This something which has been a bit of a mystery to me since I started following Laura's career: Palermo 2012. She'd had a pretty disappointing year but a week after her first round exit at Wimbledon to Schiavone she was in her first WTA semi-final on clay, her weakest surface and beat two clay court specialists, Roberta Vinci and Carla Suarez Navarro en-route. The Olympic silver, hiring Krajan, Clijsters and Li Na at the US Open and a first WTA final at Guangzhou all followed and her ranking shot up too. During her US Open run, the press were speculating on what caused such an improvement in her play and were either pinning it on the confidence boost from the Olympics or her new coach Krajan. However, Palermo was before both of these things and her first set of consistent results since leaving juniors so what caused the turnaround?
Would love to hear some theories even if they are guesses!
Pertinent question! It's a myth that Krajan was responsible for the 'golden spell' Laura enjoyed in the second half of last season. She had only just hired him prior to the US Open: it was far too soon for him to make any impact upon her game and he deserved no credit for her victories over Kim Clijsters and Li Na. In the short term he achieved little. In the long term he wrecked her serve and confidence.
The truth of the matter was that after Wimbledon and a frustrating 1st round defeat to Francesca Schiavone in which Laura played some outstanding tennis but fell prey to her opponent's crafty use of tactical toilet breaks and lengthy MTOs etc, Andy Murray was generous enough to offer the services of his outstanding fitness trainer, Jez Green, for a spell. The results were remarkably effective and immediate. Laura's balance, footwork and speed were transformed, enabling her for the first time to make full use of her natural firepower. Already in Palermo the improvement was clear to see: she was setting herself up to hit huge forehands past Vinci. The Olympics further boosted her confidence, and she came into the US Open riding high.
Why has this season turned pear-shaped when most expected her to push on further and win her first title? That's a harder question to answer but there are several factors: Second season 'blues' and the pressure of defending points are a common phenomenon. The collapse of her coaching relationship with Krajan is another factor - she's often been the picture of unhappiness on court this year. But the most convincing explanation, and one that onlookers have underestimated, is the impact of the wrist injury she suffered at the commencement of the US Open Series. Just when she'd got her season back on track with her fine performance at Wimbledon and, crucially, was beginning to enjoy her tennis again her US Open preparations were sabotaged and her season derailed. The Asian swing was an ordeal for her. She clearly wasn't fit: her wrist still hasn't healed as became clear from the Date-Krumm match, and, to cap it all, she picked up a chest infection in the Beijing smog.
The important thing now is that she takes sufficient time off to fully regain her health. That accomplished, she'll need to go on a very intensive fitness course to develop her speed, explosiveness and court positioning. (Unfortunately, I expect Jez Green is otherwise engaged. I hope Maclagan has the right person in mind.) All being well, Laura will have the opportunity in 2014 to reestablish herself as the outstanding young talent in the womens' game. Let's hope she is as committed as she is gifted.