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


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