In the aftermath of her 0-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat against Carla Suarez Navarro at the Australian Open on Sunday, Daria Gavrilova would have known better than anyone else that she had let herself down.
While the fact that the 21-year-old was defeated from such a commanding position could perhaps be forgiven on account of her relative lack of experience, the manner in which she lost any semblance of composure when Suarez Navarro inaugurated her second set fightback was reflective of a weak mentality that an athlete of Gavrilova’s standing should have long since purged from her game.
The racket throwing, ball abuse and verbal outbursts were small-fry for any tennis fan who lived through the era of Ilie Nastase and John McEnroe, but her failure to effectively channel that frustration into improving her performance at one-set-all bore all the hallmarks of amateurism.
Gavrilova had a golden opportunity to become the first Australian woman to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open since Jelena Dokic in 2009 and she let Suarez Navarro off the hook.
That reality will eat away at the Moscow-born Aussie for months to come.
Still, the Australian sporting public should be leery about being too condemnatory of the recently nationalized Moscow native. For while it cannot be argued that Gavrilova acted poorly on court, the swiftness with which she apologized for her display on social media spoke volumes about the player’s strength of character and the quality of the support that she has around her.
“Yeah, it wasn’t great and I’m very disappointed with myself. I was being a little girl,” Gavrilova said. “I played very well in the first set. I guess I was starting to overcook it a little bit in the second and got very emotional. Yeah, was just going crazy.
“I got emotionally fried in the second set. I was getting angry with myself, just showing way too much emotion. I’ve never played that deep in a grand slam, so maybe that’s why.
“It’s not acceptable. I don’t know why I did that. I was terrible. I mean, I played good. But the behavior, I’ve just got to learn from it.”
For any young sportsperson to apologize for their behavior just hours after capitulating on the occasion of the biggest match of their career is remarkable and the high-profile nature of Gavrilova’s collapse – on prime-time national television on center-court at her home Grand Slam – made it even more difficult to do. The fact, then, that the player elected to publicly acknowledge her wrongdoing so soon after such a painful defeat is revealing of a high-degree of self-awareness which bodes very well for her future.
After all, how can Gavrilova expect to improve her ability to close-out matches against high-profile opponents in big tournaments if she is unwilling to own-up to past mistakes and learn from them? The support that the Melbourne resident has received from the Australian tennis community is testament to the positive nature of her attitude and it is one which her male counterparts, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, stand to learn from.
Kyrgios was at least as animated as Gavrilova in defeat against Tomas Berdych on Friday and the manner in which the 20-year-old’s comportment fitted into a long-term pattern of bad behavior caused the Rod Laver Arena crowd to turn against him in a manner that they never did on Sunday.
Tomic, meanwhile, attracted widespread public condemnation for verbally abusing hotel staff during a dispute over a $20 court-rental fee in the build up to the Australian Open, and has had a generally poor relationship with his national tennis federation.
Gavrilova’s apology shows that she is willing to take responsibility for the inevitable mistakes that she will make as a young player and learn from them. This level of self-awareness, combined with the emphatic nature of her victory over double Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova last Wednesday, suggests that she has a very bright future at Grand Slam level.
[Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images]