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Australian Open

Petra Kvitova Makes The Grade — Despite What Your Professor Might Say

Matt Zemek

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Pierre Lahalle of Presse Sports for USA TODAY Sports

Did you have THAT GUY as your professor in college?

You know what kind of professor I am talking about. I am referring to the professor who grades your analysis of a book in your junior-year English class. This is the professor who says of your paper, “Good supporting details on Dostoevsky’s analogistic passages. Ample descriptions of Russian social mores. B-plus.”

Doing many good things doesn’t lead to an A.

The professor expected perfection in order to hand out an A. Merely getting several parts right didn’t mean an A grade. A paper has to astonish this kind of professor to get the highest possible grade.

Don’t be THAT GUY when grading Petra Kvitova’s 2019 Australian Open.

Yes, Kvitova did not win first place. Naomi Osaka was better in a thrilling, high-level final. Kvitova had to hold a runner-up plate on Saturday night in Melbourne. That does NOT mean she gets a B-plus for this tournament.

Heck… she doesn’t even deserve an A-minus for this tournament. She deserves a straight A.

Osaka deserves an A-plus. That’s how I would grade this tournament for the two women.

I keep going back to this basic point about how we evaluate and compare athletes: What a given athlete does must be judged in relationship to the competition. Did the winner WIN, or did the loser LOSE? Translated: Was a match decided by what the winner did well, or by what the loser did poorly? In tennis, players sometimes win by dominating points and hitting winners; other times they win by allowing the opponent to miss shots, knowing that the opponent is weak or vulnerable in the face of a given strategy. This means everything in relationship to how we evaluate.

Clearly, the Australian Open women’s final was an example of the winner winning, outclassing an excellent opponent by a narrow margin in a showcase of ambitious shotmaking and quality serving. There was simply nothing to lament in the loser’s performance other than the result itself. Kvitova could not have fought much better. Osaka simply carried her own game to a slightly higher place.

Kvitova lost at the height of her game, against another player able to exceed her level. This was not, to put it mildly, Madison Keys in the 2017 U.S. Open final against Sloane Stephens. It wasn’t even Simona Halep against Jelena Ostapenko in the 2017 Roland Garros final. Those are three different levels of major-final losses (Kvitova, Keys, Halep). Kvitova easily stands at the top.

Give Kvitova a straight A for her tournament. The proper emphasis belongs on the need for Osaka’s grade to be elevated, not for Kvitova’s grade to be lowered.

It’s all in the context, oui? Oui.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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