Sunday, July 5, 2015

Has Simona Halep Been Driving the Right Vehicle to Wimbledon? (II)

[version written partly before, partly on the day of Simona Halep's singles match at 2015 Wimbledon]

Has Simona Halep Been Driving the Right Vehicle to Wimbledon? (II)
No, I am not talking about Simona's Porsche  ...

I am talking about this recent result:
Birmingham 2015
Mladenovic beats Halep in the quarterfinals
2-6 6-0 7-6(4)
and quite deservedly: she showed variety - in slices, dropshots (none on Halep's side), many more net trips (and volleying some; I remember volleys from Halep in just one hot exchange).

Mladenovic has considerably improved lately, and perhaps now some of us will recognize that Bouchard losing to her wasn't that bad.
Halep lost on that day for the 1st time this year as a (1) seed, and while recognizing Mladenovic's obvious good form, this should not have happened. And this is why:
Halep/Team Halep used again the bad strategy, IMO: fighting the power player with uniform power (when obviously she isn't generating the hardest shots out there), instead of variety. She lost two matches with Lucic playing this way. Hasn't nothing at all registered?
She didn't change the contact point of the opponent with slices (at all) or high topspin (not enough), didn't introduce elements of surprise with dropshots or occasional S/Ving. Mladenovic was tuned in onto an unvaried pace and kind of shot reliably fed by Halep. Halep let the opponent play the variety card, instead of taking the initiative to play it herself, as she did this year with Wozniacki, who came to the net much more in Stuttgart, or Cornet. She didn't shock Mladenovic with power or placed returns (not enough DTL returns in that respect). She allowed herself to be too comfortable for the opponent, her kind of "ball" was predictable. Losing many mano-a-mano crosscourt FH exchanges didn't wake up to the reality of the day on the court.
There was no plan B to speak of, clearly. There is no progress on this issue since the days of Adrian Marcu coaching her two years ago.
Halep is happily and fortunately in good physical shape, and her recovery in the 3rd showed good fighting spirit. However, she's running the wrong car/strategy. 
Perhaps Virginia Ruzici, her manager, and a former great Romanian player herself, should follow up on her own idea I heard of, of taking Simona for a session with Justine Henin at her academy for a master's class.  Simona has the all ingredients - the shots are there, the hands are great, but the recipe is wrong, for she isn't using them, all those components, or not enough, or not in the right order. And Justine Henin would be a  great choice as she was herself a great player who, while being even a tad smaller than Simona, came to master an all-court strategy able to beat the power players based on variety elements I mentioned in the above.
On the positive side, her serve has markedly improved recently to its better incarnation. Her return though isn't opportune enough, as she herself has recognized. One reason: there is not enough body going into the shot, stepping in, translation.
Stepping into short balls was on that much Mladenovic's domain, and in doing that she just followed a line that e.g. Muguruza has successfully administered Halep.
After the match with Mladenovic, it seemed to me that both players had accumulated enough matches to be OK for Wimbledon and in that Birmingham had been thoroughly useful, but again, for me Halep was traveling in the wrong vehicle, one that would take much more effort to win in the big venue to come.
As one can see in the recording in the 2nd set at 1-0 for Mladenovic, with Halep serving, she sent the ball 4 times into the net, out of which were elementary situations.
Then Mladenovic came to the net to finish the point, and finished it quite well, with a volley.
I felt then this had been an unexpected drop in attention on the part of Halep after the success in the 1st which turned around the match.
Now as to the reasons for this, AlexT's (from the Tennis Talk forum) "Only she knows" is as good as an answer as any, but the situation points to [major] lapses of concentration.
The only explanation that would have worked in her favor for the debacle in the match with Mladenovic:
She planned the whole thing herself (and considering she's got enough grass practice already) in order to mimic Kvitova, who retired from Eastbourne after two official matches on grass last year, only to win Wimbledon thereafter.
Too remote? I think so :-[

Unfortunately, this was confirmed today by Simona Halep losing in the first round at Wimbledon to Jana Cepelova.
It seems difficult to believe, but it is real, today, June 30, 2015, Jana Cepelova used a more varied game than Simona Halep: she sliced and diced, came to the net, returned harder to shock the opponent, at times to put Simona on her heels, to surprise her and stress her. Capital example #1: with a slice she messed up Halep's contact point, got an error, and won the crucial 2nd set. Capital example 21: by coming to the net and handling a very tricky volley she won the penultimate point, leading to matchpoint.
It was, plainly to all to see, a superior strategy.

Then, to cap it all, at the official interview today, Simona declared optimistically: "My game is there."
Well, I for one would have liked to believe that from the beginning of the claycourt season, but I was continuously forced by the events to believe otherwise.
For which "game" is Simona talking about?
Last year's Roland Garros/Wimbledon vintage?
Sorry, perhaps not. E.g. the down-the-line forhand generated many more errors. The dropshots, more frequent last year, were today to be searched for with the microscope. BTW, I lately compared the quality of volleys in a Youtube recording showing Simona pairing recently with Heather Watson in doubles, and Simona didn't find her place on the court, stayed mainly at the baseline, and her volleys were not of the quality of last year, and very rare.
A new, more all-court, evolved version? There was none to be found - and I really wanted to find one. There was no slice today, no volleys, one dropshot (sorry if my memory fails me, but I am comparing with Cepelova, ridiculously more proficient than Simona Halep in  those chapters) .
Perhaps Simona talks of her shots. Oh, yes, we all know she has great hands, and the slice, the volley, the dropshot, the movement. are part of her arsenal of shots.  But a strategy/a game that really uses them in a significant proportion, or in the right order, coherent and well-thought, well, that might be too much to speak of.
So, let's just make tabula rasa of the Roland Garros/Wimbledon campaign and of its related strategy, for they were of a quite incomplete conception, lacking perspective as to what is best for Simona Halep in today's game, and not executed too great either.
You want my model of game for Simona Halep? It is still something much closer of Henin's.

A bon entendeur, salut.
Marius Hancu
Montreal, Canada

published in the comments at following

Halep cites nerves, low confidence in early exit


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Written before Wimbledon: New coaches, new plan for Simona Halep?

Hello, everyone,

FWIW, I was one of those militating for a new coach for Simona Halep last year, after her defeat at Singapore in the final with Serena Williams:

Personally, if I were Halep, with all great results (including on the financial side), which I'd be blind not to see and appreciate, I'd change coaches right now, as I honestly don't see any progress on the crucial technical and strategical side this year:

- STILL no slice

- STILL no volley, no occasional S-V

- not enough dropshots

- STILL no plan B to speak of (see Serena today, she applied her plan B throughout by coming to the net on each and every short ball)

- not enough coach on-court intervention to change course (perhaps Halep doesn't like that), including in today's match

just a good maintenance at a very good level, for which she should thank the current coach.

I had the same recommendation for Bouchard, even though her results aren't quite at the same level as Halep's.

Otherwise, she will continue to lack the variety of means to beat the best on a consistent basis, and will wear out her body, by her current insistance on staying parked at the baseline. She should change her style more toward's Henin's, than Clijsters'.

Am I too harsh? I don't think so. And I have had this recommendation for some time; as well, it's only confirmed by today's match.

There is a time for everything, and this is the best time for it, before putting in the hard work for the next season.

Suggestions? Paul Annacone, Stefan Edberg (even part time would help tremendously; and he might become available), Carlos Rodriguez (I know he has that academy in China, and he left even Li Na in the lurch because of it), even Justine Henin (if Mauresmo coaches, why not her? she has a tennis academy).

Now, Henin might not be available for touring as a coach for now:

Henin willing to look at coaching after having another child


A new series of coaches has passed Simona's way and have been dismissed since then, however the ideas do not seem to have changed in her camp, for her game plan A wasn't improved, and no plan B has become available (since November 2014 to this June 2015). In the meanwhile, she has scored painful defeats (as in the Australian, at Roland Garros or in even in Miami against Serena), together with some great success (Indian Wells). Let me be clear, it is a great achievement to be number 2 or 3 in the world, but it is not even by far the same as becoming number 1 at the end of the year, or winning Grand Slams, and this is the name of the game for someone of Simona's talent.

Simon Halep has the shots (the volleys, the dropshots, the high topspin, the slice) but she is not using them enough or at all, or in the right proportion, even though she has great hands. I am convinced that, like Bouchard, she is not training enough such variety, for having it available in matches, and for being  mentally ready to use them. Not only that, but the opposition have caught up to her somewhat uniform style, and it is _them_ who are using first variety to beat her (Wozniacki, by slicing and coming to the net to volley, at Stuttgart; Mladenovic, by volleying and dropshotting her at Roland Garros). This should be a big warning sign for Simona.

I, for one, and being enforced in my convictions by her latest results, continue to believe that only something similar with Henin's game, based on variety (in order to befuddle the opponents, to mess up their footwork and contact point) and shortening of the exchanges (in order to reduce the body wear), can be successful for someone of Halep's height, if she wants to be successful against Serena and Sharapova, or against other heavy hitters, such as Lucic, and if she wants to achieve that while having a long career in full health.

And Wimbledon would be a great place to see such changes implemented: the grass favors the slice, the dropshots, the net play, the short exchanges, the breaks in rhythm, the surprise. 

A bon entendeur, salut!

Marius Hancu
Montreal, Canada

comment after 
Halep making another coaching switch