I had a post all written for today–a strategic analysis of the “serve or receive” question. But interesting things are always happening in the tennis world, and now you’ll have to wait until Monday for my serve/receive post.
What caught my eye this morning was this article on tennis.com about Maria Sharapova asking Rafael Nadal to hit some balls with her at the Italian Open. Of course Rafa said yes. He’s just that kind of guy.
Rafa represents everything I believe an athlete should be–driven, hard-working, humble, respectful, grateful for his success, and worshipful of the legends who came before him. It’s what makes him one of the most popular players, both in the stands and in the locker room.
There’s no shame in proclaiming one’s love for Rafa. But Sharapova?
The Russian’s popularity took a nosedive with 2016’s meldonium scandal. (The scandal could be a post all its own. I’ll just say I don’t doubt she took the drug to enhance her performance. But as it was legal for the decade she was using it, I find it hard to work up a lot of outrage about it.)
But performance-enhancing drugs aside, she was already unpopular in the locker room for her icy demeanor. And shrieker or not, she has been a huge driver of ticket sales, television ratings, and outsized endorsement deals. That can’t sit well with her peers, either.
Normally I’d be a hater, too. She’s cold and arrogant. Worse, she’s incredibly limited as a player. She can’t hit a volley. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her lob. Or chip. Or slice. She’s slow. And she knows only one way to play–she has no plan B.
Nevertheless, I’m a secret fan. Here’s why:
- She doesn’t get distracted by the hype. Compared to Genie Bouchard or Anna Kournikova, Sharapova shows a remarkable ability to ignore the media buzz her beauty generates. Nothing gets in the way of her tennis. I doubt I’d be able to do that in her shoes.
- She competes harder than just about anyone. Even when facing yet another humiliating loss to Serena, she never throws in the towel.
- She recognizes her limitations and is trying to improve. Rather than relying on what won her a career Grand Slam, she’s expanding her repertoire, improving her court movement and even developing a drop shot. (Still can’t volley worth a damn, though.)
- She credits her opponents when they beat her. She never makes excuses.
- She came back to the game after the scandal. She has the career Slam and she doesn’t need the money. She’ll never beat Serena, she lost her ranking, everyone in the locker room despises her, and she’s been vilified in the press. Despite it all, she continues to go out and put herself on the line. I have to admire that perseverance.
I don’t want to go have a drink with her. But every time she steps on the court, I’m pulling for her.
Am I alone here? Anyone else secretly like Sharapova? Or do you have any guilty-pleasure players of your own?
*Photo by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. , Creative Commons.