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The most beautiful tennis player in the game

Gregor Lewis


Gregor Lewis

Written on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 08:40

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I saw the most beautiful tennis player in the women's game on Monday.

I'm not labelling Jarmila Gajdosova as the 'most beautiful tennis player' in the women's game simply because she is visually appealing. That she may be (most tennis players - female and male - are these days), but because she is that rare amalgam on the tennis court - an immaculate production - when she gets things flowing right. Unfortunately for her, over the last few years, things have all been flowing wrong.

Beset by sadness, tragedy and illness off-court, Gajdosova's on-court fortunes have also tumbled precipitously, culminating in an extended absence from the court due to glandular fever. She's had to come to terms with the end of her marriage to fellow tennis-pro, Samuel Groth, and dealt with the tragic passing of her mother.

Gajdosova endured. She recovered from the illness. She returned to the court on Australian Tennis' biggest stage. After losing the first set against No.9 seed Angelique Kerber, and rolling her left ankle in losing the opening point of the second, Gajdosova remembered everything about who she is on a tennis-court.

And she started catching pebbles in the moonlight.

Often prone to drama, Gajdosova accepted the reality of the tennis match for the next six games. And won all of them, to take the second set to love. Everything was there and it was beautiful.

Most of the time Gajdosova moved to the ball. She didn't lunge, she didn't lurch, she didn't snatch. She moved purposefully. Most of the time Gajdosova cranked her smoothly produced first serve. If the ball toss was off, she caught it and started again. She was in control.

From the start of the match, Gajdosova stood up in the court, even returning Kerber's weak serves from inside the baseline. In the second set though, she turned that seeming bravado into something any opposing player would find terrifying - a matter of course.

Gajdosova wasn't trying to intimidate. She wasn't hoping to draw an error. She just accepted what she was offered and acted accordingly, because she knew what to do and expected that she would.

After having seen her hamstrung by doubt and flail with hopeless aggression so often, it was exhilarating to watch Jarmila Gajdosova just accept how good she was, and play free of doubt for a little while.

I saw her reach smoothly for the ball when serving, because she was confident in the ball toss. I saw her anticipate the destination of a rally and move lithely - within herself, showing no desperation or indecision - to circumvent it at net, or herald its ending with a punishing groundstroke winner.

I saw her employ her innate sense of the racquet head to demonstrate touch and feel, and create angles to make her opponent feel like a marionette.

Jarmila Gajdosova was playing instinctively and nothing else mattered. Nobody else in the women's game can produce so beautifully. No grunting, no screeching, no extravagant swings, skips, deep-knee core clenching digs or guttural blurts. It was see ball, hit ball, right there and how!

Everything coalesced into a perfect whole as that last scintilatingly instinctive backhand down the line blurred past Kerber, to give Gajdosova the second set 6-0. Then she heard the score and the cheers of the home crowd. Then she smiled. Thus the totality was over and only the memory of how beautiful Jarmila Gajdosova is on a tennis court remained.

Gajdosova's comeback is in its infancy, and watching the totality of Kerber's play, one could understand what she was doing. She found her own form of acceptance, in that she didn't believe she could win a tennis match against Gajdosova. Before Monday, she never had.

However Angelique Kerber fully expected to beat her. And she did, by winning the first and third sets ugly and accepting the opportunity to 'look good tomorrow'. Kerber expected errors from Gajdosova, enough errors to hand her the scoring moments, despite her lack of control of the match itself.

In between those errors, Kerber yet maintained enough self-belief to lash some harsh winners of her own, reinforcing the ugliness of the game. It was a contest she knew only she could win.

And so she did.

Angelique Kerber defeated Jarmila Gajdosova 6-3/0-6/6-2, in the first match on Rod Laver Arena of the 2014 Australian Open. Jarmila Gajdosova lost her ninth first round match in the year's first Grand Slam at the ninth attempt. For the first time though, here in Melbourne, finally, she reminded me how beautiful a tennis player she is.

Now, she just has to remember it herself and while she is on the court, forget everything else.

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