Matt Zemek

Three days ago, Petra Kvitova demolished Angelique Kerber, 2 and 2, in the Czech Republic’s authoritative win over Germany in the Fed Cup semifinals. Three days ago, Sloane Stephens celebrated a match victory in the United States’ Fed Cup semifinal win over France.

Three days ago, Novak Djokovic had reason to be optimistic about his clay-court season.

Three days ago, as the WTA Tour moved to Stuttgart (and Istanbul) and the ATP moved to Barcelona (and Budapest), life felt very different in the tennis world. Wednesday’s large collection of surprising results weakened a number of draws and took some (though hardly all) of the juice out of this week’s tour events. Naturally, a lot of people looked at these outcomes and reacted with concern.

What’s wrong with Petra? Why does Sloane not seem to care? Djokovic is a disaster.

All of those responses are understandable — the realization that Wednesday’s scores represented such abrupt changes from very recent developments is not necessarily easy to digest. Yet, the idea that these losses represent significant setbacks for each player seems overplayed, to say the least.

Can we acknowledge that Fed Cup — like Davis Cup — is a unique tennis entity, and that national competitions involve emotions which are different from regular tour events? Can we admit that whereas the Czech Republic is a Fed Cup powerhouse with a culture of commitment to the event, Kerber — playing in Stuttgart — wanted to place a little more emphasis on this tournament?

Can we also admit that slamming Fed Cup and Stuttgart together on the schedule (compared to a lower-tier event such as Istanbul, which is an International tier event instead of a Premier tournament) is dumb, and that Sloane Stephens should get a pass for her listless showing against CoCo Vandeweghe as a result?

Can we acknowledge that Djokovic is still immersed in all sorts of changes and transitions, such that getting outhit by a talented (and chronically unstable) player such as Martin Klizan in a best-of-three-set match is not the end of the world?

Can we, on a larger level, bring ourselves to realize that for proven players — which Kvitova, Stephens and Djokovic are — the “one bad day at the office” is nothing more than that? Can we not overreact to one day which spun out of control for a number of players?

Here is the essential point to emphasize after days such as Wednesday: For the proven players who get caught up in chaos and are bounced out of tournaments at a very early stage, their stumbles should generally be viewed with an allowance for imperfection and struggle. To be sure, it’s not as though Djokovic has nothing to worry about — of COURSE he does — but reaching the most extreme possible conclusion about the significance of his loss doesn’t help anyone. Kvitova didn’t have her fastball against Kerber, but having thrashed Angie a few days ago, it was almost certain to be true that Kerber — playing on home soil — was going to fare better on Wednesday. Yes, few expected such a dramatic 180-degree turnaround, but would a 90- or 120-degree turnaround have been that shocking? No.

When “one bad day” means something MORE than just one bad day is when it becomes (or represents) more than just one day. Think of Richard Gasquet losing to Lorenzo Sonego in Budapest, or Carla Suarez-Navarro losing to World No. 193 Veronika Kudermetova in Stuttgart, or Diego Schwartzman absorbing another 2-and-1 loss on clay early in a tournament, as he did to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Barcelona.

When players accumulate trophies and credentials, “one bad day” deserves to be seen as an aberration or interruption, not as an existential crisis. The existential crisis applies to the players who suffer bad losses far too many times for their respective levels of talent.

One bad day CAN be a sign of dark times for the men and women of tennis… but let’s choose the appropriate kinds of players, not the ones who have won major titles in the past few months or years.


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