Commentary

Gajdosova playing best tennis of career

Updated: May 26, 2011, 9:02 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

PARIS -- On Tuesday at the French Open, Jarmila Gajdosova had her own issues as she faced Virginie Razzano in a highly emotional first-round encounter.

Razzano somehow found the gumption to compete at the season's second major despite the death of her coach and fiancé, Stephane Vidal, only eight days earlier due to a brain tumor.

While Gajdosova's troubles of course paled in comparison to Razzano's indescribable personal loss, the 24th seed was less than a month removed from divorcing Sam Groth in a messy split that made considerable headlines in the couple's home of Australia.

The tension between the two was evident in Brisbane in January, when Gajdosova launched a foul-mouthed tirade during an on-court coaching visit from Groth.

But Gajdosova is playing the best tennis of her career, despite the turmoil -- or perhaps because of it. Her ranking has soared 100 spots in the past year, and her coach, Gavin Hopper -- who has worked with no fewer than seven top 10 players, including Monica Seles, Mark Philippoussis and Anna Kournikova -- suspects that even better things are to come.

"Maybe I guess I had nothing else to concentrate on to make myself happy than tennis," Gajdosova told reporters.

Her progress has come at the right time for Australia, which -- like two other nations steeped in tennis history, the U.S. and England -- is struggling to compete with the overflow of continental Europeans and South Americans on tour. Top Aussie man Lleyton Hewitt is on his last legs, while the timid Samantha Stosur has dipped since last year's French Open.

That Gajdosova continues to represent Australia irks a few. She took to Twitter to defend herself against accusations that she only married Groth in February 2009 to become an Australian citizen. She had relocated from Slovakia to Australia as a teen.

"I got married because I loved Sam and did it from my heart, not because I am from [a] poor country or I [needed] him for a passport!" she tweeted.

Hopper had no doubts.

"I definitely know that wasn't the case," he said. "Unfortunately it blew up bigger than it should have. It got out of control. She dealt with it quickly. Whether she dealt with it correctly or not, you're in the public eye and you have to deal with things.

"I had to deal with things," added Hopper, who spent two years in prison, convicted in 2004 of sex offenses.

Gajdosova has immersed herself in tennis for comfort, ironically representing Australia in the Fed Cup as the episode dragged on. She won both singles matches against Ukraine.

Gajdosova, owner of one of the biggest serves and forehands in the women's game, then reached the quarterfinals in Estoril and upset Agnieszka Radwanska in Madrid.

"She's taken the good of Australia, yet she has the fire and work ethic of an Eastern European, which I think some Australians don't," Hopper said. "So for her, life is enjoyable. She loves the Gold Coast of Australia; she loves the beach."

Hopper first took note of Gajdosova about 10 years ago when he ran an academy with former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash. In 2007 at Melbourne Park, site of the Australian Open, his interest intensified.

"I was at a 12-and-under tournament with my younger daughter, and I asked my older daughter who was with me, 'Who's that hitting there?'" Hopper said. "She said, 'I don't know.' I said, 'Please find out,' because I saw her hit the ball and it was so sweet off the racket. I had to find out who this girl was. Being around enough top players over the years, you get a feel for it."

Gajdosova and Hopper eventually teamed in January 2010, and after beefing up her fitness -- Hopper has a reputation for getting his players in shape -- the right-hander made strides. She landed in the fourth round of the French Open and Wimbledon and won her first title that fall in China.

The next order of business is to curb Gajdosova's temper and fix her body language.

Within three games against Australian Open finalist Li Na in Rome, Gajdosova's shoulders began to slump, she peered to her camp in frustration and muttered. Only a week earlier in Madrid, Gajdosova had seemed to make progress, saving a match point to beat Maria Kirilenko and keeping it together to rally past the always-clever Radwanska.

Hopper recalled watching Philippoussis practice with a temperamental 18-year-old Roger Federer and saw the transformation he made. He knows Gajdosova can't persist in losing points because of her emotions if she's to climb further.

"She's aware of it," Hopper said.

Observers know, too.

"Tennis requires a bit of character," said Wally Masur, a coach with Tennis Australia and former touring pro. "As great as Roger is, he's already lost about 200 times in his career. That's one of the greatest players of all time. For lesser players, you're going to lose a lot of points, and big points if you can't control your temper.

"You have to play like [Rafael] Nadal. He seems to brush it off and reset the computer for the next point. Look at how calm Novak [Djokovic] is on court now," Masur said.

Resetting the computer might be difficult at this stage for Gajdosova -- "I'm only human," she says -- but she's trying.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.