Shaughnessy working on her mind games
By Jerry Ratcliffe / firstname.lastname@example.org
May 3, 2007
The world of professional tennis is a wild ride, filled with emotional ups and downs, injuries, hot streaks and slumps.
Meghann Shaughnessy, the top-seeded player in this week’s Boyd Tinsley USTA Women’s Pro Championships at Boar’s Head Sports Club, is a classic example of how things can easily slip. The highest caliber of player to come this event’s way in its short five-year history, Shaughnessy is ranked No. 56 in the world and less than satisfied.
That’s part of the reason she’s here. This week the Boar’s Head clay is her laboratory as she and her husband/coach
Rafael Font de Mora, conduct their experiments against players mostly ranked outside the top 100. It’s a less pressure-packed environment rather than taking test runs against top-40 competition.
With two more clay-court events coming up on her schedule - next week’s German Open, then a tournament in Rome, followed by the French Open - what better place to get her groove back than in laid-back Charlottesville?
Once ranked 11th in the world (2001) in singles (No. 4 in doubles, 2005), Shaughnessy is determined to regain that status. The 28-year-old, born just down the road in Richmond and now a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., exhibited the same kind of grit in her match Wednesday that has won her nearly $3.5 million during her career.
Her opening-round, 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Sofia Melikishvi was vintage Shaughnessy, as she used a strong serve and attacking forehand to advance. She fell behind, 0-2, in the second before reeling off four straight games, then closed strong.
“I just kind of relaxed a little bit and you can’t do that,” Shaughnessy said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing the No. 1-ranked player in the world or No. 55. If you relax, you’re going to have a problem. I had a little mental lapse there and I was happy that I got it back to 2-all and came through.”
Perhaps the results wouldn’t have come as smoothly against top-notch competition, so credit the 11-year pro and her coach on realizing what it would take to regain her form.
She struggled early this season and decided it was time to again team with Font de Mora as her coach. He developed her game from the time she was age 13 and knows her better than anyone. But for the past few years, he has worked with another player and she worked under a different coach.
This week marks the first time they have worked together as player/coach in quite some time, with the emphasis being on returning to the basics.
“If you have a coach that develops you, there’s no one better than him or her to really be able to see when you’re hitting the ball well or when you’re not,” Shaughnessy said. “They know what you’re thinking, know when you’re struggling and that’s a huge advantage.”
While she came to town to win, her main focus is to work on her game. What she wants most out of this week is to regain her ultra-aggressive style, playing more inside the court and dictating the rallies.
She’s a big believer that if she can accomplish those goals that results will follow and she can raise her game to a top-10 world ranking in singles.
There’s no question she has the game. Last year was one of those up-and-down seasons as previously mentioned when she went 0 for 5 in her first five events, then won 14 of 20 matches in her next seven. She knocked off Justine Henin-Hardenne, which was her first win over a top-10 ranked player in two years.
Shaughnessy went on to win two Tour titles and finished the season ranked No. 37, nearly 30 places higher than the previous year.
“She has a good all-court game,” said her coach. “That is the reason she has won titles on all surfaces - hardcourt, indoors and on clay. If she serves well, she is very dangerous because her first serve is a big weapon. She can attack with her forehand, she can come in, she plays well back or forward. When she’s playing well, she’s very hard to beat.”
A tireless worker, Shaughnessey believes that her mindset, combined with a coach that can bring out her best will be a winning combination.
“I just really work hard on my game every day and believe I can do it,” she said. “It’s confidence. It’s believing that you’re the one that’s supposed to win and that you’re going to win. So much of it is in the mind.”
With so much parity among players, particularly from the physical aspect, the difference in winning and losing is often what’s going on between the ears.
“So many girls are capable of being at the top level with their game, but mentally there’s just a little difference between them and the very top players,” Shaughnessy explained. “When it comes down to the very key point of the match, the top players go for it and they believe they’re going to make it and that’s why they do make it.”
Shaughnessy’s game revolves around the work ethic and intensity, although Font de Mora says that sometimes she’s too hard on herself. But he is there to bring back that intensity.
So far, so good.