Henin Mows Down the Sisters

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Justine Henin took out both Venus and Serena Williams at the US Open, mid-match coaching, and the New Yorker does tennis.

US women’s tennis consists of Venus and Serena Williams these days. The US expects one sister or the other to come out of the woodwork and snatch every slam away from the rest of the field.

This year it worked pretty well. Serena got the Australian Open title and Venus took home Wimbledon. Justine Henin took the other slam, the French Open, and now she has beaten both Serena and Venus at the US Open and that makes her the best woman tennis player in the world.

Henin was already ranked number one but Serena and Venus, the conversation went, would be fighting it out for number one if only they played enough tournaments. Potential always seems to get a higher ranking than reality and not only has reality set in for Venus and Serena, but they handled the news very well.

Serena lost to Henin in the quarterfinals and was rather ungracious about it afterwards. She said Henin hit lucky shots then denied that her level of tennis had dropped.

Venus was the next to go down in the semifinals and, perhaps covering her sister’s butt, made sure to give Henin credit in her very first utterance at the post-match media session. She didn’t avoid trouble altogether though. She called a trainer during the second set of the match and she described her ailment like this:

I got sick a little bit in the first week. I’m not sure what’s happening right now. But I’m just looking forward to getting healthy and then I can play lots and lots and lots and lots of long points.

Therefore implying that she was not at full strength. This bit of information was passed along to Henin when she turned up at her media session. Yes, I know, the media was doing its part to sow discord, but it’s hard to blame us when we spend each week trying to decode the latest announcement from one sister or the other explaining why they will be skipping yet another tournament.

Anyway, someone asked Henin if she was disappointed that Venus mentioned her health in regard to the match and Henin didn’t want to touch the subject:

No, I don’t care. I mean, I’m focused on myself and I don’t care. I just want to be a little bit…no more comment about that. It’s better.

That response probably refers to Serena’s comments too. And I have to tell you, I’m beginning to feel the same way. Maybe I’m just crabby because the sisters won’t be bringing home the US Open title but I’m tired of the drama.

Luciano Pavarotti, may he rest in peace, was the drama queen of all drama queens. Towards the end of his career he was notorious for canceling appearances. It’s getting to feel like that with the sisters. I find myself looking forward to the return of Lindsay Davenport. She plans to play a limited singles schedule next year and hopes to participate in the Beijing Olympics. She might not win a another slam but at least I know she’ll turn up and be ready to play.

Having said all that, Venus didn’t play badly against Henin. She gave up an early break in the first and second set and played an aggressive game to get both breaks back but didn’t apply pressure consistently. Henin won by the score of 7-6(2), 6-4.

Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Ana Chakvedatze in the earlier semifinal, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. The match appeared to be a contest to see who could play worse.

Chakvetadze actually pulled off my favorite amateur tennis move: swing and completely miss an overhead then spin around and try to get your racket on the ball before it bounces a second time. Like most amateurs, Chavetadze’s comical lunge at the ball failed to work. No worries, Chakvetadze will be in a few more slam semifinals before her career is over.

We will now have a US Open final between the real number one and number two ranked players (Kuznetsova reached number two this week) and that’s as it should be.

Coaching at the US Open Is Nothing New

My new burglar alarm went off at 6am this morning and I was none too happy about it. Was I supposed to actually get out of bed and walk around the house so I could meet up with my intruder? No thank you.

Turns out that it was a problem with the alarm system so I returned to bed and read John McPhee’s short but excellent book, Levels of the Game.

McPhee follows the 1968 semifinal between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner at Forest Hills, the precursor to the US Open. The match is the background for a fascinating study in contrast between the two players. Graebner was raised in a rich, white Republican family in Lakewood, Ohio, and Ashe was raised in a poor, African-American section of Richmond, Virginia.

I bring this up because Graebner and Ashe retired to the locker room for a break between the third and fourth set. Evidently this was a player perk at the time though we should keep in mind that players didn’t have chairs to sit on between games.

While they were in the locker room, they both received a visit from Donald Dell, the Davis Cup captain at the time, who advised each player how to continue the match. They received coaching, in other words, and all within the rules.

For those who disagree with on court coaching during matches, I’m not one of them, at least you can’t say it’s entirely new.

By the way, Kuznetozova and Chakvedatze got a 10 minute break between the second and third set of their match due to heat conditions but they were not allowed to receive coaching.

The New Yorker Does Tennis

Speaking of excellent writing, check out US Open coverage from that venerable publishing institution, The New Yorker Magazine. Give me my New Yorker and my Sports Illustrated and I’m a happy camper.

Check out Tennis Diary’s very own mention on the sidebar under Links. Also click on the link for the New York Times interactive US Open draw. Run your cursor over the matches in the draw and popup links to relevant Times’ articles appear. Cool.

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Read more about Serena’s comments and the match between Henin and Serena