Digging deeper into Pe’er’s slump

24-year-old Shahar Pe'er fell to staggering defeat at opening round of Roland Garros; tennis champ's career at serious low point.

Peer 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Peer 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PARIS – It is now official: Shahar Pe’er is in the midst of a crisis.
First round losses have become something of a habit for the 24-year-old Israeli in recent months, but none was as disappointing as Sunday’s 7-6 (4), 6-1 defeat to Maria Jose Sanchez Martinez of Spain in the opening round at Roland Garros.
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What seemed like coincidental slipups a few months ago have become the norm recently, with Pe’er not only struggling to defeat the world’s top players – a reoccurring theme throughout her career – but also falling to inferior players with unprecedented regularity.
Sunday’s loss displayed many of the failings that have dogged Pe’er’s game for years, bringing on periodic slumps.
In the last couple of years, Pe’er has steadily improved her first serve percentage, but it has come at a cost. The Israeli may not be gifting her opponents as many second serves as she used to in the past, but her new cautious first serve is far less effective than her old one.
On Sunday, Pe’er hit 69 percent of her first serves in, but she only won 44% of the subsequent points. On her second serve, matters are even worse, with the Israeli losing 16 of 23 points to Martinez Sanchez after faulting.
The accumulating defeats have understandably also taken their toll on Pe’er’s confidence, which is perhaps the only real way of explaining her 36 unforced errors against the Spaniard.
Just as worrying was Pe’er’s inability to adjust to her opponent’s game-plan.
Sanchez Martinez harried the Israeli with numerous drop shots and killed off points at the net time and again, winning 27 of 32 approaches.
Since splitting with coach Pablo Giacopelli last July, Pe’er has seemed to slowly lose her way, and she is still looking for someone who can provide the same inspiration and focus both on and off the court.
Craig Kardon lasted just seven months, with the sides parting ways in March, and current interim replacement Harold Solomon is clearly not doing much good for her results.
Pe’er has fallen in the first round in three of her last four tournaments – including a particularly embarrassing defeat to then world number 429 Casey Dellacqua in the first round of the Brussels Open last week – and overall this year she has won just a single match or less in seven of 11 events.
It was not that long ago that Pe’er was at a record No. 11 in the world, a mere five ranking points from becoming the first Israeli to break into the top-10.
But even then, her results were far from impressive and it was clear for all to see that Pe’er had fallen into a downward spiral.
The question is, did Pe’er hit rock bottom with Sunday’s performance or was that humbling defeat a sign of things to come? Initial answers will be given when Pe’er next plays in Eastbourne in three weeks time and at Wimbledon the following week.
At the moment, it is difficult not to be pessimistic.