Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sweet Serena

I had the privilege of watching Serena Williams turn in one of the most impressive/lopsided victories in a women's tennis history yesterday. She annihilated Maria Sharapova, who will be the number one player in the world when the new official rankings come out on Monday. Serena will rise from 81 to 14 in the world.

She had to defeat six seeded players to claim the championship, starting with her first round destruction of hard hitting Italian Mara Santangelo, the only one of Serena's match that I wasn't able to see (due to its showing at 3:30 A.M.). I saw her fight well in her second roung match up against Ann Kremer of Luxembourg, who pushed her at times with her tenacious play. At this point I wasn't convinced that Serena was in championship form. Kremer made Serena run. You could see Williams tire after long points. Serena was carrying a lot more weight than she did in her prime. She was also fighting a cold.

I figured she had a pretty good chance against the 5th seed Petrova in round three, due to their head to head record. Nadia looked like she was going to send Williams home early, but Serena showed her resilience and grit when coming back from the brink of defeat to dust aside the talented Russian in three sets.

At that point I figured Serena was back, but I like most tennis analyst didn't give her any chance against the talented Serb Jelena Jankovic, the hottest tennis player in 2007 (winning her first title of the year and coming very close to toppling Clijsters in Sydney). She'd also beaten Serena the last two times they matched up, and had rudely denied Venus Williams an attempt at a Wimbledon repeat.

Nobody told Serena that she was supposed to lose. She played one of the most intelligent matches I've seen her play to date. She moved Jankovic from side to side with great angles and swept her aside much easier than anyone expected. You saw some scary looks of determination from Serena.

Next up came the talented Israeli teen Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals. Peer outhit Serena for most of the match. Peer was within a couple of points of dismissing (the then 7-time slam champ) when Serena once again showed her resilience to once again claim a third set victory. A few big serves and deft ground strokes booked Williams a semifinal match up with Czech Nicole Vaidisova.

Vaidisova is one of the most talented prospects in tennis (at 17 years of age). She reached the semis at the French Open last year defeating both Venus Williams and Amelie Mauresmo en route. After a tight first set that saw Serena stave off set points, Serena eked out a tiebreaker and then went on to a big lead in the second, before Nicole began to reel her in. Williams got her act together just in time and served out the match to book her ticket to her third Australian Open Final (Lindsey Davenport(2005), Venus Williams(2003).

My friend Oneal called me after the first set was over against Sharapova. We were in awe of how well Serena was playing. She dispatched Maria like she was playing against a junior player. After 1 hour and three minutes and a 61 62 route Williams hung up her third Aussie Open title--eighth overall. What was scary is Serena has rarely played so cleanly (28 winners and 11 unforced errors). She never let Sharapova into the match, which is difficult to do if you've ever seen Sharapova display her fighting spirit.

I'm hoping that this victory motivates Serena to get back into shape. It certainly sent a strong message to the rest of the field that when she is on her game she can't be beat. I hope it also motivates Venus as well. I can't say that I'd like to see a few Williams versus Williams sloppy slam finals, but I would love to see them take on and conquer this new wave of tennis talent.

So much for the demise of American women's tennis. Welcome back Venus and Serena, you've been missed.

No comments: