Category Archives: Venus Williams

Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.

Serena and Venus Williams lost their singles matches and their doubles match at the Australian Open. Are other players passing them by?

As Ana Ivanovic powered Venus Williams off the court in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open – Ivanovic won the match by the score of 7-6(3), 6-4 – I couldn’t help wondering if I wasn’t seeing the tail end of the Williams sisters era.

Venus’ sister Serena lost to Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals and the sisters also lost their doubles match.

Both sisters were injured but neither one would reveal her injury. Serena was moving awkwardly and Venus walked onto the court with a slight limp and her thigh wrapped with enough bandage to cover a mummy. This is what Serena had to say about her injury situation:

I was having some issues, but I don’t like to make excuses. We won’t discuss those.

Neither Venus’ mother nor her hitting partner knew why Venus was limping and Venus wasn’t telling. Here’s what she said about the subject:

I never talk about my injuries.

Listen, nobody thinks you’re making an excuse if you divulge an injury after a loss. Justine Henin said her knee was bothering her after her lopsided loss to Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals and nobody is complaining about her today. Players refuse to reveal their injuries so they can maintain a mystique of invulnerability but Serena and Venus have been injured so much that there’s no mystique left.

I am apparently not the only person wondering about the sisters. Someone asked Venus the following question after her match with Ivanovic:

Has to be a long time, if ever, since you and Serena lost singles and doubles within 24 hours at a big tournament. If people start talking about the Williams era being over, what would you have to say to them?

What can she say? Yes, you’re right? What she did say is that she’s a champion and she expects to be a champion. It’s hard to count out either sister and we’re not sure how much Venus’ thigh was bothering her but there were points in her match when it very much looked like Ivanovic was passing her by.

Both players started out slowly. Ivanovic has a bad habit of being very nervous coming out of the gate. When she got to the French Open final last year, she was so nervous she couldn’t serve properly. Venus couldn’t get her serve over 100mph (160kmh) herself.

By the end of the second set, though, both players looked strong and Venus was just pounding the ball. At 4-4, she pounded a bunch of balls at Ivanovic’s backhand then sent a ball down the line. Ivanovic ran the ball down then got Venus on the run for few shots before putting an inside out forehand away. Ivanovic then leaned back and let out a big “Oh yeahhhhh.” Venus had hit her with her best shot and ended up playing defense.

Venus didn’t give up. She pounded a few more balls and got two break points as Ivanovic was serving for the match, but Ivanovic had found her serve by now and a few good serves put the match away.

It was a great show by Ivanovic but I wouldn’t say she’s ready to win a slam just yet. It’s those nerves! She should have rolled over Daniela Hantuchova in the semifinals but she started slowly again: she lost the first set 6-0. She won the match, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4, and she’s into her second slam final but she won’t get away with that against Maria Sharapova who ran over Jelena Jankovic, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the final.

Blake is Getting Better, Really He Is

I’m encouraged by James Blake’s play. I really am. He looked sharp against Roger Federer in their quarterfinal match and that’s progress.

Federer wiped him off the court in Cincinnati last year. Blake doesn’t have enough game to beat Federer. He doesn’t have enough variety and his strength – hard flat shots – feeds right into Federer’s strength – quicksilver defense. Blake also has an average serve and he’s not going to outduel too many players from the baseline. But he kept attacking Federer and played a very high level of tennis. Check this out.

Blake was serving at 3-2 in the first set when he got to the net and hit a drop volley. Fed ran from one corner of the court to the other to get to the ball and hit a lob that landed just inside the baseline. Blake spun and raced back to the baseline and when he got there – no lie – he hit a between-the-legs lob! I have never ever seen a between-the-legs lob before, have you? Fed hit a soft overhead in response then followed that up with a forehand error. Definitely a top ten candidate if not top five for best point of the fortnight.

Blake is now back in the top ten and it looks like he really is getting better at age 28.

The question now is: can Novak Djokovic beat Federer?

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 219 user reviews.

Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.

If Maria Sharapova is the diva, what does that make Lindsay Davenport? How about inspiring?

Lindsay Davenport just passed Steffi Graf to become the highest career money winner on the women’s tour. She’s currently at $21, 872, 217. That figure is partially due to inflation. You can bet that Graf never made $1.4 million for winning the U.S. Open and that doesn’t include a $1 million bonus for winning the U.S. Open Series.

Davenport hasn’t had heavy endorsement income for a few reasons. She’s not classically beautiful or sexy, and she’s not a self-promoter. Maria Sharapova is both of those things. It’s not a wild guess to say that Sharapova will earn as much in endorsements by the end of her career as Davenport will have earned from prize money by the end of hers.

Sharapova is an intense diva who commands the court and fights to the very last drop. She’s the self assured product of a family which lives for her tennis career. She’s supposed to succeed and she does. And her success is not limited to tennis.

For all the extra curricular activities Venus and Serena Williams involve themselves in – Venus now wears her own line of clothing and Serena consults on her Nike clothing line, Sharapova will probably outdo them both. She just signed a contract with WTA sponsor Sony Ericsson that includes acting as a design consultant for some of their products. Sharapova is, by the way, only 20 years old.

And so we find ourselves in the second round of the Australian Open to watch Sharapova, the present moment of tennis, play Davenport, the past champion. I feel bad about putting Davenport into the past tense because I’m ecstatic that she’s rejoined the tour after retiring to have a baby.

But she is 31 years old and it’s not quite the same as the Martina Hingis return tour. Davenport is a strong hitter and a big server but she never moved all that well. Hingis could always move and she was still a young 24 when she unretired from a three year hiatus with foot problems.

Sharapova isn’t a good mover either so both players tried to end the point as soon as possible once their match started. You’d have to go back to old movies of serve and volley at Wimbledon to watch a match with shorter points. These days Wimbledon courts are much slower.

Davenport was completely overwhelmed in the first set. It’s understandable considering that she’s only played Tier III and Tier IV tournaments since she returned to the tour last September. Sharapova repeatedly hit behind her or too far in front of her. Sharapova was already up 5-0 in the first set when Davenport ran Sharapova deep into a corner. Sharapova recovered with an emergency forehand slice but the angle of the shot was out of Davenport’s reach. Most women players today would get to that ball.

Davenport recovered in the second set, though, and managed to hold her first three service games. Now she was winning some of those cross court rallies. Two consecutive breaks of serve gave Sharapova the match, 6-1, 6-3, but Davenport could probably have made it to the third or fourth round with a bit more luck from the draw.

I think Lindsay can make it into the top ten. She beat number three ranked Jelena Jankovic twice last year and she also beat number 12 ranked Daniela Hantuchova. I don’t think she can get into the top five and I’d bet a lot of money that she’ll never win another slam. What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I more or less right?

[Correction: Davenport beat Jankovic once last year. In fact, until Davenport met up with Sharapova, she was 19-1 on her return tour. Her one loss was to Jankovic. Thanks to Anon for setting me straight.]

In either case, it’s wonderful to have Lindsay back on the tour. Tennis was never the beginning and the end of the world for her and that’s especially true now that she’s a mother. And don’t take my word for it. Serena Williams, who seldom has many positive things to say about her opponents, had this to say on Saturday:

I’m speechless because she looks better than me and she’s seven months out of having a baby. I’m convinced if I had a baby, seven months later I’d probably still be in the hospital trying to get over the pain. She is my ultimate role model. I’m really so motivated … she’s just taken it to a new level.

Tall Tennis

Ivo Karlovic is 6’10”(2.08m) and John Isner is 6’9”(2.05m). There’s no doubt they were the tallest doubles team ever to play a professional tennis match when they took the court in Melbourne today. They lost their match in straight sets but the trend worries me. Sharapova and Davenport are both 6’2”(1.88m) and if tennis continues to go the way of basketball, maybe we should consider raising the net. On the other hand, if people were abusive towards me just because I liked round robins, what will they say about raising the net? They’ll probably come after my head!

Watch out for Richard Gasquet. He beat Feliciano Lopez easily today and is looking good. As long as he doesn’t stub his toe or get a slight fever, I think he can go a long way.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 263 user reviews.

It hardly seems fair: the men are nearly knocking the fuzz off the ball with their serves while the women can barely get the ball over the net. Can anything be done about this? Or to paraphrase Professor Higgins, can a woman be more like a Rottweiler?

It’s the off season in tennis, the slow-mo portion of the year, when we can turn to our little pet peeves and wonder “why?” Lately I’ve been obsessing about why the women on the WTA Tour can’t serve well. For the most part, that is. This has been a frequent rant in these environs, and lately it’s driven me positively Freudian. So I have come up with my own private theory I’d like to share with you.

The women can’t serve because they don’t let themselves really develop the level of aggression that goes into the making of a good serve. They just can’t handle that. It’s not ladylike.

What? After years of the feminist revolution you mean to say the girls can’t get their act together on this point? Yeah, that’s what I mean. We still need those assertiveness training classes.

But what about all those big baseline games we’re getting from most of the women on tour? Why can they whack superwomen forehands all day long but still not serve as if they meant it? Why the one and not the other? That makes no sense, does it? A strange dichotomy is going on here. Somehow it’s ok to wail on your forehands and backhands with all the power you could want.

But ground strokes are different than the serve, I would maintain. Off the ground it’s about you and your pace, and your opponent and her pace. The serve is all about you, and only you. There’s no one to play off of. You are totally responsible for your serve. It’s the one shot in the game of tennis that puts your ability – or inability – squarely in your hands.

Kinda brings a lump to a girl‘s throat, huh? That’s the problem. Too many lumps, too too many throats. There is definitely a fear factor entering in here. Most women players are probably just hoping they can get into a rally. Once in a rally they are ok, the nerves may subside a bit.

When you step up to the line to unload a first serve, your train of thought should be: kill that so and so on the other side of the net, blow it right by her, smile knowingly when she nearly falls out of her socks trying to return your serve. Pump your fist aggressively when you land an ace or a service winner, let your opponent know she’s in for a long afternoon of being your personal mopping device out on the court. Rub it in. Then rub it in again. Enjoy being Ivan Lendl, if only for a few hours(!)

Tennis doesn’t have the same degree of warfare as pro football but it approaches a war when the player is serving. At least it should. You want that first strike capability, and you want to be ready to crush your opponent.

Are there any Amazons out there who can haul off and whack the serve on a steady basis, or are the women pretty much pat ball dummies? When we do have good serving, it’s really really good. Right now I would put three women in the mix: two of them are sisters we know well, the other is a Serbian newcomer who takes the serve seriously, and it’s already starting to show in her game.

The two best serves on the women’s side belong to Venus and Serena Williams. You sense that these two are using their serve not just to kick off the rally but to win the point outright. The difference is that the Williams sisters view the serve as it should be viewed: it’s a weapon. You have to lift the intensity level and feel your oats. Peter O’Toole once said about acting that if you weren’t prepared to go out on stage and be King or Queen of the world, then you shouldn’t be on stage. A bamboo tree would serve you better. Serving is the same thing.

Why are the Williams sisters the lucky ones in the serving game? I would argue that the sisters had so much to contend with as black outsiders in the whitest of all sports, save possibly swimming, that it made them and their games stronger and tougher. They got used to competing and clawing their way into tennis acceptance, and they grew up having no problem taking things out on a poor little ball. They brought power to the women’s game like it had never seen before, and that included big serving. Forehands and backhands may break down but the Williams sisters always seem to have a serve or two left over to punish an opponent with.

Ana Ivanovic is the third member of the Serving Female Assassins. She’s got a sweet nature, too sweet some might say, and her disposition kind of works against my theory, because her serving game is all muscle and pace and power. And placement too. I especially like to watch her serve out wide in the ad court. She can use variety with this shot, hitting a kicker wide as well as a flat ball. She is just as comfortable going up the T as well.

How did a babe like Ana slip through the cracks and become a big mad bomber? Before we chalk this up to something in the Serbian water back home, we can’t say the same of her countrywoman, Jelena Jankovic. Her serve is rather lackluster by comparison. Jelena just puts the ball in play. But Ivanovic treats it like a weapon, like the Williams sisters, and as time goes on it’s going to be a big factor in her winning ways. It also helps that Ivanovic is a strong six footer. It is easier to serve well when you know you’re that big. You should be pouring in one first serve after another.

Can a nice girl like Ana keep coming up with a big dominating serving game? So far she’s been able to. I like her positive actions out on court. She pumps her fist when she scores a good serve so you know she is honed into this most important aspect of the game. Now, whether she has the stuffing to lift her ranking into the top three in the world remains to be seen. So far, though, so good. Too bad there aren’t many women who want to keep her company.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 276 user reviews.

Let’s use quality points to see how some players might perform next year.

Who would have picked David Nalbandian to win two Masters Series events after never having one before? Not I.

We’re always looking for predictors in sports. Predictors are statistics that will predict future outcomes. The most valuable predictor in tennis tells you who’s going to get better and who’s going to get worse. I’m not smart enough to come up with such things but I have a secret weapon: Bob Larson’s Daily Tennis News. It has the results of every professional tennis match in existence and periodic statistical analysis of those results.

Tennis News has found that quality points are a good predictor of movement up or down the rankings. At least they were in the women’s game when quality points were part of the rankings. The ATP never used them as far as I know. Quality points are points that get added to a ranking based on the ranking of an opponent. If you beat the number one player, for instance, you get 100 quality points added to your ranking. If you beat the number 50 player you get only 10 quality points.

Tennis News calculated the quality points rankings for 2007 and found that Nalbandian would have been ranked number four instead of number nine if we added quality points to his ranking. That means he beat a whole lot of highly ranked players. In fact, he beat the number one, two and three ranked players in Madrid.

Andy Murray is another player who would have ranked higher with quality points. But what about the downward movers? Richard Gasquet beat up on a lot of lower ranked players and would have been ranked number 19 with his quality points instead of his real ranking of number eight. That’s a big difference. Nikolay Davydenko would have fallen even farther to number 24.

On the women’s side, Venus and Serena Williams beat a lot of highly ranked players – no surprise there – while Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic beat up on a bunch of lower ranked players.

What’s the point of all this? If quality points are good predictors, then Gasquet, Davydenko, Kuznetsova and Jankovic will fall in the rankings next year while Nalbandian, Murray, and the Williams sisters will rise.

Of course, it depends. Nalbandian was injured for part of the last year and the Williams sisters are in a perpetual state of injury. Still, it means that Nalbandian could do very well in the Australian Open and Murray will continue to climb.

You might not need statistics to come to these conclusions. You know the Williams sisters will take home slams when they’re healthy and motivated. You know that Jankovic is not likely to reach number one because she doesn’t have enough offense and Ana Ivanovic is nipping at her heels. You know that Murray is only going to get better.

Davydenko is a little harder to figure out. He gets his high ranking by playing a million tournaments. He went into free fall at the end of the year due to the pressure of being the focus of an endless gambling investigation. Until the ATP comes up with a verdict, he’s likely to keep sinking.

Gasquet is a surprise. I figured he was in the top ten to stay. Check back at the end of next year and see if he is or not.

What do you think? Are these predictions accurate?

Awards, Awards

I’ve closed out voting for the Most Improved Player Teddy Award so it is now time to vote for the Most Disappointing Player of 2007. Please go to the right side of the page and lay down your vote.

By the way, I have been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please help me out by going here and voting for moi (Nina Rota) on the right side of the page. I need some help. One guy seems to have half of India voting for him.

In the Flow, In the Zone, Out of Your Head, etc.

Many people have tried to describe the state of being in the flow, in the zone, or whatever you want to call it. The game flows to you and you act without thinking. You’re in a heightened state of attention but totally relaxed. If you can keep it up, you win. Here’s a particularly good description of the state from Chip Brown. He wrote it in an article about basketball player Steve Nash in the November edition of Play Magazine:

Flow, of course, being shorthand for that state of mind that artists and athletes strive to enter into, and which in full flood entails an ecstatic expansion of consciousness that releases them from confines of the self and produces crowning moments of creation and performance.

It never occurred to me that it was an egoless state but it should have been obvious. It’s hard to be egotistical if you’re not thinking and are just doing. Too bad it’s such an elusive state. I’d like to visit it much more often.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 244 user reviews.

Twenty-five game winning streak, 63-4 record, 14 out of the 16 tournament wins, two slams and a year end championship title. This is not the ATP, this is not Roger Federer, this is Justine Henin and it could have been three slams if she hadn’t skipped the Australian Open to deal with her divorce.

I spent a fair amount of time looking up comparable records on the women’s side this morning. As far as I can tell, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova are the only women players with a better won loss record. Graf’s record was 86-2 in 1989 and Navratilova was 86-1 in 1983. Notice how many more matches women played in that era, by the way, and yet they didn’t appear to break down anywhere near as much as today’s players do.

We’ll see if Justine goes on to surpass, say, the Williams sisters in slams – go to the sidebar and cast your vote on the question – but it’s more interesting to look at Justine’s emotional arc than her numbers.

The Williams sisters have their own compelling story: hardscrabble childhood, crazy like a fox tennis coach father, competing careers in fashion and entertainment. But Justine has somehow managed to play out her emotional life in front of us as she’s made her way to the top, and unlike Serena and Venus, she’s done it by revealing as little as possible about herself. No reality show for Justine just yet.

These days Justine is a veritable fountain of sharing relative to the early part of her career. At that time we knew her mother had died when she was 12 years old, and we knew she was estranged from her father and siblings, but that’s about it, and she wasn’t going to tell us much more than necessary. If you saw her in the players’ cafeteria, there she was with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, the two of them a little island in a sea of players. Even now she’s one of those people who close her eyes when she talks to you as if to be sure she doesn’t give away too much.

Many players fall apart when life intervenes in their career. Nikolay Davydenko is buckling under the pressure of an ongoing gambling investigation as we speak. Henin, though, just appears to be getting stronger.

This year she divorced her husband and created a bit more independence from Rodriguez and his family – which was her substitute family after all. At the same time she welcomed her father and siblings back into her life. In the process of opening her heart a bit more to herself and to the public, she seems to have learned that the stoicism that carried her through the early part of her career was a brittle strength. It didn’t allow her to stand on her own.

For most players on the tour, though not all, tennis is an all-consuming passion. For Justine I think it goes one step farther and it’s the key to why she’s been able to keep rising up the ranks despite an emotionally wrenching journey.

Tennis has been the substitute for some of Justine’s life outside of tennis and now that the outside world is creeping back into her life, her tennis is secure enough that it enhances her game. Most people need their personal lives in order to perform well in their career. Some people do it the other way around. Success in their career gives them the confidence to open their hearts to those in their personal lives.

Justine doesn’t need a reality TV show, we’ve been watching it all along.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 234 user reviews.