AO 23 Australian Open

For Caroline Garcia, the challenge is just beginning

Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent

Against Magda Linette at the Australian Open, Caroline Garcia was trying to accomplish something she had never done before. Since her first trip to Melbourne Park in 2011, the Frenchwoman had not yet reach the quarterfinals at the event. This year, with her form peaking, Garcia looked like she would not only break this barrier but also be a contender to win the title.

In the end, it came down to a case of, “humans proposing, tennis Gods disposing.”

From the time Garcia failed to serve out the first set against Linette and lost it in the tiebreak, the outcome of the match seemed to have been decided. Garcia bottled the rest of the match thereafter, hanging in by a shred until it snapped with her serve in the ninth game of the second set. In trying to outhit Linette, Garcia kept adding to her pile of errors. On the other side, all Linette had to do was reroute her opponent’s shot back at her and then wait for an error to come. The tactic worked, right up to when Garcia shanked her forehand on match point.

Aside from Linette’s ingenuity, the result once again brought forth the on-court characteristics Garcia has been trying to improve in the last year, often with considerable success … but not in this match.

At the end of 2022, Garcia wrote a letter about her journey on the tour that year and shared it on social media. She told the tennis community about reconnecting with the player within herself, and of wanting to play the way she wanted to, after injuring her right foot.

“I also learned from every moment, every difficulty, my foot injury made me realize how much I wanted to come back to the courts and above all play my real game, the one I like to watch offensive tennis. I love going to the net, hitting winners drop volleys, slamming aces to be inside the courts on the return. This injury allowed me to play more liberated. I learned to let go.”

In the few matches Garcia played to start 2023, the 29-year-old carried forward this newfound abandon and freedom. The loss of the first set in her Round-of-32 match against Laura Siegemund did not trip her up. In that encounter, Garcia made sure that the second and third sets were defined by her game on her terms. Her comeback victory showed signs that she could fight to gain the upper hand. It wasn’t just about shotmaking, but working through a difficult situation. This is what Garcia has been unable to solve for much of her career: winning matches when the shots aren’t all flowing and clicking, when the opponent mounts considerable resistance and makes the task a lot tougher.

Against Linette, Garcia was definitely fighting both herself and her opponent. Garcia was unable to replicate the on-court freedom she craves. Winning the hard way is something great tennis players do. Garcia, commenting after her loss, focused on the lack of rhythm and flow against Linette:

As quoted by L’Equipe, Garcia said, “I struggled to control my emotions and put my game together. I didn’t really manage to break free, to go forward. Can’t say it’s a big surprise, I also struggled to do that in my previous matches.”

It is to Garcia’s credit that she admitted she had been struggling with her game across four rounds and not just one. Barring her first-round match against Katherine Sebov that lasted 65 minutes and in which she was barely troubled, Garcia’s test at this major began in the second round against Leylah Fernandez. On that day, it was her turn to pare down the Canadian’s game in the final moments of each set to come through in straight sets.

The bigger story attached to the World No. 4’s words, however, goes beyond what was hampering her in Melbourne. It also ties into what she said while ending her appreciatory note at the end of 2022:

“What I know is the desire I feel to experience these emotions again,” she observed, referring to her successes in 2022. “I have the feeling that I can still improve my game so much, that in the end, I like to push my limits, challenge myself and I like to play that way!”

After her Round-of-16 exit at the 2023 Australian Open, barely a month into the new season, the challenge has just begun for Caroline Garcia. 

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