When a tennis player makes noticeable improvements, he realizes how important it is to sustain and build on them. Nikoloz Basilashvili is trying to follow the path which will enable him to consolidate the gains he made late in his 2018 season.
He is discovering how slippery and dangerous that path can be.
It is not a crisis that Basilashvili lost early in the Sofia Open on Tuesday, falling to Daniel Brands in two close sets. A single match which turned on a handful of points on a February Tuesday is not going to determine a season’s trajectory. Let’s not sound alarm bells when there is no fire.
However, this loss does elicit a few questions, chiefly: Why was Basilashvili even playing this event?
Yes, I can imagine that Basilashvili, who is currently No. 22 on the ATP Tour, wants to get back inside the top 20. Yes, after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round of the Australian Open, Basilashvili wants to show he can bounce back. Yes, he wants to play his way back into form before Indian Wells and Miami. The thought process is not hard to identify here.
The bigger tension point is expressed in this rephrased question: Why did Basilashvili value playing in Sofia, to the extent that he dove right back into the tennis season instead of resting up for bigger events down the line? Why did Basilashvili think it was more important to play an added tournament than to step back and reduce his schedule?
It is true that since Basilashvili hasn’t gone deep in most of the tournaments he has played on tour, his legs are not that drained. Almost 27 (he turns 27 later this month), the Georgian would be correct if he said that there isn’t too much tread on the tires. No one is disputing that.
However, after elevating his game to a point where he became a more serious threat on tour, shouldn’t Basilashvili have structured his schedule so that he would be in top shape for the most important tournaments? This schedule does not reflect such a priority.
Moreover, here is an additional risk of playing Sofia: Chasing points and the regaining of good form could prove to be immensely frustrating. What if playing more tournaments leads to more losses (and fewer wins) than expected? This schedule could dent Basilashvili’s confidence, in addition to leaving him more jet-lagged and travel-weary than he otherwise would have been.
It is early in the season, and to be clear, there is no reason to panic after a Tuesday loss at this stage of 2019. However, Nikoloz Basilashvili is confronting the difficulties of getting to the top tier of his sport. How he handles various decisions deserves attention. It is important for Basilashvili to properly calibrate these choices.
Mistakes in scheduling can lead to poor results in tournaments, almost as much as poor choices of shots. Keep that point in mind as this year continues.