Monthly Archives: November 2005

Masters Cup 2005 – doubles players win all around

The ATP has decided to bring some peace and quiet to the doubles competition controversy. In June, the ATP announced changes to doubles matches that included a tiebreaker at 4-4, no-ad scoring (at deuce, the returning team chooses which side to receive and the next point wins the game), and, starting in 2008, restricting doubles to players in the singles draw except for two places. The doubles specialists sued the ATP and threw mud at them in the press but the ATP Player Council and Tournament Council came to an agreement during the Masters Cup in Shanghai.

No-ad scoring remains but sets will stay at six games. Instead of a third set, there will be a match tiebreaker: first to ten points, win by two. Doubles will not be restricted almost exclusively to singles players but entries will be determined by a player’s singles or doubles ranking, whichever is higher. Previously, only doubles rankings were used.

The press release announcing the agreement has two interesting statements. The agreement says that “promotional initiatives will be funded and implemented by the doubles players, ATP and ATP tournaments.” Let me get this right. Doubles players will have to pay to promote themselves. The tournament directors don’t want to market doubles players. Many tournament directors would love to get rid of doubles altogether. The ATP and the tournament directors seem to be saying, “We could market you but it won’t do any good. If you players chip in some money, we’ll prove it to you.”

Let me get this right. Doubles players will have to pay to promote themselves.

The second interesting part is the announcement of new members to the ATP Board. Perry Rogers is now the player representative for the Americas region. Rogers is the close friend and manager of Andre Agassi. True, he is very familiar with tour players, but he was never a player himself. The ATP used to be the players union but now it represents the players and the tournament directors, an unholy alliance of parties with different interests resulting in strange situations such as the doubles players suit against the ATP. By suing the ATP, doubles players were suing themselves!

If Rogers takes a role similar to union executives such as Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, then he could strengthen the players’ role in the ATP. It’s not as effective as establishing a separate players union but it could increase players’ power if he’s willing to threaten a job action.

While we’re talking about doubles and Shanghai, lets look at the Masters Cup final in the doubles competition and see if the new changes will help.

The team of Leander Paes (India) and Nenad Zimonjic (Serbia-Montenegro) played against Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro of France. Unlike the singles competition – four of the top six singles players were injured or did not turn up – all of the top doubles players were in the draw. Seven players had been ranked number one in doubles at some point in their career. That hardly makes up for the singles mess, though, does it?

Each team had a big server who likes to whack the ball and a light server who is a finesse player. Llodra and Zimonjic are the big servers. Santoro and Paes are veteran players near the end of their career. Santoro will drive you crazy with spin and placement while Paes moves all over the court to confuse his opponents and cut off their shots.

In the fourth game, Llodra smashed a ball right at Paes who stuck his racket behind and between his legs to scoop the ball off the court and, unfortunately, hit it over the opposite baseline. You don’t see that shot in singles. Llodra lost his serve in the sixth game but got the break back with two good plays in the next game. After Paes served Santoro wide off the court, the left-handed Llodra covered the middle and hit a beautiful backhand winner past Zimonjic. Remember that shot. On break point, Llodra hit four very hard shots right at Paes before Paes finally hit one of them out.

And that’s how this match went. Llodra hit hard shot after hard shot at his opponents’
bodies, Zimonjic went for the angles, Paes ran all over the place and Santoro hit funky two-handed dipping shots so softly that his opponents had no choice but to hit the ball up and brace for the return smash.

It’s easy to see why the ATP wants to shorten doubles matches. Players meet at the baseline for conferences between every point. Santoro and Llodra require two hand-slaps per conference, one at the beginning and one at the end. Then there is Paes’ serve: after he chooses a ball, he likes to rub it on his belly. The belly rub is followed by endless ball bounces and a service motion that takes forever.

Llodra celebrated with a loud yell as he twisted his body and extended his hand then bounced the ball off his forehead. Good thing this was not a bowling tournament.

The disapproving television announcers point out that players are supposed to walk directly to the other side of the court after the first game of each set but “they always have to find an excuse to stop.” One announcer found the ATP changes unsatisfactory: “(they) go some way to reducing the length of the matches but I’m not sure it’s enough, personally.” His partner bemoaned the presence of chairs that allow players to sit during breaks. “You used to have three set singles matches over in under an hour … before you had chairs, they used to just walk round and get on with it.” Good thing these guys are not on the ATP Board of Directors. They’d probably take away the players’ water bottles.

Paes and Zimonjic barely won the first set with an 8-6 tiebreaker. They used the momentum to break Santoro in the third game in the second set but then there was trouble. Paes had been missing first serves all match long. His first serves are slow enough but his second serves are pop-ups – around 80 mph. In a game that was thirteen minutes long, Paes lost his serve then his partner Zimonjic hit two double faults and lost his serve to go down 2-4. They looked demoralized and out of rhythm. Doubles can be a lightning quick game, balls come at you so fast – unless Santoro is hitting them – that you have to respond automatically. If you feel a little bit off or show the slightest hesitation, you’ll send the ball over the baseline or into the net.

Llodra and Santoro won the second set, 6-3, to even the match. After six boring games, the third set was at 3-3 and I started to pine for no-ad scoring. Better than that, how about a match tiebreaker and forget the third set altogether?

With Llodra serving at 4-5, Santoro ran back to the baseline to run down a lob then hit his own lob that landed on his opponents’ baseline. Zimonjic followed with an overhead and, after an exchange of cross-court shots, Llodra hit another beautiful backhand down the line past Zimonjic to even the set at 5-5. Llodra celebrated with a loud yell as he twisted his body and extended his hand then bounced the ball off his forehead. Good thing this was not a bowling tournament.

In the tiebreaker, Llodra and Santoro were up 5-3 even after a fifteen shot, rocket fast net rally ended with Llodra volleying the ball long. At 5-4, Llodra served to Zimonjic. Paes started at the baseline but moved forward to soon and Llodra hit a gorgeous reflex volley to the spot that Paes vacated. On the next point, Paes popped up a good Llodra serve and the match was over.

After seventeen years on the tour, Santoro had his first Masters Cup title. Llodra, the crazy one, emptied his bag and threw shirts, towels and wristbands into the crowd. Then he took his shoes off and threw them into the crowd. Then he took his shirt off and threw that into the crowd. Unfortunately he stopped there. Llodra may have been the first tennis player in history to receive his trophy barefoot. I hope the Chinese were not offended.

Doubles is a repeating stop and go cycle, an exciting full court ballet of four players moving crosswise and forward and back. Smashes, slice volleys, poaches and aces are sandwiched between endless conferences and glacial service motions. The changes won’t cut out the conferences or speed up the action between points, but no-ad scoring will make every point in a game more important and signficantly shorten matches. It might also force players like Santoro and Paes into retirement earlier. With no-ad scoring, slow servers will be more of a liability because it will be harder to hold serve. It might sound cruel, but that would help the game.

Since match tiebreakers will shorten matches, tournament directors will be more likely to put doubles on show courts for better exposure. Encouraging singles players to enter the doubles draw by using the singles and doubles ranking as an entry ranking sounds like a good idea but only the lower ranked singles players would be interested. The winners in today’s match took home $100,000. If Roger Federer had beaten David Nalbandian in the singles final, he would have won $1 million dollars plus a $100,000 bonus because he won all of his round robin matches. He won one more match than Nalbandian. Why would Federer enter a doubles competition if he could win the same amount of money for one match?

Bring on the changes. Not that it means I will watch more matches, mind you, but I’m more likely to take a peek now and then.

Masters Cup 2005 – Federer finally loses

Something unusual happened in Shanghai on Sunday morning. Roger Federer lost a match. It was his first loss since the French Open and the first time he has lost a final since July, 2003. David Nalbandian beat Federer, 6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3), to win the year-end Masters Cup title.

Sometimes it gets boring writing about winning streaks. The same old person wins and you have to think of something new to say about the repeat victor and something hopeful to say about the hapless opponents. This loss is such a unique opportunity that my co-writer, Pat Davis, and I are both covering it. You can read Pat’s take here.

The question is: did Federer lose the match or did Nalbandian win it? Did Federer’s injured ankle prevent him from playing his usual high level of tennis or did Nalbandian play so well that he is a threat to take majors away from Federer in the future?

The answer is: Federer is likely to start another winning streak when the 2006 season starts in January and journalists will again have to think of new ways to describe his superlative play.

The problem was not Federer’s ankle. “No pain. Not real pain,” he said after the match. Instead, the problem was “Real big, big fatigue.” He was on crutches three weeks ago and last played in a tournament six weeks ago. He wasn’t in match shape.

The question is: did Federer lose the match or did Nalbandian win it?

Federer and Nalbandian have been playing each other since junior tennis. Nalbandian dominated Federer in juniors and won their first five professional matches but Federer has won the last four. Though Federer is gracious, he is not lacking in self confidence. He’s not concerned about Nalbandian: “the way I played him at the US Open, I definitely felt like I’ve got him figured out.”

But Federer didn’t just lose it, Nalbandian did everything he could to take advantage of Federer’s condition and it won him the match. Again and again he sliced drop shots just over the net and ran Federer side to side to tire him out. Every time Federer looked like he was pulling away, Nalbandian made him play one more stroke or stretched the game a few more points to stay right with him. At the end of the first set, Federer won the tiebreaker with an unplayable net chord, both players had fifteen winners and almost identical unforced errors.

At 5-5, 15-15, in the second set, Federer and Nalbandian got into a point that looked like a backhand hitting exercise till Nalbandain pulled a backhand particularly wide. Federer stabbed at the ball getting it just over the net. Nabandian ran in and popped the ball up and Federer hit a lob over his head. Nalbandian ran backwards and hit the ball between his legs and into the net. On the next point Federer hit behind Nalbandian to get double break point but then hit three straight errors. Nalbandian had held serve by hanging around long enough for Federer to make mistakes.

The second set tiebreaker was a knockdown, drag out fight. At 10-9, Nalbandian hit yet another drop shot – his fifth in the tiebreaker. Federer got to it and hit it cross court but Nalbandian returned an even sharper angle cross court, Federer had to go to his knees to get to it, then snatched the ball out of the air for a winner to even the score at 10-10.

Federer won the tiebreaker, 13-11, but the damage was done. The first two sets took over two hours and fifteen minutes to play and Federer started to lose his legs in the third set. His first serve percentage dropped to 45% and he won only 25% of his second serve points. That was unusual enough but then I saw something I’ve never seen in a Federer match. Nalbandian had broken him twice and was serving for the set at 5-2, 30-15 when Federer hit a cross court winner that landed on the line. As he walked along the baseline, Federer flicked his arm at Nalbandian and shouted “shut”, shut up?, then looked at chair umpire Wayne McEwen. McEwen had overruled a few early calls correctly but he had muffed the last three or four. His constant overruling encouraged Nalbandian to question calls and Federer was sick of it. Nalbandian rubbed his chin on his shirt and stood there. After getting over the shock, he might have had an inner smile. Federer was clearly rattled.

Early in the fourth set, Federer called the trainer out to rub some life into his legs but it didn’t work. After Nalbandian got his second break of the set, Federer waved at a few balls but saved his energy for the fifth set, the last set of the match and the season.

…playing an injured opponent can be tricky. You look bad if you lose but you don’t get full credit if you win.

Nalbandian knew his opponent was down and he went on a tear. After going up 4-0 in the fifth set he had won ten straight games. The match appeared to be over. But playing an injured opponent can be tricky. You look bad if you lose but you don’t get full credit if you win. Winning a very important title can be nerve wracking enough without the added pressure. Nalbandian felt the pressure; he hit a few errors and gave Federer an opening.

He hit a drop shot error on break point to give Federer his first game in the set. I’m sure Federer appreciated that, the drop shot had been punishing him the entire match. Two games later, Federer failed to convert his first two break points but Nalbandian gave him another with an error and Federer finally won the game with a forehand down the line. Incredibly enough, the match was back on serve.

Nalbandian was now the one who was rattled. At 5-5, he hit another error to lose the game and let Federer serve for the match. After losing his legs and ten straight games, Federer found the strength somewhere deep inside to win five straight games and come within two points of winning the match. You don’t win thirty-four matches in a row and twenty-four straight finals without a huge measure of pride and desire.

Nalbandian finally collected his mind, “I can’t go home like this,” he said to himself, and pushed the set to a tiebreaker which he won.

Federer lost the match but we’re left with the same problem: thinking of something new to say about his talent. Maybe it’s not so hard. We’ve talked about his superb movement and graceful strokes, and his ability to break down his opponent. Now we can talk about the depth of his pride and the size of his heart.

Wowsville! The Men’s Year-End Final, Shanghai

As the fifth set in the championship at the year-end event started, and David Nalbandian proceeded to win four games in steady succession, the camera swung to Roger Federer, standing at the service lines, his racquet lying on the ground, his arms crossed, a frown on his solid and normally happy appearing face. As if he were contemplating a problem not encountered before. Or at least since June of this year, the time when he last lost a match. .

His long-time partner and manager, Mirka, speaks of how happy he is when he wakes up in the morning. Any morning. That made me cringe. A man who does that on a regular basis should be beaten, just on principle alone. But this was excruciating to watch now.

Roger was getting his butt kicked. And this even after winning the first two sets in nerve-wracking tiebreakers, lengthy and extremly hard fought. That should have broken the back, if not the spirit, of David Nalbandian.

But to David’s great credit, the biggest weapon in his arsenal today was his tenacity. He was determined to hang in there with the era’s greatest player, he knew he had been playing well, he knew if he stayed with Federer he would get chances. He played steady, he played consistently. He came out out of the gate firing with deep, heavy shots. He wanted to make the statement, “I am here to push you around, I am going for my shots.” Roger was kept on his toes. Nalbandian really took it to him.

Once he had his serve and ground game working well, Nalbandian could afford to take chances. He closed often into the net behind a weak Federer shot, and won a lot of his points there. Both guys went drop-shot crazy today. Personally I happen to love seeing all these little birdies fly, ever so low, over the net for winners. But the hackers at home are going to go crazy when they see this, and I’m afraid they will all rush out and try to duplicate it. That won’t be a pretty sight. You can’t teach this shot, you can only talk about it. The player either has it or he/she doesn’t.

The fact that this was a five-set match could have, nearly, foretold the outcome of this match. Time was clearly on Nalbandian’s side today, he had the better conditioning. Roger had nearly enough breath from somewhere to snatch the victory out. But just as Amelie Mauresmo really needed the win in Los Angeles at the women’s event, David Nalbandian needed to lay similar “choke” histories to rest with a win here today.

Their history is interesting, going back to the juniors, when Nalbandian held sway over Roger. He did not start beating his Argentine nemesis until the final of this same event two years ago. Now Roger Federer has won their last four matches.

You can sense why Nalbandian has given Federer trouble over the years. For my money, Nalbandian is a kind of updated version of Borg. He drives you nuts, he wears you down, his steadiness is destined and structured to defeat the “artistes” on the tour, and Roger is certainly that. David played very steady today. The human backboard, and much of the time he not only got the ball back, he got it back with a vicious dollop of pace that forced errors today, until Roger looked like he did in his first week of play here, when he struggled to reach his form after a long layoff due to an ankle strain.

Nalbandian was able to keep this up, he was absolutely dogged. I think you have to honor a man, only one of four men this year, to beat Roger Federer. This was a worthy match for both men, despite the tension of the close games, and despite a bit of testiness between them it appeared at one point, when Roger Federer seemed to complain to the chair about something Nalbandian was doing. Perhaps he felt David was questioning too many of his shots. The guys held it together, until they brought out the very best in each other. Federer salvaged what could have been an awful bagel job like he inflicted on Gaston Gaudio, his semi-final opponent. Only it could have been on him in that fifth set going down 6-0.

If we could be the fly on the wall tonight, or whenever it is, that Tony Roche goes over the match with his pupil, Roger Federer, maybe he would not say very much at all. Many of Roger’s errors later in the match came out of exhaustion. Where the guy found “the fumes,” as Patrick McEnroe referred to it, to push his way back into the match, and nearly pull it out, is something of a mystery.

Roger was born under the sign of Leo, the natives of that sign have a innate sense of pride in all they do, and they will strive to defend their good name against all odds. He hates to lose.

At the post-match interview, Roger was quoted as saying he was very happy he played the way he did today. That is a great thing to hear.

The fifth set tiebreak came right down to the wire, and it was a most fitting end to the day. You really can’t say there was a loser, although for Federer it will seem a sad end to several wonderful winning streaks, having won 24 finals up until this one, 35 matches overall, and he threatened to tie John McEnroe’s record of 82-3 overall during a year. Federer will now be 81-4.

I keep babbling on in this column about how a guy like Federer really needs worthy rivals. This match might loosen up the men’s tour, you can just imagine the other guys are watching all this in the players’ lounge, or whatever dive bars they happen to hang out in. The fact a good, solid but not spectacular player like David Nalbandian can emerge from the pack late in the season and beat the World’s No. One, will fire the boys up. Good for business.

Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin, Andre Agassi. Those were the guys who were expected, and often have, given a lot of trouble to Roger Federer. I don’t quite include Andy Roddick in this mix, at least not of late. Federer has given him a case of the yips, and I don’t see Andy feeling he can beat Federer anytime soon. Better just to let the guy be and take some of that pressure off.

David Nalbandian? That was not a name that automatically sprang to mind as a potential usurper of the Federer throne.

But now that he’s here, why come on in, guy, and have a seat at the table.
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Masters Cup 2005 – trolling for controversy

We don’t have a player like Terrell Owens in tennis – maybe that’s why tennis isn’t so popular in the United States – so the tennis media has to settle for whatever controversy it can find. In the women’s year-end tournament, controversy came in the form of missing players. Three out of the four slam winners did not bother to play and the one slam winner who did turn up, Kim Clijsters, was too tired to perform well.

In Shanghai, the site of the men’s year-end tournament, the Masters Cup, there are two sources of controversy.

The first source of contention is the playing surface. Gerfloor – it sounds like we should be talking about a dog show – is a sticky fast surface. Rafael Nadal and Guilermo Coria are very unhappy, their best surface is clay. “I don’t see myself on this surface winning the match. It’s too difficult,” Coria said after losing to Ivan Ljubicic. He is right, the floor is too fast for a year-end championship. If you invite the top players in the world, don’t install a surface that favors a small percentage, use a surface which is a compromise between grass and clay: a medium speed hard court.

The second problem is the shrinking supply of top players. Nadal and Agassi are gone, Marat Safin has not recovered from knee surgery, Andy Roddick injured his back in Paris, and Lleyton Hewitt is waiting for his wife to give birth to their first child.

Agassi blamed the injuries on the state of the game today. “The ball’s faster. Guys are stronger. The movement is much more violent now,” he said. Are players getting injured because the season is too long? “Maybe,” Agassi said. Most people have a more definite opinion on the matter. Some think that the season is too long, not unreasonable considering that it consists of four different seasons on four different continents with a five week offseason. Some think that player greed is the problem.

China is not asking for their money back but they do think they bought a lemon.

An ATP player’s ranking is calculated from results in fourteen tournaments: the four majors, the nine Masters Series events and the best results in five other tournaments. Since each major and two of the Masters events are two weeks long, this adds up to twenty-four weeks of play each year. The ATP is not forcing anyone to play thirty tournaments, as Nikolay Davydenko did this year. Players enter a lot of tournaments, and play in a lot of lucrative exhibitions, to make a lot of money. You can read Peter Bodo’s Tennis World, for this point of view.

The problem with blaming the players is that tennis looks like a watered down, disorganized mess when players skip tournaments. Can you imagine fans going to NASCAR races if the top drivers were often missing? Look at the F1 racing circuit. Sponsors would be very mad if a driver decided to skip the Spanish, Austrian and Monaco Grand Prix to take an inseason vacation. Companies whose names are plastered all over the drivers’ uniforms, and cars, would ask for their money back.

China is not asking for their money back but they do think they bought a lemon. “We feel like we bought a Mercedes-Benz only to find 60 percent of the auto parts are no longer the original ones we paid for,” said Wang Liqun, the deput director of the organising committee. He didn’t choose that make of car by accident. Mercedes Benz is one of the main sponsors of the ATP tour.

The organizers are also very unhappy with Agassi because he announced his withdrawal at a press conference instead of telling organizers first. “I don’t appreciate what Agassi is doing. He made the announcement without telling anyone,” Liqun said. Liqun’s boss, Qin Weichang, took a more diplomatic approach with his followup comment: “We commend Andre Agassi at the age of 35 of being competitive and still carrying on with this kind of professional career.”

American tennis players are not used to dealing with Chinese government diplomacy. This is not the same as pulling out of the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven. China has made a big commitment to this tournament, it will be held in Shanghai for three years, and players need to adjust to the expectations of the organizers.

It could be much worse. There is a theory that intellectuals in the Soviet Republic were such good literary critics because they had to be expert at decoding statements from the communist government. If they said or wrote something unacceptable, they could end up in Siberia. There is an apocryphal story about Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher and literary scholar, that demonstrates the dilemma. In one of Stalin’s periodic purges of intellectuals, Bakhtin was sentenced to internal exile in Kazakhstan for six years. One night in the freezing winter weather, he realized that he had no firewood so he had to choose between using his latest manuscript as fuel for the fire or freezing in the cold.

To be fair, the organizers have also blamed the ATP. They called on them to shorten the season so that there is a chance of having a full field at next year’s tournament. Maybe China can do what no one else has been able to do – move the ATP to action.

2005 WTA Championships – Mauresmo wins the title

There are pivotal moments in every athlete’s career. It might be a victory over an opponent after many losses or a title after coming close many times. These triumphs are often just a step on the way, not the final goal. Martina Navratilova lost 20 of the first 25 matches she played against Chris Evert before she beat her for the Wimbledon title in 1978. Peyton Manning beat the New England Patriots this month after seven straight defeats, two of them playoff games that decided which team would go to the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning hasn’t gone to a super bowl yet. And Amelie Mauresmo hasn’t won a grand slam. But she took a big step yesterday by winning the 2005 WTA Championships in Los Angeles at Staples Center in the most exciting match on the women’s tour since the Wimbledon final between Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams. In a match that was more than three hours long, Mauresmo beat Mary Pierce, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-4.

Mauresmo’s game plan counted on her conditioning to force Pierce to play long points and eventually tire. Usually you make your opponent tired by running her all over the court while you stand in one place. In this match, Mauresmo was the runner. Again and again, Pierce hit to Mauresmo’s forehand or backhand then followed with a shot deep to the opposite corner. Or she dropped the ball just over the net so that Mauresmo would have to run from a back corner all the way forward to the opposite side of the court. Again and again, Mauresmo retrieved the ball and hit a slice backhand or rolling forehand back over the net.

After exchanging breaks early in the first set, Pierce broke Mauresmo to go up 6-5. On Pierce’s first set point, twenty-three strokes went by before Pierce hit a backhand shot into the corner and approached the net. Mauresmo got to the ball and hit a spectacular running forehand crosscourt past Pierce. Everyone in the building hoped that Mauresmo could parlay that shot into a break and push the set into a tiebreaker, but on the next point she barely cleared the net with a backhand then hit a forehand into the net.

Mauresmo broke Pierce to go up 3-1 in the second set. Pierce was stretching her legs and bending her knees between points, “I had pain in my legs the entire match”, she said. It looked like Mauresmo’s plan might be working but soon Pierce was back to running Mauresmo left and right. In the seventh game, Pierce got the break back and the set went to a tiebreaker.

With Mauresmo up 4-2 in the tiebreaker, Mauresmo hit another exceptional forehand but Pierce got to it this time and returned it with such a sharp angle that it landed well inside the service line. Pierce ended the point with a ball down the line that Mauresmo could not return. This was a thrilling match. Mauresmo held on to take the tiebreaker and the match went to a third set.

With Mauresmo serving at 3-4 in the third set, Pierce ended the game with three straight errors. When Pierce was asked if exhaustion was an issue, she said, “Unfortunately not,” but the evidence says otherwise. Instead of hitting winners on important shots, now she was hitting errors.

In the next game, Mauresmo ran deep into the corner and flicked a running forehand off her shoetops and over net past an approaching Pierce for the shot of the match. If the spectacular running forehand in the first set wasn’t quite enough to propel Mauresmo beyond her fears and doubts, this one was. Pierce hit two more errors and Mauresmo could now serve for the title.

Overcoming your demons is never easy. Instead of cruising through her service game, Mauresmo found herself down 0-40. Then Pierce hit two errors, one at least six feet beyond the baseline. After she hit it, she raised her hand, palm turned up, and scrunched her face as if she’d just seen something deeply puzzling.

The match ended with one more Pierce error and Mauresmo had the biggest title of her career, a check for one million dollars, and the number three ranking.

And expectations.

Though many people thought Mauresmo should have won a grand slam by now, many had given up. They decided that she would never win the grand slam her game is most suited for, the French Open, because the pressure is too great for a French player and Mauresmo’s nerves are particularly fragile. Now that she has won a big title on a fast surface in a very tough match, the pressure to win a slam will be that much greater.

It doesn’t necessarily get easier after those pivotal moments.