I kind of agree with what you're saying about last year. She seemed to sail through the first one or two rounds of most tournaments, but then falter when she faced her first challenge or big name player. But I don't know if she was actually staying cool in that period - my impression was that she was doing a good job of covering up the nerves and doubts in press conferences, but still letting them inhibit her on court. I just think (hope?) that admitting that the nerves exist will take another little bit of pressure of shoulders, so she doesn't have to pretend anymore. Having said that...
You're right for sure that there was a lot more uncertainty last year than she was showing, but even allowing for that she did remain pretty cool under the circumstances, and not showing her uncertainty may have helped. The whole world was harping at her about what was wrong, whether she needed a new coach, whether she needed to fundamentally change her game, etc. Not admitting there was anything wrong was a handy way of deflecting all that. Admitting her nerves now may be a 2-edged sword. On one hand as you said it shows she is more comfortable within herself, but on the other hand it has allowed the outside world, in particular the media, a foot in the door of what used to be her own private domain. Not sure that's a good thing.
Definitely. Sam Smith always talks about how, in the past, she thought Sam looked like she was in the naughty chair outside the principal's office when on court, and I think that is back a little bit at the moment She needs to relax, compete and accept that she can only do her best. It's really easy for me to say that though.
I think it's the double whammy of returning to Australia as a slam champ. IMO nerves and pressure have been a much bigger factor this year than last, when her losses in Aus were as much down to her opponents' ability to exploit the limitations in her game as nerves per se. I really don't think she realized the pressure was going to hit her this year until she got out on court. In that respect there may be a silver lining to her R1 loss this week, because it gives her a whole week to steel herself for Melbourne. And the fact that nobody really expects her to win the thing anymore might help as well.
I think I'd be happy with a third-fourth round showing at this stage. I really hope she doesn't get an unkind draw in the first two rounds.
I don't think she'll let the likes of Benesova get the better of her again, so she should be fine against unseeded players and so should get to R3 at least I think. But I agree she's unlikely to go much further than that because she's starting the tournament too low on confidence and match rhythm. A kind draw could help remedy that, but even then a QF finish would be the absolute best she could expect to achieve at this stage.