This is not an ironclad truth, but it applies often enough to capture the attention of an outside observer: Succeeding in multiple parts of a tennis season indicates profound development in a tennis player. Alison Riske hopes this reality will continue to work in her favor.
Riske has advanced to the Wuhan Open semifinals with a straight-set thumping of third-seeded Elina Svitolina. The convincing display followed two other quality wins: cooling off Monica Puig, who had just beaten Angelique Kerber, and then taking down No. 8 seed Wang Qiang, whose best tennis has historically come in Asia.
Riske produced a terrific grass season, reaching her first-ever major quarterfinal at Wimbledon and taking a break lead over Serena Williams in the third set before losing.
Riske then got married in late July, so it was natural to think that the various crosscurrents of life might make it hard for her to gear up for the Asian swing and produce even more top-tier tennis in 2019.
Riske has promptly shot down that line of thought. She has delivered the goods in a distinctly separate part of the tennis year.
This doesn’t guarantee anything for 2020 or beyond, but it does show that Riske — in 2019 — has been able to go through the stop-and-start rhythms of a tennis season and sustain good form.
It was notable to me that Ashleigh Barty — who made a strong late-season push in 2017 — reached the Montreal semifinals in August of 2018. Barty was extending the reach of her tennis across the various times of the year.
Her best tennis was not confined to one part of the season.
No, I didn’t think Barty would have the incredible 2019 breakout season she has forged, but the point remains that Barty was showing signs of playing good tennis more regularly. She was emerging as a factor on tour a little more often.
No, I didn’t begin to consider that Barty would contend for major titles — that epiphany didn’t emerge until the Australian Open — but she had nevertheless begun in 2018 to create a larger presence on tour.
Tennis players can get exhausted by playing more matches — the first-world problem created by winning on a more regular basis — but every tennis player lives to experience that problem. When winning becomes more of a habit and gets absorbed into the bloodstream, some players can — and do — learn how to carry themselves on a year-round basis.
Playing well at different points in the tennis season is not the only way a professional shows she is ready to climb to the next level, but it is certainly one central indicator.
Alison Riske is trying to lay her own foundation for 2020. More than anyone else in Wuhan, she has affirmed a positive direction for her career.
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