Inconsistency Incarnate: Cibulkova, Bartoli fall in third round

Wimbledon 2009
By Matthew Zemek, June 27th, 2009

Professional tennis might look like an attractive gig, especially at Wimbledon, but while the money’s good for those who reach the middle rounds of main draw events, the sport is unforgiving in the way it shapes reputations. One only had to watch Friday’s third round at the Big W to understand why.

There are only 24 competitors remaining in the ladies’ singles field, and two who won’t be around for the second week of The Championships will suffer considerably in the court of public opinion. No. 12 seed Marion Bartoli crashed out of SW19, losing, 7-6 (5), 6-0, to Francesca Schiavone, while 14th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova fell to Elena Vesnina, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. These two top-15 players might be walking away with just under 30,000 pounds in prize money-not bad for a week’s work-but the price of a nice paycheck comes with the assessment of one’s place in the WTA Tour hierarchy. If Bartoli and Cibulkova were to be judged right now, they wouldn’t receive terribly favorable verdicts from pundits or longtime tennis observers.

Bartoli’s removal from the ladies’ field is particularly disappointing. The Frenchwoman stormed to the 2007 Wimbledon final on the strength of a titanic upset against then-No. 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals. The agility and shotmaking displayed by the self-confessed Pierce Brosnan fan gave the impression that this “Bond Girl” of the tennis courts would become a regular face in the latter rounds of slams. Today’s loss to Schiavone, a solid but hardly overpowering 29-year-old veteran, reaffirms just the opposite. Now 24 and not exactly on good terms with the progression of time, Bartoli is running out of chances to become a bigger force on tour. Since her runner-up showing two years ago at the All England Club, Bartoli has produced only one quarterfinal showing at a major, in this year’s Australian Open. In every other slam event, coach Walter Bartoli’s daughter has failed to get out of the fourth round, often losing before the end of the first week. What’s even worse for the 12th seed is not just the fact that she lost, but the way she was excused from Wimbledon. Bartoli competed valiantly in the first set, getting nipped at the wire by her Italian opponent; however, once the scoreboard began to tilt against her in set two, Bartoli’s game plummeted in a scene reminiscent of ner non-competitive Aussie Open quarterfinal against Vera Zvonareva. Female tennis players, throughout the locker rooms of the WTA, will take note of the second-set collapse that befell Bartoli; such a pronounced lack of staying power in individual matches shows why the Frenchwoman has lacked similar resilience in the cauldron of Grand Slam competition.

As for Cibulkova-a double-digit seed, but a player with a golden chance of making a deep run in a depleted field-the judgment following her loss to Vesnina shouldn’t be quite as harsh. Nevertheless, the Slovakian’s setback against her Russian adversary is still notable, because it shows how elusive consistency is in the world of women’s tennis.

Cibulkova made headlines and earned highly-deserved accolades by rolling to the French Open semifinals a few weeks ago in Paris. There was the sense that “Domi” would be able to dominate for another week and a half in suburban London, and pull down another semifinal showing to cement her place in the upper reaches of the tour. This loss to Vesnina-the world No. 37 who had not been to the fourth round of a major since the 2006 Australian Open-puts Cibulkova’s French Open joyride in a box marked “aberration,” at least for now. If she doesn’t deliver the goods at future slams, the 20-year-old Cibulkova-fair or not-will be tagged with the label of underachiever… as is the case with Marion Bartoli today.

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A 24-year-old Frenchwoman is having to endure a considerable amount of criticism. A 20-year-old Slovakian could face harsh treatment from the press if she doesn’t bounce back in the coming year of Grand Slam tennis. Yes, the Marion Bartolis and Dominika Cibulkovas of the world are able to win tens of thousands of pounds in prize money, but they don’t earn that cash without receiving a great deal of scrutiny from scribes and fans who assess their every move.

Think tennis is an attractive line of work? In many ways, it is, especially when the fashionable whites are worn on the lawns this special village on the outskirts of London town. Just remember one thing if you’re good enough to become a top-level tennis pro: Unless you’re able to set a consistently high standard of excellence, you’ll have to endure more than your share of stormy seas.

It’s time for Marion Bartoli and Dominika Cibulkova to navigate some very choppy waters if they want to salvage their on-court reputations.


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