Happy new year bitches. Long time no blog.
As some of you might be aware, I kicked off 2014 by heading to Brisbane to bask in the sweaty glow of Turderer, and the final loss aside, it was a glorious week. One that had me itching to log onto wordpress and start tapping away again. And ain’t that one of the most liberating feelings in the world.
1. Sensational sports headlines went up all over Australia today: Ashes Whitewash! Hewitt beats baffled Federer! Let’s party like it’s a new millenium!
Theoretically speaking, there is of course no shame in losing to Lleyton. Even as a tour veteran with a bionic foot, Hewitt remains a smart, strategic and persistent player, and more crucially yesterday – not one to falter on key points. In his three set victory over McFudd, Lleyton played some of the most inspired tennis we’ve seen from him in years, and his victory speech showed just how much a title in Australia meant to him at this stage in his career, a poignant moment for fans on both sides of the fence.
Great sports moments — tennis fans witnessed one on Saturday in Paris — own a two-tiered quality. The actual competition, the business of winning and losing, is its own story, rooted in technique and strategy and execution under fire. Then, when the winner wins and the loser loses, the career achivements of the participants can then be measured. Serena Williams’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova in the women’s singles final of Roland Garros neatly unified the competition between the painted white lines and the enormity of the feat that was forged.
On an immediate level, Serena’s win over Sharapova was genuinely impressive in itself. Sharapova, knowing that the history of her head-to-head series with the younger Williams Sister was so lopsided, embraced the underdog’s role with clarity. She went for her shots and established considerable depth on her groundstrokes in the first few games of the match. Her serve faltered on a few occasions, but it is more of a weapon than it was last year, a big reason why Sharapova managed to make history this fortnight in Paris. Sharapova used her beefed-up serve to make the final of a major tournament as the defending champion, the first time in her career she has crafted that particular breakthrough. That same serve, combined with a generally aggressive mindset, enabled Sharapova to show that her 2012 Roland Garros championship was not an aberration.
Yet, for everything Sharapova did well, her opponent clearly outplayed her and won two sets without needing to win seven games in either stanza.
The details of a tennis match ultimately determine how close a scoreline actually is, but on a general level, a 4-and-4 win is simultaneously competitive and tidy. In a 4-and-4 match, the winner is pushed, but not to the extent that the prospect of a penalty-kick-style crapshoot — that’s what a tiebreaker is — becomes possible.
Think about it: A set needs to arrive at 5-5 in order for an 11th and 12th game to be played in a set. If the favorite is able to close out a set in 10 games, s/he will not spend the first-set changeover worrying about the heat of a 12th-game pressure cooker. One can quite reasonably say that while Serena was indeed tested today, the intensity of Sharapova’s inquiry was never so severe that the outcome of each set was in grave doubt after the ninth game. The first set was modestly more contentious than the second, but at the business end of each journey, everyone on hand at Court Philippe Chatrier knew who was in charge.
This, mind you, on a day when Maria Sharapova played well.
Serena’s serve; her severe-angle forehand to the decue court; and her steely confidence, bolstered by her quarterfinal escape on Tuesday against Svetlana Kuznetsova, enabled the 31-year-old to access a lofty level of quality that Sharapova couldn’t match.
Sharapova and Serena are both world-class competitors. Relative to their skill sets, they both get as much out of their arsenals as they can because they don’t take a backseat to anyone else in terms of the inner game in tennis, the one between the ears. Serena’s skill set is better, though, and she is therefore able to perform at a level commensurate with her skills. Sharapova is a master of the art of competing, and on Saturday, she wasn’t all that deficient as a performer, either. However, there’s no better performer in women’s tennis — and at the present moment, all of tennis — than Serena. If you can’t match her as a performer, you’re not going to beat her.
That’s why Serena is now a 16-time major champion. That’s why she managed to win Roland Garros 11 years after first conquering the terre battue of Paris. That’s why she’s playing the best tennis of her career right now.
J. Scott Fitzwater ( @jscottfitzwater on Twitter ) noted in the aftermath of today’s match that Serena is 74-3 in the past year, since the 2012 Roland Garros tournament. This is a 31-year-old tennis pro, not an ascendant 22-year-old or a reigning 26-year-old in her physical prime.
When Martina Navratilova began her streak of 74 straight match wins in 1984, she was 27. When Steffi Graf completed her streak of 66 straight match wins in 1990, she was only 20. Navratilova won 58 straight matches in 1986 and 1987 at age 30, but Serena’s past 12 months have topped that, at least when you realize the health scares that have been thrown her way in recent years.
Even before today’s match began, Serena Jameka Williams had already established herself as one of the 12 greatest tennis players of all time, and just as surely one of the four greatest female players ever (alongside Martina, Steffi, and Chris Evert). When you win at the highest level in the latter stages of a career; when you win a major 11 years after first claiming it; when you conquer your worst surface for a second time, proving that you’re not a one-note wonder at Roland Garros; and when you achieve all of this by playing a high-quality match against one of your more determined contemporaries, you’re only going to grow in stature and rise in the estimation of tennis historians.
This is a Roland Garros made for legends. Rafael Nadal has built his reputation on terre battue. Serena Williams, as lauded and distinguished as she’s been over the years, has managed to transform her reputation on crushed red brick. In so doing, an already-amazing career has managed to become something much greater.
The greatest of the great — in any sport and any human endeavor — expand the sense of what’s possible. With all due respect to Nadal, about to win his eighth Roland Garros, there’s no active tennis player who is re-drawing horizons more dramatically than Serena Williams.
Before London 2012, and perhaps Beijing 2008, tennis at the Olympics was a blip on the radar. Although taking part as an original sport from 1896 to 1924, it didn’t make it’s modern comeback till Seoul in 1988. But compared to the slams, or even the masters, no one gave a flying rats ass what happened in the Olympics, until now (although seemingly Philipp Kohlschreiber still didn’t manage to get the memo)
It is still hard, after all these years, to come to terms with the fact that tennis goes on the week after, or even the day after a grand slam. But tennis doesn’t stop for one victor or one tournament, and here we are, the-Monday-after-the-Monday-after Wimbledon, with 4 brand new trophy shots to savour.
But oh how I lie! We didn’t quite get the 4 ‘brand new’ winners I alleged this Sunday, as Serena Williams saved a set point to take out lucky loser Coco Vandewhuuuut 7-5, 6-3 for her second straight Stanford title. It’s Serena’s 43rd title, which ties her with Venus for the most among active players, and she did it just 8 days after winning Wimbledon, while playing her B game, jetlagged and binging on Desperate Housewives til 6 am in the morning.
So we have that last point in common at least. Though I might have to work on the whole B-game-and-winning-at-life thing. Read More…
There isn’t a lot about Serena Williams that has not been said yet at this point in her career. She’s strong, she’s powerful, she serves with an air of unshakable, unthinking belief and authority. Above all, Serena Williams is one of the most resilient athletes in the history of sport, coming back time and time again from injuries, personal tragedies and media freakouts to dominate simply because domination is the natural essence of her character. Read More…
It’s a shame that she stumbled over Virginie Razzano in Paris, because we missed that process in every grand slam tournaments where Serena Williams gradually plays herself into form and self-confidence. She might’ve been messy, disengaged, and left fumbling for her game in the early rounds, but as many champions do, Serena has this ability to rise to the occasion as the tournament enters the quarterfinal and semifinal stage.
Coming into the match, Kvitova was the logical favourite. Despite her mediocre performance in 2012 so far, Petra has sailed through the Wimbledon draw looking fit, focussed and sharp. Serena, on the other hand, was coming off her worst ever grand slam result at Roland Garros, struggled in the early rounds against Zheng Jie and Shvedova. Read More…
With the men’s draw out of the way, PJ, LJ et moi got together for a chat about the ladies’ draw. Pictures from the pre-Wimbledon party.
Doots: Alrighty. Let’s get started. First thoughts on women’s draw? I feel like every year for the past few years, Wimbledon has always been about what the Willians Sisters will or won’t do, and this year, it’s been the least about them in a long while.
PJ: I have to admit I am in camp “wanting a Williams to win”. Especially Venus where Wimbledon is concerned.
Doots: I think it might be too much of a long shot for Venus.
PJ: Hey, I live in Delusion Land, no?
LJ: I think she’ll be dangerous in the early rounds, but I’m not too positive on current form.
Doots: What do we think about Kvitova? I thought she was royally screwed for Roland Garros given her form going into it, but she actually acquitted herself respectably.
LJ: Her game is just so funky, I don’t know what to think. I feel like she has the potential to really beat anyone, but … but …
Doots: Funky’s one way to describe her game: when she’s on, she is shotmaking genius, when she’s off, she is an unthinking idiot. Her game doesn’t leave much room for grey.
PJ: the Female Dolgopolov, but maybe a lot less crazy.
LJ: Yes, I definitely agree with the Female Dolgo characterization, but she managed to hold it together for a slam.
PJ: Speaking of danger in early rounds, Pironkova to meet Shrieky in the second round. Now that I have mixed thoughts about: [Pironkova is a] two-time semifinalist, [but] she has the equal potential to beat herself into submission. It’s like she does nothing for the whole season and is just waiting for WImbledon to attack or something.
LJ: I thought Shreiky had an okay draw until I realised she has both Pironkova AND Lisicki in the 4th round.
Doots: Well why don’t we get onto Shrieky’s draw then. She has the Aussie ARod for her first round; most likely – Pironkova second round.
Ah, gay Paree and clay Paree. I’m not a huge fan of clay-court tennis, or Roland Garros in general – my best moments of the Slam stands alone at Ferrero winning and Federer winning. Adding on the magnificent time difference from Land of Oz plus hectic times at work…let’s just say I haven’t feel so disconnected from a Slam in a very long time.
But still, it is a Slam, and it still invokes feelings of excitement and anticipation in me, even if, so far, I haven’t had the opportunity to properly watch a full match that features another player not named FederBrainfart, or read up on full tennis analysis and news etc etc etc. And things have been happening. Man, have they been happening.
Perhaps the biggest news thus far is Serena Williams losing to Virginie Razzano in the first round. It may be worth noting that Serena has never ever lost in the first round of a Slam – until now. It was a match full of drama and momentum swings and stuff that’s Hollywood-worthy, or so I heard. Serena was up 5-1 in the tiebreaker in the second set, lost the set. She was trailing 0-5 in the third, and clawed back nail and tooth and guts and spleen to come back to 3-5. Razzano needed 9 match-points before finally managing to win the last set 6-3.
Doots: Interesting thing when I mentioned the women’s draw, PJ said the field is “wide open”. I feel as if we’ve gotten used to saying this in the past few years, but actually this is the least wide open slam I’ve seen in the past few years.
PJ: Really? How so?
Doots: The women’s tour has been dominated this year by Sharapova and Azarenka. We’re literally looking at a Big 2 situation – with Serena occasionally popping up on the radar because she’s that awesome.
LJ: but it’s clay, I think therein lies the problem.
PJ: I guess for me, I feel like it’s “open” in the sense that there are no sure favourites despite domination from Azarenka and Shrieky. Not like how Rafa is for the men’s.
Doots: Well, I still don’t know. Sharapova has had her best results this year on clay: Rome, Stuttgart, and lost to Serena by the same scoreline as Vika in Madrid. She comes into Roland Garros with by far the best clay season record of the women, which is incredible considering how bad she was on this surface a few years ago.
PJ: That is true. I was rather impressed with Sharapova’s clay showing this year. I know clay isn’t her forte but going by recent form and results, I’ll peg her as one of the favourites. Historical showing otherwise.
LJ: I think Shrieky, Azarenka and Serena for me, but hey if previous results are to be followed, it’ll be a crapshoot for the win.
Doots: They do tend to be the “Big 3” these days, which was precisely my previous point – it’s not as open as in previous years where you just knew that Wozniacki or Jankovic or whoever was up at the top couldn’t do it. But looking at the draw quarters again –
At least someone gets this joke of a trophy.
So … I spend a whole blog post ranting on about Rafa and Novak’s tantrums in Madrid, and Serena Williams comes out and pwns them in just 45 words, complete with some feministy zing and a nod to Mother’s Day.
I guess that’s why she’s Serena Williams, and I’m … living in Canberra. Preach it, gurl: Read More…