Maria Sharapova faced a tough test last night in the US Open quarters playing Tatiana Golovin. It was an interesting match with many breaks of serve and Sharapova pulled it out in the end in two tiebreakers. The match of course was not without its controversies.
First, Golovin, down 0-3 in the first set tiebreaker, went to the chair, asked for the trainer and sat down in her chair quite resolutely. She had a large blister on the bottom of her foot and the trainer came out and taped it.
Did I mention it was 0-3 in the tiebreak though?
I thought this was appalling and certainly done as a form of games(wo)manship. Yes, I saw the blister; it was large and red-looking and I am not denying it was painful to play on even after it was taped. I have had large blisters on the bottom of my feet from tennis and they hurt a lot and the commentators were right: the actual taping feels odd and does not completely eliminate the pain. But I think unless you are unable to walk or swing your racquet or near death you wait until a changeover or at least the end of a game. Golovin's blister did not look new--it was too big and too ripped up looking. While she may have aggravated it, it was not a new injury. She could have taken care of it before the match. A pre-existing blister, hard courts, Maria Sharapova--she must have known it would have to be taped at some point. That point should have been either before or after the tiebreak--not during.
But most of the controversy came from Sharapova's end. The grunts of course. Golovin lodged a complaint. Sharapova shrugged it off saying she doesn't really care what her opponents think of her. I am not opposed to grunting but I do think continuing to do so at such a high decibel after complaints have been made is a form gamesmanship. Sharapova, despite notions to the contrary, can control her grunting. It isn't innate. It changes decibel levels throughout the match depending on the score. If you can control the point of contact, the amount of spin, the grip on your racket, the bend in your knees, you can control the sounds coming out of your mouth.
But by far the most interesting moments last night (outside of some very good points) came during the changeovers.
Sharapova's father and coach, Yuri, has been accused of coaching from the sidelines and last night we saw a form of that. He pulled out a banana and shook it in his daughter's direction while she was sitting down. What happened next? She pulled her own out of her bag and took a few bites. At another time her agent held up a cup to her and she pulled out and drank some kind of elixir.
It was comical. I was actually on board with Tracy Austen's take on the signals from the box. It's not a form of coaching according to officials because it doesn't "assist in strategy." I think I would disagree with that but regardless of the technical definition it is ridiculous that they do it at all. Talk about micromanagement. They don't know how she feels on court at that moment yet they are telling her what to put in her body and when.
It is surprising to me given how mature Sharapova seems in interviews and on the court. She appears very much in control of her life and her game. How much of this is a facade though I have to wonder. Has she bought in entirely to her father's take on her life, career, bodily functions?
Maybe. But she's not admitting it:
Sharapova's father, Yuri, kept a watchful eye on the match. He seemed to signal his daughter at one point when he pulled a banana out of his bag. Moments later, she took out a banana and ate it during a changeover.
"Is it a coincidence? Probably," she said.