regaining the limelight
posted by LDVTennis:
Thanks for trying, Bandabou, but I was looking for a more probing answer than that.
Let me try to give you an example of what I mean. If someone in '92 had asked me the same questions about Graf, I would have replied that her game had lost some of its mental and physical edge. She was still the best athlete on the tour, but on certain surfaces, and in particular against certain players on specific surfaces, it was becoming more and more the case that she was finding it harder to derive much benefit from that athleticism. On clay, for example, she was finding it more difficult to beat players who played a defensive game against her. When her forehand was on, she could still manage to win the big points, but when it was off it was going to be a long day. Something had to improve in order for Graf to lift her game to another level, either her serve, her forehand (more topspin, more of a rallying shot), her return of serve (specifically on her opponent's second serves), and her tactics (she had to find a way of making her matches, specifically the ones on her least favorite surfaces, into athletic contests).
I am looking for some of the same honesty from Seles' fans. So far, no one has taken up the challenge.
In the meantime, let me say that I'm not asking how Seles and Graf would have matched up if none of the events you cited ever happened. I am asking whether or not the reasonable Seles' fans out there had any doubts about her alleged dominance based on how she was winning her major tournaments, how good of an athlete she was, how big a lead in the rankings system she had, how many Wimbledon Championships she had won, how complete her game was, etc..
Whether Graf was in a slump or not is irrelevant. That's never really been my pet theory any way. Take that up with Calimero. What I want to know is whether the reasonable Seles' fan had any reservations about how good she was?
In general, let me say that it is easy to get caught up in the hype the American tennis media lavishes on an up and coming player, particularly one with a good agent, a good personality, an exotic look, or an American passport. While the hype is at its peak, the player in question can do no wrong. As long as he or she keeps winning, you won't hear anything about his or her pathetic backhand (e.g., Roddick), his or her pathetic training regimen (e.g., Seles), his or her lack of power (e.g., Hingis), his or her pathetic second serve (e.g., Venus), his or her pathetic forehand (e.g., Serena and Venus), or his or her lack of versatility (e.g., Roddick, Seles, Serena, Venus).
Rare is the player whose level of play can keep the limelight burning for more than 3 years. (How long did it take, for instance, for Serena to fall from grace?) When the light goes off, when the player starts losing more than they are winning, only then do we get the kind of honest criticism of a player's game and prospects that we should have received from the beginning. For example, it is not any more true now than it was in '93 that Seles did not have the same body type as Graf. It is also not anymore true now than it was in '99 that Serena's point of contact on her forehand was not consistent.
Of the these three players, Graf, Seles, and Serena, only Graf so far has managed to rekindle the limelight after that light faded the first time, from '92 to '93. Seles' fans will argue that she was only able to regain the limelight because of Seles' absence. I'll concede that from mid-'93 to late '95, that may have made regaining the limelight easier for Graf. But, even after Seles returned to the tour, the limelight remained on Graf. Even with Seles in the mix again, Graf continued to win major tournaments, against Seles and everyone else. Even when Seles was no longer her chief competition, as in '99, Graf still won a major tournament. Her ability to rekindle that limelight is a testament to a game and level of athleticism that rose to a new level after it plateaued, or even deteriorated, from '92 to '93.
Seles had the same opportunity to rekindle the limelight when she returned in late '95. She didn't. Seles' fan, of course, would like us to believe that she had PTSD and that that alone diminished her prospects. This excuse, however, just doesn't ring true with me. It presumes that everything else being equal there were no other impediments from '95 onward to Seles' level of play. It presumes, in fact, that the weaknesses in Seles' game and in her level of athleticism would never have been exposed, either by other players or just from Seles' own process of maturation.
Above all, it presumes, in view of the competition that eventually emerged, that Seles would have improved her game and her body in ways that are technically and genetically improbable. She was never going to be an all court player. She just didn't have the grips to have a good approach shot and good volleys. She was also never going to be faster and a more agile mover on the court. She just didn't have the genetics for that.
If Seles had not been stabbed, I think by '94 we would have seen the media folks turn their forks on her. If there were any benefits to the stabbing for Seles and her fans, it is that the stabbing preempted that criticism. (Where is Helen Lawson when one needs her. She could tell us about how James Dean's death did much the same for him.)
Win or lose, after Seles returned, tennis pundits and fans alike would always have an excuse for why she didn't play as well as she did before. If Seles had not been stabbed, she probably would have met the same fate as all other top players in the history of the sport. They plateau, the competition overtakes them, they lose interest, they get injured, their body changes, they lose their mental edge, etc. Of course, she also would have had the chance to lift her game to another level. I know some Seles' fans will disagree with me. But, I don't think she had another level to give. All of the weaknesses in her game (specifically her grips) and in her body (specifically her lack of speed and muscle to fat ratio), the ones that were already evident in '93, would have prevented her from doing so
Last edited by bandabou; Sep 16th, 2004 at 10:35 AM.