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Self-Doubt Is Downfall for Underdogs

Hantuchova and Clijsters take advantage of indecisive opponents to win third-round matches in women's Pacific Life Open.

March 10, 2003|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

The defending champion and the No. 1-seeded player in the women's Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells both won Sunday, but that was less significant than how they did it.

The third-round victories by Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Kim Clijsters of Belgium spoke to a common malady on the women's tour. Call it: the Fear of Trying. Or the longer version: I Can't Quite Believe I Can Do This Against a Better Player.

Both Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia, a 7-6 (4), 6-2 loser to last year's winner Hantuchova, and Francesca Schiavone of Italy, a 7-5, 6-4 victim of top-seeded Clijsters, exited the same way.

Srebotnik, who will turn 22 Tuesday and has a big enough game and serve to move up from her current No. 32 ranking, made bad decisions at the most crucial times, one of them especially glaring.

The first was an innocent-looking moment. Serving for the first set at 5-4, 15-all, Srebotnik took a short ball from Hantuchova, hit a cross-court forehand and approached the net. Hantuchova, No. 5 in the world because of moments just like this, sensed the tactical error, pounced on it and passed Srebotnik with her own cross-court forehand.

The tactical error? The best players know to approach mostly with shots down the line. Shots cross-court present more easily executed passing-shot angles, especially over the lower part of the net, the angle Hantuchova took.

Hantuchova went on to break serve, and to win the set in a tiebreaker when, on the last point, Srebotnik, again not confident enough of her ability to do the right thing at the right time, was tentative on a backhand volley and pushed it wide. Game, set and, essentially, match. Chance for Srebotnik gone.

Schiavone, No. 38 in the world, also served for the first set at 5-4 with Clijsters, and her trouble also started at 15-all.

Clijsters, No. 3 in the world and No. 1 here because of moments just like this, took a medium-depth shot and hit a forehand so deep that Schiavone could only respond defensively with a backhand that drifted wide. Next, the 22-year-old Schiavone hit a feeble ground stroke into the net and, on Clijsters' first break point, pushed a backhand volley wide with an open court to aim at. Clijsters held and then broke for the set after Schiavone double-faulted to set point.

In the second set, Clijsters came from a break down to win, taking Schiavone's just-push-it-in-and-hope second serve at match point and jamming the return so deep that the Italian could only flop it meekly into the net.

Like Srebotnik, a chance gone, a fear threshold not quite crossed.

Nathalie Dechy of France, who eliminated Clijsters at Indian Wells last year, made her way into a round-of-16 rematch with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Silvia Farina Elia of Italy, and Amanda Coetzer of South Africa defeated Lisa Raymond, an American doubles specialist, 6-0, 6-3, to earn a spot against Hantuchova.

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