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.
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.
Serena Williams is stealing the tournament. Her touching tears of joy after her first round followed by her complaints about being shoved to an outer court after her second round and then her complete domination in the third round, with this proclamation:
“Don’t bet against me.’’
The idea that this is an amazing comeback, after a year away with foot injury and then illness, is hard to argue with. But I always thought she was going to win the tournament anyway. She’s great. The rest of the tour is not. Two statements are being made here.
The question is this: Which is the more amazing comeback? Williams’ or Kim Clijsters?
Clijsters retired for a while, then had a baby, then came back. After two warmup tournaments, she won the U.S. Open. Williams had two surgeries, she said, for cut ligaments in her foot. Then, forced to sit around while she healed, blood clots formed and worked their way up into her lungs. She played one warmup tournament. Continue reading
The big question about why Serena and Venus Williams have been pushed to an outer court at Wimbledon, away from the main show courts, isn’t whether it was justified. It isn’t, so tournament officials tried to explain it away with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. The real question is this:
Was it sexist or was it racist? Or maybe both.
Serena complained about it Thursday, tweaking lightly after winning her second round match 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 over Simona Halep.
“They like to put us on Court 2, me and Venus, for whatever reason,’’ she said. “I haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.’’
Meanwhile, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have all played their first matches on Centre Court or Court 1.
“They’re never moved across,’’ Serena said. “Actually, Venus and I have won more Wimbledons by ourselves than a lot of the players. . .So you know, at the end of the day, I don’t know. Like I said, they’re not going to change, doesn’t look like.’’
With the sharp and automatic divide that comes with anything to do with the Williams sisters, it’s a safe bet that the two strongest reactions to that comment were 1) eye-rolling about a prima donna or 2) outcry. Continue reading
It was match point against Maria Sharapova, and everyone knew what was going to happen. The service box is 21 feet deep, 13½ feet across, and there was no way she was going to get her serve over the net and into that big box. It must look like a postage stamp to her. After the first serve was out, Li Na could have walked off the court, shaken the chair umpire’s hand and sat down.
There was no way Sharapova would get that second serve in.
“She had a huge, big serve,’’ Li said. “So I was like, `Please double fault.’ ’’
It happened, of course. Sharapova tried to put a little spin on the serve to control the ball, but she can’t do that. Instead, her arm slowed. . .way. . .down. . .mid-swing, and the ball went into the net. Li won 6-4, 7-5 Thursday to become the first Chinese woman to reach the French Open final. She’ll play defending champ Francesca Schiavone Saturday.
Sharapova hasn’t reached the final in her past 11 majors, since winning the 2008 Australian Open. She beat Ana Ivanovic that day, and women’s tennis had to be in heaven with a future looking bright and highly marketable. Since then, Sharapova and Ivanovic have totaled zero major finals, but countless swimsuit fashion shoots.
For some reason, we can’t have a normal, rational discussion about common sense. It takes too much time. So I should have expected the type of reaction I’d get from a little truth I wrote the other day about Serena Williams and her sexy Twitter avatar.
It pushed a button somewhere, and the automatic thoughts popped up about me: Victim-blamer, misogynist. I’ve been called those things hundreds of times in the past few days, all because I said it was reckless of her to post a photo of herself in white bra, panties and high heels so close to her stalker scare.
I’m not sure how this has happened, whether our reaction time is just so fast now because of Twitter and a 24-hour news cycle, but we’ve dropped into such a simplistic mentality about things. We go straight to a yes/no, up/down, black/white, Republican/Democrat faulty either/or logical fallacy. Maybe it’s because of technology’s lightning pace: An idea comes up that people don’t agree with and there is no time to think it through, find shades of gray, so the opposing thoughts fall into neat, orderly, pre-cut extreme categories, names, labels.
I wrote that Williams’ picture, which had you looking at her through a sheer curtain, was suggestive of peeping at her, but was not pornographic. She looked great in it, and under normal circumstances, it might be considered artistic. But not now. Not just a week or so after a stalker had been arrested. At this point, it’s reckless. It’s also hypocritical.
The reaction went a little nuts. Yahoo! wrote a column about it and put it on their email welcome screen. AOL ran my column on its welcome screen. My little tennis blog here had over 700,000 hits. It’s on some foreign site now, but I’m not sure what they’re saying or even what language it’s in.
Next thing you know, one of the on-air people on ABC News is saying my column was “like saying the woman wore a short skirt and opened herself up to some kind of attack.’’ A blog had this headline: “Greg Couch says Serena Williams is asking for it.’’ Theyayornay.com wrote this: “Who among us has the right to tell a woman when, where and how to be sexy?
It was an amazing example of the immediacy and reach of the modern media, and its potential shallowness.
Yahoo!’s Chris Chase wrote that he disagreed with me: “What’s Serena supposed to do, let the creepy guys win? Dress like Mary Todd Lincoln for the rest of her life?. . .If that’s going to be the case, she might as well stop tweeting since her accused stalker used that as a tool (to track her). . .Hell, she might as well stop playing tennis because that’s how the stalker found her in the first place.’’
Mrs. Lincoln (not her Twitter avatar)
Really? Is that the choice? Put up a photo in bra, panties and high heels or dress like Mary Todd Lincoln? Nothing in between those options? Run that photo or retire from tennis.
I am not blaming Williams for the behavior of social deviants. She is not to blame for the faulty wiring of some nutjob. Nothing she did caused it.
But a warrant had been put out on this alleged stalker, who had appeared in several places all over the country near her. Once, he reportedly got into her dressing room at Home Shopping Network. How did he know where to find her? He allegedly told police that tracking here whereabouts was easy: She says on Twitter where she’ll be.
Even after she knew she had a stalker, and the search was on for him, she continued to tweet where she would be. Does that make her to blame for the stalking? No. It makes her reckless. She put up that photo on her Twitter account to get people to leer at her just days after having someone put away for leering too hard. Continue reading
I don’t know how to put this, but Venus Williams must be bored to death. First, she flew to Germany to sit there and watch a Fed Cup team she doesn’t care about lose 5-0. It was all a way to skirt rules to get into the Olympics.
Now, the news is that she’s spending time on court, while recovering from injuries, giving lessons to Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Really Venus? Meanwhile, Serena Williams is creating a national buzz by producing photos of herself in a pink bodysuit, hitting Miami Heat games and being seen out on the town.
Serena, who recently went over two million Twitter followers, Tweeted today a plea to start following Venus, who has just over 700,000.
“Let’s get her to 1 MILLION followers,’’ Serena wrote. “Smart, beautiful, CRAZY athletic, classy….the list goes on’’
Serena has nearly three times as many Twitter followers as her sister? It might have something to do with Serena always searching the spotlight, tweeting goofy things regularly. Venus, meanwhile, hasn’t tweeted in 2½ weeks.
It’s another great example of the contrasts between the sisters. Someone pointed out a long time ago that Serena was dating a rapper (Common) while Venus was with a golfer (Hank Kuehne).
Whatever happened to that relationship, anyway?
Well, McKinnie told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he’s trying to drop 20 pounds, from 360-340 – though his listed weight is already 335 – and improve his lateral movement. He has asked for help from his friend, Venus, and he says he’s getting hooked on the game.
A look at the video shows that he has real potential, and maybe a future in the game.
Actually, that’s just the polite thing you’re supposed to say in a story like this. He can’t move. His forehand is wrong. His backhand is decent, though.
“One thing I learned with Venus,’’ McKinnie told the St. Paul paper, “you have to be ready for a long lesson.’’
Well, yes, tennis can be hard work. But it would be easier to stay in shape if you didn’t drink $100,000 worth of champagne in one night. In February, TMZ reported that McKinnie had dropped that much money on alcohol at an NBA All-Star party hosted by rapper Rick Ross and model Rosa Acosta.
Apparently, McKinnie had all the Beautiful People at the party in awe when he bought 15 bottles of expensive champagne, including, reports said, one so large it had to be brought to him with a forklift. Theoretically he shared some of it.
But that doesn’t exactly sound like a guy too worried about getting into shape.
Considering who she’s hanging out with, maybe Venus is leading a little more wild life than we realize, and just keeping in private. Probably not, though.
Serena is having fun and Venus is playing tennis with a 355-pound man.
See if this passes the smell test: The US Tennis Association announced Tuesday that Venus Williams has officially “made herself available’’ to play for the U.S. Fed Cup team next week in Germany. Yet she has no intention of playing.
She will travel all the way to Stuttgart to be with the team for the big match, but is still too hurt to play.
Loyalty to the team? Uh, no.
“She’s been rehabbing her injury from Australia,’’ Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said Tuesday. “Hopefully, she’ll be able to practice. I don’t expect her to play, but obviously in the next 10 days if she’s playing great and feeling fit, then there’s always that possibility.’’
Sorry, but I’m going to have to call b.s. here on Venus Williams, Mary Joe Fernandez, and most of all, the USTA. Just go with the truth. Williams is out.
At this point, there is a very real possibility that the Williams sisters will not be allowed to play in the Olympics. That’s what this is all about.
The only reason Venus is flying overseas for a team and match she has no interest in, is to manipulate rules so she can stay eligible for the 2012 London Games.
Serena Williams was considering the same thing, making herself “available’’ and traveling to the same event she wasn’t going to play in. But while she recovers from blood clots in her lungs, travel isn’t safe. So she’s staying home.
The USTA is in full-out panic mode. Why? Because if the Williams sisters don’t get into the Olympics, then it’s likely the U.S. will not have any women ranked high enough to play singles in the Olympics at all. Continue reading
Eight years later, and Serena Williams and Justine Henin are still looking for closure.
“Question,’’ Williams wrote on her Twitter account. “I keep hearing about an admittance to someone cheating me & lying about it after at the French open? Did she confess finally?’’
Well that “someone’’ Williams could not bring herself to name was Henin. And if Williams were truly interested in finding out if Henin had fessed up to what happened at the 2003 French Open, the infamous Hand Incident, then Williams could have just googled it. Instead, she wrote it in a question with very pointed words to her two million Twitter followers, including media members who would make those words even more public.
So this was about sending a message. For some reason, Henin did talk about it, and other controversial moments in her career, in a TV interview in Belgium. She is acknowledging wrong-doing in several things, possibly for closure, while taking a slow exit from the stage since retiring last month.
“It’s true,’’ Henin said about the Hand Incident, “that is not my best memory.’’
I’ll get into the specifics in a minute. But this is an amazing example of how a small, somewhat insignificant moment can escalate over the years, blow up into hard feelings and rivalry and probably even hatred. It all shows in the fact that both of them still feel the need to talk about it now.
In Henin’s case, I assume it has been eating at her. I wouldn’t say she cheated exactly, to use Williams’ word, but what she did was provide a shocking example of terrible sportsmanship. It would define her in several ways for the rest of her career.
In Williams’ case, I think she has let the discussion build up and re-shape the facts in her head. Henin was the one in the wrong that day, but somehow, that moment has grown over the years into something that cost Williams a major championship. Continue reading
With tickets sold, it’s time to go ahead and erase Serena Williams‘ picture from the poster.
She isn’t coming.
Williams withdrew Monday from the Nike Clash of Champions exhibition March 8 in Eugene, Ore. It was going to be the first time she had played publicly since July. She has been out with a mysterious foot injury that she has given varying explanations for.
It’s not nice to say “I told you so,” so let’s just say this: tennis fans, you were warned.
The event was supposed to have Williams, Maria Sharapova,Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. And every event like this puts a little disclaimer on the bottom of posters somewhere, about players being subject to change.
But this one was weird. The press release announcing the field spelled it out prominently, right in the second paragraph:
“Under certain circumstances, it is possible that one or more of the advertised athletes will not be able to participate in the NIKE Clash of Champions.”
I called it The Serena Clause.
It was as if they knew something.
It took 11 minutes for the 12,000 tickets, minus a few singles, to sell out. It took two weeks for Williams to pull out.
This has happened at Fed Cup, at an exhibition in New York, at TeamTennis and now here, not all for the same injury. And all of that is just in the past year and a half or so.
How many tickets have people bought over the years expecting to see Williams, only to have her not show up? Continue reading
Greg Couch is an award-winning sports columnist based in Chicago. He covers college football for BleacherReport.com, NFL for RollingStone.com and freelances at several other places, including The New York Times. Lots of tennis, mostly here. He has traveled the world covering tennis and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, his tennis writing has been in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."