Pe’er in need of physical, mental turnaround

Sinai Says: Things have gone so horribly wrong that there are those who have suggested that Shahar might as well just retire.

Shahar Pe’er 370 (photo credit: Mike Blake/Reuters)
Shahar Pe’er 370
(photo credit: Mike Blake/Reuters)
Just in case there was any doubt, the WTA rankings released earlier this week confirmed the painful truth: Shahar Pe’er has hit rock bottom.
A drop of 12 places saw the 25-year-old Israeli plummet to No. 74 in the world, her lowest position since May 2005.
Seven years ago, Pe’er was a brash 18- year-old making her breakthrough on tour, displaying talent and tenacity that quickly saw her break into the top-20 in 2007 while reaching two Grand Slam quarterfinals.
As recent as April of last year, Pe’er was within one victory of a place in the top-10.
But things have since gone so horribly wrong that there are those who have suggested that Shahar might as well just retire.
Pe’er announced last week that she is sitting out the final two months of the season, revealing that she has been suffering from an injury in her left leg since January that never really healed.
However, the reason Pe’er decided to take an extended break has a lot more to do with her mental state of mind than it does with her physical health.
Pe’er hasn’t won a tennis match since mid-July, being knocked out in the first round in her last five tournaments.
The Israeli No. 1 hasn’t made it past the second round of a tournament in her last 18 attempts, advancing to a quarterfinal or further just once in 2012, reaching the semifinals in Hobart, Australia, in her second event of the season in January.
In fact, Pe’er has been faltering badly for a year-and-a-half now, only progressing past a second round twice in her final 11 tournaments of 2011, losing in the opening round in six of those events.
Last season was cut short by a stress fracture in her lower back, but Pe’er nevertheless remained upbeat regarding the future, insisting at the time that she was moving in the right direction despite the disappointing results recorded under the guidance of coach Harold Solomon, with whom she began working last March.
Pe’er spoke very differently last week, admitting in a TV interview to Sport5 that the decision to work with Solomon was the route cause for the dramatic drop in form.
“During 2010, which was my best year, coach Pablo Giacopelli decided to leave,” Pe’er said. “I started to work with Solomon which in hindsight was a mistake. He’s an excellent coach, but he told me that I had to change my tennis to beat the top girls. I take the responsibility for this mistake.
“My bread and butter is beating the girls ranked below me and once I changed my game that hurt me.”
In 2010, Pe’er went a career-best 47-21, recording five victories over top-10 opponents (compared to just one in 2011) and losing only twice to players ranked outside the world’s top-50 (as opposed to eight in 2011).
In 2012, Pe’er went a career-worse 15- 23, the first time she has ended a year with a losing record.
Only two of her wins came against opponents ranked in the top-30, with nine of her defeats coming at the hands of inferiorly ranked players, including four especially humbling losses to players ranked outside the world’s top-100.
Shahar is currently looking for a new coach that will take her back to the basics in the hope that she still has what it takes to be a top player.
Giacopelli, who guided Pe’er at her peak and is being mentioned as one of the main candidates to be her next coach as well, believes it is too early to discount Shahar.
“In tennis the emotional stability of the player is the most important part of their repertoire,” Giacopelli told me. “Constant changes unfortunately affect this by creating instability that has a direct effect on the player’s confidence. I believe any player, including Shahar, will struggle to keep a top form when this element of constant change is present.
“Having said all of this I believe, though it will be much harder than last time, that she can still have a good run, if the right team comes around her, and reach the top echelons of the sport though it is very hard to predict at this time how far this would mean in ranking numbers.”
The first step towards correcting a mistake is understanding one’s own role in it, and it seems that the harsh reality of her current situation has finally sunk in with Pe’er.
She will inevitably drop further in the rankings in the coming weeks due to her layoff, but the fire to succeed still burns deep in Pe’er and as long as that is the case, feel free to discount her at your own peril.
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