Tag 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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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: 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: 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


WIMBLEDON: Desperate for a Leader, Women’s Tennis Getting Old, New Champion in Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova is about to win Wimbledon again, and take over women’s tennis. I wish I felt comfortable with how confidently I just put that.

But every sport needs someone on the mountaintop, someone you would say is the best, someone everyone wants to beat. Women’s tennis has no leader, and that’s not just about whether Caroline Wozniacki, ranked No. 1, is a real and deserving champ (She’s not).

No, this about the game not having someone that everyone either loves or hates, pulls for or against. Someone with star power, who is noticed when she walks into a room. Women’s tennis is a mish-mash. But in four days, Sharapova will change that, becoming the game’s new leader. Or maybe its old leader, renewed.

That’s what the game needs, and is going to get. I’m sure of it. Mostly.

It has been a good Wimbledon for women’s tennis, but not a great one. The game is thirsting for greatness, craving it. Missing it.

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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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