AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Serena loses to Ivanovic? Once-in-a-Lifetime Losses Adding up for Williams

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The truth about Serena Williams is that these inexplicable, once-in-a-lifetime, fluky, never-happen-again losses keep happening again. They’re starting to pile up.

Williams is still the best player in the world, but with her loss to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open, something changed. A week ago, the talk was that Williams was so much better than the rest of the tour that she might win all four majors this year. She might be the best ever.

Then, she lost to a woman, talented as she is, who has spent the past few years crying after every loss, too scared to toss the ball over her head for a serve.

When Williams lost to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon last year, I said it was the first time her mind and body let her down at the same time. Now, it has happened twice, albeit with a U.S. Open title in between.

There are real issues for Williams. She’s 32, and it’s starting to show. It was crafty after the match how news of her back pain accidentally – I should say, “accidentally’’ with air-quotes – leaked out. Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said something. Then, when faced with the question, she declined to let it take away from Ivanovic’ win, yet did manage to say her back was so bad she almost didn’t even play.

That’s not much of an excuse anymore. A body starting to become unreliable, to break down, doesn’t seem like a once-in-a-lifetime thing for a 32-year old who lost in the Australian Open last year because of another injury.

What we’re starting to see is this: Williams isn’t able to physically dominate and intimidate everyone the way she used to. And when she isn’t able to do that, she doesn’t seem to know what to do.

As the injuries add up, and she starts to run slower, that will become more problematic. More and more, the bullying thing is going to start to fade.

Maybe we saw signs of that two years ago in the U.S. Open final against Sam Stosur, too. I just didn’t recognize it at the time because it was so stunning seeing any weakness in her. Remember when Williams sat there during a changeover berating the chair ump like a little kid getting worked up, nearly crying while saying, “You’re a hater. You’re unattractive inside.’’

Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic

Stosur has been known to fold mentally, but she’s an incredibly muscular athlete who stood up to Williams physically that day. And Williams crumbled. At Wimbledon, Lisicki, known for her power and inconsistency, pounded on Williams.

But those seemed like flukes. Great athletes putting it together one time.

On Saturday? Well, put it this way: The first three times I talked with Ivanovic, a few years ago, she was crying after losses. Yet somehow, a woman who hadn’t shown one bit of mental fortitude in years, walked out on a court believing in her heart that she could beat Williams. And she could do it by overpowering her.

That’s a big deal. Roger Federer is running into it now, too. More often than not, when tennis’ dominant players take the court, the match is already over. The person on the other side of the net just doesn’t believe enough to do it. Now, opponents believe they can beat Federer, and some of them are doing it.

To be honest, going into the Australian Open, I thought the only player who believed she could beat Williams was Victoria Azarenka. Continue reading


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: Andy Murray’s Win Took Forever, Will Last Forever

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

This one is forever. For Andy Murray. For Britain. It took forever.

It lasts forever.

Andy Murray is the Wimbledon champion. How many times has he heard that in his head over the years? How old was he the first time? How many times has he told himself he’d never get there? He beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 Sunday, and is the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Understand that for the Brits, this is like the Boston Red Sox finally winning the World Series. It would be like the Chicago Cubs … well, let’s be serious.

Sometimes, it seems impossible breaking forever, making forever.

“I think I persevered,’’ Murray said. “That’s really been it, the story of my career probably.’’

We’ve seen this journey for years, Murray’s and the Brits’ together.

Please read the rest of the column here


WIMBLEDON: Bryan Bros Win Another Title, Tell Story of Past Brotherly `Love’. OK, it was a Fight

  • images-7REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

This is about brotherly love. Mike and Bob Bryan, 35-year-old twins from California, are among the most dominant athletes in any sport. On Saturday, they beat Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to win the Wimbledon doubles title and complete the Golden Bryan Slam.

They are now the reigning champs at all four majors, as well as Olympic gold medal winners.

They are the best doubles team ever, now with 15 major titles. In tennis, they’re known for jumping and chest-bumping after big moments, a move they stole from a former doubles team, the Jensen brothers:

It’s just a good feeling to see siblings and family members team up like this and get along for years. If you’re a parent, you always know something like this could happen. These guys are testimony to what can happen when siblings behave, get along, work together.

Uh, until they tell you about their first Wimbledon title.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON: Bartoli Title is Great Moment in Individuality, but Lost Moment for Tennis

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

WIMBLEDON, England

Marion Bartoli climbed into the stands and hugged her father, Walter, who only politely hugged back. A few minutes later, she would interrupt her own on-court interview to say, “First of all, my dad, who is here with me today, means so much.’’

Bartoli had just won Wimbledon on Saturday, beating Serena-killer Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 6-4. And this is when a tennis player’s emotions are at their most obvious and overwhelming. They’re in your throat. Know this: Bartoli has fired her dad, her coach, twice this year alone. And now, her first act as champ is to be with him?

Meanwhile, Lisicki was crying.

How did you feel about this match? No Venus or Serena Williams and no Maria Sharapova? The hard truth for tennis is this: That was a terrible match for the sport. Terrible. For most of the match, Lisicki was in complete panic.

But not only that. Women’s tennis is desperate for stars. And this is the sport’s greatest stage, greatest opportunity. Yet with so little depth, two underdogs got here. Lisicki had a small chance to catch on in the US. Small, because I have a feeling no one was watching. But she did beat Williams, and could have been the Wimbledon champ. She is super-powerful. She is comfortable and personable in front of a camera.

And in terms of growing interest in the game, she could appeal to the average testosterone-defined fan sitting on his couch in front of the TV: She’s an attractive, powerful blonde woman in a short skirt.

Bartoli – more hard truth – is not going to sell in the US. She doesn’t have magazine looks, and plays in an ugly way.

Moment lost.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON: Can a Djokovic-Murray Rivalry Without Friction or Contrast Carry Tennis?

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

LONDON

So this is what tennis is turning it. its next generation. The straight man vs. the punchline.

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic won their semifinal matches Friday to advance to the Wimbledon final. It’ll be the third final in the past four majors that they have played each other. In a crazy Wimbledon of upsets, it so happens that the No. 1 and the No. 2 seeds have reached the end. They are supposed to be here. They are consistently the best players in the game.

And remember their last classic against each other? It was in … uh. Well, no, they haven’t had a classic yet. I’m not sure they ever will. But for this to work, they’re going to need their Federer-Nadal Wimbledon moment.

These rivalries in sports are mandatory. They drive a sport, get people talking, choosing sides. Tiger or Phil. Bird or Magic. Roger or Rafa.

But in tennis, generations go so fast, and there is little time to replace them, promote them and define them.

Defining Djokovic and Murray is going to be a problem.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON: Serena Come Back! Homestretch of Wimby Lacks Mainstream Appeal

 

Marion Bartoli reaches Wimbledon final

Marion Bartoli reaches Wimbledon final


REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

It was the dream day of women’s semifinals at Wimbledon. Did you like Marion Bartoli or Kirsten Flipkens? Sabine Lisicki or Aga R…

Wait! Hold on! Don’t go! I’ll talk about Serena Williams, I swear. And Maria Sharapova. Probably Sloane Stephens, too. Even gone from the tournament, they all matter. Sometimes, the story is more about who’s not at a party than who is.

If this day was a look into the immediate future of women’s tennis, then it doesn’t look good.

Serena, come back. Wimbledon needed you here Thursday.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


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