How do you define a drubbing in tennis? When the most memorable thing about the match is the post-match interview. Here I pause to give Kim Clijsters credit for one of the best I’ve ever seen.
As badly as Kim bruised Todd Woodbridge, she did worse to Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-1, 6-3 in what seemed like 52 seconds. Nice win for Kim. Bad loss for Carla. And a resolution for me: I’ll never try to identify talent again.
I was in Australia in 2009 when Suarez Navarro beat Venus Williams. As I remember it at the time, she had everything it took—it seemed so obvious—to be great. She was fast and strong. She had good balance. Her technique was superb and her backhand was gorgeous. I liked the intangibles, too. She played with what seemed like joy and she was whimsical in her tactics. She started tennis a bit late and wasn’t one of those over-pressured, you’re-going-to-be-the-next-Monica-Seles five-year-olds who burns out before winning one big match (Nicole Vaidisova). For sure, she would get better. Would she win a Wimbledon or U.S. Open title? Probably not, I figured. But a French Open for sure. She looked that good.
And then…nothing. So far, Suarez Navarro has reached two finals in her career, both in Marbella (note: the French Open is not played in Marbella). She has one other win against a Top 10 player since beating Venus. That player? Svetlana Kuznetsova, hardly a model of consistency. Against Clijsters, Suarez Navarro looked a bit lost. So much for my eyes, or those of dozens of others who fawned over her in 2009. And I don’t believe Suarez Navarro’s problems are all mental, the most common excuse of a talent scout who can’t otherwise explain why an obvious physical talent doesn’t succeed. There have been a lot of players with good minds who aren’t going to make the Hall of Fame. And there are some with terrible minds who will (see Safin, Marat).
So, what makes a great tennis player, and why does everyone—even top coaches will admit this—make so many bad predictions about young prospects? I don’t know. But I do know this: Not long after I vowed never to play the talent game again, I was watching Milos Raonic pepper Michael Llodra with 140 mph aces. He’s 6-foot-5 with a silky-smooth service motion. Solid backhand. Forehand lands a little short at times, but it has some pop. Seems quick on his feet. And confident. Yep, this kid’s the real deal. Can’t miss.