was trying to do. She’d be spinning in first serves in the middle of the box on critical points. She was just trying to start points? That’s not her game. That’s not how she should be playing. Especially against a player with exceptional defensive skills, as Larsson displayed in the match. Starting a point from a neutral position is like you’ve already lost it. Perhaps Sabine thought Larsson’s defense was so good anyway that it wouldn’t matter how far ahead she got in a rally and it wasn’t worth the risk of double faulting. I’m not sure. See the first few paragraphs of this article for that explanation, but I’m just trying to give Sabine some credit. It’s not like Sabine just spun in a couple serves to try to get her rhythm back though. She did it quite a few times and I’ve been seeing this in her game even last year as well. Perhaps she’s trying to save her arm, which is why Roddick had to retire so early. But every so often she’d try popping a serve too. It just seems like she doesn’t know what to do.
For me, all the inconsistencies in her serve come from the ball toss. I’ve said it before. All the top players have consistent ball tosses. They’re always in the same spot. Sabine often chases her tosses. Catches quite a few of them. Should catch a few more of them to be honest. I think that’s where some unsureness creeps into her mind is that she can’t rely on the ball being where it needs to be. I feel some of the double faults result from that. Perhaps she’s even unwilling to go for her serves as much anymore because the ball toss isn’t where it needs to be.
Looking at the technique, Sabine has kind of an open hand. I think she throws the ball up with her palm more than her fingers. When I look at Nole and Serena’s tosses, they use their fingers to throw the ball up. They put the ball on the tips of their fingers. I believe this leads to more consistent tosses. Try it yourself. Pretend to throw a ball up with the tips of your fingers and again just using your palm…………When I did that, I thought using just your palm would lead to it going all over the place with all the other movement that goes on in the serve. It could be effective if you stood still and had more of a compact motion, but that’s not what a tennis serve requires to be one of the best. Again, I’m sure coaches have told her and she’s tried different things, but I believe it’d help her serve if she implemented it. I can only provide suggestions as well.
Everyone’s aware of her mental frailties. It was on display in the Wimbledon final and no one can forget. Some people saw her for the first time in that match and it’s all they know of her unfortunately. That’s how she’ll be remembered if something doesn’t change.
What people haven’t seen is the times she’s excelled in tough positions. When she came back down 0-3 against Serena and Aga to reach that Wimbledon final. How she saved three match points against Flavia Pennetta last year in Indian Wells. I think for Sabine belief is everything. She went into Wimbledon the year she made the final and said how she believed anything was possible. She played like that for six matches. She played like that when beating Pennetta to reach the semifinals of Indian Wells. When she doesn’t believe, she can’t win.
Chris Evert said of the WTA game that players are afraid to win. They’d prefer to be behind in the score. That’s when they play better. Sabine would be the prime example of that. She struggles with leads. She served for the match against Naomi Broady in Kuala Lumpur and won 1 of the last 13 points of the match. In her match vs Larsson, she failed to serve out the opening set before getting another chance. She just gets in these positions and you just know she’ll get broken or lose an important game. She just has no confidence right now. Who knows why? Perhaps coming back from injury? Not having success in critical situations? Or maybe something in her personal life? Maybe yes to all of those.
While watching her play Larsson I just thought how she needed to come through a tough situation for the belief to return. I think of what Nole went through to win Wimbledon in 2014 or the US Open in 2015. Nole’s confidence grew to unmeasurable levels after those wins. Sabine wouldn’t have a chance in situations like that given her current state, but maybe just winning a tough match would give her some. She’s 4-5 this year. 4-1 in two set matches. 0-4 in three set matches. To me that shows the struggles she has in close matches. I discovered her poor three set record while attempting to write a 2015 season recap. Maybe I’ll have to finish that article and the point, even if we’re a couple months into 2016. But perhaps just a win in a third set would give her some confidence back and get her going in the right direction.
People have suggested mental coaches, which I’m a huge proponent of. Recently I learned Strycova has a mental coach to help her. Sabine could use one too. The thing is though is that I believe I’ve heard in the past Sabine has seen mental coaches. Last year during her success in Indian Wells, I saw signs of mental coaching. Sabine would go to the back of the court, take a breath, and close her eyes. Perhaps imaging the upcoming point or just giving herself a moment to relax. I’ll tell you right now, I haven’t seen Sabine do that since. Perhaps once in a while, but nothing consistent. It needs to be part of her routine.
Sabine needs to be ‘Fighter Girl,’ a term coined by Simona Halep last year. She needs to be present on court for every point. She needs to have the persona that to beat her, you’ll have to earn it, rather than Sabine giving it to you. Sabine gave away the match to Larsson and Broady. That should never happen again. To beat Sabine you should have to do so with her kicking and screaming. That’s what I’d like to see.
Who knows what the problem really is, but, to me, when I see the same things I’ve been seeing for so long, I look at coaching. I haven’t really been a fan of Chris Kas as a primary coach from the moment he joined the team. It seemed like a safe choice since he’s a friend of Sabine’s. Perhaps they’re working on changing things now and that’s why Sabine seems so lost. It took a while for Nole and Boris, but not this long. Sabine is not Nole, but I think it’s time for a coaching change.
I’d like Sabine to blow up her current situation at this very moment and surround herself with everything she needs to to achieve all she should. Like I said, she’s turning 27 this year, and if she gives up any more time, it may be too late. Now is the time for her to set herself up for success. To do everything possible. Get a great coach. Alter her service toss or motion to allow for more consistency. Get a mental coach to help her through these tough situations. To do everything possible so she’s able to look back on her career with no regrets. To know she got all the potential out of herself. Without change, she’ll never reach that point. What a shame it’d be.
This idea of blowing everything up comes from my other sports teams I root for. The Buffalo Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. They’ve never blown up their roster in that time. They’ve never consistently been bad enough to have top draft choices. They’ve just always been good enough to not get a top selection, but bad enough to not make the playoffs. It’s been like that for 16 years. The Buffalo Sabres though blew up their team, traded away all their top players, were really bad for a few years, and got top draft choices. They’ve now got two great players and people in position to make sure they succeed. Their future is bright. I’d like Sabine to be more like the Sabres than th Bills.
I just want what’s best for Sabine. That’s what this is all about. Does that mean everything I’ve mentioned would benefit her? No. Does it mean there’s not other things that may be the main issue? No. I just want Sabine to set herself up for success and to show that’s what she’s doing. It’s what I believe may help. It’s what I believe would benefit her game and future the most.