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Alison Riske waited for solutions and found them

Matt Zemek

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Jean Yves-Ahern, USA TODAY Sports

Alison Riske began this past week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and The Netherlands right after Rafael Nadal won his 12th Roland Garros title. I don’t know if she read Steve Tignor’s piece on Nadal, but if she did, a specific line might have resonated with her, because it definitely applied to her week.

Tignor wrote in his piece, “Nadal sees every problem as a solution waiting to happen.”

One can pick apart that statement in many different ways.

Viewing “every problem as a solution waiting to happen” reveals a positive mindset. It reveals dedication and persistence. It points to a desire to understand, learn and grow. All those qualities were in evidence in Riske’s championship performance at the Rosmalen tournament.

Yet, the word which jumps out at me in that turn of phrase by Tignor is “waiting.”

The word “waiting” can certainly reveal passivity or caution on the part of a human being. One could very legitimately say that the current moment in American politics is such a crisis because so many people in power are waiting for other people to make decisions, instead of being more proactive.

Martin Luther King warned against the worldview which waited for the right (perfect) moment to act, because that moment will never arrive. Activism in the pursuit of justice and a better world cannot be permanently delayed. There might be a time or season in our lives when we must necessarily care for a loved one or tend to our work, but “always waiting for the right moment to act” was, in King’s eyes, folly.

Waiting often reveals paralysis in human beings and communities.

In sports, though, it isn’t that simple. Waiting can apply to athletes or organizations afraid to act boldly in moments of truth, but waiting is also a necessary process.

Much as a team has to sacrifice one season in a rebuilding process so that the next season can pursue a championship, or much as a tennis player has to take three months off to fully heal so that the next series of tournaments can be played in ideal health with a chance to maximize gains, so it also is that a tennis professional must continue to work, trusting that patience will eventually pay off. Tennis players might go many years without their desired results, but if they manage to produce a strong effort — not an outcome, but pure effort — at every tournament, they will be ready to seize the day. In that one week when the field slips, or a plot twist emerges, or a few tiebreakers move in the right direction, prepared players who have waited for their big chance can pounce on it.

That is what Alison Riske did at the Libema Open.

She lost a tiebreaker in round one against Karolina Muchova… and then won her next seven sets. She won her next three tiebreakers in Rosmalen after that opening-round tiebreaker loss. She won all five sets which went 12 games or longer.

Riske won a match tiebreaker in the semifinals against Veronika Kudermetova. She saved five match points in the final and won a stay-alive tiebreaker against Kiki Bertens in set two before taking the final set, 7-5. This tournament involved plenty of moments, especially in the final, when Riske could have checked out.

Nope. She waited. She stuck around long enough to ask questions her opponents couldn’t answer. She did benefit from a slip and fall suffered by Bertens, but it’s not as though Bertens went away. Kiki earned match points in front of a Dutch crowd eager to see her win.

Riske stood athwart conventional expectations of the match’s outcome. She had reached her second final of the year and wanted to make the final statement Aryna Sabalenka prevented her from declaring in Shenzhen in January.

Sabalenka and Bertens in finals — those were not favorable matchups for Riske. They were both situations which could have objectively been viewed as “wrong.”

At the Libema Open, Riske showed on a smaller scale what Rafa displayed at the end of his 2019 clay season:

What can seem wrong for a long period of time can still be made right in the end.

Riske did make everything right. Any of the problems she had were turned into solutions.

It took some time and an ample supply of patience, but Riske really did treat problems as though they were solutions waiting to happen.

There is one more thing to be said about waiting: Riske beat Polona Hercog on the road to this Libema Open title. Hercog can relate to what Riske achieved.

Much as Hercog won her first WTA title in seven years earlier this year in Lugano, this championship by Riske is the American’s first in five years, since 2014 in Tianjin over a teenage Belinda Bencic.

The waiting Alison Riske did this week in The Netherlands — and over the past five years since her first WTA Tour title — was hardly passive. It required a lot of resilience and resolve.

Now the payoff has emerged.

Problem solved… after a lot of waiting.

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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