26th May 2011, Caroline Garcia announced herself on the world stage. Ranked 188 in the world at the time, the 17 year old French wildcard would lead Maria Sharapova 6-3, 4-1 in her premier match on Phillipe Chatrier. Her performance at this point was dazzling, and had the tennis world thinking they had found a new superstar.
Andy Murray took to twitter to label Garcia as a future number one in the world as she was picking the Russian apart in front a partisan crowd. Unfrotunately, the Frenchwoman could not get the job done, losing the next 11 games as a combination of the pressure and a much improved Sharapova overwhelmed her. Never the less, fans inside Roland Garros and those watching over the television had been introduced to a special talent.
Fast forward four and a half years and a 21 year old Garcia is ranked 39 in the world, yet to make a real breakthrough. Once so highly touted, the Lyon native has not made the instant climb up the ladder that many expected in 2011, and has instead slowly made improvements year on year.
It has left many pundits and fans wondering, has this girl that promised so much four years ago got what it takes to become an elite player?
A special talent
There is no doubting the talent that Garcia possesses. The 21 year old can do anything on court, serve, hit hard, defend, come to the net, counter, there is little she cannot do.
The Frenchwoman’s serve is one of the best on tour. The technique resembles more of an ATP style of serve. She keeps her feet apart during the motion which is rare in womens tennis. It allows her to generate more power and as a result, get more out of her serve. She can hit speeds upwards and beyond 120MPH which is amongst the elite at WTA level.
Garcia’s forehand technique allows her to hit flat and hard, but also add a lot of top spin akin to Sam Stosur which will help her on slower surfaces, especially clay. The backhand is a solid shot and can generate enough power to hit through the court.
Garcia does not possess the natural power of a Kvitova or Keys, but she can generate a lot of pace on the ball as well as a lot of work. It makes it very difficult to defend against.
She also possesses good feel. Garcia, along with her partner Katarina Srebotnik, is part of one of the top eight doubles teams in the world. She can play well at the net which gives her something over most of the baseline orientated tour.
Garcia also has the athleticism to back up her skills. She is quick around the court and can defend as well as attack. A lot of big hitters struggle with their movement, but she possesses both great power and athleticism.
That combination gives the world number 39 the option to vary her game-style based on how she is playing, and who she is facing. She can defend, attack, come to the net, and counter punch with her skills and athleticism- another rarity on tour.
So you might be thinking at this point ‘if this woman is so talented, how come she is not winning grand slams’. It is a fair question, and one that many people have asked over the years.
Like with most sports, talent only gets you so far. Garcia might possess enough talent to go a long way, but where she is lacking is perhaps the most important part, mental strength.
Mentality comes into many forms. How you control your emotions, nerves, tactics, dedication, the list goes on.
Garcia has worked up a reputation of being a negative player. Her on court attitude in the past has been questionable and remains so today. The Frenchwoman can often get easily frustrated and get down on herself when things are not going her way. The negative attitude can often impact her game and bring a ton of errors. Though Garcia has improved in this regard, it still remains a concern.
That is not to say she should be full of positivity on court, but there are ways to channel these emotions into a positive. Victoria Azarenka is an example of a player that was often frustrated on court, turned into a grand slam champion and world number one by channelling those emotions into a fighting attitude. I have seen Garcia fight her way through matches before, so she is capable. It just needs to become a more regular thing.
The making of a champion is also how they handle the pressure. The weight of expectation, playing on the biggest of stages and overcoming that to be a winner. Garcia has yet to find the best way to handle pressure situations.
The most glaring example came at the French Open earlier in the year, where the 21 year old was pitted on Phillipe Chatrier against Donna Vekic. Garcia would suffer a disappointing three set loss in the opening round of her home slam. Where did it go wrong?
“I don’t know if it’s a bitter disappointment, I’m disillusioned because here at the French Open I can’t play tennis, whether I’m playing a top-10 player or Vekic, who is a very good player,” Garcia lamented.
“I can’t make it here, it doesn’t depend on the opponent, it depends on myself and I can’t play here at the French Open and I hope it can change in the future.
“For me, it’s too much to play on this court and next year I will ask to play on court number nine.
“A sort of hidden court where there’s nobody there.”
It was an emotional match for Garcia who was reduced to tears after the loss. She simply crumbled under pressure, something she needs to learn to deal with if she is to make it to the top of the game.
The following slam did not help matters. The Frenchwoman found herself with match points against Heather Watson in the first round of Wimbledon, but ended up losing 8-6 in the third. Garcia has done this more than once in 2015, and on other occasions has simply gone away in matches she was in control of.
Tactically Garcia is lacking too. A woman that can do anything on court often resorts to one dimensional ball bashing which leaves you thinking ‘Why isn’t she using all the weapons at her disposal?’ The most glaring is the return positioning that makes Roger Federer’s SABR look ultra-defensive in comparison. The hype aggressive return strategy can work against the slower serves like Sara Errani, but against bigger serves it is a very questionable tactic.
Garcia is still very young and maturing, so the ability to deal with her emotions and figure her way through matches might come with time. Right now however she is still lacking that killer edge that makes champions. Improvements have been made, she just needs to make the right steps forward.
What can she do to improve?
Of course she is not technically perfect, who is? But where Garcia needs improvement is the mental side of the game. Maybe she could do with some new advice, someone else to look to? A new coach?
Caroline has been coached by her father Louis-Paul Garcia all her life, and it is very much a family affair with the special daddy-daughter relationship they have. Dad has done very well thus far to get his daughter into the top 40, but how far can he really take her? He has little to no tennis coaching qualifications, and did not play the game at elite level. Maybe the answer is a new opinion, a new strategy from someone with more experience?
It might not be simple for Caroline to let her father go, especially given their relationship, the sacrifices he has made and how far he has brought her. It also will not be easy for Louis-Paul to step aside and let his daughter go, but it is the difficult decisions that make elite tennis players.
That is not to say that Garcia can’t make it with her dad. There may be a way for a coach to work alongside Dad so she can get the best of both? Who knows? But it is certainly something worth looking at and exploring.
Garcia looks set to finish inside the top 40 in 2015, which is good, but rather disappointing considering her impressive start to the season. It looked for all the world she would finish top 20 or at least top 30 but poor form starting at Roland Garros has cost her dearly.
There are still tournaments left for the rising star to improve her ranking this year, but it is unlikely she will rise much higher this year.
Garcia will likely make Singapore in the doubles and perhaps the rising stars invitational if she can get enough votes, which is a good experience for her.
2016 will be an interesting year for Garcia, with a lot to defend up to Roland Garros and very little afterwards. If she can maintain a good ranking up to her home slam there is no reason she can’t finish top 20 or higher. However, she has to make sure she does not let her ranking slip at the start of the year with all those points to defend.
From there onwards, who knows what she might achieve. Garcia certainly has the talent to become a special player capable of achieving great things, but that is all down to her.
The tour will be a wide open place once Serena Williams retires. There’s a lot of young talent out there, but none set to dominate the tour. There is a place for Garcia at the top of the game, she just needs to earn it.