The extraordinary Mihaela Buzarnescu -
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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old Aug 7th, 2018, 04:42 PM Thread Starter
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Thumbs up The extraordinary Mihaela Buzarnescu

New Top 20 WTA, the winner of the San Jose tournament has lived a career that is unprecedented in the history of women's open tennis era.

Often in describing sportive achievements are wasted superlatives. By now, the use of the oversized adjectives is so inflated that we got used to automatically downsize the value: aware that the emphasis is excessive, we adjust accordingly. But then sometimes we meet events that needs to be described with adjectives such as "exceptional" or "extraordinary". In these cases the problem is to make sure that the reader returns to attribute to the words their real meaning.

And so, if I claim that the tennis history of Mihaela Buzarnescu (the winner of the Premier of San Jose ended last Sunday) is really extraordinary, it is because there are data and numbers that prove it; no exaggeration. What Buzarnescu has been doing for a year and a half now is unprecedented and unique: her career is so special that there has no precedent in the history of women's open tennis era.

In terms of sports level, it is an extreme case story. Putting in line the main tennis events that concern her, seems to tell the screenplay of a movie, ready to be transposed from reality to the big screen as it took place, without particular adjustments. A story started with success, but then fadded for a long time between failures and suffering before the final affirmation, a perfect happy ending for a Hollywood blockbuster. Although Mihaela probably would have gladly gave up on such exceptionality. Already the beginning is really a film, ideal to introduce you to the story: her parents meet and fall in love on a tennis court, both of whom are great fans of.

On May 4, 1988 Mihaela was born in Bucharest, and being born into a family like that, inevitably begins to pick up the very small racket at the age of 2-3 (left hand). It is the father who teaches her the game of tennis, and it takes very little time until he finds out that the little girl has superior qualities. What happened later is Mihaela herself to tell in an interview: "I think it happened when I was eight years old. I had won a couple of national tournaments in Romania, and my father then told me: "OK, let's talk. Do you want to do it like a professional or just as a hobby? "I replied that I wanted to do it seriously. So he told me that we should train harder and play more. I replied: "Of course". So since then every day after school we went to train or face tournaments. " We are talking about 22 years ago: it is from that moment that Mihaela has oriented and dedicated her life to tennis.

As a teenager everything seems to be going very well: a promising junior career with a best ranking as number 4 in the world, and number 10 at the end of 2005, when Azarenka, Szavay, Radwanska (twice defeated by Mihaela), Wozniacki and Cilbukova. These names tells us how 2005 was an exceptional year for female junior tennis. At the US Open 2005 Buzarnescu wins in doubles and reached the singles semifinals, stopped by the future champion Azarenka. Few weeks later she reached the final at the Orange Bowl 2005, defeated by Wozniacki.

In 2006 Mihaela is in the delicate moment of the transition between junior and professional, but at this stage comes the first physical trouble: a problem on the right shoulder stops her for six months. The recovery is difficult, and even the sponsors that followed her are abandoning her. While the former juniors with whom she was fighting assert themselves in WTA, a long and difficult period begins for her in minor tournaments on ITF. After the trouble with the shoulder it is not easy to get back on top and get fit again. Before the injury she was 260 on the ranking, a year later after the return she fell two hundred places.

Stuck around the 400-500th place, it seems that for her the train of success has departed: the other strongest juniors have taken it, she has lost it. The climbing back is not easy and the progress is slower than expected. It takes a couple of seasons to start growing again: her best ranking is achieved thanks to the results obtained between 2011 and 2012: number 141. But now she is 24 years old: the history of tennis tells us that this is the age limit for a tennis player to break through at high levels. She travels at her own expense in the ITF circuit, often alone, without sponsors and with the constant difficulty of making the ends meet.

But just when she seems to have recovered and is back on the right path, here comes a second physical problem, the left knee that prevents her from moving as she would like. First she tries to clench her teeth and play over the pain. But her tennis results are affected. To continue like this is not possible: she decides and undergoes surgery, which does not solve the problem. We are in 2013-14, the operated leg does not heal: without tournaments for over a year, it is now out of the WTA ranking.

Between 25 and 26 inevitably she begins to wonder what to do with her own future. Comes to mind the story of Agnes Szavay, the Hungarian number two in the junior ranking of 2005, forced to retire in 2013 for chronic back problems. A retirement that occurred without being able to express herself, her best tennis, as she could.
Buzarnescu is very close to that decision, but never takes it. With the knee that prevents her from playing competitive tennis, she starts teaching tennis, following some Romanian junior kids. In addition, she resumed her studies, and obtained a doctorate in physical education, with a thesis on teaching of youth tennis at under 12 and under 14. In short: tennis is still her life, but the competitive one entered in a limbo hardly definable. Not even a second surgery solves the knee trouble. Not even other medical consultations (one even from the specialist who followed Nadal) improve the things. She always play with pain and the results are certainly not those hoped for. Continues "stop and go": periods in which she plays matches (most of the time using the protected ranking) alternating with others without games, because the knee joint does not work properly.

At the end of 2016 she is 28 years old, she has a PhD on Sports that has just been achieved, and an increasingly weaker hope of breaking into tennis. She refuses to give up, continues to try with the ITF tournaments whenever she can afford it, along with the safest economic income deriving from participation in national club championships, where clubs - in addition to wages - pay logistical expenses: over time she plays in the German Bundesliga, in the French Interclub and in the Dutch league.

The real breakthrough comes just when she is engaged on a club meeting in the Netherlands. For no apparent reason, the knee suddenly stops hurting, and she now can play free of physical obstacles. Only now that Mihaela is almost 29 years old: an age in which many and most tennis players think of retirement, if they have not already done so. We are in 2017, and it is the moment when, finally healthy, she begins to win ITF in series. In January she is number 537 on the ranking, in July she improves her best ranking (141), in October she enters for the first time in the top 100 in the world. Finally, in November, she reaches number 72.
Before she could play pnly in hiccups? Well, in 2017 Mihaela makes a real tennis binge: she disputes 91 matches in singles and 59 in doubles. 91 + 59 = 150. One hundred and fifty games in a season are a tennis score from another era, from the age of wooden rackets; but for today's physical sport, it is truly unique. This 2017 of crazy tennis (the last title she wins it in November in Japan, but she also played in December in Dubai) ends with 7 ITF tournaments won in singles and 3 in doubles, and 465 positions in the ranking earned.

But 2017 is also the year of many first times. First time in a main draw WTA (in Linz); first time against a Top 50 (always Linz, match won against the number 35 Kontaveit); first time in a main draw in a Slam: US Open 2017. Curiously in New York, the draw put her again face to face against her old junior rival Caroline Wozniacki. The two opponents of the Orange Bowl 2005 final find themselves against each other, and the match marks a record for both: for Mihaela is the first in a Major, for Caroline is the 100 victory in a Slam (she will win again, 6-1, 7-5). Two data that summarize the difference of their destinies. Another movie situation: I wonder what a talented director could make off this competitive appeal, a crossover for the two tennis women from so many years away meeting again eachother, with twelve years of antipodal careers.

Practically everything that as a junior, in 2006, Buzarnescu could imagine would have arrived for her in few seasons, she reached it over ten years later: at 29-30 years instead of 18-19. He went through a kind of tennis black hole, and it came out of it when it seemed impossible to do so. Buzarnescu's career is so special that it has attracted the interest of a website specialized in statistical analysis such as Heavy Topspin, who has looked for similar cases in the history of women's tennis.
This is the response. Only two players entered for the first time in the Top 100 at a most advanced age like Buzarnescu: Tzipi Obziler in 2007 at 33, and Adriana Villagran-Reami in 1988 at the age of 31. However, if we consider the players able to push themselves into the Top 30, we do not find any precedents. The only one that is getting close by a margin somehow is Laura Siegemund, who had entered the Top 100 at age of 27 and then was able to climb up to a best rank of number 27. Siegemund: another player that for an uncertain period was unsure whether to stop or not, and who in the meantime has found the time to take a degree in psychology.

Interviewed at the end of 2017, Buzarnescu had indicated the Top 50 as her main target for 2018. In reality we are still in August and she has already become number 20 (and 15 in the Race). She has stepped over Maria Sharapova in the rankings, and has just won her first WTA tournament in career; but not just any International, but a Premier, in San José. In the season it is the third final, already reached in January in Hobart (lost to Mertens) and in May in Prague (lost to Kvitova). Against Elise Mertens she took the revenge just last week in the semi-finals in California, showing that they are still a work in progress on the technical level.
So in 2018 Buzarnescu continued her ascent. Perhaps thanks to the small advantage that her story offers: apart from some opponents of the same age, among the top players none has played against her in the past, and therefore few are to know her thoroughly: what kind of tennis practice Mihaela?

As far as I'm concerned, I've never seen Buzarnescu play before last year, so I've discovered her only few months ago. Lefty, with two-handed backhand, is an all-in-all tennis player with a not very powerful physique: about 1.75cm in height, quite thin and not very muscular.

Especially in the first match i've been watching her, I hardly saw her abandon the exchange from the bottom of the field to venture to the net, but this still does not make from her a repetitive player. On the contrary, I would say that all the technical-tactical maturity is evident in the background exchange, given that she very rarely offers to her opponent the same type of ball. To explain this, it is sufficient to analyze her forehand. A shot that can perform in different ways: sometimes relying on the opponent's power, sometimes with a topspin load passing high above the net, other times pushing more tense parables. But she also knows how to change the timing of play: during a rally she is able to change rhythm and suddenly put her feet on the court and anticipate the execution on a half-volley, taking the opponent by surprise.
Perhaps a limit of her forehand is a certain difficulty in quickly organizing the swing, in particular leaving the service, but otherwise I would say that she has all the qualities that make it a truly complete shot. I emphasize this because with that forehand she can also perform the slice or chop in defensive situations or blocked responses, which she often uses on faster fields against opponents with powerful serve.
And since she is a substantially symmetrical player (with equally solid forehand and backhand), also on the backhand side she has all the variations of the background shot. On the backhand side the only ball she is missing is the one most loaded of top spin (as it is almost inevitable for mechanical reasons). But for the rest, every solution is part of her repertoire.

Therefore, so many years of tennis have not gone in vain: hers is a not a trivial pusher game, is a game from back line full of nuances that force the opponent to continuously make adjustments during the play in order to avoid making unforced errors. Not having a devastating power, is not producing winners on repeat, but thanks to its qualities, is most of thetimes able to manage the rallies and to force the opponent to make the error first, through never passive schemes.
The relative power she possesses emerges perhaps more in service, with a tense first of service or slice, and a second that in some situations can be attacked. Considering that she is left-handed, perhaps she could earn more from the slice to save herself out, according to the classic scheme that provides to send the opponent in the corridor in response and then push the ball into the unguarded part of the field; but if she does not use it often it's also because the one-two scheme is not the kind of solution to which she refers when setting the matches. And this relates to the tactical choices, which makes her an offensive player, but through articulated tennis, not very prone to very short exchanges.
Recently I have the impression that she has begun to verticalize the game more often. For example, in San José in the semi-final against Mertens she came down to the net in counter attack to win exchanges in which she found herself in advantage, but not to the point of being able to close them with a winner. In the volleys I do not think she possesses the same completeness that it has put on display from the back, but this is a very frequent limit in contemporary tennis players.

Speaking of her way of being in the field, it should be remembered that she can assume negative attitudes that can become very blatant: through an unequivocal body language she complains about her own mistakes or the adversary fortunes (lines, net). But in some cases she can go further, and then verbal utterances begins. Sometimes even exceeding the limit. (on the match against Bertens for example)
Uncomfortable behavior, even if it is difficult to say whether these situations for her result in a handicap in terms of performance. For example, on the occasion mentioned (against Bertens) she ended up winning the three final games of the match. But there is also the kind and gentle Mihaela, as in
into the field in which she entertains chatting to her young escort.

Newcomer at thirty years old on the big stages of professional tennis, I had the chance to watch her live in Wimbledon last month. For Buzarnescu, of course, it was the first time on the lawns of the Championships; the board proposed her a really challenging adversary: Aryna Sabalenka, fresh back from the Eastbourne final. Mihaela won the match (6-7, 6-1, 6-4), but more than for the success I was amazed by the quality of her tennis; in some respects it was a real surprise. I bring back what I had written then: "I was curious to understand how different it is the feeling that you have from watching on TV compared to the reality of the field. The match was scheduled on Court 16, which offers only three rows of seats on the long sides. Maximum distance from the green rectangle: a couple of meters. "

"Buzarnescu live seemed like a great player. She strikes with extreme cleanliness and if she have enough time to perform the movement, without having to "arrange" it, the impact of the strings sounds very sweet, with the ball spinning fast without ever giving the feeling of tearing. A true tennis talent. The noise of the shot is very special: its combination of frame + strings produces a discreet sound, lighter than that of almost all other players on tour. Who knows if it depends on the combination of materials or instead of a stringing with too little tension.
Physically, in the body and arms, more than a tennis player looks like a classical dancer, with defined but particularly long and thin muscles. And it is probably no coincidence that she moves her arms with fluidity and elegance. Maybe it depends on my lack of viewer sensitivity, but I rarely happened to discover a player so little telegenic in tennis, when compared to reality. The TV provides a lot of information, but the technical filters tend to standardize certain aspects that are perceived by instinct instead of the truth. And all this ends up penalizing a player so rich in features like Mihaela. Live she is really a show, and for this I feel like to recommend you going to see her on the field, with your own eyes ".

The statistics of Buzarnescu against the top players are all very fresh. They start at the end of August 2017: less than 12 months. Since then she has built these results (won-lost): 3-6 against the Top 10, 5-9 against the Top 20, and 16-14 against the Top 50. At the moment the Top 10 defeats are Ostapenko and Svitolina (twice ); tennis players with a different game, overcome thanks to equally different gifts, demonstrating a certain technical-tactical eclecticism.

The numbers mentioned are small, but certainly encouraging. But how much can they help us for a long-term evaluation? Mihaela is living a career so special that, in fact, there are no references that can help us to hypothesize her future: there are no precedents to make comparisons. At the moment I do not know what could happen in the coming seasons. But I got an idea about her programming: for me she should start playing less tournaments. The 150 matches of 2017 do not seem sustainable as a seasonal rule, but even in 2018 she has already reached 107 meetings (58 singles and 49 doubles, if I'm not mistaken the count). In seven months he has already faced 21 tournaments.
I understand the desire to recover in all respects: on the level of victories, emotions, competitive and even economic satisfactions; but sooner or later the time comes to choose between quantity and quality. Proper programming is important to manage at high levels: no top player follows such rhythms. We will discover in 2019 if Mihaela will adapt to a "normal" calendar or if even in this she will decide to remain unique.

Article taken and translated from italian to english by me. You can find the original here:
Mikaa, faradubii and Bagelstick like this.
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old Aug 7th, 2018, 09:52 PM
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Re: The extraordinary Mihaela Buzarnescu

Wonderful victory in Rogers Open Montreal. Mihaela beat Q.Wang 6-2 7-5. I couldn't watch the match, but when I checked the score it was 5-0 for her in the first set. I thought about the San Jose wasn't like that, still it must have been a very good match for her.
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old Aug 7th, 2018, 10:00 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The extraordinary Mihaela Buzarnescu

Originally Posted by Allegro View Post
Wonderful victory in Rogers Open Montreal. Mihaela beat Q.Wang 6-2 7-5. I couldn't watch the match, but when I checked the score it was 5-0 for her in the first set. I thought about the San Jose wasn't like that, still it must have been a very good match for her.
In San Jose other the fact that Sakkari froze, Miki literally mopped the floor with her. The score sais it all, even if Sakkari would have recovered the ending wouldn't have changed in any way. Mihaela is growing match by match, is so impressive!
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