Thursday, July 28, 2005

Stanford Tennis

Yesterday night, I watched India's Sania Mirza take on Venus Williams in the Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament at Stanford. Although Venus won comfortably 6-3, 6-2, the match was far more interesting than the scoreline suggests. First of all, the spectator demographic was far from traditional -- never before have I seen either Indians or African-Americans turn up in such numbers at a tennis match -- and made for a rather amusing experience. Mirza probably had the bigger fan contingent, backed by a vocal desi crowd that thought nothing of cheering Venus's errors. I was seated around a big, fairly vocal contingent of Venus supporters -- all but one of whom hadn't seen a tennis match before -- who spent more time debating whether they could spot Venus's mom than they did watching the match or learning the rules.

The match itself was fun as well, thanks mainly to the gunslinger mentality that Mirza brought to the table, time and again uncorking spectacular winners to outhit Venus. (What a refreshing change of pace from the stereotypical Indian "touch artist" game of Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan or Leander Paes!) On the flip side, the slew of unforced errors flowing off Mirza's racquet sealed her fate pretty comprehensively. The match was very reminiscent of the Australian Open Mirza vs . Serena Williams match where, once again, Mirza used her powerful groundstrokes to dictate play against a hard-hitting opponent but ended up succumbing tamely due to a failure to curb her own aggression.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, it is hard to win consistently at the top level without a percentage game that allows your opponent to make mistakes and offer you free points. There's simply no way Sania can beat top-ranked talent such as the Williams sisters by outslugging them going for winners in every single point. Sania would do well to take a gander at the modern Andre Agassi game -- his success is the strongest proof yet that precise percentage play pays off in spades compared to the spectacular winners that he preferred to try pulling off in the earlier stages of his career.

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