Somewhere during the middle of the first set in the Venus Williams – Maria Sharapova semifinal slugfest at Wimbledon on Thursday, the camera alighted upon the person of father Richard Williams, seated in the rather dubiously named Friends’ Box. This was about the time it was apparent to all in the stadium that Venus Williams had come to play, with her “A” game in tow. Richard was watching his daughter’s match intently, with a certain fierce gleam in his eye. Given his uncannily accurate statements in the past about his two daughters’ fortunes, I wondered if he already knew that Venus would triumph today when all was said and done.
He was seated in front of Yuri Sharapov, Maria’s dad. Talk about a vicious seating arrangement. The Friends’ Box can probably tell a tale or two of opposing families who have sat there over the years.
At least the daughters get a net between them. The dads just have to make do. Do cups of coffee ever get spilled, accidentally of course? Do they acknowledge each other during the match? I know they do probably both before and after. But otherwise?
It was a wonderfully intense match, even with Venus running up a 5-1 lead in the second and final set. You never felt like it was over until it was over. Maria is not one to take anything lying down. She fought and shrieked her way on every point. These women not only go in for racket abuse. They go in for lung abuse. Don’t they need at least a soothing throat lozenge when it’s all over? I feel I drink more water that usual when I watch these two.
The decibel level of the shrieks must have been startling, especially to those staid Brits. Waves of murmuring ran through the crowd as the rallies were prolonged, and the girls upped the shriek level even more. Is it like a nail across the blackboard for them? I mean, the Brits aren’t rowdy and just plain loud like those crowds that frequent the U.S. Open, especially into those late night matches; they can’t be rude the way the French crowds are, either, they’ll openly applaud a non-French player if he defaults while he’s playing one of theirs. They certainly aren’t like the Italian crowds in the Foro Italico at their Open, who have no qualms about giving anyone and everyone on court the business, if it strikes their collective fancies. That is, when they’re not making out right there in the stands with the ladyfriends they’ve brought along. There’s a lot of that you used to see at the Italian, before the ESPN network dropped it and it migrated over to the Tennis Channel. Bjorn Borg tried out the Italian a few times and declared he would never play there again. He did marry one later on, but that’s another story. He got tired of fighting the crowd as well as his opponents. No wonder he did well at Wimbledon, his style fit in easily with the British reluctance to display.
But we’re the ones at home who should be shrieking, because the women today in both semifinals gave us all an intense run for our money. They were the epitome of women’s power tennis today. No fooling around here, it was a battle of the titans. Three of the four women are six feet and over. Mauresmo is the little shrimp in the group at 5’8″. Long rallies full of deep shots and crisp play at the net dominated. The mental chess going on in both matches was nearly as compelling as the physical presence each competitor showed.
And the serving. Especially Amelie’s. Green is her magic color after all. Maybe the Brits and the French should do a swap, Henman for Mauresmo. He has played well recently on clay, and grass shows off her wonderful game better on this surface than any other. But then I am an unrepentant devotee of the nearly extinct serve and volley game. Watching her on a number of occasions serve powerfully to Davenport and then rush the net, where she executed a neatly angled volley, is a thing of beauty. Why doesn’t she do this more often, I say to myself. Like, why doesn’t she just do it all the time? Like Patrick Rafter did? Just head for the net on every serve that’s big, and camp out there. Dare them to drive the ball back through your navel. Of course they’ll pass you, but Amelie’s a big girl now, she can take a few hits at the net. Her attitude was impeccable throughout, she didn’t seem to be down mentally, her body language was pretty good.
Of course, she still may lose the match tomorrow once play is resumed. But she can still take away a lot from it, I hope it’s more confidence in her ability to play more serve and volley. She is tall enough to serve consistently well, and she has a great motion with a lot of power behind it. She’s speedy enough to cover ground and get into the net, and when her serve is working well her volleying technique is good enough that she can put away nearly everything. Today, she saw how easy it was for her. Let this be a good lesson.
Her head may get in the way of this happening. She waits for the action to come to her too much of the time, she waits on the baseline and reacts rather than getting in there and taking charge at the net. If she drove the ball flatter, this would increase her chances, but she tends to loop the forehand too much for my taste and it detracts from her power. Another reason she should focus more on serve and volley.
Davenport’s demeanor went through a similar dynamic, she teetered on the brink of negativity at certain moments, and that has always been a bugaboo for her before. But she kept her cool, her focus, and fought it off. I expect Lindsay to come out and win it tomorrow. But Amelie has played magnificently. She hasn’t managed to wrangle a set out of Davenport in over five years of playing her. So today she has already surpassed herself.
I don’t know about the rest of the women’s draw, but these four players today definitely deserve equal pay with the men. Get ready guys, the day is coming when you’re just gonna have to cough up.