Results aren't matching Vaidisova's irrefutable talent
Nicole Vaidisova has been touted as one of the up-and-coming stars. But after changes aplenty to her life in recent months and now a first-round loss at the French Open, the on-court collateral damage is piling up.
Ivanovic is 20 years old, seeded second and the It girl here at Roland Garros. Two years ago, it was Vaidisova who played that role. A freshly minted 17-year-old, she knocked off Amelie Mauresmo and Venus Williams, then pushed Svetlana Kuznetsova to three sets in the French Open semifinals. Her potential seemed unlimited.
But after reaching the semifinals of the 2007 Australian Open and the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Vaidisova has suddenly crashed and burned. She just lost to her best friend, fellow Czech Republic player Iveta Benesova, 7-6 (2), 6-1 in the first round of the 2008 French Open.
After losing the first-set tiebreaker, Vaidisova dissolved into a storm cloud of bad body language when she repeatedly admonished herself and slapped her thigh. It ended, predictably, with two double-faults.
Vaidisova, almost inconceivably, has lost six straight matches. Since losing to Ivanovic in Dubai, Vaidisova has fallen to such household names as Casey Dellacqua, Alisa Kleybanova, Gisela Dulko, Ekaterina Makarova and now Benesova, who had to qualify to get in.How did this come to pass? After making yet another error in the Benesova match Vaidisova, exasperated, pointed to her head. This seems as good an explanation as any.
"You know what?" Vaidisova said. "I feel like I'm in a good place. I just think I've been changing things, obviously, on my team. It's not going to pay off right away, but I think I'm working hard."
She did not sound especially convincing.
In April, Vaidisova parted ways with her coach of more than 12 years, step-father Alex Kodat, and replaced him with David Felgate. Breaking with the man who brought her from the Czech Republic to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., when she was 11 years old, clearly has caused some collateral damage.
"I think my tennis and everything around me needed that," Vaidisova said. "I'm just in a stage where I think I can take responsibility for my actions and for myself, so I think that comes with time and I think that comes with age. I think there is a point where you have to do that."
Vaidisova's hunger for independence, perhaps not coincidentally, has netted her -- at the very least -- a boyfriend. Radek Stepanek, who was engaged to Martina Hingis as recently as last summer, and Vaidisova are a very public couple. She was in the stands a few weeks ago when Stepanek upset Roger Federer in Rome.
The couple has not acknowledged an official union, but the Bradenton Herald reported that the couple applied for a marriage license back in December. Stepanek, it should be noted, owns a condominium in Bradenton, where Vaidisova still trains.
Although Vaidisova insisted that she has been working hard, her recent results suggest otherwise. Her chief weapons are a huge forehand and a laser serve. Movement for someone who is six feet tall is never easy, but when she was fit the last two years here, she was enormously effective.
"If you are not fit or committed, clay will reveal it," said ESPN analyst Mary Carillo. "This stuff will strip you of your clothes."
Consider Vaidisova revealed. She was asked to explain the difference between the player she is today and the one who reached the semifinals here two years ago.
"I think I'm two years older," Vaidisova said. "I think I'm more independent, I'm doing my own decisions. I just think I grew up a lot."
When Benesova was asked what was going on with her good friend, she averted her eyes.
"I don't want to say," she said.
Is she in love?
"I think she's very happy," she said, smiling. "She's in love so she's happy."
Said Vaidisova, "I don't think you can play good all the time. So I'm not going to be depressed about this. I'm not going to be sad abut it. Obviously, right now I'm bummed because I lost. But tomorrow I'll wake up and be ready to go and practice and improve."
Is she happy when she's playing?
"Yes," she said brusquely, not sounding that way.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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2008 FRENCH OPEN
French Open Video
May 25-June 8
Women: Justine Henin
Men: Rafael Nadal
Day 15 • Men
• Ford: Nadal simply too good against Federer
• Garber: Federer resolute in confidence, ability
• Harwitt: Rafael Nadal the best clay-courter ever?
• Photo gallery: Best of Week 2 from Paris
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Day 14 • Women
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Day 13 • Men
• Bob Bryan, Azarenka win French mixed doubles
• Garber: Federer in need of a monumental effort
• Ford: Nadal handles Djokovic with relative ease
• Harwitt: Borg spends birthday extolling Nadal
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Day 12 • Women
• Garber: Ivanovic, Safina set to duke it out
• Ivanovic to take over No. 1 ranking
• Ford: Djokovic ready to reshuffle world order
• Latest Dirt: Men's semifinal preview
• The big three: Federer looking past Monfils?
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• Men | Women
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Day 10 • Men | Women
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• Garber: Sharapova sent packing by Safina
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Day 8 • Men | Women
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See all stories from Week 1