August 26, 2020

The Hangover

It should come as no surprise that after a big night out it's not always easy to spring out of bed the next morning and find the energy you need to really be at your best. And, while it may not always happen under the same circumstances, the world's best athletes are certainly not immune from that feeling.

Take, for example, what we've seen over the last few days at the Western & Southern Open in New York. While there have been plenty of upstarts riding high after taking advantage of the many holes in the ladies' field, too many have crashed back down to earth when looking to follow through.

The first example came when Russia's Veronika Kudermetova, who hadn't notched a top ten win at all this season, toppled top seeded Karolina Pliskova, a titleist at the Cincinnatti event in 2016 and a finalist at the U.S. Open that same year. The 23-year-old wasn't able to extend her run, though, falling a round later to a largely underappreciated Elise Mertens. Then Alizé Cornet, currently #60 in the world, trounced Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin in straight sets. The veteran Frenchwoman then fell in her third round to a resurgent Victoria Azarenka.

But perhaps the biggest high came when Maria Sakkari took the court against Serena Williams on Tuesday. The Greek star, just a shade off her career best ranking at #21 in the world, has had some decent wins over the past year, beating the likes of Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, and Madison Keys, among others. In her opener this week she plowed through wunderkind Coco Gauff in straight sets. And while Williams has struggled to close the deal recently, winning just one title since 2017, Sakkari was clearly the underdog last night. She lost a tight first set and came within two points of dropping the whole match a few times, but after winning the second in a tiebreak, she rolled through the decider in about half an hour.

It was by far the biggest win of Sakkari's career, but unfortunately the momentum didn't last too long. She lost today in straight sets to Britain's Johanna Konta, a woman she'd defeated last year for her first and so far only title in Rabat. Notably, it's the second event in a row that Serena's vanquisher has fallen a round later -- earlier this month in Lexington, then-#116 Shelby Rogers scored the win of her lifetime and immediately folded to eventual champion Jennifer Brady. Perhaps that's a good omen for Konta.

It's not just the women who can fall victim to the second day slump -- an on-the-mend Andy Murray scored his biggest win since 2016 when he defeated world #7 Alexander Zverev on Monday, but fell to Milos Raonic a day later. But a couple men have a chance to keep their highs going a little longer. Big-serving Reilly Opelka followed up his win over Diego Schwartzman by taking out sixth seeded Matteo Berrettini, and Serbia's Filip Krajinovic not only crushed Dominic Thiem in the second round, he's currently up a break on Raonic for a spot in the semis.

Of course, the important thing is not whether these players suffer a hangover every once in a while -- we all can relate with needing a little time to recover from a big celebration -- it's whether they pick themselves up the day after that. And whether they were the ones on the losing side of the initial upset or the ones who lost their mojo a bit, the bigger tests are still to come. And what they learn from these experiences will be what matters in the end.

No comments: