Shahar somehow still smiling after season-long swoon

Sinai Says: Suffering from a stress fracture in her lower back and falling eight places to No. 35 in the world, Pe'er remains optimistic.

Shahar Pe'er 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shahar Pe'er 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite having to forego her final two tournaments of the year due to injury and dropping to her lowest WTA ranking in two years, Shahar Pe’er looked and sounded happier than ever earlier this week.
Happenings off-court may largely be responsible for her upbeat mood, but Pe’er, who is suffering from a stress fracture in her lower back and fell eight places to No. 35 in the world on Monday, is also clearly optimistic regarding her playing career.
Her 23 victories in 2011 was her lowest total since turning professional in 2004, with the 24-year-old Israeli failing to win more than a single match in 15 of 21 tournaments this year.
But I can’t remember Pe’er ever appearing as cheerful as she did when we spoke, and she is confident that it won’t be long before she is also smiling on court once more.
“I had a complex year. I think it was a rebuilding year,” said Pe’er, who just six months ago was a single win away from becoming the first Israeli to break into the top-10.
“I began the year well and recorded some good results, but in February I felt my game was in decline and decided that I needed to make a change to remain at the highest level.
“The level of tennis on tour is always improving. Girls are faster and stronger and are targeting perfection so I had to make changes to keep up with them.
“My game has improved significantly.
Things are still not exactly as I’d like them to be, but I know and believe that once the changes sink in we will slowly see an improvement in the results,” added Pe’er, whose disappointing season came to a premature ending last week after she was diagnosed with the back injury.
Since her loss to Julie Goerges in the third round in Charleston, which denied her a place in the top- 10, Pe’er failed to make it past the second round in 10 of 13 tournaments, losing in the opening round in seven of them.
Shahar has only reached the quarterfinals of three tournaments all year, her trip to the final in Washington at the end of July marking her best showing.
This came in stark contrast to her performance in 2010, when she also only advanced to a single final, but made six semifinals, including at the premier events in Dubai, Madrid and Beijing.
In 2010, Pe’er went a career-best 47-21, recording five victories over top-10 opponents (compared to just one in 2011) and only losing twice to players ranked outside the world’s top-50 (as opposed to eight this year).
Pe’er’s results in the majors pretty much sum up her 2011 season. Her third-round effort at the Australian Open in January and her secondround loss at the US Open would usually be low-points of a season, but not for a year in which she fell in the first rounds of Roland Garros and Wimbledon after going over two years without losing in an opening round of a Grand Slam tournament.
Pe’er’s most disappointing results have come since she began working with coach Harold Solomon in March, but she is delighted with the progress being made under his guidance.
“I really enjoy working with him.
We have a really good connection,” said Pe’er, who earned this year less than half ($475,249) she did in 2010 ($1,122,052).
“I’m going through a process. We have made changes to my game and it takes time for things to come together and for the body to translate what the mind knows. I see an improvement in training and there have also been some flashes in matches, like in Washington when my serve was much better and I hit four or five aces in every match.
“I’m not going to become a player who hits 10 aces a match, but things are coming together and are starting to look better.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive while maintaining consistency. I need to make sure I’m not too offensive or too defensive. I need to find the right balance. I want to remain a player who makes as few mistakes as possible, but also takes initiative and forces other players to commit mistakes.”
In the past, the ever-intense Pe’er might have wallowed in her poor results and mediocre play.
Not any more.
Pe’er will try to forget about the past year as soon as she can, but at least it has seemed to result in a new positive outlook on life, and that could prove to be more valuable than any win.
“I’m optimistic,” she said. “I see the process which I’m going through and the slow improvement. I can see that it is going somewhere and that the future is bright and that gives me a lot of motivation.”
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