FUZZED: Head Problems

There are some players who really put their fans through a grinder. Safin is one, but apparently he’ll be gone after this year. Nalbandian. Kind of like a cranky cobra, is Bandy Boy. For the first set and a half against Nadal, he was certainly deadly. He was cruising, and I bet his fans were ready to celebrate a big win. Rafa was pretty much helpless against those deep flat balls hit corner to corner, and the big early returns off his serve (just what Rogi lacks off his backhand), but when it came to closing it out when Rafa looked just about gone, Bandies – as experienced as he is – started double faulting – you could see it coming. After that, the cobra lost his fangs and just fell apart. More double faults, awful UE’s, no first serves, etc. A nightmare to watch, like a plane losing altitude and smashing into pieces on the ground. I’ve never much liked Bandies, and it was awful seeing it. To make it worse, he and del Potro (whose idea was that partnership after their bad feelings during last year’s Davis Cup final?) got slaughtered 1 and 1 against Fish and Roddick the next day.

Some observers call Bandies the best ATP player yet to win a slam. If you saw the match against Rafa, you might see why he hasn’t done it yet. Some players never conquer their nerves and/or focus sufficiently enough to get to the next level, and Bandies is a quintessential example of this; he often plays longer matches than he should, whether it’s 3 out 3 or 5 out of 5. Against lesser players, you know it’s all in his head. While he’ll occasionally beat a top player, it’s only occasional, but you know he’s capable of it. Besides that, he tends to perform well mostly in the fall and winter, but not usually before that – is that a combination of poor fitness, both mental and physical?

It’s unpleasant to lose, and especially unpleasant to lose matches you should win. Bandies loses a lot of those; he definitely should’ve won against Rafa in straights. They both knew it, the commentators knew it, a lot of the fans knew it. Rafa himself said he didn’t really know what to do, going in, since Bandies had been beat him in their previous two meetings. Rafa won because when it comes to the head department, he was best. He hung around and was right there to jump when Bandies started to crack.

Another player who’s been cracking a lot lately is Dinara. She’s painful to watch. After all the progress she made to get near the top, she seems to be having all kinds of trouble stringing two points together. The operative word for Bandies and Dinara is erratic. Djokies is going through some of that too, but with him I think it’s what’s going on offcourt that’s messing with his focus oncourt. He just lost to Roddick playing pretty lamely. So far this year he’s hemorrhaging points giving up last year’s titles. He’s definitely learning how hard it is to perform consistently.

Many tennis writers and commentators marvel at how long Rogi stayed #1; they have a good enough idea of how hard it is to criticize those who criticize him for not being there now. So what if you win an occasional tournament, so what if you’re ahead in the points race early in the year – who’s top dog at the end? And at the end of the year after that? And the next? Look at all the other players who have talent, coaches, sponsors, etc. but for one reason or other – fatigue, injuries, poor scheduling, poor training, poor discipline, bad head, bad luck – just can’t perform consistently enough to get to the top (Djokies is certainly living this experience). And if they ever do, it’s just the beginning of another struggle, because it’s even harder to stay there.