SOPHOMORE SLUMP FACT OR FICTION?

Recently Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, 2014’s WTA break out player has come under increased scrutiny as a result of her very poor performances this year.  Of her most recent 11 events, Bouchard has lost in the first round 10 of 11 of those times.  One word that keeps coming up each time Bouchard loses is the inevitable sophomore slump.  I have been hearing this for quite some time and so I thought I would do some research on this, what I would term recent event, to see whether this sophomore slump has always been around or is it something of more recent persuasion.
Once I decided to undertake this venture, I was about to start with the reigning No.1, Serena Williams and track her results after her breakout win at the US Open in 1999.  While that may have been a good starting point, I thought that it would probably be best to lead with someone who was more recent, and that would be Maria Sharapova who won her first Grand Slam in 2004 at Wimbledon.  However, I don’t think that would have done the job that I was trying to do.   I thought, therefore, that I would go back to 2000 and to the time of Lindsay Davenport, track the women who lost to the eventual champions of Grand Slams in that year and see what their results were on the WTA Tour (not the ITF Tour) after their break out season.  As such, this analysis will not go on the record of the women who won Grand Slams but rather the women who did not.  Neither Bouchard, and to a lesser extent Sloane Stephens have won a Slam and so the moniker of sophomore slump would abound to them.
Grand Slam winners 2000-2015

YEAR WINNER
AO FO W USO
2000 Davenport Pierce Williams (V) Williams 
2001 Capriati Capriati Williams (V) Williams (V)
2002 Capriati Williams (s) Williams (V) Williams (S)
2003 Williams (s) Henin Williams (S) Henin
2004 Henin Myskina Sharapova Kuznetsova
2005 Williams (s) Henin Willams (V) Clijsters
2006 Mauresmo Henin Mauresmo Sharapova
2007 Williams (s) Henin Williams (V) Henin
2008 Sharapova Ivanovic Williams (V) Williams (S)
2009 Williams (s) Kuznetsova Williams (S) Clijsters
2010 Williams (s) Schiavone Williams (S) Clijsters
2011 Clijsters Li Na Kvitova Stosur
2012 Azarenka Sharapova Williams (S) Williams (S)
2013 Azarenka Williams (s) Bartoli Williams (S)
2014 Li Na Sharapova Kvitova Williams 
2015 Williams (s) Williams (s)


Grand Slam finalist 2000-2015

AO FO W USO
Hingis Martinez Davenport Davenport
Hingis Clijsters Henin Williams (S)
Hingis Williams (V) Williams (S) Williams (V)
Williams (V) Clijsters Williams (V) Clijsters
Clijsters Dementieva Williams (S) Dementieva
Davenport Pierce Davenport Pierce
Henin Kuznetsova Henin Henin
Sharapova Ivanovic Bartoli Kuznetsova
Ivanovic Safina Williams (S) Jankovic
Safina Safina Williams (V) Wozniacki
Henin Stosur Zvonreva Zvonreva
Na Schiavone Sharapova Williams (S)
Sharapova Errani Radwanska Azarenka
Na Sharapova Lisicki Azarenka
Cibulkova Halep  Bouchard Wozniacki
Sharapova Safarova


I looked at the above list, stretching back to January 2000 and while many of these players who lost in Grand Slam finals were already Grand Slam champions in their own right, there are many in the above list who would go on to have great careers, especially following their turn as a Grand Slam finalist.
The question to be asked then is why does the media, and to some extent tennis fans, attempt to explain a slump of today’s players as a sophomore slump.  A sophomore slump is defined as an “instance in which a second effort fails to live up to the standards of the first effort”.   In the circumstances a true definition of sophomore slump should not apply to Eugenie Bouchard or Sloane Stephens. While many persons in the media and tennis fandom tend to use performances at Grand Slams to determine whether a player has performed admirably or not, I tend to go by their week in/week out performances as that is usually a better benchmark of a player’s consistency, and it gives a better overall impression of how that player will deal with success if and when it happens on the Grand Slam stages.
Some will undoubtedly argue that the 2000s were a golden age for women’s tennis.   To counter those arguments I looked at data from 1990 onwards and the results were almost the same in terms of the results of players who were runners up in Grand Slam matches.
From 1990 to 1999, the players who contended for Grand Slams included the likes of Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Conchita Martinez, amongst others.  These women not only contended for Major titles, but they also competed day in and day out on the regular women’s Tour.  They posted significant results, won the big titles and competed week in and week out with regular results.
Of course when one looks at data, it will no doubt give you whatever it is that you are looking for.   To help me to understand why these 2 women have failed so spectacularly to back up their results, I took a look back at their early results at the start of their careers.
Before she had her breakout season in 2014, the below were the results of Eugenie Bouchard (as per the WTA website):
Eugenie Bouchard (25 February 1994)
·         2013 – Breakthrough first Top 50 season (finishing No.32); runner-up at Osaka (l. to Stosur); SF twice at Strasbourg (l. to Cornet) and Québec City (l. to Safarova); QF twice at Charleston and Tokyo [Pan Pacific]; reached 3r once (Wimbledon) and 2r seven times (incl. Roland Garros, US Open); fell 1r four times and in qualifying five times (incl. Australian Open); made Top 100 debut on April 8 (after Charleston; rose from No.114 to No.95) and Top 50 debut on September 16 (after Québec City; rose from No.53 to No.46).
·        
2012 – QF at Washington DC (l. to Stephens); reached 2r three times; fell in qualifying three times; won four singles titles and one doubles title on ITF Circuit; also part of historic junior duo at Wimbledon in 2012, winning girls’ title while Filip Peliwo won boys’ title (no Canadian had ever won a junior Grand Slam singles title before).
·        
2011 – Played first three WTA main draws, reaching 2r once (College Park) and falling 1r twice (Toronto, Québec City); won two singles titles on ITF Circuit.

  • 2010 – Fell in WTA qualifying once (Montréal).
  • ·         2009 – Fell in WTA qualifying once (Toronto).
  • ·         2008 – Played first WTA qualifying (Montréal).
The results of Sloane Stephens (20 March 1993) are not much better
·         2012 – First Top 40 season (finishing No.38); SF twice at Strasbourg (l. to Schiavone) and Washington DC (l. to Rybarikova); reached 4r once (Roland Garros), 3r four times (incl. Wimbledon and US Open) and 2r four times (incl. Australian Open and Indian Wells – l. to Kerber 26 75 64; led 62 51 w/mp); fell 1r six times (incl. Carlsbad – l. to Oudin 16 76(6) 60; held 2mp at 6-4 in second set tie-break) and in qualifying three times; made Top 50 debut on July 9 (after Wimbledon; rose from No.59 to No.49); missed all post-US Open competition w/left abdominal injury (withdrew from Seoul, Beijing, Osaka and Luxembourg).
·        
2011 – First Top 100 season; QF at Carlsbad; reached 3r once (US Open) and 2r twice; fell 1r five times (incl.Roland Garros) and in qualifying seven times (incl. other two majors); made Top 100 debut on September 12 (after US Open; rose from No.106 to No.89); withdrew from Guangzhou and Osaka w/left wrist injury; was youngest player in year-end Top 100 (at No.97; only 18-year-old, all other players 19 or older).
·         2010 – Played first three WTA main draws (2r twice, 1r once); fell in qualifying three times (incl. US Open).
·         2009 – Fell in WTA qualifying three times (incl. US Open).
·         2008 – Played first WTA qualifying at Miami and US Open; won one doubles title on ITF Circuit.
·         2007 – Played first events of career on ITF Circuit in Brazil.
Compare the results above to those of the following players who made the quarter-final or later in ITF events:
Garbine Muguruza (8 October 1993)
2013 – Excellent first half of season but missed second half w/ankle injury; first half highlighted by SF at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (l. to Flipkens) and 4r finishes at Indian Wells (l. to Kerber) and Miami (l. to Li); reached 2r five times (incl. Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon); fell 1r four times (incl. Charleston – l. to Pegula 67(2) 64 75; held mp at 5-4 third set) and in qualifying four times; won first WTA doubles title at Hobart (w/Torró-Flor); withdrew from Birmingham w/right ankle injury; set career-high No.53 on July 15; underwent right ankle surgery on July 2 and missed rest of season (withdrew from all tournaments rest of year – incl. US Open).
2012 – QF at Fès; reached 4r once (first WTA main draw at Miami – by beating No.9 Zvonareva in 2r, was equal-fastest to beat a Top 10 player; Andrea Leand and Julie Coin also beat Top 10 players in their second WTA main draw matches); and 2r once; fell 1r five times (incl. US Open) and in qualifying nine times (incl. Roland Garros, Wimbledon); won one singles title on ITF Circuit; made Top 100 debut on July 23 (rose from No.106 to No.95).


2011 – Won four singles titles on ITF Circuit.
2010 – Won one singles title on ITF Circuit.
2009 – Won one singles title and one doubles title on ITF Circuit.
2008 – Made first appearance in WTA qualifying at Barcelona.
Elina Svitolina (12 September 1994)
2013 – Breakthrough first Top 50 season (finishing No.40); won one WTA title at Baku (d. Peer in final); SF at Bad Gastein (l. to Hlavackova); reached 2r five times (incl. Roland Garros, US Open); fell 1r 11 times (incl. other two majors) and in qualifying three times; fell in RR at Sofia (as alternate – went 0-2 in RR); having started year at No.131 in the world, made Top 100 debut on February 18 (rose from No.102 to No.87) and Top 50 debut on July 29 (after Baku; rose from No.71 to No.49); won two singles titles and one doubles title on ITF Circuit.
2012 – Played first three WTA main draws, falling 1r at Baku, US Open and Moscow; fell in qualifying twice (Roland Garros, Wimbledon); won one WTA 125K Series singles title; won two singles titles on ITF Circuit.
2011 – Fell in WTA qualifying three times (incl. Roland Garros); won two singles titles on ITF Circuit.
2010 – Continued to play on ITF Circuit in Ukraine.
2009 – Continued to play on ITF Circuit in Ukraine.
2008 – Played first event of career at ITF/Kharkiv 2-UKR.
The difference in the career arc of Stephens/Bouchard and Muguruza/Svitolina and the success that they have had can be summed up in 3 letters … ITF.  Both Svitolina and Muguruza have had great success playing ITF sanctioned events.  These events, as most tennis fans know are what players who are coming back from injury (Vaidisova) have done in order to get match tough.  For those players who are trying to build their games, the ITF circuit is a great way to compete outside of the limelight, work on issues with their game and build confidence.  
It is interesting that during Stephens’ slump in 2014, at no point did she play an ITF event to build confidence.  She continued to play regular WTA Tour events.  As someone once said, losing does not beget winning.  Losing begets losing.
While some will put this losing streak that has seemed to engulf Bouchard down to the proverbial sophomore slump, it could possibly be that she was not very good to begin with.  Prior to her run to the semifinal o f the Australian and French Open and the final of Wimbledon, I would argue that these were fluke occurrences and not the consistency that one would expect from a top player.  The same guidepost could also be used to describe Sloane Stephens.  In contrast to Bouchard and Stephens, the consistency displayed by Simona Halep is more akin to a player who has some amount of consistency in her game to remain a top player for a long time and indeed contend for Grand Slams on the big stages.  In addition to Halep, players such as Karolina Pliskova who has moved up the rankings by her week in and week out performances on the WTA Tour shows someone who will not hide from the big times when they come her way.
As I opined earlier in this post, losing does not beget winning.  Losing begets losing.  When players are not used to competing week in and week out, when they are not used to engaging mentally to win big points in matches, then the moniker of sophomore slump should not really apply to them.
While penning this article I was reminded by my editor that sometimes players who have had a breakout season and are unable to replicate those results is usually as a result of injuries.  As such, in an effort to be fair to both Bouchard and Stephens I did some research on any news reports of reported injuries. After her 2013 season when she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Stephens had wrist injuries which required her to be off Tour for a few weeks.  In terms of Bouchard she seems to have suffered multiple injuries since her Wimbledon final effort last year, the most significant of which was a knee injury.  Perhaps it is the case that the effort that it took for both women to have their breakout seasons impacted them negatively in the physical sense and this could possibly have some impact on their results in the following year.  However, while I believe that injury may have an impact, I just believe that neither woman has developed the consistency in their games to have the moniker of sophomore slump attributed to them.

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