Yet another charmer

AP

Nicole Vaidisova is here to stay. But the Czech will have to be wary of Hingis-like opponents, who might attack her weaker backhand and her barely balletic movement on court, besides the injury nemesis that troubles today's players, writes Nandita Sridhar.

At Roland Garros, she was a purple-robed executioner, with not a hint of subtlety in her play. Watching Nicole Vaidisova at work, it doesn't take long to understand that `hit the ball hard' is her mantra. And when in doubt? Simply hit it harder. It clicked, and how.

Going by customary French Open calculations, slam-bangers plus clay equals a day's room rent. But it took a little longer for this Czech to check out of her hotel, and her stay would have been extended, if her forehand hadn't disappeared when it mattered. But that semifinal choking act cannot take away the fact that the 17-year-old is here to stay.

Being tall, blonde and beautiful in the tennis world is no easy task. It requires supreme skills in dodging inevitable Anna-Maria-related media bouncers. Six WTA titles at 17 shows she's no Kournikova. Choking at a Grand Slam semifinal shows she's not yet Sharapova. Besides, she's done enough to merit her own share of media space. "Always, somebody will compare you to somebody. Maria has had some amazing results, but I'm doing it my own way," she said when the comparisons began a couple of seasons back.

Her short and eventful past includes moving from Germany where she was born, to the Czech Republic, where her stepfather Alex Kodat introduced her to the art of weathering a tennis ball (from the looks of it, he did just fine). He put her in the Nick Bollettieri Academy when she was an 11-year-old (yet another Anna-Maria connection), where she was an outstanding player. To this day, she values every bit of advice that Bollettieri has to offer. "Any time I need anything from him, he'll help me look at something maybe my dad won't see, because he sees me so much, tries to give me advice, motivate me in anything," she said. Bollettieri, meanwhile, was impressed with the training that she receives from her father, who is her coach. Not surprising, considering that in Paris, her ability to smother the spin with some flat and hard-hitting shots, helped her wipe out Grand Slam winners off the dirt. Something similar on grass with a dynamite serve, and fellow racket wielders might have trouble sighting the ball.

But the Czech will have to be wary of Hingis-like opponents, who might attack her weaker backhand and her barely balletic movement on court, besides the injury nemesis that troubles today's players.

These mistakes will be ironed out over time, but what she needs to watch out for, is not repeating US Open 2005, where she blew her fuse and a 5-0 lead, to lose to Nadia Petrova. What followed then was a moment of frustration that saw a tennis ball almost touching orbit, and nearly taking a fan on the way. "I don't think you can play tennis with no emotion. Every match is going to have some negative emotions." Right now, she looks focussed enough to step onto the most talked about courts of grass, to show what she can do on a quickfire surface. She skipped Eastbourne to focus on Wimbledon. Can she live up to the hype is the question. If she plays as well as she answers questions, she'll have no problems. "I'm not going to set my goals to say, I need to do better at Wimbledon than I did at the French. I will take it round by round, focus 100 per cent and give it my all," she told PA Sport.

For starters, she's got her choice of role-model spot-on. Despite moving away from Steffi-land, the German is her all-time idol. "I don't think there's going to be anybody beating her (Steffi Graf) records or anything she does. I definitely admire her on court and off court, how she carried herself, so much class. She's definitely a great example." Right now, Vaidisova is quite content, living in her "la-la land." The list of endorsements will slowly grow, and comparisons with Sharapova are only bound to increase once they start playing each other more often, which should be mind-blowing. "I just don't like to keep playing the rally for 10 minutes. I like to hit winners. I play fast." We just hope she lives up to her potential and zooms into the top-ten even faster.

FACTFILE

DOB: April 23, 1989. Height: 6' (1.83m). Ranking (as on June 17): 13. Titles won (singles): 6 (2006 _ Strasbourg; 2005 _ Seoul, Tokyo (Japan Open), Bangkok; 2004 _ Vancouver, Tashkent). Career win-loss record (As on June 17): 104-31.

She is one of only six players in the Open Era to win five or more tournaments before the 17th birthday. Tracy Austin, Andrea Jaeger, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis are the others.