Category Archives: Venus Williams

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: From Valedictorians to Class Clowns, Here are Grades for the Year’s First Major

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Genie Bouchard. Next.

Genie Bouchard. Next.

We got an inspirational new champion, a re-invented former champion, a few possible future champions and then, well, failure and theater of the absurd. Really, Australian Open officials? It’s OK to have players out there in 110 degree heat because people used to chase antelope in Africa?

WHAT?

So here are the final grades for the Australian Open, of valedictorians, teacher’s pets, class clowns and everything in between.

VALEDICTORIANS

LI NA: In a sport in need of mainstream attention, Li not only gives tennis something every sport dreams of – something to market to the massive population and economy of China – but also a post-championship match victory speech that goes viral. As a result, Li might be the most important player in the women’s game today, maybe even more than Serena Williams. Li was able to win the Australian Open without beating a top player, but that’s not her fault. Eight months ago, with her results failing and the Chinese media ripping her, Li nearly retired. Her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has helped the sport big time. Grade: A+

STAN WAWRINKA: Wawrinka’s championship was even more impressive than Li Na’s, considering the tougher competition he had to beat. He spent the past few years thinking he was never going to be able to break through the Big Four in men’s tennis, but finding honor in getting up after every defeat to keep fighting anyway. And then he took down Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You can’t win two major tennis matches by fluke. He earned this. Grade: A+

TEACHER’S PETS

ANA IVANOVIC: The game has just been waiting for her to get her nerve back. And she came out firing again. She beat Serena Williams, not to mention Sam Stosur, and showed that she’s perfectly capable of being a top 10 player again and a threat to win another major. . .if she keeps believing. Grade A-

ROGER FEDERER: New racquet, new coach (Stefan Edberg), new, aggressive gameplan. Same results? Federer lost to Rafael Nadal again. Well, that is a completely unfair analysis. Federer is finally doing all the right things. It is the only way he’s going to win another major, and he finally seems to realize that. It’s not just that he’s coming to the net, but that he’s trying to step into the ball and attack. Sure, he waffled on it against Nadal. This is all new to Fed. It was a GREAT first step. I was starting to watch him and wonder who he’d lose to next while slicing and dinking. Now, I can’t wait to see him. He still can’t beat Nadal, but he now is a threat to win another major or two. He still has game. He even has a legit shot at the French Open. Grade: A

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: Hard to know if Cibulkova just changed her career, but remember this: She came into the Australian Open as a known choker. She left with wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Aga Radwanska and No. 11 Simona Halep before reaching the final. Forgive her for some nerves early in her first major final. That happens. The thing about women’s tennis is that there are only a couple of superstars. The women’s players are sort of cookie-cutter, and if someone with talent and nerves of steel comes along, then it’s going to take a top player playing well to beat her. Hope is that this won’t be Cibulkova’s Melanie Oudin-moment, and that she’ll have found her nerve for the long run. Grade: A+

ACED THE CLASS, FLUNKED THE FINAL

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Aga Radwanska plays brilliantly, wins

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

AGA RADWANSKA: She might have played the match of the tournament in beating Victoria Azarenka. She was everywhere on the court, with just enough power. Azarenka was flustered and confused. And the media hailed Radwanska as a genius for that match. But in her semifinal match against Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska played as if she had had a lobotomy. I’m not even sure Radwanska tried. When things weren’t working, she kept doing them. There was no hint of strategy. This is the problem with the almost-greats. You see incredible things, and then you are reminded why they don’t reach the mountaintop (see Tomas Berdych). Same thing happened with Radwanska at Wimbledon. So what’s the grade? Well, I think she’s good enough to win a major, and marketable enough to be a star. And that semifinal match was so bad, I can barely remember the Azarenka match. Grade: F.

TOMAS BERDYCH: He reached the semifinals, and then smiled and credited his team when he was told that he had become the only current player outside the Big Four to reach the semis of all four majors. Hey Tomas, that’s not really a compliment. Another way of putting it: You are the only player on tour to reach the semis of all four majors, but never win one. Berdych is adding topspin to his forehand, which is being credited for his recent improved play. I don’t know about that. That flat forehand was the reason he was winning matches. The way he fell apart briefly against David Ferrer in the quarters was shocking. Lost his nerve at moments against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, too, but in hindsight, it’s hard to mark him down too far for losing to the champ. One more thing: there was nothing wrong with Berdych’s much-criticized prison-cell shirts, other than his team was wearing them, too. Grade: B

DAVID FERRER: When he lost to Berdych in the quarters in what I’m calling the Bridesmaid Bowl, he lost his unofficial title as best player never to win a major. He pushed the line judge, too, but at least he isn’t hitting balls into the stands at crying babies anymore. Still fighting hard. Still stuck in the land of almost. Maybe Wawrinka’s win will show him what’s possible. Grade: C

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Venus Williams out Early Again. Losing Courageous Fight Not to Age, but to Health

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It is now just painful to watch Venus Williams. It used to be joyful. She can play as well as she ever did, but can’t do it two days in a row. Or two minutes in a row. Or, if she can, then you don’t know which two days, which two minutes.

She doesn’t either.

Williams lost in the first round of the Australian Open on Sunday, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova. The easy narrative is that Williams is 33, and that all of the things that come with old age in tennis are now coming to her.

But it isn’t that easy. And that’s part of what makes it so painful watching someone who has meant so much to the game and done it so elegantly for so long.

Williams has completely modernized her game. Yes, at 33. Her serve and forehand don’t look the same as they used to.

She slaps at them now with a looping follow-through, rather than using the old, classic fluid arm movements. Her backhand is different, too. She was slicing forehands at times, mixing up shots. She hit dropshots.

She has never done any of this. Think of the want-to it takes to do it now, when she could so easily blame her slide on age, and on Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes fatigue.

“The last 12 months I have had issues,’’ she said after her match. “But this year, I definitely am looking forward to having a good run and feeling well.’’

It is typical of her to speak so vaguely about her health or injuries. She also said that health is a “factor for any professional athlete, so I don’t think I’m any different from anyone else.’’

This is a courageous fight she won’t even talk about. After watching that match Sunday, I’m convinced it’s the autoimmune disease that’s beating her.

Please read the rest of the column here


WIMBLEDON: Serena Williams Wins 5th Title. Great Comeback Story. Is She the Best Player Ever?

 

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND – This was not just more of the same for Serena Williams, another Wimbledon, another championship. No, what’s lost is that this was a great comeback story for her.

Two years ago, she won Wimbledon and seemed unbeatable. Since then, she had been beaten down. A foot injury followed by life-threatening blood clots in her lungs. Then, lost confidence followed by lost composure.

Her match Saturday, like her life the past two years, was filled with crazy ups and downs. And how does her story end? Williams beat Aga Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 on Saturday to win her fifth Wimbledon title.

She dropped to her back on the court in joy, then climbed into the stands and hugged her dad and her mom and sister Venus, as well as her other sisters. Then she broke into tears while publicly thanking friends and family who were with her in the hospital day after day.

“There was a moment, I just remember, I was on the couch and I didn’t leave the whole day, for two days,’’ she said later. “I was praying, like `I can’t take any more. I’ve endured enough.’ Let me be able to get through this. I was just so tired at that point.

“I had a tube in my stomach and it was draining constantly. Gosh, I mean, right before that I had the blood clot. I had lung problems. You know, then I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot. It was a lot. I felt like I didn’t do anything to bring on that.’

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: How Does a Champion Know When it’s Time to Say When? Andy Roddick, Venus Williams Face the Big Question

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — If you’ve never seen Venus and Serena Williams play doubles together, it is a beautiful thing. There is something about the body language, the togetherness, the love. But on Wednesday at Wimbledon, it was painful. They had two long matches in one day, when Serena would have been better off resting, as her singles semifinal would be coming the next day.

She was there for her sister, and that was nice, but it was also the uncomfortable part. They won both matches, but Serena was carrying Venus. It was Venus double-faulting, double-faulting, double-faulting. Three times in a row. The opponents trying to hit everything to Venus, who was missing easy volleys close to the net. Venus not moving well.

Earlier in the tournament, her tournament, Venus looked even worse while losing in the first round of singles.

Who wants to remember Venus Williams like this? Thirty-two years old, fighting Sjogren’s syndrome, which steals her energy, and struggling on the court.

“Am I struggling?” she said uncharacteristically defensive after losing her singles match. “Am I? I don’t know. Tell me what the struggle is.”

To win matches, someone said.

“I don’t know. I just want you to be clear,” she replied. “If you say I’m struggling, tell me how I should do better, you know? I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player.”

How does a great athlete know when it’s time to say when? That question is up with Andy Roddick, too. Roddick and Venus have been two of the three faces of American tennis (with Serena) for the past decade. Both are in decline.

Are both in denial?

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: While Men’s Tennis Thrives on Great Rivalries, Women Can’t Get The Rivalry on Court

Don’t let a friendly moment between rivals fool you

(published June 24, 2012) Tennis cannot get The Match on the court. It never plays out. It’s funny, too, because tennis has been thriving on rivalries. Fans know that history will be made at Wimbledon, which starts tomorrow, because it happens every major. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were the best individual rivalry in sports, and when that one slipped a little, poof, Nadal and Novak Djokovic became the best.

It was seamless. They are always playing for some record, reaching some new height. It’s in such contrast to the women’s game, which has the best rivalry in sports that never happens.

Can we finally get Serena Williams to play Maria Sharapova in a Wimbledon final? They are still the marquee women’s rivalry, complete with tension between players and fan bases, different looks, different styles.

“Tennis is more interesting when you do have rivalries, and you do have contrasting players and you do have different sets of fans for different players,’’ Chris Evert said this week on an ESPN media conference call. Evert has a little experience with game-defining rivalries: Evert-Martina Navratilova.

Williams-Sharapova looked like the start of a big thing back in 2004, when Sharapova, the teenager, crushed Williams in the Wimbledon final. Eight years later, they have played each other just. . .

Eight more times. And women’s tennis has been more like men’s golf than men’s tennis, with a different winner in every major.

Some guy named Webb won the U.S. Open in golf. Do you remember who won the Masters? Bubba. Nine majors, nine different winners.

Please read the rest of my column at The Daily


WIMBLEDON: Women’s Preview Video

It has been a long time since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon. Is she ready to do it again?

(June 23, 2102) Here is a video on FoxSports.com previewing the women’s draw at Wimbledon. I pull for a Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova final.

Click here to watch at Fox Sports.com


Williams Sisters Haven’t Met Olympic Eligibility. Should Rules be Bent to Let Them Play?

(April 26, 2012)

Serena Williams traveled through Frankfurt all the way to Kiev and then to Kharkiv so she could play in the Ukraine this past weekend in a consolation match for a team she doesn’t care about on a surface that doesn’t suit her in an event she has spent years avoiding. She also had a sore ankle.

It’s the same team Venus Williams traveled to Germany with last year, the U.S. Fed Cup team, saying she was available to play even though she had no intention of playing, and was too hurt to play, anyway.

There is a game being played here. Not tennis, but politics. The U.S. Tennis Association and the Williams sisters are attempting to manipulate rules and find loopholes so the faces of the sport over the past decade can play in the Olympics.

Neither Venus nor Serena has met the requirements to be eligible for the London Olympics this summer, and neither can meet them before the games. The rules and requirements were set long ago by the International Tennis Federation, and the sisters were the ones who did not follow them. So there is a real possibility that neither will be allowed to play.

But both want to.

Please read the rest of the column at FoxSports.com


EXCLUSIVE: Venus Williams Back From Disease, But Tells Me She Might Never Feel Normal Again

 

Venus Williams

REPORTING FROM WORCESTER, MASS. (Feb. 10, 2012) – This isn’t the way the Great American Tennis Story is supposed to go. Venus Williams’ story isn’t over yet, but it looks like it’s going to have the wrong ending. You’d like for it to end with a bang, with some kind of glory. She has meant a lot to a lot of people.

“I don’t know if I will ever feel normal again,” she told me this week at the US Fed Cup victory in Worcester, Mass.

Ever?

“I don’t know if I will.”

Roughly half a year since she last played on tour, since she finally was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome and began treatments, Williams is about to try to come back.

She hopes to get into this summer’s London Olympics, but she will have to grind her way through the most physically demanding part of the season even though she doesn’t know how she will feel tomorrow.

Maybe the glory is in the way she’s fighting the disease that has stolen so much of her energy. She has changed to a vegan diet, and she says the medicines slowly are making her feel better.

But what does “normal” mean for Williams?

Please read the rest of my column in FoxSports.com here


U.S. OPEN: One Last Run Left for Venus Williams? No. Great American Tennis Story About Done

From my column at FoxSports.com

 

We’re not ready for tennis’ Great American Story to end. Venus Williams deserves one last good run, one more major championship, one more leap of glory.

She’s not going to get it.

Williams is 31 years old, a senior citizen to tennis, and her body is breaking down. Injuries and health issues are taking her away from the game. On Wednesday, she withdrew from the US Open an hour before her second-round match against young German Sabine Lisicki, a Wimbledon semifinalist.

She later issued a statement saying she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, “an autoimmune disease which is an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain. I enjoyed playing my first match here and wish I could continue, but right now I am unable to.”

She said she was just glad to finally know what’s wrong. With Sjogren’s, which usually affects women, white blood cells attack healthy glands. The disease is manageable.

But Williams’ body is betraying her now. It’s that time. And it’s just so hard for any athlete, especially a superstar, to accept. That body has always done what it was supposed to do, climbed every mountain, won every Wimbledon. It was there to be counted on, perfected.

Now, Williams has lost nearly two years of tennis because of it. She will drop out of the top 100 in the rankings, mixed in with a group of players no one has ever heard of.

Please read the rest of the column here


WIMBLEDON: Venus, Serena Williams Lose on Same Day at Wimby. Is Great-American Tennis Story Ending?

Venus, Serena Williams

From my column in Sporting News

Serena Williams couldn’t move to the ball. Venus Williams couldn’t hit it onto the court. This was the worst day ever at Wimbledon for the Williams sisters, and maybe their worst tennis day anywhere. For the first time, they both lost on the same day at the All England Club. Is it the end of their era, the end of their Great American tennis story?

Best bet: For Venus, it is. For Serena, it probably is not. But that’s going to be up to her. It won’t be so easy anymore, and will be about what’s inside. That’s not to question Serena’s fight, but instead her desire to commit to a game after worrying about her life. A few months ago, doctors discovered blood clots in her lungs.

“I can only get better,’’ Serena said. “That can potentially be really scary, because I can only go up from here and I can just do so much more.”

That sounds great, and she surely meant it. But the truth will come on the practice courts on hot days, and in the less-important tournaments. Those haven’t been her best places over the years. And now, she’s three months from turning 30.

In the end, maybe it was too much to ask either of them to win Wimbledon again this year.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


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