Saturday, July 07, 2007

Home is Where the Heart Is

In the 2000's, Venus Williams and Centre Court have become intricately intertwined like few athletes and venues in any sport.

Justine Henin and Roland Garros will walk hand-in-hand through the history books, but no one will ever be inspired to write poetry about Court Chatrier. Centre Court Wimbledon, though, even without the customary intimacy providing by the currently-M.I.A. overhanging roof, is the subject of crushes and curtsies the sport over. Just stepping onto it can bring a tennis immortal to tears at the memories it invokes, and weaken the knees of a newbie... and, sometimes, once in a generation or so, it can make the "special ones," the ones who know how to whisper ever-so-softly into Centre Court's ear in the middle of the night, play at a level that makes them untouchable.

Martina. Pete. Roger. And now Venus can add her name to the list, if it wasn't there already.

Even though she's lost twice there to her sister, Wimbledon is Venus' "home," not Serena's. With four titles (and counting) this decade, the relationship between the 27-year old from Compton and the ages-old-but-forever-ageless court will likely be the longest-lasting one in her life... it'll last long past the day that Venus is no more. For this alliance, much like that of the two sisters, will never cease to breathe. Even as the All-England Club's nasty cousins -- Court 2, take that -- were pushing little Venus around for a week and a half, Centre Court was always there waiting for the opportunity to offer a supportive shoulder. All Venus had to do was stick around long enough for the rendezvous to take place. Once it did on the second day of her Round of 16 meeting with Maria Sharapova, Venus found her center and never looked back.

Forgive it for being so for Marion Bartoli, but Saturday's final felt like a mere formality going in, and it turned out to be just that. The 22-year old Frenchwoman played well, but it didn't matter against the woman she dubbed the "world's #1 on grass." The 6-4/6-1 final scoreline was respectable, and with Venus' game in the zone it'd been in for the last half-week, that was really all that Bartoli could have realistically hoped for.

Of course, Bartoli's first-ever appearance on Centre Court was her upset of Henin in the semifinals. Not a bad introduction, even if the pair's "second date" didn't have the ending she'd wished. If she never returns there for another big occasion during her career, she will have left an indelible impression... and not just with that one huge win, either.

After SOME people (whistle... and walk on by) had a difficult time differentiating her from the women's field as recently as a few weeks ago, "La Trufflette" will have no such stigma from here on out. From the Selesian groundstrokes and jitterbugging pre-point hops to the father perched in the Friends Box like a bird on a limb, keeping close watch over its fledgling as it takes its first flight. From the tales of odd training techniques (tennis balls taped to the bottom of her shoes?) and promises of candy rewards for good shots in practice to her good-natured participation in the "wave" going around Centre Court even as her dream of a Wimbledon title was likely slipping away. From the sweet personality she displayed side-by-side with a tenacious desire to succeed in these final days of Wimbledon '07, Bartoli has earned her place on the WTA landscape. (And Backspin's, too.)

She may not yet be a "Bond Girl," but she's at lesat got Pierce Brosnan's eye. Now she'll have to work on getting the attention of Daniel Craig, huh?

Who knows if Venus would recognize the latest 007 is she saw him in the stands, but what does it matter now? You don't need "Q" or anyone else when you've got Serena to spur you on, Oracene to keep you grounded, and Richard the Greek -- yes, he picked Venus and not Serena to win this title at the beginning of the fortnight -- to cover the rest of the bases. Especially not when, for two weeks every year, you've got Centre Court on your side. Serena will end up with the flashier career, but Venus may have the longer one. Serena might win more slam titles, but Venus will always have Wimbledon. Even her little sister's many accomplishments and far-reaching aura can't take that away.

In 1957, Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win a grand slam title at Wimbledon. Fifty years later, Venus and the All-England Club's most famous patch of grass are bonded together like a bride and groom. I hear they'll be picking out floral arrangements soon.

Ah, there's no place like home... especially when it's Centre Court Wimbledon.

Love-Love... Williams wobble, but they don't fall down. Well, of course they do... sometimes, as Serena showed in the Round of 16, they do so quite literally, actually. But if they hover on the edge of oblivion but live to tell about it? Well, then everyone had better look out. In recent years, Venus has gone out early at Wimbleton to Karolina Sprem and Jelena Jankovic, but remember when Lindsay Davenport had a match point against her in the 2005 final? Davenport didn't put her away, and Venus ended up being the first SW19 champion since 1933 to come back from match point to win the title. In Melbourne in January, Serena saw both Nadia Petrova and Shahar Peer serve for the match. We know what happened after they failed to win when they had the chance.

At this Wimbledon, Venus was two points from a 1st Round defeat against Alla Kudryavtseva. She pulled it out. In the 3rd Round, Akiko Morigami served for the match at 5-3 in the deciding set. Venus got herself together, and on Saturday we found out how big her survival there turned out to be. Morigami was not going to win Wimbledon, so who WOULD have been in the final and/or holding up the big plate? Maria Sharapova? Svetlana Kuznetsova? Ana Ivanovic? Maybe Marion Bartoli?

Hey, zombies CAN win grand slams. But it helps if their names are Venus or Serena.

5...Justine Henin
4...Jelena Jankovic
2...Serena Williams
2...Anna Chakvetadze

8...Serena Williams
6...Justine Henin
5...Martina Hingis
2...Maria Sharapova
2...Amelie Mauresmo
2...Mary Pierce
1...Svetlana Kuznetsova
1...Anastasia Myskina

12..Martina Hingis (5-7)
10..Serena Williams (8-2)
10..Justine Henin (6-4)
6...Mary Pierce (2-4)
3...Maria Sharapova (2-1)
3...Amelie Mauresmo (2-1)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2...Elena Dementieva (0-2)
1...Anastasia Myskina (1-0)
1...Ana Ivanovic (0-1)
1...Marion Bartoli (0-1)

16..Serena Williams [8/8]
15..Martina Hingis [5/10]
9....Lisa Raymond [0/9]
9....Virginia Ruano-Pascual [0/9]

4...VENUS WILLIAMS (2000-01,05,07)
2...Serena Williams (2002-03)
1...Amelie Mauresmo (2006)
1...Maria Sharapova (2004)
1...Martina Hingis (1997)

[title span]
9...Martina Navratilova [1978-90]
8...Helen Wills-Moodey [1927-38]
7...Steffi Graf [1988-96]
7...Dorothea Douglass-Lambert Chambers [1903-14]
6...Blanche Bingley-Hillyard [1886-00]
6...Billie Jean King [1966-75]
5...Suzanne Lenglen [1919-25]
5...Charlotte Cooper-Sterry [1895-08]
5...Lottie Dodd [1887-93]
4...Louise Brough [1948-55]
4...VENUS WILLIAMS [2000-07]


AO: Serena Williams/USA d. Maria Sharapova/RUS
RG: Justine Henin/BEL d. Ana Ivanovic/SRB
W: Venus Williams/USA d. Marion Bartoli/FRA

Notice anything interesting. Yep, after three slams there have been six different finalists. You know, Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin predicted LAST YEAR that there'd be eight different slam singles finalists... then Justine Henin went and reached all four of them. Whoops. Maybe he was just a year off? The last time there were no repeat finalists at any slam in a calendar year was 1977, when there were ten different finalists (ten, not eight, because that year there was an Australian Open played in both January '77 and December '77).

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Girls Singles SF - #7 Madison Brengle/USA d. Katarzyna Piter/POL - 7-5/7-6.
...could the USA actually win BOTH the Ladies' and Girls' singles titles? As it is, Brenglefly is the only junior to reach the final of more than one slam singles tournament this season, having been RU in Melbourne.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Boys Junior SF - #3 Donald Young/USA d. #6 Greg Jones/AUS - 6-4/7-5.
...could the USA actually win BOTH the Ladies' and Girls' titles, PLUS the Boys' singles title, too? 2005 Oz Junior champ Young next faces Vladimir Ignatic, who just won the Roland Garros Junior title last month.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Girls Singles SF - #3 Urszula Radwanska/POL d. Anna Fitzpatrick/GBR - 7-6/6-3.
...Agnieszka, U-Rad's big sis, won the Wimbledon Girls title in 2005. Hmmm, Venus in '05... a Radwanska in '05? Sensing a pattern?

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #4: Women's Doubles SF - #4 Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama (SLO/JPN) d. #1 Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur (USA/AUS) - 1-6/6-3/6-2.
...Srebotnik was 0-2 at Roland Garros in Doubles and Mixed finals. She gets a shot to get one to make up (a little) for that shutout in Paris.

#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#1 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #10 Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA/FRA)

#4 Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama (SLO/JPN) vs. #2 Cara Black/Liezel Huber (ZIM/RSA)

Jamie Murray/Jelena Jankovic (GBR/SRB) vs. #5 Alicia Molik/Jonas Bjorkman (AUS/SWE) or Fabrice Santoro/Severine Bremond (FRA/FRA)


#6 Urszula Radwanska/POL vs. #7 Madison Brengle/USA

#1 Vladimir Ignatic/BLR vs. #3 Donald Young/USA

Misaki Doi/Kurumi Nara (JPN/JPN) vs. TBD
Roman Jebavy/Martin Klizan (CZE/SVK) vs. TBD

Deuce... so, Mr.Fantastic isn't Superman... but one has to wonder what Novak Djokovic would have done if he was STILL able to take the 1st set off Rafael Nadal, who was fresh off the six greatest grass court sets of his life, even with his body falling apart after nine hours of tennis in the previous two days. In the end, the Serb finally retired in the 3rd set.

Oh, but he'll be back. Thing is, while Roger Federer has that 53-match grass court winning streak going, Nadal is a "modest" 12-1 at SW19 the last two years in his own right. Djokovic is going to have to act like water and find a way through stone... only he'll have to do it MUCH quicker. He doesn't have a million years to wait around for erosion to finally remove Roger and Rafa from the scene.
Ad... Roger vs. Rafa. Rafa vs. Roger. This is becoming the most dependable rivalry in sports, isn't it? While everyone is talking about Federer's ninth straight appearance in a slam final, and his bid for a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title -- still not a record, but a "first since" situation that goes back to Bjorn Borg from 1976-80, what sort of marks is Rafa chasing? Well, just like last year, he's trying to become the first player since Borg (who'll be watching from the Royal Box) to sweep both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same season since the Swede completed his three-years-running combo from 1978-80.

So, I guess no matter what happens Borg will be on the wrong end of an accomplishment, huh? Oh, and speaking of guests in the Royal Box, was that REALLY Margaret Thatcher there on Saturday or one of those wax statues from the museum? After all these years, it's hard to tell, you know?

MATCH, "Look out, Martina & Chrissie, Roger & Rafa are breathing down your necks"... with Federer and Nadal facing off in yet another slam final, that assures that they'll share their tenth straight slam title. Navratilova and Evert divided up fifteen straight slams from 1981-85. They also won 19 of 20. Roger and Rafa will have won 12 of 13. Yeah, Djokovic really has his work cut out for him.

TOP QUALIFIERS: Su-Wei Hsieh/TPE & Olga Govortsova/BLR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Amelie Mauresmo/FRA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Justine Henin/BEL
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): Venus Williams/USA
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Olga Poutchkova/RUS (1r-E.Vesnina/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: Austrians (Paszek & Meusburger)
REVELATION LADIES: French (Bartoli & Rezai to 3rd Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Olga Govortsova/BLR, Nika Ozegovic/CRO, Tatiana Perebiynis/UKR, Hana Sromova/CZE & Agnes Szavay/HUN (2nd Rd.)
IT GIRL: Ana Ivanovic/SRB
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 12.


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