Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Wk.26 - If Only...

Well, that was a bit of a shock, wasn't it?

It's been a few days since Venus Williams' "instant classic" triumph over Lindsay Davenport in the Wimbledon final, and I'm still trying to determine how I truly feel about it. Oh, I know how I SHOULD feel, if all the screaming headlines and tennis commentators' opinions are to be taken as gospel (a scary prospect on any occasion, whether those in question wear ornate clothes and big hats... or simply enjoy watching athletes whack a fuzzy yellow ball back and forth over a net). Apparently, from what I've read and heard, the actual sight of a focused Venus was such a stunning (and, in recent years, rare) occurrence that people just can't stop falling over themselves expressing how Williams has turned back the clock. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was 2001.

"Venus is back." "She's not finished winning major titles." "The rumors of her demise were greatly exaggerated -- in fact, her game never REALLY dipped at all." (All right, I made up that last one -- I was just theorizing how the White House might make some Orwellian attempt to convince everyone that we really didn't see Venus going through the motions so often during the past few seasons, no matter how many times we THINK we can remember seeing her doing just that. Must have been our collective imagination.)

"Venus envy" is all fine and good... but let's confine it to this week, for now, all right? What Williams accomplished over the past fortnight was indeed remarkable, and far more of a surprise than Maria Sharapova's SW19 win a year ago. Surely, when I previewed the tournament and wondered whether another "astral occurrence" might be about to take place, I didn't consider a planetary alignment with anything -- or anyone -- named "Venus" in the equation. For that, Williams deserves congratulations for rising to the occasion when no one felt she was up to the task.

In the end, the Wimbledon website's pre-tournament kiss-up article (still there) was indeed prophetic. Ah, if only this Backspin could be like all those post-tournament Venusian Adoration Society pieces, too. Kiss-up articles can be fun (the JHH-inspired ones that show up in this space are labors of love, for sure), and I'd LIKE to be happy for Venus. But I come here prepared not to praise her noteworthy string of performances at the All-England Club, nor to bury her (it'd be tough at this point, no matter how hard I tried), but to wonder why I can't succumb to all the excitement. For, the seemingly simple act of "welcoming back" Venus is too sticky a situation for that.

If only I didn't see Venus' endless jumping around in the glow of her victory, as she did on Saturday after defeating an opponent battling an injury in the 3rd set, and wonder how she'd react if her conqueror had reacted in the same fashion (remember the whining fits that occurred when Sharapova "dared" to celebrate her win over an injured Serena in the final of last year's WTA Championships?).

If only I didn't wonder if Venus, placed in the same situation as Davenport, would have offered her the same respect that the world #1 did her by refusing to use her back injury as an excuse for the loss (it wouldn't have held water, since Davenport squandered opportunities before getting hurt -- serving for the match at 6-5 in the 2nd, holding points for 5-2 in the 3rd, and failing to convert a match point at 5-4). For most of the past year, Williams has put quite a bit of effort into explaining away every loss by creating a laundry list of reasons why she couldn't overcome an opponent, running the gamut from fatigue to a blister on her palm.

If only I didn't immediately wonder whether Richard Williams would have blamed the media and/or fans had Venus put in one of the feeble efforts that she's been prone to pulling out of the bag in recent seasons. Last week, he tossed out a whopper of an excuse for Venus' struggles -- conveniently, offering it up when she was finally playing well -- by saying it was the criticism from media/fans that she and Serena's dominance had made the game "boring" that caused her results (she hadn't advanced past a slam QF for two years) to slip.

If only I could stop myself from nastily wondering whether Davenport might have "won easily" had she played "5% better," as Venus stated earlier this season after another loss to a player she used to be expected to put away with little trouble. At least Serena admitted last week, following her loss to Jill Craybas, that she's "never been a very good loser." We already knew that, of course, but it was good that she actually acknowledged it herself. She didn't promise to improve the "flaw"... but, hey, you take progress wherever you can get it.

"I always felt like a champion in my heart because every single time I walked out on the court, I always gave my best," Venus said on Saturday. "Whatever it was at the time, I gave 100%."

Oh, really? Remember that match against Sesil Karatantcheva at Roland Garros (and I only pick that one because it's the most recent example)? Still holding to that preposterous line of revisionist history, V? To be fair, Venus WAS in fine form that day... after the match. You know, when she casually tossed off the little nugget that she'd never seen or even heard of Karatantcheva before the match, despite her being one of the top rising youngsters on tour.

But it's no secret that Venus has often existed in her own little world. Just like Richard does at times (it's a family thing, I guess). Thank goodness for Oracene Price, who at least provides some measure of composure and doesn't seem to have the ever-present need (publicly, at least) to prove to everyone that the Williamses were right and everyone else is crazy, or hates them because they're just so unbelievably jealous, or prejudiced. No matter how many times Richard has been right about his daughters' tennis fortunes (and he has been... many times), or how many titles they've won (and will win), it doesn't excuse some of the outrageous comments and poor sportsmanship that always lingers in the air after a bad Williams loss, or even a "rebuttal" victory like the one on Saturday. Hard-earned respect is lost when success is met with a string of "I told you so's," while losses are "someone else's fault."

One thing IS clear, though... having Venus (with or without Serena) in the mix again would make the already ultra-competitive WTA tour (the last six slams have crowned six different champions!) even more so during the upcoming North American hardcourt season -- remember, a year ago Venus was arguably the "second-best" player during the period when Davenport dominated the tour prior to the U.S. Open. That is, if Wimbledon wasn't just a "flashback" to her past glory for Williams. It'll only be a true "comeback" if she's able to effectively follow it up.

It's been interesting over the past week hearing about the rise of Venus and the "fall" of Serena. One is almost challenged to remember that the latter won the Australian Open less than six months ago. Yet, there she was, strugging to win at all, then losing to Craybas in the 3rd Round. On the WTA Tour, things can change very quickly... and even more so if the player in question is named Williams.

"I feel great to have accomplished this, but I feel like I want to do a lot more," Venus said.

We'll see. If she does it, maybe it'd be easier to feel almost as happy for her as she seemed to be for herself during her post-match giggling & jumping fit which, under closer inspection, was tantamount to her publicly dancing on Davenport's Wimbledon grave (only in this case, the "dearly-departed" was there to stoicly witness it all).

If she does it, maybe it'd be easier to use BOTH hands to pat her on the back. If only.

Oh, well... there's always Flushing Meadows, right?


**WIMBLEDON 2005**

S: Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport 4-6/7-6/9-7
D: Black/Huber d. Kuznetsova/Mauresmo
M: Pierce/Bhupathi d. Perebiynis/Hanley
GS: Agnieszka Radwanska d. Tamira Paszek 6-3/6-4
GD: Azarenka/Szavay d. Erakovic/Niculescu
35+ Doubles: Jana Novotna/Tracy Austin

=PLAYER AWARDS (2nd Week)=

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Venus Williams
...as the #14-seed, the lowest to ever win the title (besting #13 Sharapova last year), Venus wins her third Wimbledon, and fifth career slam.
RISERS: Nadia Petrova & Cara Black/Liezel Huber
...Petrova was the only woman to advance to the QF who either hadn't already won a slam title, or been ranked #1. Black/Huber won the doubles title and moved into the #1 spot in the 2005 Points Race. It was Huber's first slam title, while Black managed to defend her '04 crown (won w/ Rennae Stubbs) for her fifth slam doubles/mixed crown. Interestingly, Black has now won Wimbledon titles in Doubles, Mixed Doubles (2004), Girls Singles (1997) and Girls Doubles (1997). Hope she's not holding out for that missing Singles title, though.
SURPRISE: Venus Williams
...Wimbledon's "Miss Opportunity" resurrected herself while Serena faltered. But what will she do next?
VETERAN: Mary Pierce
...she nearly pushed Venus to a 3rd set in the singles, then won the Mixed title with Mahesh Bhupathi.
FRESH FACE: Agnieszka Radwanska
...the unseeded 16-year old from Poland knocked off #2-seed Agnes Szavay (Junior RG champ & Oz RU) in the SF, then defeated unseeded Tamira Paszek in the Wimbledon Girls Singles final.
DOWN: Jelena Dokic
...Amelie Mauresmo could certainly fall into this category, for blowing a set and a break (twice, actually) lead in the SF for the second straight year. But I'll give it to a player who wasn't even at Wimbledon. Former SW19 semifinalist Dokic ended her seven-week sabbatical by playing in a $75K challenger in Fano, Italy... only to lose in the 1st Round to Eva Birnerova. She then followed that up with another 1st Round challenger loss to Conchita Martinez-Granados in Cuneo on Tuesday. It's been almost two full years since Dokic won a grand slam match, but it feels like about ten. If her downfall continues at this breakneck speed, the Debutante might officially take up residence in the "lost cause" category... if she's not there, already, that is.

...you only get to have your favorite player inducted into the Hall of Fame once, and so is the case with Backspin's all-timer Jana Novotna this week at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. The very picture of perseverance after years of close calls (and outright chokes -- even if Jana wouldn't ever admit to it), the Czech serve-and-volleyer finally won the Wimbledon title in 1998... a win which was essential to her being elevated to such an honor this week. Here'sHere's her Hall of Fame bio (and check out the whole site while you're at it).

Here's her existing WTA Tour bio, as well.

Oh, and Novotna and Tracy Austin actually won the Wimbledon 35+ Women's championship last week (Novotna will be playing in a doubles exhibition, along with fellow inductee Jim Courier, in Newport on Sunday), so here's the Wimbledon site page with pics, match reports and articles about that:

Jana looks fit and happy. Which begs the question... at 36, isn't she young enough to compete in the REAL action? She's a former doubles #1 (and singles #2) with an affinity for the Wimbledon grass... sounds like a familiar recipe for a comeback, doesn't it? Maybe that's just hope talking, though.

1.Final - V.Williams d. Davenport
...4-6/7-6/9-7. The longest ever Wimbledon final -- at 2:45 -- with the longest final set in the Open era, this match also made Venus the first SW19 champ to survive a match point since 1933.
2.SF - V.Williams d. Sharapova
...7-6/6-1. Closer (and louder) than the score would indicate. And there's to be no knocking Sharapova for failing to defend -- even without holding up the plate again, she satisfactorily backed up her '04 title.
3.4th - Myskina d. Dementieva
...1-6/7-6/7-5. The Czarina's final bit of survival came after trailing 1-6/1-3, and seeing Punch-Sober serve at 5-4. Myskina won the 2nd set TB 11-9, overcame two match points, and catapulted herself in the hardcourt season with something to build upon.
4.4th - Davenport d. Clijsters
...6-3/6-7/6-3. Paris is solidified. Now, about the 2012 Olympics...
5.SF - Davenport d. Mauresmo
...6-7/7-6/6-4. Didn't you know she'd find a way to NOT win?



1.Venus Williams
2.Lindsay Davenport
3.Maria Sharapova
4.Kim Clijsters
5.Amelie Mauresmo
6.Mary Pierce
7.Anastasia Myskina
8.Svetlana Kuznetsova
9.Eleni Daniilidou
10.Cara Black & Liezel Huber

1.Eleni Daniilidou
2.Nadia Petrova
3.Flavia Pennetta
4.Klara Koukalova
5.Jelena Jankovic

(other than Venus Williams)
1.Roberta Vinci
2.Jill Craybas
3.Alyona Bondarenko
4.Ashley Harkleroad
5.Sabine Klaschka

1.Lindsay Davenport
2.Mary Pierce
3.Jill Craybas
4.Elena Likhovtseva
5.Kveta Peschke

1.Angela Haynes
2.Ana Ivanovic
3.Vera Douchevina
4.Lucie Safarova
5.Anna Chakvetadze
6.Jamea Jackson
7.Nicole Vaidisova
8.Shenay Perry
9.Agnieszka Radwanska
10.Agnes Szavay & Viktoria Azarenka

1.Serena Williams
2.Justine Henin-Hardenne
3.Karolina Sprem
4.Tatiana Golovin
5.Alicia Molik

BEST PERFORMANCE: Venus Williams at Wimbledon, naturally
BEST MATCH: Wimbledon F - V.Williams d. Davenport 4-6/7-6/9-7
...Venus is the third straight 2005 slam champion to overcome a match point during the tournament (Serena vs. Sharapova in Melbourne, and JHH vs. Kuznetsova in Paris).
CHOKE/COMEBACK: Wimbledon 3rd - Myskina d. Jankovic 6-0/5-7/10-8
...Myskina led 6-0/5-3 and held a match point, then Jankovic led 5-1 in the 3rd. In 2:43, after converting 9-of-33 break point chances, Myskina outlasted the Serb.
BIGGEST UPSETS: Wimbledon 1st - Daniilidou d. JHH 7-6/2-6/7-5; 3rd - Craybas d. Serena 6-3/7-6



[as of July 4]
1.Lindsay Davenport
2.Maria Sharapova
3.Amelie Mauresmo
4.Svetlana Kuznetsova
5.Elena Dementieva
6.Serena Williams
7.Justine Henin-Hardenne
8.Venus Williams
9.Nadia Petrova
10.Anastasia Myskina

2004 Roland Garros - Myskina
2004 Wimbledon - Sharapova
2004 U.S. - Kuznetsova
2005 Australian - S.Williams
2005 Roland Garros - Henin-H.
2005 Wimbledon - V.Williams

1-5...vs. Serena
4-1...vs. others
0-1...Roland Garros

==SLAM TITLES - active==
7...Serena Williams
5...Venus Williams
4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
3...Lindsay Davenport
3...Jennifer Capriati

#10...Last 6 slam champions
#2....Previous 12 slam champions

6...Davenport (2-4)
4...Henin-Hardenne (4-0)
4...Sharapova (3-1)
3...Clijsters (3-0)
3...V.Williams (2-1)
3...Mauresmo (2-1)

Australian - SF (Sharapova)
R.Garros - SF (Petrova/Likhovtseva)
Wimbledon - SF (Sharapova)

Australian: #19 Dechy (SF)
R.Garros: #21 Pierce (RU)
Wimbledon: #14 V.Williams (W)

==2005 TOP 10 2nd QUARTER W/L==
24-1...Henin-Hardenne (0-1 grass)
20-7...Petrova (5-2)
19-4...Sharapova (10-1)
17-3...Davenport (6-1)
16-3...V.Williams (7-0)
15-7...Schnyder (0-1)
14-4...Mauresmo (5-2)
14-6...Kuznetsova (6-2)
10-5...Dementieva (3-2)
9-8....Zvonareva (2-2)
6-6....Myskina (5-2)
4-3....S.Williams (2-1)
0-2....Molik (0-1)



...final Battle Royale stats give the win to Backspin over the ol' Holy Webmaster:

Slam 4th Round: Cantin 31-22
Slam QF: Backspin 14-13
SF: Cantin 22-21
Finalists: Backspin 11-7
Champions: Backspin 7-5

Hmmm, now what? Maybe a Battle Royale II? In the meantime, here's a quick warm-up with some Fed Cup predictions:

USA def. Russia 3-2
...make it 3-2 for the Horde if the Americans make a lineup change (Davenport & Venus are "scheduled" to play). The U.S. is 4-0 in Fed Cup play vs. Russia, but they haven't met since 1999.

France def. Spain 4-1
...Mauresmo's in her comfort zone here.

Austria d. Switzerland 3-2
Belgium d. Argentina 4-1
Croatia d. Germany 3-2
Czech Republic d. Italy 3-2

Puerto Rico d. Indonesia 4-1
Bulgaria d. Japan 4-1
Slovak Republic d. Thailand 3-2
China d. Slovenia 4-1

Later this week: The 2nd Quarter Quiz... Next week: Mid-Season Musings & Fed Cup recap

All for now.


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