Category Archives: Venus Williams

WIMBLEDON: Genie Bouchard Goes from Tennis’ Next Big Thing to its Biggest Question Mark…Oh yeah, Petra Kvitova Wins, too

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Petra Kvitova wins 2nd Wimbledon

 

The theme of the match was Genie Bouchard, her emergence. That’s what the moment was about. Tennis has a new superstar, one who is young, fresh, and tough as nails with marketers already drooling over her good looks.

Come see her crowning.

Well, the match didn’t live up to that. The other person won. It wasn’t even close. Petra Kvitova won 6-3, 6-0 in 55 minutes, playing great and knocking Bouchard into a stupor. That’s two Wimbedon titles for Kvitova, who came from nowhere to win the first one three years ago, when she was 21, and then disappeared for three years, and now came back to win again.

The problem is that the match never was going to be about Kvitova. The tennis world just saw Kvitova, loaded with talent but not enough focus or footwork, put it together again for two weeks and win Wimbledon. I wish I had the feeling that the rest of the sports world saw it that way, and not, roughly, this way:

That next-generation Canadian Sharapova lost. Big time. With Sheldon, from Big Bang Theory watching.

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Genie Bouchard

You know how people dress up to play a character on TV, and then look totally different when you see them on the late-night shows or something? Sheldon — Jim Parsons — wore a suit and sunglasses in the friends box at Wimbledon and it was incredible: Even without his Flash shirt, he still managed to look like a science geek anyway.

In fact, it looked as if he had beamed himself into Centre Court and was trying to remain incognito.

Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Bouchard now. This hurt her. She doesn’t look quite as sure of a sure thing as she did before the match. She is just 20, and has reached the semis in two majors and the finals in one this year. She has played in just six majors, and is already the most consistent player in majors on tour this year.

But, as ESPN’s business writer, Darren Rovell tweeted after the match, “Marketers now face dilemma. Is she worth big $?” He had said just before the match that she was poised to be an ad idol.

I think they will, on spec. She is still the most marketable new face to come out of this tennis season, and tennis is still the only women’s sport to have broken into the mainstream. Bouchard is too hot of a prospect to let someone else get to first.

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Sheldon, still a geek

That said, she was demolished Saturday, and didn’t even make it a fight.

Anyway, welcome back, Petra Kvitova. Welcome to the Hall of Fame when it’s all over for you. Which won’t be for another decade.

She is just 24 and had somehow managed to already be forgotten. She didn’t fit in with the 30-something stars, Serena Williams and Li Na. She hadn’t done enough to

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WIMBLEDON: Serena Fumbling Around. Question, but Don’t Assume Worst

 

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Questions are fair. Assumptions are not. And I think people are crossing the line on Serena Williams’ bizarre actions the other day, when she couldn’t catch the ball, couldn’t hold the ball, couldn’t toss the ball, apparently couldn’t see the ball, serve the ball or even hit the ball during warmups and the first few minutes of her Wimbledon doubles match with her sister, Venus Williams.

Three games into the match, after Serena had double-faulted on all four of her service points, including some serves that she hadn’t hit hard enough to get all the way to the net, they retired from the match. Venus held her hand as they walked to the net for the last time.

So what did you see? Because Chris Evert wondered aloud if Serena’s problem was something that needed to be drug-tested for. And Martina Navratilova said it was “clearly” not a sickness. Williams and Wimbledon officials made things worse by saying, overly generically, that the problem was a viral illness.

And the suggestions might be right, or might not be. My inclination is to be concerned for her emotional state before being suspicious of her behavior. I’m still going back to her singles match a few days earlier, when she seemed scared, fought off tears and played poorly. I’m not just saying this in hindsight, either. What I wrote after her singles loss was that she seems afraid.

It stood out. It was different than the Serena we have seen for years.

Don’t assume the worst about her on this. It’s equally possible that Williams’ issues are emotional. People can be emotionally rung out and it can look like this.

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FRENCH OPEN Dominance Done: Serena Williams Loses More than a Match

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This one mattered. You try not to make too much out of one tennis match, but Serena Williams’ blowout loss to Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the French Open really seemed to have a lasting meaning.

To me, it meant this: Williams is never going to dominate women’s tennis again.

You expect your champions to be at their best in the biggest moments when they can be. That’s what Williams had done for years, playing great in majors and trying only intermittently the rest of the time.

But Wednesday’s blowout loss was something new. In the big moment, Williams won just four games, the fewest she had ever won in a major.

A 20-year old top prospect is still supposed to be intimidated by Williams, by the moment, the surroundings, the power. Instead, Muguruza, who is ranked No. 35, won 6-2, 6-2, while hitting the ball harder than Williams. She also never showed any fear or intimidation. At the Australian Open in January, it was Ana Ivanovic – who I believe will win this French Open – outhitting Williams. Ivanovic, who had gone a few years without having shown one bit of mental fortitude, never showed fear at facing Williams.

Is there anyone left who is still scared of Serena Williams, other than Maria Sharapova?

Williams is still the best player in the world, and still has the highest ceiling on any given day. She will win more majors. But I don’t see her winning five more to catch Steffi Graf.

Other players are hitting it just as hard as Williams now, and they aren’t scared. And in this match, Williams wasn’t moving fast enough to plant her feet or get in position. Muguruza won by throwing the bigger punches, and by hitting right at Williams, who wasn’t quick enough or agile enough to get out of the way.

You see something similar on the men’s tour, too, where mid level players are figuring out that the way to beat Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer is to grip it and rip it. It forces both of them to play at their best or lose.

And after the match Wednesday reporters kept trying to get Williams to explain what had happened, and she just said “I don’t know.’’

“I don’t know.’’

The talk was about the historical aspects of both Williams sisters losing on the same day early in the tournament. It’s true, that rarely happens. But a little honesty here: That’s only because Serena rarely loses early in a major.

Venus, who lost to another prospect, actually cannot be upset anymore. At 34, she can lose to anyone. She still can beat anyone on a good day, too. But with her Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that steals her energy, her body just doesn’t do what she wants it to do anymore. Maybe age is playing in now, too. And when she can’t count on her body, that beats up on her mind.

What’s newly evident at this French Open is with Serena. She isn’t invincible anymore.

“I’m going to go home and work five times as hard,’’ she said, “to make sure I never lose again.’’

Not long ago, that would have been enough.

There’s a case to be made that I’m wrong. The slow clay at Roland Garros has always been Serena’s worst surface. On Wednesday, with the sun gone, the clay played even slower. That took away some of Williams’ power.

And she lost easily and early in 2012, too, and then won four of the next six majors. So what makes me think that won’t happen again?

It’s possible. But she has lost her bully-factor. She said her loss was “just one of those days.’’ It’s true that sometimes, especially as you get older, your body just might not feel right one day here or there. But there have been too many of “those days’’ for Williams lately – including last year when Sabine Lisicki outmuscled her at Wimbledon – to count this as fluke.

It seems strange to say this, but the bully-factor matters just as much in tennis as it does in, say, boxing. Maybe even more in some ways. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. The only place Williams might still have it will be on the grass at Wimbledon. We’ll see.

From here, it’ll still be impossible to go into majors other than the French without predicting a Serena victory. On any given day, she’ll still be the favorite. But there will be fewer and fewer freebies for her, when an opponent lies down before the first point. That means more work, more grinding for Williams, who’s 32. It means fewer wins when you’re having “one of those days.’’

Well, she says she’s going to work five times as hard. That surely sounded scary to Sharapova, anyway.

 


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


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