Thursday, January 24, 2013
Who's rooting hard for Li Na right now? THIS GIRL!
So it's been about 14 hours since the conclusion of the Victoria Azarenka/Sloane Stephens match, and I gotta say, I'm still a little pissed off. In case you didn't see it, Azarenka had a little trouble closing out the American teen, and when she failed to serve it out at 5-3, she called a medical timeout for a troublesome rib and left knee. Because it was a double injury, she got nearly ten minutes off-court, effectively icing Stephens, who was to serve next and was broken. In that final game, she showed no signs of problems with movement and in her on-court interview, never even mentioned being hurt. Or in her ESPN interview after that. In fact, the first thing she said was that she almost choked that set away and implied she needed a minute (or 10) to settle her nervous ass down. Which leads us to the question: WTF? Now, immediately after, some analysts seemed willing to consider the idea that Azarenka didn't know exactly that what she did was abuse of the rules. How to say this best? Um, that's crap. Mary Jo Fernandez diplomatically called it a "veteran move." Later, in her press conference, she tried to tell reporters she had a legit rib injury that made it hard to breathe, and just didn't understand reporters' questions. Oh come on now. All of a sudden, fifteen minutes before you're in front of a mic, you have not one, but two injuries flare up on you just as you're serving for a Grand Slam final and it doesn't spring to mind immediately after, when you're interviewed? Everyone knows that injury time outs are for injuries, not mental lapses. Foosball is for people with mental lapses. (And let's get this out of the way: Even despite Azarenka's stunt, you have to be mentally strong enough to overcome your opponent, no matter what they pull. Stephens is young, and this experience, along with many others, will make her stronger. It's not Azarenka's fault she couldn't hold serve there. It was Stephens'.) Now this doesn't rise to Justine Henin's retirement in the Aussie final against Amelie Mauresmo to me, but I lost a good deal of respect for Azarenka last night. She's so ridiculously talented that she could have taken care of that match on skill alone. And I don't even think her goal was to get Stephens off-balance -- that timeout was strictly taken for her mental benefit. But champions don't pull cheap stunts like that. Not the ones we can't forget 50 years later. Speaking of 50 years later, hopefully, this will lead to a rule change that keeps players from pulling bush-league stunts like this at will. Just off the top of my head, I'd suggest taking a challenge review from a player for every timeout they call in a set. It's not perfect, but give me time. I can come up with something better. Bottom line: The beauty of tennis is that it's a thinking man's game. It's not like football -- which involves strategy, don't get me wrong -- where you can blow a whistle and try to ice a kicker. It's in the rules in that sport, and that's fine. In tennis, there is no sideline coaching (ahemWTAahem) and there are no time outs permitted because your racquet suddenly weighs 50 pounds. You're nervous? You have to either figure it out yourself or suffer the consequences. Oh, I forgot the third option. You can fake two injuries that no one will ever be able to prove you do not have while you regroup. Not cool, Azarenka. And neither is that sidekick of yours. Am I the only one genuinely annoyed by this Reddoof character? (That was intentional.)