Heard at the lunch table outside the media/player’s restaurant today – a new term: Nadal years. If a dog ages seven years for every human year, then Nadal ages two years for every year of an average professional tennis player’s career due to his hard style of play.
Bob Larson of TennisNews.com joked about taking credit for the term but it actually came from Lornie Kuhle who was sitting next to him. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he was Jimmy Connors longtime friend and practice partner.
Nicole Vaidisova retired from the WTA tour yesterday at the age of 20. Yes, 20, and the retirement is not due to injury. Vaidisova joined the tour in 2003 when she was 13 years old so with a career length of seven years she’s operating in Nadal years too but for a different reason: the pressure that comes with the current tennis star making machinery.
There are lots of things we could point to – sixth youngest title winner and 12th youngest player to reach top ten – but let’s look, instead, at Kim Clijsters response to the retirement announcement. After Clijsters lost to Alisa Kleybanova on Monday, a journalist suggested to Clijsters that Vaidisova never seemed to have fun playing. Here’s Clijster’s response:
I think with her we never really had that feeling that she was out there for the fun of it. I think she felt a lot of pressure as well.
Clijster couldn’t say whether the pressure came from her entourage or from Vaidisova herself in the form of expecting perfection. Either one would be enough make you want to run away and get married which is exactly what Vaidisova is doing. She’ll marry Radek Stepanek later this year.
Vaidisova also had the requisite parental coaching figure in her stepfather and his comment on the retirement was rather interesting:
Her agent told me last week. She’s fed up with tennis and that’s understandable. She started very young.
If it’s that understandable shouldn’t we develop young players more slowly? Granted, it’s expensive to send a kid to a tennis academy, but if a player doesn’t look like she’s having fun when she’s younger, when will she have fun? Clijsters also said something else about Vaidisova:
You know, she was always a girl, especially in matches, was very down and showed a lot of emotions.
Forgetting the gender stereotyping, especially from one of our own, that tells me that Vadisova’s tennis matured long before she did and when there’s that much of a lag between the two, early success means later distress.