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Plainclothes Division
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The topic is underachievers. We're all familiar with the term, and we all can name a few players whom we feel fit into this category. Players who, for some reason or another, don't fulfill their potential.

But I want to look at a different group of underachievers. Not those seemingly destined for greatness, but those destined for near-greatness, or mere goodness. Someone touted by a writer somewhere as a "sure-fire" future top 10/20/30 player. Then they don't make it, and the writer labels them "underachiever" for failing to reach his/her expectations.

But are all of these failures on the part of the players? Or, in some cases, is it a matter of the expectations being erroneous? And if so, why?

To answer this question, I'll take the "scenic route". :) First, let's make some classifications. We'll label the level of play that has traditionally been necessary to win a slam as "great". Most top 10 calibre players reach this level, with varying degrees of regularity. From there on down, we'll have "near great", or "very good" players, then "good" players, "above average", "average", "below average", etc.

Now, let's take a basic tennis fact: Great players can make very good players look, at best, mediocre. This is true on both tours. Not just Serena, Venus, and Kim, but Andre, Lleyton, and Pete have made top-5 calibre opponents look like they don't belong on the same tour. The result is that these opponents never get to show the full range of their talents, and how good they truly are.

Let's look at another tennis fact. You can truly appreciate a player's talents when they play someone who is at their level.

Now we're coming to the heart of the matter; identifying just how good the players are at a certain level. This is where tennis writers often miss the boat. Why? Because they don't cover the tours in the same manner.

Consider: most regular tennis writers focus primarily on the men's tour. This means that they are seeing these lower ranked men play against peers, but they aren't seeing the lower ranked women in similar situations. They only see these women when they're playing a top player. And as the top women tend to play at the elite level more consistently than their male counterparts, that means you're more likely to have the "great player makes good player look worse than they are" scenario.

What this means in turn is that most tennis writers are greatly underestimating the level of skill necessary to be ranked in the women's top 10, top 15, top 20, top 30. So when they catch a glimpse of a talented young woman player (probably while waiting for another match), they are comparing her to a distorted perception of what the skill levels are at each ranking level.

Thus, a player touted as having top 20 talent may only have top 50 talent. A potential "top 10" player may actually only have top 30 talent. All because the writers think the skill levels for each group are lower than what they truly are.

So we must ask, when these players fail to reach the predicted positions, is it because they underachieve, or because the forecasts are built on faulty premises?
 

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Brian Stewart said:
Consider: most regular tennis writers focus primarily on the men's tour. This means that they are seeing these lower ranked men play against peers, but they aren't seeing the lower ranked women in similar situations. They only see these women when they're playing a top player. And as the top women tend to play at the elite level more consistently than their male counterparts, that means you're more likely to have the "great player makes good player look worse than they are" scenario.
This is a very interesting point, Brian. I hadn't thought of it like that but I think you may be right.

As for your question, the only player I know a little more about is Els Callens. I've often felt she has the skills to be ranked higher. She's got a pretty good serve. I think she would have achieved more had she started concentrating on tennis sooner. Kim went to a special tennis school, she was allowed time off school to go to tournaments. Els went to normal schools her entire life, finished high school and only then, she started playing tennis on a really competitive international level. It's perfectly understandable, choosing for top sports is pretty risky. What if you're injured and can't play anymore? What then? With no diploma, without knowing anything other than tennis?
 

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Most ot the tennis writers either:

a) Hype a player because of her looks/nationality/etc, and even if she's only top 50 material they say she is 'at least top 20', because in their minds top 50 worths nothing.

b) Have no idea of how the level of the tour is, and say the first thing that comes to their minds.

The problem is that with a couple of good tournaments, a player can crack the top 50 without doing anything else the rest of the year. I mean, Kournikova is living at the expense of her San Diego and Shanghai points, and Stevenson (who is in the top 30) has Scottsdale and two or three good tournaments in the fall. So (although I think both these players are talented enough for the top 20), sometimes the ranking does not indicate that much.
 

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Yeah interesting topic...I'm sure many people who don't know much about tennis were wondering who this Emilie Loit was that nearly beat Serena at AO. I remember hearing a few old grannies watching it on the big screen saying this girl will be a top player soon etc...I think in cases like this it's often the press/public building up the hype based on one performance, and thus when they don't go top 20/30 it shouldn't be seen as underachieving, but rather (as you put it) expectations being placed too high.

Nothing against Loit, I think she's got lots of talent, but I'm just using her as an example of a lower ranked player being put under the spotlight due to a great performance against a top player.

I know my using Loit as an example is a little different to your initial question (because it *was* the best player in the world she was playing!), but ultimately I think it's the same thing...
 

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You do have a point. Most of the forecasts about young players are based on a one performance sighting. Many times, when I have gone to see a player that was deemed as the next great thing, I couldn't really see why.

All these players on the WTA are excellent athletes. No doubt about that. But, to me, there is the distinction between:

1. Great players: those that have the top-5 potential: there might be around 10-15 players at a time with this kind of potential, present and past: Venus, Serena, Lindsay, Monica, Maggie, Conchita, Kim, Justine, Jennifer, Amanda, Jelena, Daniela, Amelie, Iva or Mary would be in this category. Any win by any of these girls comes as no real surprise. They have it, the tennis abilities and the mental capabilites. Some in a more consistent way than others of course.

2. Very good players: people that hover in that 5 to 15 position. I know for most people it is top10 that marks greatness, but that's a benchmark like any other. I think all players that hover around 5-15 in the rankings, or have the potential of making it to those positions are the very good players of the tour. They might get a spanking from the great players, but they are still in a separate position from the rest of the tour. Many of the people with "greatness" qualities will stay in these spots (in the 5 to 15), so making your way into this group requires big wins and talent. I would say people like Chanda, Patty, Elena D, Anastasya or Meghann belong in there.

3. Good players: these would be the ones that belong in the 15 to 30 position in the rankings. Players like Raymond, Serna, Sugiyama or Bovina, capables of defeating players in the first two categories, but not consistantly. These girls often would lack the mental qualities to be in the 2nd group and the tennis abilities to be in the 1st group.

The gap between the first group and all the others is bigger than in between any other categories. The rest of the top100 can be divided into people suffering slumps, young players on the rise, savy veterans, and surface specialists. They stay in the top100 because they are good, but not as good as the other three groups.

Note that someone with the top15-30 qualities might be ranked 65. So even though I separate up to top30, probably over 50 people fit into those groups, just like I mentioned the 15 people that could be considered "greats" of the tour.

Now, on your second topic. Re: do tennis writers have a clue about the WTA depth? No, they don't. Many probably said that Kapros was the next best thing when she defeated Justine at the FO last year.
 
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