Great Expectations: Rezai Ready to Deliver in 2011
In Farsi, the tongue of her descendants, her first name means reddish purple. For 23 year old French fireball, Aravane Rezai, the name is certainly fitting. Passionate and fierce on court, Rezai's intrepidness has propelled her to the top 20 this year. As such, Rezai is unquestionably a rival to heed in 2011.
The offspring of Iranian immigrants, in 1983, Rezai's father witnessed Yannick Noah hoist the French Open trophy and deduced that tennis was the path to prosperity for his children. Thus, at the age of seven, Aravane was introduced to the sport. Under her father's tutelage, as a youngster, Rezai trained six to seven hours daily. Aravane's father was instrumental in developing the aggressive baseline style which is now the cornerstone of her success.
Another inspiration to the Rezais are Richard Williams and Oracene Price who are also outsiders to the tennis world. Similar to the Williams' through absolute determination and drive, father and daughter(s) learned the game. Additionally, like the Williams family, even today Rezai's father is still one of her coaches, although success grants Aravane the benefit of training at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy. The family affair extends to her brother traveling with her and serving as her hitting partner.
The Rezai family sacrificed a great deal for their daughter to arrive at this stage. For years, the rest stops on the auto routes of Europe and beyond were their foundation, and a van their shelter, as mom, dad, and daughter journeyed from one tournament to the next, sleeping and eating in their car in order to economize. Moreover, her father's resoluteness to have things his way led to a rocky relationship with the French Tennis Federation. In 2007, Aravane was banned from utilizing the courts at Roland Garros to practice for two years owing to a dispute between her father and the French Federation Cup captain. That year, friction between the Rezais and the Federation reached such an extreme that Aravane opted to qualify for the French Open in lieu of accepting a wildcard entry normally reserved for the country's rising young stars. Some may regard Rezai's father as overbearing, but no one can dispute that his faith in his daughter was indeed not misguided. His method appears to be turning a shared dream into reality.
Rezai made her transition to the professional ranks in January 2005, first paying her dues for a couple of years on the ITF circuit, winning seven titles. By 2006, Rezai improved to a season ending ranking of 49 from189 in 2005, rising above the radar primarily because of her performance at the French and U.S. Opens. After a third round showing in Paris, Rezai went one round better in New York. In the first round, she upended world number 15, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, then downed Lucie Safarova and Maria Kirilenko in the subsequent rounds before being halted by Elena Dementieva in the fourth round. Minor setbacks caused inconsistent results the following two years, thus, Rezai's ranking dipped. For example, patellar tendonitis provoked Rezai to default against Dementieva after reaching her first WTA final in Istanbul in 2007. But last year, at home, Rezai won her maiden WTA title in Strasbourg. Later, at the Tournament of Champions in Bali, Rezai captured the biggest prize of her career after countrywoman Marion Bartoli retired in the final because of a quadriceps strain.
In 2010, Rezai built on that success starting with a semifinal placement at the Medibank International Sydney before the Australian Open. At Mutua Madrilena Madrid, a premier warm-up event to the French Open, Rezai defeated four time Roland Garros champion Justine Henin in the first round, Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals and Venus Williams in the final to bag the prestigious trophy and earn her loftiest career ranking at 15. In June, Rezai was a semifinalist on grass in Birmingham. The next month, in Bastad, Rezai claimed her second title of the season. Consequently, Rezai's game looks adaptable to all surfaces.
Fundamental to Rezai's progression into the top twenty has been her blistering two handed backhand and a strong forehand. A baseliner like her childhood idol similarly of Iranian descent, Andre Agassi, Rezai is masterful at creating angles and finishing points off from the back of the court. Because of the nature of her game, Rezai has realized that fitness is paramount. In December 2009, she enlisted coaching aid for the first time from outside her family, i.e. Mouratoglou. One area of conditioning which the latter concentrated on was helping Rezai shed a few pounds.
Furthermore, Rezai is a mentally solid adversary. Her unique trajectory compared to the majority of her peers, practicing in snow, rain or under bad lighting is never far from her mind and gives her the conviction that she will overcome all obstacles. As such, Aravane is motivated and prepared for battle from the first point. Still, Rezai's uni-dimensional game can be an Achilles' heel. At the majors, she has yet to progress past the fourth round.
This year, Rezai's best was a third round appearance at the French Open. Although slugging it out from the baseline is the norm these days, the fortunate few who have pocketed a major have an additional weapon. Like many of her cohorts, Rezai would profit from beefing up her serve and refining her volleying skills. Additionally, Rezai's always aggressive mode has its pitfalls. Unlike her hero Agassi, a baseline pit-bull, Rezai has yet to find the perfect balance. If Aravane is to etch her name on a major or more, she will need to recognize when to dial it down a notch.
This season, Rezai finished as the world number 19. Even though her favorite surface is hardcourt, besides the Olympics, the French number two proclaims that her home major is the one she would be proudest to hold. If she successfully tweaks her game, one day Rezai may delight her compatriots by following in the footsteps of the 2000 French Open winner, Mary Pierce.
To become a champion, talent, an impeccable work ethic and mental fortitude are essential. Rezai believes on court, it's "like going to war and you have to go to the death. So, you will never see me quit". Aravane cherishes a piece of wisdom a champion boxer once gave her: "If you don't work hard you are sure to fail. However, if you work hard, maybe with a little luck you'll win". With Rezai ready to spill blood to reach her objective, she is a player to watch in the upcoming year.
Nathalie Narcisse is a contributing writer for On The Baseline Tennis News