Perfect Player

By Jane Voigt

October 25, 2013 — Is there one perfect tennis player on the women’s tour? Simply and realistically … no.

Yet, tennis does attract perfectionists. At the club level, which is most familiar to the large percentage of people on court around the world, you can stand back and watch the characteristic bloom. Someone double faults and hesitates on the baseline, hands on hips, their mind a boggle of criticism. Or, you miss a volley — wide, long, into the net — then smack the strings as if they caused the mishap. Nope, not a chance. It’s not the racquet. 

We take lessons, play on teams, and challenge friends to matches that should be called duels. En guard! When we lose, some walk off and forget. Many, though, are devastated and unable to put a loss out of their minds. They want the game to go perfectly. Or, more accurately, they want it to go the way they think it should go.

Honestly, deep down everyone knows it’s impossible. Impossible to hit your target all the time, impossible to serve like your favorite tour hero, and impossible to change anything about your game if you don’t practice. Nonetheless, we reach for perfection, fall short, and get back up to do it all over again. 

Although Serena Williams comes mighty close to the perfect tennis player, considering the women’s side of the net only, she still cannot control it all. As much as she wanted to defeat Sabine Lisicki in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon this summer, she could not muster the game. Nor could she against Sloane Stephens in Melbourne or Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati. 

So, is it possible, then, to patch together a perfect-tennis model, drawing this and that from the 8 best women players in Istanbul? 

We’ll need an exceptional forehand, backhand, volley, overhead smash, serve, and return of serve. And, we’ll need a right-handed or left-handed choice. Finally, we’ll want someone who inhales mental toughness, acuity, concentration … a lock-tight, point-by-point mindful competitor. 

The Hand that Holds the Racquet
Lefty. Definitely lefty. There aren’t as many left-handed players in the world, which is an advantage from the get go. Their shots are totally wiggy. A slice serve veers left, when it would normally swerve right (from a righty). Even a ‘flat’ serve has work on the ball. It never follows a clean trajectory, either. Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova are the lefties in Istanbul. Kvitova eliminated the German in round-robin play today, which, by default puts her at the top of the list. 

Serena Williams has the best forehand of the eight. She drives the ball deep, consistently. She approaches down the line, which is the correct way to get to the net, not cross court. Her forehand epitomizes pace. 

And the winner is … Na Li. Convincing. Accurate, unless she takes a mental walkabout, and it has lots of pace. Jelena Jankovic is a second pick. No one sends a backhand down the line like JJ. 

Sara Errani. Her record in singles against the top five is dismal: 1-32. She is five-four and can’t muster a slam-bang serve to get her out of trouble or win her critical points. However, she’s the best around the net. She is a tactician. She and her doubles partner, Roberta Vinci, are in Istanbul, too, for the second year in a row. Errani deserves a boat-load of credit for her year’s performances in both disciplines. She and Vinci were honored yesterday as the year-end’s No. 1 doubles team. Serena won the singles’ category.

Overhead Smash
Victoria Azarenka. Even though ‘Vika’ ducked a few critical overheads during the U. S. Open final, she still moves and positions herself better than the others in order to connect with the smash overhead. She gets under the ball, which means stutter steps for balance. 

Again, we’ll have to take Serena’s serve. She’s at the top of the leader board in raw numbers — 452 aces, according to WTA Tour Match Facts. Sabine Lisicki is a distant second with 283 aces. However, Lisicki wins more aces per match than does Serena: 5.9/match versus 2.7/match. But, Lisicki was not invited to Istanbul.  

Return of Serve
Victoria Azarenka has the best record on the WTA, edging Serena ever so slightly: 56% to 54.7%. 

Picking the player with the best mental game is a challenge. If we looked at results only, then Serena Williams would be the one to select. She has 17 Grand Slam titles, having added two this year. But she has been defeated, as noted above. 

If we could transplant a bit of mental fortitude from each of the eight, our model could spin wonders. 

The Perfect Tennis Model
She is left-handed with a forehand and serve like Serena’s. Her backhand likens Li’s. She volleys with the magic of Sara Errani. Hits overheads as well as Azarenka, and returns serve like Vika, too. Is she perfect. No, but darn close. 

Today’s results from the Sinan Erdem stadium in Istanbul:
Petra Kvitova defeated Angelique Kerber 67(3) 62 63
Na Li defeated Victoria Azarenka 62 61
Sara Errani defeated Jelena Jankovic 64 64 

Semifinal Schedule, Saturday, October 26. Tennis Channel, 8 a.m. EST 
Na Li versus Petra Kvitova
Serena Williams versus Jelena Jankovic




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