Saturday, July 03, 2010

Lucky #13

You just can't keep a good Williams down. Not that anyone really ever came close to pinning Serena to a grass court at the All-England Club over the past fortnight.

Completing a somewhat "routine" trek toward her thirteenth career grand slam singles title, Williams never dropped a set in her seven matches. Thus, a Wimbledon that began with several of the more notable Russians sitting things out on the sidelines, opened with the immediate 1st Round ousters of both the Roland Garros finalists, moved forward as Justine Henin was essentially carried off on her shield (with a summer-ending elbow injury a lingering reminder of just how different things have been for her since her comeback), a frustrated Venus Williams caught an early flight out of London and Kim Clijsters continued to fail to back up her U.S. Open championship with more slam success, ended with Williams taking down Vera Zvonareva, the last of the Hordettes standing, by a 6-3/6-2 score to continue unabated her march through tennis history.

Though she never allowed her combustable nature to lead to an unfortunate scene on Centre Court, Zvonareva never really found her way into the match. Needing to grab an early lead in order to prevent Williams from getting on one of her patented, opponent-flattening rolls, Zvonareva instead spent the 1st set trying to hold back the Serena tide.

Williams opened the match with an easy hold, hitting two unreturnable serves and blasting a backhand up the line for a game-claiming winner. After falling down 15/30 in game #3, Serena got the game to deuce, then smashed an ace to hold for 2-1. Just when Zvonareva needed to make a move in order to flip the script that saw her lose the opening sets in both of her last two matches against Clijsters and Tsvetana Pironkova, she was instead struggling to just stay even. Down two break points in game #6, the Russian managed to hold and stay on serve at 3-3. But she was only delaying the inevitable.

In her next service game, Zvonareva double-faulted on game point to give Williams another break point. A poor return from Williams denied her the chance to grab the 1st set advantage, but a perfectly-positioned lob off Zvonareva's racket gave her another opportunity. She seized it. An on-the-run passing shot off a Zvonareva volley got the job done, as Williams clenched her fist and let loose a triumphant victory cry as her shot's follow-through-and-watch-the-result led her to bend down on one knee and lean on her racket.

You'll surely never see a better "gladiator-like" pose than that of Serena's at that moment. At 5-3 in the opening set, the thought was that what remained of the match seemed destined to now go Williams' way. It wasn't an erroneous assumption.

A few loose points in game #9 turned a 40/15 Williams lead into a deuce game, but it didn't matter. Williams held when a Zvonareva forehand went long to hand the set to Williams at 6-3. For the stanza, Serena led 16-4 in total winners, and won 95% of her 1st serve points. The 2nd set began with another break of serve for Williams. Zvonareva finally showed her anger, slamming a ball with her racket, but the future hoped-for U.N. Building worker managed to keep her composure. Centre Court wasn't the place for an international incident, either.

Up 3-1, Serena carved out two break points attempts. The Russian saved them both in a game that saw her finally produce her first two forehand winners of the match, but she double-faulted to hand Williams a two-break lead at 4-1. It was all over but the trophy-lifting. Serena finally put the match away with an overhead smash to defend her Wimbledon Ladies singles title and pick up her fourth career crown at the All-England Club. She lost just three points on her serve in the 2nd set, and just two on her 1st serve the entire afternoon.

In the post-match ceremony, Williams, sporting Venus' earrings as well as her sister's necklace gift, reminded in-attendance family friend Billie Jean King that this win moved her past BJK's twelve career major titles on the all-time list. She even "pulled a Taylor Swift," saying that "thirteen is my lucky number."

Seriously, though, what number would Serena consider to NOT be lucky? At this point in her career, ALL of them seem to be pointing in her direction with glee.

At the same Wimbledon in which a 28-year old Roger Federer looked suspiciously like a player most definitely at least on the back side of his personal tennis mountain, its Everest-like peak now firmly in his rear-view window, the 28-year old Williams would seem to be in a situation not even remotely similar. No Sherpas need apply. She's still easily the most dominant force in the women's game, and has quite a few reasonable historical dragons left to slay. In winning a slam without dropping a set for the fourth time in her career, Serena's only somewhat precarious moment (aside from a brief 4-2 hole in the SF vs. Petra Kvitova) came in the 4th Round when Maria Sharapova held three sets points in what turned out to be an 11-9 1st set tie-break. Other than that, Williams met not a single player who seemed capable of being her equal. It's nothing new, really. For years, the maxim "if she's healthy, she's the one to beat" has applied when it came to Williams and the slams.

It looks to be in no danger of needing to be amended or altered.

At this point, with her career still chugging along at a brisk pace at a point when some champions start to sputter, it would seem apparent that Serena's legacy will ultimately engulf with frightening clarity those of Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova and even Venus, the other four Hall of Fame locks as singles players in her tennis era. She'll likely remain the only one of that "Core Four +1" group who'll complete a career slam (Henin is the closest, but needs a title at SW19 to complete her four-piece set... something which will be hard to get as long as the Williams Sisters are still around), and she's one more title away from having as many singles slams as the next two players on the active list -- Henin and Venus -- combined. Really, the players she's going up against now ended their singles championship-winning days long ago.

It's been seventeen years since a woman claimed her thirteenth slam title (Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in '93, after Jana Novotna's collapse in the final), and there's no reason to not think big when it comes to what Serena can still accomplish in the remaining years of her career. A few on-the-horizon situations to keep an eye on:

> - now entrenched at #1, Williams seems assured of becoming the first woman to spend an entire season in the top ranking since Graf last did it in 1994.

>> - Serena's now just a single Wimbledon title behind Venus' five. The top two Open era SW19 champions are Martina Navratilova (9) and Graf (7).

>>> - as she heads to New York for the U.S. Open, unless Clijsters regains her early 2.0 grand slam form of last fall, Williams will be favored to claim the title. If she wins it, it'd be the first time since 2002 that she's won back-to-back slams in the same season.

>>>> - a case can be made that Serena possibly came within a blown match point against Sam Stosur in the QF from winning the title in Roland Garros, as she would have been favored against both Jelena Jankovic (SF) and Francesca Schiavone (Final) had she advanced. No player, not even HER during "Serena Slam," has managed to win all four slams in a calendar year since Graf in 1988. The German had a "Golden Slam" that season, winning the Olympic Gold, as well. The one major title that Williams has yet to win is the Olympic singles Gold. Here's where it should be pointed out that the 2012 Olympics will be held in London, with the tennis tournament being played at the All-England Club. Hmmm.

In an interview after the match, Mary Carillo excitedly "grilled" Serena about her standing on the all-time slam title list. Williams wanted no part of it, preferring to enjoy her victories "one at a time." But, still, once a player reaches the "teens" on the title list, so much more speculation is fair game. It was the case with Federer a while back, as it is with Serena now. At the moment, the two-headed combo of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert stand next on the historical landscape with eighteen titles each. Next up is the late Helen Wills-Moody with nineteen. After that, it's Graf with twenty-two. Then Margaret Smith-Court with twenty-four.

Martina and Chris... look out, because here she comes. Steffi, too, might have to start looking over her shoulder by this time next year. As for Court? Well, she at least SEEMS safe. For now.

"13" might be Serena's lucky combination of digits, but there are a whole lot more numbers ending in "-teen" that could -- and SHOULD -- be vying for her affection in the not too distant future.

"14"... you're up next.

=DAY 12 NOTES= it turned out, Zvonareva lost twice today. She and Elena Vesnina dropped the Doubles final to Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova. King and Shvedova are both first-time slam titlists, so this is the first time since 1975 that the Wimbledon Ladies' Doubles championship-winning pair consisted of TWO first-timers. In 1975, the team of Ann Kiyomura and Kazuka Sawamatsu won the title.

Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner defeated Robert Lindstedt and Horatio Tecau in the Gentlemen's Doubles final.

...meanwhile, Kristyna Pliskova won the Girls title, erasing a 4-2 3rd set deficit to defeat Sachie Ishizu 6-3/4-6/6-4 in the final. After her sister Karolina won the Australian Open junior title in January, it's the first time two sisters have won Girls slam titles in the same season.

Top-seeded Irina Khromacheva/Elina Svitolina will face the #4-seeded team of Timea Babos and Sloane Stephens in the Girls Doubles final. Babos/Stephens won the RG title last month, and Babos has appeared in all three Girls Doubles slam finals this season. In the Boys Doubles, there'll be an all-British team that will be declared champions, as Lewis Burton/George Morgan will go against Liam Broady/Tom Farquharson in the final.

...and, finally, there must be something about sisters and Wimbledon. Here's a little "Did You Know?" With Serena and Pliskova winning the Ladies and Girl titles, it marks the third time in the last six Wimbledons that the two female champions are part of a tennis-playing sister combo. Not only have either Venus or Serena won nine of eleven women's titles, but four of the junior champs since 2004 are "tennis sisters," as well. The specifics:

2004 Kateryna Bondarenko
2005 Agnieszka Radwanska
2007 Urszula Radwanska
2010 Kristyna Pliskova
2000 Venus Williams
2001 Venus Williams
2002 Serena Williams
2003 Serena Williams
2005 Venus Williams
2007 Venus Williams
2008 Venus Williams
2009 Serena Williams
2010 Serena Williams

24...Margaret Smith Court (13 pre-Open era)
22...Steffi Graf
19...Helen Wills-Moody (pre-Open era)
18...Martina Navratilova
18...Chris Evert
12...Billie Jean King (3 pre-Open era)
12...Suzanne Lenglen (pre-Open era)
9...Monica Seles
9...Maureen Connolly (pre-Open era)

7...Venus Williams
7...Justine Henin
3...Maria Sharapova
2...Kim Clijsters
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova

9...Martina Navratilova
7...Steffi Graf
5...Venus Williams
4...Billie Jean King (+2 pre-Open era)
3...Chris Evert
2...Evonne Goolagong

14...Venus Williams (7-7)
12...Justine Henin (7-5)
6...Kim Clijsters (2-4)
4...Maria Sharapova (3-1)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)

2007: Urszula Radwanska, POL
2008: Laura Robson, GBR
2009: Timea Babos, HUN & Miyabi Inoue, JPN
2010: Kristyna Pliskova, CZE

2006: Yan Zi & Zheng Jie, CHN
2007: Cara Black, ZIM
2008: Samantha Stosur, AUS
2009: Serena & Venus Williams, USA
2010: Vania King & Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ

Australian Open - Serena Williams (W/W)
Pattaya - Tamarine Tanasugarn (L/W)
Acapulco - Polona Hercog (L/W)
Barcelona - Roberta Vinci (L/W)
Fes - Iveta Benesova (W/W)
Rome - Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (W/L)
Madrid - Venus Williams (L/W)

2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL (won U.S. Open)
2006 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS

#1 Serena Williams/USA def. #21 Vera Zvonareva/RUS 6-3/6-2

#12 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs .vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ) def. #12 Vesnina/Zvonareva (RUS/RUS) 7-6/6-2

Melzer/Petzschner (AUT/GER) def. #16 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) 6-1/7-5/7-5

#11 Raymond/Moodie (USA/RSA) vs. #2 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND)

#9 Kristyna Pliskova/CZE def. #10 Sachie Ishizu/JPN 6-3/4-6/6-4

(Q) Benjamin Mitchell/AUS vs. #13 Marton Fucsovics/HUN

#1 Khromacheva/Svitolina (RUS/UKR) vs. #4 Babos/Stephens (HUN/USA)

Burton/Morgan (GBR/GBR) vs. Broady/Farquharson (GBR/GBR)

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Kaia Kanepi/EST
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Junri Namigata/JPN def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-2/4-6/14-12
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - #24 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK def. Vania King/USA 6-7/7-6/6-3
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - Petra Kvitova/CZE def. (Q)Kaia Kanepi/EST 4-6/7-6/8-6
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): Girls QF - #9 Kristyna Pliskova/CZE def. Sloane Stephens/USA 4-6/6-1/9-7
FIRST WINNER: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Patty Schnyder/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Francesca Schiavone (1st Rd. - lost to Vera Dushevina/RUS)
IT GIRL: Petra Kvitova/CZE
MS. OPPORTUNITY: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
CRASH & BURN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Samantha Stosur/AUS (RG finalists, both lost in 1st Rd.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Petra Kvitova/CZE (down 5 MP, and 0-4 in 3rd, to Kaia Kanepi/EST in QF; won 8-6)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (last of six to lose in 1st Rd.)
DOUBLES STARS: Vania King & Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Kristyna Pliskova/CZE

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.


Blogger Overhead Spin said...

Todd, just so you know Serena has done the back to back winning majors thing since 2002. In 2008 she won the US Open and then won the 2009 Australian Open defeating Dinara Safina.

Sat Jul 03, 08:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...


thanks for pointing that bit out about Venus's serve speed. i did not notice that. and i hope that my comment wasn't interpreted as writing Venus off...

Sat Jul 03, 08:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I don't know how many more majors Serena will win. Playing like this, she'll definitely add some to her list. Funny, though, in an interview the other day, she hinted ever so slightly at retirement in the not too-too distant future.

The number of majors won pre-Graf, unfortunately, doesn't reflect the same preoccupation with majors we have now. Evert missed three French Opens (at the peak of her clay powers) to play WTT. A lot of players, including Evert, didn't play in the Australian Open in those days because it was held during the Christmas holidays. They just "weren't counting them" the way they do now, as Evert once said.

Evonne Goolagong missed some majors simply because she had other things she wanted to do. It was just different then.

Sat Jul 03, 10:07:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Todd. Whenever Serena losses at a grand slam, it's a major shock.

She just has the will to win and the dominant most players lack of. It's a deserved #13, although she has never won my support.

One of the Belgian Waffles showed us that quality in 2007, I hope she can find that form.

Berdych or Nadal?

Sun Jul 04, 12:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kevin Pondikou said...

What a beautiful blog you have created!

Sun Jul 04, 05:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Overhead Spin said...

Eric not a problem

Sun Jul 04, 08:06:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kumar said...

Again, Serena shows everyone else how it is done on the big stage. Even if I haven't been her biggest fan, I admire the way she has committed herself to extending her legacy, even if she is nowhere near being as 'dominant' as Navratilova/Evert/Graf were. Just her serve alone can win her 3-4 majors more.

You just got to wonder when the rest of the tour (minus Kim, Justine, Venus, although even they are being left in the dust) will stand up to her.

Sun Jul 04, 05:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Yep, you're right. But if you go back and check, I was talking about her winning back-to-back majors in the same calendar year. I was going to note that she'd won consecutive slams over the course of two seasons, but I just decided to word it the way I did. Sorry if you misunderstood. :)


I would have picked Nadal, since I went with him at the start of the tournament. I might have thought Berdych would win a set, though.

Now, picking Nadal in NYC will be a different matter entirely. Not that I might not end up doing it, of course. If Federer looks healthy and in good form going in, it might be too tempting not to go with him, though.


Of course, you're always right when you point that out, Diane. :)

Still, in a sports age obcessed on so many levels with numbers, that's the only thing you can really use in an attempt to gauge players vs. greats from other eras. One of the more overlooked facts about the slams of the past was how THREE of them used to be played on grass. If that were the case today, imagine how the all-time numbers would stack up. My gosh, Martina might have 30+.

One thing about Serena these days is that she keeps herself in so much better shape in between major events now than she used to. It's probably not a coincidence that her injuries aren't as severe, or put her out for as long as they used too, either.

It's hard to see her walking away when she's dominating the tour, though, and no one really looks like they're ready to change that anytime soon.


I thought Serena had a real good chance of winning a TRUE Grand Slam this season, and I'd say she has just as good a shot in '11. RG is the only question mark, especially if Henin is anywhere near back to form.



Sun Jul 04, 08:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I'm not into the "greatest" thing because there are just too many differences--surfaces, importance of majors, technology--across generations.

You make a good point that Serena keeps herself in better shape between the majors now. Peter Bodo recently wrote that "Serena likes to rule the roost, but she doesn't like to sit the roost." True, but that's because her legs wouldn't be able to handle it (wow--that does that sound weirder than I meant it to) I see a similar situation with Nadal. They have to pick and choose where they will expend their physical energies.

Sun Jul 04, 09:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Why does a Serena cross the road?

To get to the other slam.

Oh, that's bad, isn't it? Sorry. I couldn't resist. :D

Mon Jul 05, 12:25:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Bad in a way that made me laugh...

Mon Jul 05, 10:25:00 AM EDT  
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