Thursday, July 08, 2010

2010 Grass Court Awards: Success "in the Serena" is Still a One-Way Street

Why does the Serena cross the road? Why, to get to the other slam, of course.

Or maybe, after all these years, it just seems that way. After all, Serena Williams' just-completed championship run at Wimbledon gives her five singles titles in the last eight slams. It's been clear for years that Serena focuses her efforts on the four biggest tournaments of the year, and numbers like that make it easy to forget that she's only won one of the seventeen non-slam events she's entered over that same timespan. Naturally, the one title came at the FIFTH-biggest tournament of the year -- the season-ending WTA Championships.

Of course, in her case, 1-for-17 means virtually nothing.

In this epoch of tennis -- and to the current tennis generation -- slam titles are history's currency. A way to measure the career gains of the all-time greats of the day. And if Roger Federer is "Mister Moneybags" on the men's tour, then Serena is the unquestioned "Lady Legal Tender" of the WTA. With thirteen career slam titles, she needs just one more to be capable of buying and selling the next TWO most-prolific slam winners of her era -- her sister Venus and Justine Henin, who've COMBINED to win fourteen.

It's one thing when the most talented women's player in the world has a tendency to treat the WTA field like gum scraped off the bottom of her shoe, but when she's literally ready to lap multiple other greats of her generation,you're talking about an individual who has placed herself directly into the discussion when it comes to attempting to argue about who's the "greatest" the game has ever seen. Is it an argument that can ever REALLY be decided? Of course not. There are too many variables in the equation to ever be truly confident of any declarative statements regarding that sort of thing, but it doesn't mean that they can't be made. Plus, just the discussion itself is a good thing for the sport. Often, it's the only way to introduce the feats of past greats to a new generation of fans.

[Late Note: I just received the latest issue of Sports Illustrated and, low and behold, Serena is the cover subject. I'm not sure when the last time was that a female tennis player made the cover -- maybe Sharapova in '04? Anyway, the cover says, "Love Her, Hate Her -- She's the Best Ever," as Jon Wertheim declares Williams the greatest of all time. Hmmm, what took him so long? SOMEONE I know crossed that finish line about eight months ago.]

One day, many years from now, Serena's accomplishments to date will be looked upon with awe. But the scary thing is that, even as she's just two and a half months shy of her twenty-ninth birthday, she doesn't look to be anywhere near finished collecting shiny conversation pieces for her trophy case.

*Grass Court Awards - Wk.23-26*
**TOP 2Q PLAYERS, version 2.0**
1. Serena Williams, USA
...if a grand slam run can be termed "routine," then Serena's SW19 path to victory certainly was just that. The only truly bad tennis memory that Serena has produced over the last two years came courtesy of a tiny linesperson (all right, and Kim Clijsters, TOO) at Flushing Meadows. It might be THAT memory that gets erased next, by the end of the sweltering summer.
2. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
...she reached more finals at Wimbledon than even Serena, and she's back in the Top 10 looking to pick up where she left off in the spring of '09.
3. Lisa Raymond, USA
...she won two grass court titles with doubles partners (Rennae Stubbs & Cara Black) she hadn't won anything with in seven years. Then she reached the Wimbledon Mixed final, as well.
4t. Petra Kvitova, CZE & Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
...a pair of surprise slam semifinalists. The Czech gave much reason to think that she'll get more chances to succeed "in the Serena," while the Bulgarian can now design as entire "Venus wing" in a museum devoted to her tennis career back home in Plovdiv.
5. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
...lest we forget the Hordette's title run in Eastbourne where she razed the Stosur House of Grass Court Confidence and brought Victoria Azarenka to her knees.
HM- Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
...they never had to beat the Williams Sisters en route to the Wimbledon title. But, luckily, they don't engrave such things on the trophy.
ALSO: Cara Black/ZIM, Justine Henin/BEL, Kaia Kanepi/EST, Li Na/CHN, Maria Sharapova/RUS

1. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2. Kaia Kanepi, EST
3. Elena Vesnina/Vera Zvonareva, RUS/RUS
4. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
5. Aravane Rezai, FRA
HM- Jarmila Groth, AUS & Andrea Petkovic, GER

1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
3. Alison Riske, USA
4. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
5. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
6. Kurumi Nara, JPN
7t. Heather Watson, GBR & Laura Robson, GBR
8. Madison Keys, USA (ITF)
9. Ksenia Pervak, RUS (ITF)
10. Lenka Jurikova, SVK (ITF)
HM- Ziyana Diyas, KAZ (ITF)

1. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
2. Sachie Ishizu, JPN
3. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
4. Elina Svitolina, UKR
5. Anna Mamalat, USA
6. Grace Min, USA
7. Timea Bobos/Sloane Stephens, HUN/USA
8t. Tara Moore, GBR & Eleanor Dean, GBR
9. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
10. Sloane Stephens, USA
HM- Olga Ianchuk, UKR

1. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
2. Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
3. Alison Riske, USA
4. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
5. Romina Oprandi, ITA
HM- Andrea Hlavackova, CZE

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Lisa Raymond, USA
3. Cara Black, ZIM
4. Li Na. CHN
5t. Justine Henin, BEL & Kim Clijsters, BEL
HM- Greta Arn, HUN

1. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2. Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs, USA/AUS
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Marina Erakovic, NZL
5. Mirjana Lucic, CRO
HM- Eleni Daniilidou, GRE

1. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
2t. Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Samantha Stosur, AUS
3. Venus Williams, USA
4. GBR women
5. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
6. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
7. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
8. Melanie Oudin, USA
9. Elina Svitolina, UKR
10. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
HM- Dinara Safina, RUS & Elena Dementieva, RUS

1. Olivia Sanchez, FRA
2. Romina Oprandi, ITA
3. Elena Baltacha, GBR
4. Jamie Hampton, USA
5. Mathilde Johansson, FRA
6. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
7. Madalina Gojnea, ROU
8. Lee Jin-A, KOR
9. Liana-Gabriela Ungur, ROU
10. Sofia Arvidsson, SWE
11. Petra Cetkovska, CZE
12. Victoria Larriere, FRA
13. Duan Ying-Ying, CHN
14. Shayna McDowell, AUS
15. Mandy Minella, LUX

"Thirteen is my lucky number." - Serena Williams, after winning career slam singles crown #13 at Wimbledon

[A "Serena's Dozen"]
That's thirteen to us mortals. As in thirteen slam singles championships. Williams' Wimbledon title was the fourth major crown she's collected without dropping a set. In the final, she allowed just two points on her 1st serve.
[The More the Merrier]
Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova reached new career heights with semifinal results at Wimbledon. Along with fellow semifinalist #21-seed Vera Zvonareva, it was the second time this season that three women seeded #16 or worse (#16 Li, unseeded Zheng and wild card Henin in Melbourne) reached the final four. Before this season, such a feat hadn't happened in a slam in thirty-two years. At the 1978 Australian Open, one hundred and twenty-eight slams before the start of '10.
[20 X 5]
Ekaterina Makarova won her first career tour title in Eastbourne, defeating five Top 20 players along the way.

"It's amazing you played tennis, because I can still hear you." - James Blake, to Pam Shriver, who was broadcasting on ESPN2 while the American was on his way to being bounced out of his 1st Round match at Wimbledon

[Not that ESPN2 Noticed]
Wimbledon QF - Kvitova d. Kanepi
Kvitova survived five match points and a 4-0 3rd set deficit, and staked her claim to being the next young power player who'll attempt to climb into the general tour conversation. Who knows, maybe one day the folks at ESPN will even bother to attempt to say her name correctly. A Backspinner can dream.
[A Time Machine Time Capsule]
Wimbledon 4th Rd. - S.Williams d. Sharapova
Reminding everyone why she went supernova at SW19 in the first place, Sharapova put up quite a battle with Serena in their first-ever tie-break clash. Williams ultimately turned back three Sharapova set points (the closest she came to dropping a set in the fortnight), opening and closing the TB with an emphatic ace, but the Russian gave a taste/reminder of why she became the most recognizable face in the women's game on the same Centre Court six years ago.
[She Who Laughs Last Laughs Hardest]
Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Hantuchova d. King
Hantuchova erased a 7-6/4-1 deficit to knot the match at one set each before play was suspended due to darkness, then put the match away the following day. But it was King who ultimately had the best closing touch. The Slovak lost her 2nd Round match, but the American rebounded and ended up claiming her first career slam title when she and Yaroslava Shvedova won a surprise Ladies Doubles championship.

Wimbledon Doubles QF - Vesnina/Zvonareva d. Williams/Williams
A seeming lock to win the title, the Sisters entered the match with a 32-1 Wimbledon record and extended their SW19 winning streak to thirty-three sets before dropping the final two here to the Hordettes. I guess Vera should have known that TWO wins over Serena in the same slam was one too many to expect.
Birmingham QF - Riske d. Wickmayer
The 19-year old American qualifier, ranked #185, came into the tournament having never won a main draw tour match before reaching the SF at Edgbaston and pushing Sharapova to three sets there. It worked out for Riske even better when she was quickly awarded a wild card into the Wimbledon Ladies draw... where she lost to Wickmayer. Oh, well.
Wimbledon QF - Pironkova d. V.Williams
Four and a half years after making a name for herself by upsetting Venus at the Australian Open, Pironkova upset Venus and made a name for herself once again in London. Apparently, Tsvetana found that time machine that Williams was lamenting that SHE didn't have.

"I'm obviously not pleased with this result. But I have to move on. What else can I do? Unless I have a time machine. Which I don't." - Venus Williams, after losing to Pironkova

Kristyna Pliskova wins the Wimbledon Girls title, joining with her sister Karolina (the '10 Australian Open junior champ) to become the first siblings to win junior slam titles in the same season
Cara Black three-peats in Birmingham, winning her first post-Liezel Huber doubles title with Lisa Raymond. In the final, the pair defeated Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands when Black's former partner retired with a knee injury. At Wimbledon, Black won her second Mixed Doubles slam title of 2010 with Leander Paes.
Quietly, Jelena Jankovic rises like a Phoenix from the rankings ashes of the disappointing Wimbledon results of her fellow competitors, climbing back to #2 in singles on the WTA computer on the heels of learning that career nemisis Justine Henin will likely miss the U.S. Open. If she can hold her #2 ranking and get a good non-Maria/Kim/Venus draw, who knows?

Roland Garros finalists Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur were dumped out in the 1st Round at Wimbledon
Elena Dementieva's string of forty-six straight slams played ended due to a calf injury. Her streak had been the longest active one in all of tennis.
Blake vs. Shriver: A Battle Where There are No Winners
Virginie Razzano filed a damages suit against the WTA due to a painful massage from a tour trainer, which ultimately led to edema

*THE "BAD"... but not in that Michael Jackson, leather-and-buckles in an underground parking lot way, though*
After Wimbledon, thanks to the Sisters not winning the Doubles title, Huber inched closer to reclaiming the #1 ranking (130 points back), while Black fell to #4.
Justine Henin opened up her 4th Round Wimbledon match with Kim Clijsters with a dominating 6-2 1st set victory, but wilted away as the match wore on after falling and injury her elbow. Clijsters went to 3-0 vs. her countrywoman in '10, but lost in her next match to Zvonareva despite winning the opening set, extending her post-U.S. Open slam disappointment. Meanwhile, Henin announced that she'll miss eight weeks of action due to the elbow injury. At this stage in Waffles 2.0, minus Clijsters' brief U.S. Open run, both Belgians' comebacks have resembled Hingis II more than anyone figured they would after their flashy first-month-back results. In other words, their results have been good, but things just aren't the same. In 2010, KC has really only looked fully invested when she's playing Henin. Henin, for her part, has often looked fully invested, except for when she's looked like she really didn't know what she wanted to be invested in. Ofthen, both Henins have been on display during the same match. It looks like 2010 is a "transition year" for both Belgians. But why do I have a nagging feeling that if it was Clijsters who was doing to be out for two months with an injury that we'd sort of wonder if she'd EVER come back. With Henin, though, it feels like the time off will provide a chance to reasses and devise the possibly better plan for success. If Henin REALLY does have unfinished tennis business, she'll probably win this 2.0 battle over the long haul. We (and maybe she) probably won't know for sure if she really DOES, though, until 2011.

Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her 24/7 snit into a record-breaking seventh straight month. This time, she refused to shake hands with Anastasia Rodionova at Wimbledon because of the Russian-turned-Australian's penchant for challenging too many calls during their match. Afterward, she refused to express any regret, either. How "disrespectful." Hmmm, I wonder if Svetlana would shake hands with herself if she jumped in Tsvetana Pironkova's time machine and traveled back to play herself in the past... you know, when she was the fun-loving, everybody-likes-her player who at one time seemed to be the most talented of all the Hordettes? Maybe she should leave Moscow for Bulgaria?

Lindsay Davenport returned to the tour in doubles, and is scheduled to play during the North American hard court season
Martina Hingis joined Anna Kournikova in the Wimbledon Invitation Doubles, and will spend the next month engaged in the I-don't-care-how-intriquing-it-might-seem-I-still-can't-bear-to-watch-more-than-two-minutes-at-a-time (sort of like the World Cup) World Team Tennis season

Li Na completed her "unGrand Slam," losing to eventual Wimbledon champ Serena Williams. It's the fourth straight slam in which Li has lost to the woman who would ultimately lift the winner's trophy.

"I was 23 when I realized that I wasn't Venus. I'm super curvy. I have big boobs and this massive butt. She's tall and she's like a model and she fits everything. I was growing up, wanting to be her, wanting to look like her... but it's fine. Now I'm obviously good." - Serena Williams, in the forthcoming issue of Harper's Bazaar

At an age when most of her contemporaries, and most of her predecessors, too, were either long past their athletic primes, were experiencing (at least slight) career downturns, have already retired and returned, or are finding themselves grasping for that one huge result that will define their entire career, Serena is still quite possibly getting better as many of her past or supposed rivals go by the wayside on the sport's biggest stages more often than not these days. It's an incredible notion, but Williams might not have yet shown us her tennis self at her most awesome. And this is a woman who pulled off her "Serena Slam" -- four straight slams won -- at age 22, some seven years ago.

It's not "supposed" to happen that way at the very top of the sport. But since when has Serena ever followed along the normal tennis path? That goodness for it, too. Because, let's be honest, the WTA landscape would appear even worse in the eyes of its many critics at the moment were it not for the gleaming castle on the horizon that Serena represent as she serves, long term, as something of an uplifting beacon for the rest of the field. Just as happened when she and Venus first arrived on the scene, Serena continues to force other players to push themselves to get better if they want to compete for the sport's biggest prizes.

Venus must. Justine must. And so must everyone else.

All that past talk of her not living up to her talent, or her shirking her responsibility to the game to be the best that she can be because she could be THE best? At this stage, it's become a footnote in her career biography. Fed Cup stalwarts aside, there's really nothing to pin on Serena anymore. It's time to just sit back and enjoy what comes next, whether it be more record-shattering accomplishments or the likely one-day-successful attempt by SOMEONE to displace a still-good-enough-to-matter Serena from her perch -- be it computer-backed, or simply generally agreed-upon -- as the best player in the game.

That time is definitely not now, though. And even if you squint, it's hard to make out when it might be. The player whose career will define women's tennis from 1999-"201?" could just be hitting her stride as she approaches age 30. It's both excilerating to watch and likely frustrating for the players who missed out on their window of slam-winning opportunity a few seasons ago.

But, hey, that's why they're called "challenges" and not "gifts." Whichever players can rise to the occasion "in the Serena" will have to EARN it. And that's how it should be.

All for now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thu Jul 08, 09:14:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sat Jul 10, 11:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

You truly have a wonderful way with the presentation of tennis. *sigh*

Tennis is a beautiful game.

Speaking of Serena, many people think that Justine has a graceful game, but in my observation Serena's game is equally if not even more graceful.

Its just that we are overwhelmed by her: a fascinating althelic body that defies physics (according to the purists), a colour that brings up our own inadequacies&prejudices, a polarising attitude, &the audacity to hope that she can accomplish her goals regardless of the odds for or against.

I have to say that your paragraph on GOAT bringing up legends of the past and their exploits is a facet hard core tennis afficianados lose sight off.

Because of Venus&Serena I learnt about Althea Gibson. Because of John McEnroe I learnt about Arthur Ash, because of Justine it brought up Chris Evert&her double handed backhand.

And because of tennis, my search for a beautiful tennis site brought me to your space.

Sun Jul 11, 04:46:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Nice to hear, Kevin.

Yeah, I know that I think the reason that I've always clung most to Wimbledon is the tournament's history, and how all the old champions of the past were always talked about (thank you, Bud Collins) during the fortnight each and every year. That's how I first learned about those players, and I think, as with anything, an appreciation of the history of something can only lead to a closer connection to the NEW history that is being made in that arena now.

Comparing the greats of the past with those of the present SHOULD help bring an appreciation for those players, and hopefully spark a deeper overall interest. Well, at least that's how it was for me.

Too often these days, even players who played just ten years ago are unknown to many fans simply because they're never brought up. It's really too bad.

Dinara Safina might have uttered that great "the more you know, the less you sleep" quote last year, but in this case, the opposite is true. :)

Sun Jul 11, 11:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

Ode To Todd

How can a game like tennis have my heart & mind wrapped up in its racquets& stadiums.

Phillip Chartrier, Wilsons, Nike& fashions ad nauseum.

Why must I lose sleep over who wins the Rosewater Dish.

Maybe its the skirts with their beautiful pleats.

For someone like me whose never played a set,

Following this sport leaves me no regrets:)

Mon Jul 12, 07:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Very nice. :)

Mon Jul 12, 05:03:00 PM EDT  

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