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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Nov, 5 2008

11/5/2008 2:22:00 PM

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Nov 5, 2008

"With each step I am more certain
Everything will turn out fine
I have confidence the world can all be mine
They'll have to agree I have confidence in me"
- Maria, the Sound of Music

Belief. It's everything in tennis. Sure, a Graf forehand or a Roddick serve isn't a shabby thing to have in your pocket, but at the very top levels of tennis, where everyone can hit the ball, confidence is 9 times out of 10 the make or break factor in every match. 

Nowhere has that been more evident than at the Year End Championships, well underway in Doha. The field of eight incredibly talented women got here by proving they're von Trappier than the rest. Of course, confidence can be a fleeting thing. It can descend on you seemingly out of the blue like an angel from the heavens (sneaky!). Or it can leave you like a lover in the middle of the night, taking your Blockbuster card and cell phone with them (rude!).

Ladies and gentlemen, a potpourri of confidence cautionary tales, conveniently lumped into two color coordinated groups...


Zvonareva still has her Blockbuster card in Doha.
Vera Zvonareva
's still got her Blockbuster card, playing blockbuster tennis (puns!) this week. Who saw her taking out Svetlana Kuznetsova, much less Ana Ivanovic (besides, apparently, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic)? She's all but assured herself a spot in the semifinals, all because, in her mind, she's the little engine that could. For Vera, 2009 is going to be all about the Grand Slams. Until she believes she can go deep in one, she's going to remain queen of the Tier 3s. Still, today, I give her 4 Yes We Cans.

With all of Vera's success, she's still playing second fiddle in her group to Jelena Jankovic. Sure, Jelena's got one less win under her belt so far, but one of her remaining opponents is Vera herself, someone Jelena's made her personal beyotch all fall long. Jelena's been riding a wave of confidence after making her first final at the U.S. Open, taking her all the way to the Year End #1 spot. And it's not going to stop here. 5 Yes We Cans.

Jelena's other remaining opponent is Svetlana Kuznetsova, a woman who switched coaches in a move that will hopefully make her more competitive. Or something. With all the flack Jankovic took for being a #1 player without a Slam final under her belt (at the time), Kuznetsova is the only player in this field without a title. Though Miss Congeniality counts for something right? ...right? Sveta's made plenty of finals this year, but something always got in her way. Whatever could it have been? Zero Yes We Cans.

Even in a final for least confidence, Kuznetsova would still lose to Ana Ivanovic. If any player exemplifies the here one day, gone the next nature of self-belief, it's the French Open champ. Has there been a bigger mental breakdown in recent tour history? She's getting her wheels back, but slowly. Though in her losses to Vera and Jelena, she seemed so stunned by her own lack of faith that it literally took her breath away (maybe Novak could lend her his inhaler?). Thankfully, Fernando Verdasco is in the stands to give her the breath of life. Perhaps he can remind her who she is when she comes to. Three No We Can'ts. 


Wimbledon champ Venus Williams is another player who's all but secured her spot in the semifinals this week, with back to back wins over Olympic gold and silver medalists Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva. Even at 2-5 down in the first against Dinara, Venus never looked defeated. In fact, she rarely looks defeated. Perhaps she should run for office? 4 Yes We Cans.

No player saw their year more redirected by confidence than Dinara Safina. Give all the credit you want to her increased fitness, but no one retires Henin and shoots up from #15 to #2 because she lost a couple pounds. Safina's calm cool and collected, she's going for her shots. Because she believes if she loses a point, she'll still win the game. If she can't climb out of this group (and she won't), it'll be because of Venus and Serena (with a dash of exhaustion), not for lack of trying. For this, I give Safina 3 Yes We Cans.

Elena Dementieva is oozing confidence after a killer year, and one shiny gold medal. Sadly, the YEC is like kryptonite to her tender heart, coming in with a 3 wins to 14 losses record (ouch). Make that 15 losses thanks to Venus. Anywhere else, 3 Yes We Cans. At the YEC, Four Hit the Dirts!

Serena Williams has some catching up to do with her big sister in this group, but is there any player with more self-confidence than the U.S. Open champ? How many set points did she save in that quarterfinal v. Venus? She played one match after her Slam win and still made Dinara look like the Safina of old. Healthy, Serena runs this table. And would be the Year End #1. Five Yes We Cans.

Judging by form, I'd say Jelena and Vera make it out of their group as the 1 and 2, with the Sisters William doing the same. But which sis will lead? It most likely comes down to their match-up Thursday, and if you think the chance to play Vera instead of Jelena in the semis isn't motivation enough to win, think again. At any rate, the YEC final will most likely either be a repeat of the U.S. Open final or the Wimbledon final. Either way, I'm fairly confident it will rock.

What have we learned? Have faith in what you've got (Serena, Venus, Jelena). If at the end of the day you think you don't have a shot (Ana, Svetlana), you don't. But if you have the audacity to hope, you just might thrill the world (Vera). In the meantime, for God's sake, fake it (Elena, Dinara). And keep looking. Check where you had it last, check in your locker, check under the couch cushions.

And if you find my Blockbuster card, can you give me a jingle?