Blood Pressure and Stares in Cincinnati: The Tale of Sharapova vs. Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic’s 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Maria Sharapova in the Western & Southern Open semifinals was not just hard-fought and flashy, it was also a delicious melodrama that has left fans of both players reeling long after “game, set, match” has been called. In case you missed it, here are the big moments that got everyone talking:

1. The Sven Stare.

Maria Sharapova has not been present in first sets of late, much like Serena on the opposite side of the draw. This match was no different, with Ivanovic only having to play solid and consistent tennis to take the first 6-2.

Say what you will about on court coaching, there are times when it really does add a little extra pinch of entertainment value to a match. Sven Groeneveld, coach of Sharapova, entered the court at the end of the first set to give his charge a few words of wisdom as she headed into the second. And “few words” is exactly what he offered.

After the usual on-court-coaching-bingo we’re all used to hearing: “compete…work…energy,” Sven went back to a technique we’ve heard others use to encourage Maria in the past…disparaging the opponent.

“You’re playing against her…ANA. IVANOVIC.”

Strange, that this is a technique used by more than one coach with Maria. I can’t see the benefit of this, as it seems to foster a kind of disrespect for an opponent’s ability, which can’t be a good thing to hear when they’re beating you handily. It also shows a bizarre lack of context…yes, you’re playing Ana Ivanovic, who would have been a different prospect last year, but she is playing fantastic tennis in 2014. This is an especially strange tactic to use with a player who is at her best when she faces impending doom: Sharapova is famous for her gazelle-staring-down-a-cheetah tenacity, her gritty survival instincts.

I don’t know about you, but I want to tell THAT gazelle that her foe is dangerous, and she’d better get sprinting if she wants to spend anymore time on the Serengeti.

And then came my single favorite on court coaching moment since the rule was introduced. The Sven Groeneveld silent stare. Whilst Sharapova sat, back straight, eyes closed, hands on her knees, Sven knelt in front of her and said…nothing.

Sven’s eyes never left her face, his body didn’t move, I’m not sure he was even breathing. I don’t think Maria was breathing. Hell, I’m not sure I was even breathing. He just stared. And in that stare was all of tennis history, every forehand stroke, every raise of a trophy, every drop of sweat.

We all lost something, in that stare. And we all gained something.

Maria always goes into a trance-like state of concentration between points and at changeovers–maybe now she has a coach who is willing to join her there.

Theory: One day, mid coaching session, they’ll just…ascend.

2. The Inevitable Fight Back.

Maria was down 6-2 4-0. All of us tweeted pretty much the same thing:

We were right. Maria saw the cheetah approaching, and sprinted. Ana also faltered during this set, clearly annoyed by a decision from the umpire that forced her to replay a point she felt she should have been awarded.

Sharapova took the second set 7-5 and a frustrated Ivanovic left the court to get changed.

3. Under (Blood) Pressure.

Maria was feeling grouchy herself at the change of ends as she waited for Ivanovic’s return, clearly unhappy that her momentum had been halted, and certainly not returning to the hypnotic plains of the first-set changeover. She made some complaints to the umpire, but Ana returned fairly swiftly and play continued. Until…

With Maria serving at *0-1, Ana suddenly doubled over at the baseline. She began a slow walk back to her chair, stopping intermittently to double over again, and looking distinctly distressed. Doctors were called on court, as Maria lingered at her baseline wondering if she too should return to her seat.

Soon, Ana was being asked by the doctor, “Have you taken that before?” and then she was lying on the ground having her blood pressure taken, and being fed water and pills of some description.

As suddenly as it had started, it was over, and Ana was striding back to her baseline with a quick “I’m okay” to the doctors.

Maria was visibly frustrated, but went on to hold the game and break in the next to go up 2-1.

Ana would later explain that she’d felt nauseous, and some viewers commented that it could have been related to a historic cardiac issue mentioned by Nigel Sears in commentary, but we never really had a full picture of what was wrong with Ana, as we often don’t with on court illness.

Whatever the cause, Maria wasn’t buying it. Ana began a fight back that left Maria furious, clearly feeling that Ana had used a medical time out to further disrupt momentum, and offered this magical moment of anger directed literally to the umpire but…well, we all know who it was really aimed at:

Tennis fans, expect “Check her blood pressure” to go down in history as one of Maria’s peak sasses, alongside “Is her last name Jankovic?” and “Isn’t she back in Poland already?”

For what it’s worth: Ana Ivanovic has no history of medical time-outs at convenient moments. I find it hard to believe that this was anything more than a strange and genuine medical anomaly.

4. Ana Takes the Win.

In the end, it was Ivanovic’s tennis and mind that held up the best. She saved two match points at 4-5 in the final set and never looked back, battling to a victory of 7-5. In the process, she also hit one of the best shots she or anyone else will hit all year:

In stark contrast to the first semi-final, a dreary encounter between Serena Williams and CarolineWozniacki, this was a match that will be remembered by tennis fans as one of the most dramatic and entertaining of the year.

BONUS ROUND: Ana and Maria Fans on Twitter.

Ana fans are renowned for pretty much hating everything their favorite player does, disparaging her every shot, and generally behaving as if she’s losing 6-0 5-0 throughout every match regardless of the scoreline. Something I learned last night: some Maria fans have a similar faith in their favorite…

Stay enthusiastic, tennis fans!

Andrew can be found in the mountains of Switzerland, watching tennis and trying not to eat too much Swiss cheese. You can follow him on twitter @BackSwings

13 Responses

  1. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne August 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm |

    “You’re playing against her…ANA. IVANOVIC.”

    Strange, that this is a technique used by more than one coach with Maria. I can’t see the benefit of this, as it seems to foster a kind of disrespect for an opponent’s ability, which can’t be a good thing to hear when they’re beating you handily.”

    I don’t know exactly what was in the coach’s mind, but I think he made that comment with reference to the fact that Ana has played absolutely celestial tennis for a set, set and a half on many, many occasions. And yet, has lost quite a few of those matches, when either her timing or her nerve went away.

    In other words, I think he was saying, “Hang in there! She probably will not be able to play at this level for the entire match.”

    Today’s match against Serena was a good example — for 4 or 5 games, Ana was playing off the charts tennis. But then, when she failed to win a second break (at 3-1, I think it was) the doubts crept in, and she played very poorly thereafter.
    The same message would have been equally appropriate with regard to Simona Halep the night before, who played such a great first set against Maria, but then tired, as she often does against much bigger, more physical players. For all of her beautiful tennis skills, Halep has yet to beat Serena, Venus, Sharapova, or Azarenka. For a set or so, she can hang with them, giving as good as she gets, but eventually their greater power wears her down, and she is unable to continue hitting balls deep in the court from behind her own baseline.

  2. neilintoronto
    neilintoronto August 17, 2014 at 8:49 pm |

    Great write up! However, I wouldn’t have cast Maria as the gazelle, but rather, the cheetah.

  3. Petreanna
    Petreanna August 17, 2014 at 8:50 pm |

    To be honest, I think that Sven’s comment regarding “You’re playing Ana Ivanovic…” simply meant that Sharapova should acknowledge that she’s not playing herself, but rather an opponent. It has to do with Sharapova’s ability to be too focused on her own bad play, i.e. double faults, errors.

  4. q10
    q10 August 17, 2014 at 9:19 pm |

    this would have been entertaining to watch

  5. Cincinnati ATP & WTA Recap: Steel Beneath The Velvet | Attacking the Net

    […] other classically soap-operatic elements from Ivanovic’s draining three-set win on Saturday, check out this superb overview by Andrew Eccles of The […]

  6. RZ
    RZ August 18, 2014 at 11:29 am |

    Thanks for this post Andrew.

    A couple of thoughts:
    1) I also remember other coaches using a similar tactic with Maria (didn’t one say something like “she can’t keep playing like this”?), and I’ve always thought it was just silly. Yes, Maria was playing Ana Ivanovic, who had just run off with the first set! So how is that really helpful?
    2) I’m surprised that Maria never gets a warning for her on-court behavior. While others get warnings or point deductions for being vocal on the court (e.g., Serena for yelling “Come on” during the U.S. Open final against Stosur). Sure, this case of “check her blood pressure” did not occur during play, but a couple of year ago during the WTA Year-End finals, Maria hit a shot against Radwanska and during play yelled “Run! Run!” which to me was a clear hindrance, no matter how far Aga had to run for the shot. But nope, no warning or point violation.

    1. 0Emmanuel
      0Emmanuel August 19, 2014 at 8:38 am |

      That last example is patently false. The “Run! Run!” came after Maria had hit the winner.

      1. RZ
        RZ August 19, 2014 at 11:26 am |

        She yelled it after she hit the ball – which, yes, ended up being a winner – but she didn’t wait until it was a clear winner (e.g., bounced twice, hit the backboard, etc.). I still view that as a hindrance.

        1. 0Emmanuel
          0Emmanuel August 20, 2014 at 5:27 am |

          When there’s an out call (which often come after the ball has only just bounced once) on a shot that the defending player is clearly unable to get to and that call is overturned by umpire or hawkeye, it is not judged a hindrance, rather, the point is awarded to the player who hit the winner.
          Furthermore, yelling “Come on!” or some equivalent on a shot that is clearly going to be a winner, before the ball has bounced twice or hit the back wall, is a common occurence on both tours, and hardly exclusive to Maria. Again, it is never judged a hindrance.
          Now, you have every right to personally view it as a hindrance, but that would be a matter of opinion, not of the official rules (which are notoriously vague on the issue of “hindrance” anyway).
          In any case, I just thought your description of it being “during play” was rather misleading. No hard feelings, I hope.

          1. RZ
            RZ August 20, 2014 at 11:38 am |

            Of course no hard feelings. I agree with you that the rules are vague and would add that the chair umps don’t consistently enforce the (vague) rules. It’s not exclusive to Maria, but honestly I feel that she gets away with a lot more “misbehavior” than other players do, Serena in particular – not necessarily by the umps but also by the media.

          2. 0Emmanuel
            0Emmanuel August 21, 2014 at 6:18 am |

            I don’t know, there always seems to be a “Queen Bitch, hoho” vibe to the media coverage about her, no matter what she does. Rare the writer that manages to get through a Maria-related article without a snide remark about grunting, endorsements or some judgement about her personality.
            But I’m hardly unbiased, of course, as a fan of hers. 😉
            I think that, in general, media coverage of female tennis players is often rather problematic. And that’s especially true relating to Serena as well, I agree.

  7. Lc
    Lc August 19, 2014 at 10:33 pm |

    Hindrance or no, it was an obnoxious display on Sharapova’s part and perfectly in keeping with her M.O.: Scream louder, take extended bathroom breaks, move glacially between points….and she is never called on any of this by anyone in authority, I suspect because the WTA doesn’t want to piss off one of its prime meal tickets…or Nike. I wonder if, privately, many of the players find Sharapova’s hauteur as comical as it appears.

  8. georgiegirl
    georgiegirl August 21, 2014 at 7:48 am |

    I like both Maria and Ana, but I was extremely disappointed that Maria had such an attitude when Ana was having her medical issues, in addition to the comments she made after Ana was back on the court.
    Other players have had their issues, that kind of drive me crazy. One of the reasons I don’t care for Serena is her attitude when things don’t go her way. Mary Pierce not only took too long to serve, but she also made the other player delay their serve, because it seemed like she was never ready. Seem to remember that Djokovic was always having issues, at least in the prior years, and then all of a sudden rally to win the match.
    Ana has never done any of these things.

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