Dismantling the Robot

TOPSHOT-TENNIS-FRA-OPEN-WOMEN

We will not talk about the past.  Only about the present.

Much has been made about Karolina Pliskova’s power and her machine like qualities on the court.  Indeed she does look quite cyborg-ish out there.  There’s a lot of power, and quite a great deal of ball striking ability.  But there’s no soul.  I’ve never connected with her in that unique way a tennis lover connects with a top practitioner of the sport.  I’m certainly not a fan.  I am quite indifferent.  Maybe that leads to bias in judgment but it is my opinion.  It is also my opinion that this lack of soul – maybe we’ll call it heart – is holding her back.

Before today’s match, most people touted Pliskova to win her match against Maria Sharapova.  After all, Sharapova has largely been a shadow of her former self since she came back from ‘serving time’.  In all that time back on tour, Sharapova has only come alive in two tournaments.  The U.S Open last year and last month in Rome where she made a run to the semifinals.  After today’s result, it is clear she’s coming alive again.  Karolina Pliskova’s best stretch of the match was certainly at the beginning when she broke serve in that soulless, machine-like fashion that saps the energy right out of her opponents.  Her eyes bore down on Sharapova as though she were running a million permutations per minute.  Permutations of logical options, tactics and strategies.

Yet the greatest of players have always been that great for their ability to defy logic by their ridiculous talent or share force of will.  Sometimes it is a bit of both.  If there is a Nadal on the women’s side, it certainly is Sharapova.  Her fighting spirit has never been questioned and when she zones in on her flowing strokes – particularly on the forehand wing – it becomes difficult to stop her, even for the most spirited opponents.  Once Sharapova’s game hit those illogical heights, Pliskova had no answers.  She was wrong footed time and time again.  She watched helplessly as winners zipped by her on either side.  This wasn’t chess.  This was checkers.  This wasn’t martial arts.  It was a street fight.  It was utterly unpredictable.  Sharapova was hitting winners from positions on the court that Pliskova wouldn’t attempt to hit a winner from.  As such, she never expected Sharapova to do any different from her.  She did.  Time and time again.

There was one sizzling point where Sharapova – running in graceful long strides – pummeled the ball down the line on either side for seemingly outright winners.  Each time, Pliskova got them back.  Each time, she was pushed deeper behind the baseline.  On the last Sharapova bullet, Pliskova stuck her hand out and flicked the ball deftly cross court, at an acute angle.  It landed inside the service box on the ad court for a winner.  I believe I saw a wry smile from Pliskova.  It was one moment too few, but if she remembers that point, maybe just maybe, she’ll find some soul in her tennis.

As for Maria, the emotions poured out after the match.  She’s through to the fourth round of her most successful tournament.  She dismantled the machine in the process and proved that something as illogical as a cow on ice, is a force to be reckoned with.

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