What dictates a player’s game: temperament or skills?

I wandered over to one of the outside courts yesterday so I could check out Sania Mirza and see what makes that forehand such a weapon. And how the hell does she get those sharp angles? Is it the wrist action that Martina Hingis demonstrated in her belly dancer imitation after she lost to Sania? Or is it something else?

What I found was something else and it doesn’t have much to do with the forehand. Sania fussed and fumed and finally lost to 52nd ranked Virginie Razzano after struggling through a slow start and running into a big problem in the second set tiebreaker.

Sania had lost the first set 6-1 and was down 0-1 in the second set tiebreaker when she hit a backhand approach that appeared to land on the sideline. The chair umpire disagreed and overruled the call costing Mirza the point. She dropped her racked in disbelief. The chair umpire had just overruled a call on the sideline farthest from her chair and she did it in a tiebreaker:

By the time Sania regained her composure, she was down 5-1 in the tiebreaker. She fought back to 6-6 but Razzano hit a winner and Sania sent an angry return flying past the baseline and the match was over.

Did Sania’s temper lose her the match? Here’s what she said afterwards:

I’m a very short-tempered person off the court. On the court I’m not so bad but sometimes I just let it out and today was one of those days when I wasn’t playing well and then finally I was fighting so hard. …I hit a clean winner and she overruled the far sideline so what can you do? I got pissed and I lost.

Now we know. Sania is one fiery being and that’s what I found when I went looking for her forehand. It’s not the technical things that make it a strong stroke – apart from the wicked racket head speed of course. That same fire that undid her today is the same fire that makes her an ultra-aggressive player and no doubt adds some speed on the radar gun to the forehand.

Compare her with Razzano for instance. Razzano is a good, steady defensive player without a big weapon. She’s extremely annoying because she’s good enough to jump on errors and put the ball away but she can’t force her offense on you. She has to be calm and steady because she doesn’t have enough weapons to come back from a deficit

Mirza, on the other hand, tries to end points as soon as possible. Balls go flying all over the place as she tries to hit winner after winner.

What dictates a player’s game: is it temperament or skills?

For instance, does the fiery temperament come first or does a player tailor they’re game to their skills.

Look at Roger Federer. He had a terrible temper as a junior but winning is his first priority and now, as Debra our reader says, you can hardly hear him when he plays whereas other players are grunting and groaning and yelling. Bjorn Borg too. He used to insist on playing games with his father when he was a child then throw a complete fit if he lost.

The answer, then, is neither. The overriding factor for the aggressive play and strong strokes is the desire to win and players who want to win badly enough tailor their temperament to get the best results. If screaming makes you play better – think of John McEnroe – then that’s what you’ll do. If unnatural calmness works, then a player who wants to win strongly enough will become an unnaturally calm player regardless of his or her fundamental temperament.

This is my theory. Feel free to weigh in with yours.

Oh, and about those sharp angles that befuddled Hingis. Sania goes for winners which means she goes for lots of angles. And when she hits an angle, her opponent will often go for more angle. I’m not observant enough to know if her shot is particularly wristy or not but if you create angles, you get a lot more opportunity to hit them.

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To read more about Sania, Martina and Marion, check these out:
Hingis Compares Herself to Chakvetadze
Bartoli is Out of Sorts in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, Montreal, Lego Man and Bud Collins

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