Thursday, 24 May 2012

Barmy Barthel: Future Grand Slam Champion

If you've never seen her before, Mona Barthel is an unusual player. A quiet, tall, elegant figure with an etiquette school posture, languid walk and sweeping, graceful strokes that are so naturally gifted, it's frightening what she can do with such ease. She's 21 but, as with all the German girls, came onto the tour later than most to finish studying, so is still a newcomer. She burst into the top 50 this year and is now at 32 but is a guaranteed future top 10 player and will win slams, in my opinion. She's already beaten top 10 players and came close not once but twice, to beating Victoria Azarenka this year. There is no big weakness in her game (though defensively, she's not great) but mentally, she is very, very up and down. That's not unusual for an inexperienced player but Barthel seems to lose concentration mid-game, so one moment she is battering her opponent, the next she goes off the boil and can't win a point for love nor money. There doesn't appear to be a 'plan B' for when she veers away from her best. I'm sure that will develop as she matures but right now, you never can be sure what she will do next - not great for traders!

An example of her prodigious talent was a match she played in Strasbourg this week. Her opponent, Alexandra Panova, (ranked 77) took the first set. Barthel then proceeded to blatantly tank the match. A more obvious show of disinterest I have never seen and I am not one of those poeple who shout 'tank!' or 'fix!' every other match. It was clear she wasn't interested in progressing further,  with the French Open next week. But at 5-0 down in set 2, she suddenly decided to stop deliberately hitting the ball into the net and played as she can - sublimely. It was hilarious to watch, as she literally toyed with poor Panova. Every game was a complete mis-match, as she drew level at 5-5 amidst a blur of winners and total dominance. At that point, she stopped playing again and Panova had 2 match points at 6-5. Barthel saved the second with an ace, as cool as you like, eventually sending the set to a tie break. The German then played a series of dreadful shots, sending Panova 6-2 up in the tie break. It was then as if Barthel had decided 'I'm gonna rescue all 4 match points, just to show this girl who's boss'. And that's exactly what she did, with every point a winner. At set point, Barthel then gave up and  Panova won (or rather Barthel lost) the next 3 points to secure passage through to round 2. Extraordinary.

Some would say a disgrace (and I can't argue with them, especially as it was only round 1 and several days till Roland Garros) but it's not every day you see a player so gifted that they can just turn it on like a switch and win points at will. What poor Panova made of it, I'd like to know. The Russian was busting a gut trying to prevent an almighty gubbing (she traded at around 1.03) and although she played well, she must've known that it was entirely up to Barthel who would win. To have someone show not only the match but you as the opponent, such disdain, must be infuriating. In all honesty, someone needs to have a word with Mona because it was disrespectful towards the WTA as well as Panova and the paying fans. If she gets a reputation for that, she will become a target for other players. There is an air of arrogance about her; she's good but she certainly knows it. I think she's currently coached by her mother, which might be why she gets away with this behaviour.

It's not the first time I've seen her toy with opponents, though usually she goes on to win, not throw the game so blatantly. I actually tweeted after one game that it was the worst game of tennis I'd ever seen from a pro - and I stand by it. She hit all 4 points either out of play or into the net, no rallying, and wasn't even close to winning the point each time. I was more annoyed that she didn't win the set though. I laid Panova at 1.05, so was in line for a big green if she'd only taken her set point. Watch out for her at Roland Garros! She must be up for it if she can't even be bothered to play a tournament she could well have won (and she's never won a WTA event by the way). Andrea Petkovic won Strasbourg last year and Sharapova the year before that, so it's not as if the big names aren't interested.

Mona Barthel is about 60.0 in the Roland Garros winners market, which puts her into the top 10 Betfair faves, ahead of Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams - and Ivanovic won it a few years ago. So there really is little value in backing her in my opinion, as everyone who is into tennis is well aware of her and her potential now. In fact, you'd have done quite well laying her in recent months, as the markets have ridiculously over-priced her against far more experienced players many times. This includes Caroline Wozniacki, who beat her comfortably despite starting the match as the clear outsider (Barthel was around 1.6 I think). She won't win the French Open but a decent run is on the cards and her price is very likely to come in - maybe enough for a trade.

OFF COURT BEAUTY World Number 76, Anne Keothavong of Britain:

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