Serena Does Moscow

Serena Williams met Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Moscow semifinals and warfare broke out.

I look at Serena Williams and Roger Federer as our part-time professional tennis players. Federer plays the slams, the Masters events and his two home town tournaments: Dubai, his current home base, and Basel, his home town. That’s it. That’s all he needs to get enough points for his number one ranking.

Serena likes to drop into slams with little preparation and snatch them away. The difference between the two is that Federer is fanatical about staying in shape and practicing. One of the advantages of living in Dubai is the opportunity to train in brutal heat.

You can play part time if you’re that good and tennis is your all-consuming passion, otherwise you’ll suffer injuries at critical times because you’re not in match shape.

Serena has been playing much more this year and that may have something to do with her sister Venus. Venus came out and won Wimbledon this year and Serena does not want to be left behind. Serena currently has eight slams and Venus has six.

That may be why Serena could be found in Moscow this week for the first time since 1997. That and the year end championships. Only the top eight players get into the championships. Serena is currently ranked number six so she should get in but Venus is number eight, she’s in more peril.

Given the situation, I’m not sure why big sister Venus didn’t get to play the Kremlin Open instead of Serena. Kremlin is a Tier I tournament which means it has more points while Venus is toiling away at a Tier III tournament in Bangkok. And that’s after Serena played Stuttgart last week which is Tier II while Venus played a Tier III tournament in Tokyo.

The sisters don’t like to play each other – too bad for us but there’s not much we can do about it – but the way they divvied up the tournaments hasn’t helped Venus and she lost to 49th ranked Flavia Pennetta in the Bangkok semifinals.

I wonder how the sisters decided who would play which tournament. Did they flip a coin; have a pillow fight; play rock, paper, scissors? I’d love to know.

Serena’s opponent in the semifinals at Moscow was Svetlana Kuznetsova and it was a rip-roaring affair despite the misleading final score in Serena’s favor: 7-6(2), 6-1.

Kuznetsova started slowly and went down a break early in the first set. From then on it was a slugfest between the two hardest hitters in the women’s game. Kuznetsova is one of the few players whose best strategy is to go toe to toe with Serena and she did.

With Serena serving at 3-4, Kuznetsova got a break point to get back on serve. Serena gave Kuznetsova another break point with an overhead into the net but it took one more break point and a smart play before Kuznetsova finally won the game: she mixed a high looping shot into the middle of the warfare and it threw Serena’s timing off.

This match was as close to a men’s match as you’ll see. Of course, Serena and Venus playing each other would be close too if they were willing to take each other on but, well, never mind.

The battle continued in the next game. Williams returned a second serve too hard for Kuznetsova to handle and got a break point. On the next point Serena hit a short ball and after Kuznetsova hammered it for a winner, she screamed like a victorious predator. She looked only slightly less primal than Serena looks in this image..

Kuznetsova has the desire and the game to be as intimidating as Serena but she’s not mean enough or imperious enough. Serena, and Maria Sharapova for the that matter, have been raised to rule the kingdom, to expect domination. They take names and kick ass.

And they’re most aggressive on the big points. In the first set tiebreaker, Serena went to the net right away and got out to a 3-0 lead. Kuznetsova hit a double fault and added an error and Serena won the tiebreaker and the first set.

At the beginning of the second set, Kuznetsova attacked the net herself but failed mostly because Serena was hitting the ball too hard. Serena went up an early break and she was ahead 4-1 but it was closer than the score indicated. Kuznetsova had failed to convert two break points.

By this time, though, Kuznetsova was worn out and she didn’t win another game. Serena had been hitting hard, serving hard, and returning hard and it had finally taken its toll.

Kuznetsova is up to a career high ranking of number two and she beat Serena in Stuttgart last week for the first time. She has a career record of 2-15 against the number one ranked Justine Henin, however, and she hasn’t beaten her since 2004.

Henin, Serena and Sharapova are the most competitive women tennis players on the planet. Kuznetsova is in the second tier of the most competitive players on the planet. Not bad, but not good enough to be number one.

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