Saturday, 23 June 2012

This can't be the end for the Williamses

[The Williams sisters - Serena and Venus.]
A father passing by the closed door of his teenage son's room, hears something not too pleasing. His anger boils and he barges in thundering, "What the hell are you doing? Watching porn?", only to have his anger subside and turn to embarrassment and laughter as he realises his son was watching a tennis match between the Williams sisters, their grunts louder than airplanes, reverberating through the room. His initial reaction was justified given the way they grunt and moan while playing just the most amazing tennis.

Growling and grunting, fists and muscles pumping, abs stretched, running down every ball and returning it with such venom and power that it makes the opponent cower, and serving up aces that slice the air faster than a bullet departing a gun, intimidating and scaring opponents, surely you are talking about the likes of Nadal or Djokovic? Well, in this case no. All of the aforementioned statements hold equally true in case of the Williams sisters - Venus and Serena. Two of the most fierce competitors to step onto a tennis court, they have revolutionised the rather slow women's game with their powerful groundstrokes, heavy hitting, most consistent and fastest serve, arguably the best, and the ability to perform at Grand Slams and other important tournaments unlike any other. They play a rather 'high risk' style of tennis, going for the big shots and for the kill each time rather than prolonging the rallies, and are more often than not rewarded. I like to call Serena, the rhino for her aggression, power, bulk and the way she charges down the court, while Venus I call the horse for her slender frame, long legs, higher stamina for longer rallies and amazing court coverage. They are the ones who decide the outcome of nearly every match - winning by their superior performance or losing by a poor show, very rarely giving the opponent a chance to decide the outcome of a match by a superior showing. Almost every time, it revolves around them.

[The sisters in doubles action at the 2010 Wimbledon, the last major they won together.]
They have dominated the women's game for more than a decade. Serena the winner of 13 Singles (sixth on the all-time list), 12 Doubles and 2 Mixed Doubles Grand Slams, the most of any active player on tour, male or female, and has also won 2 Olympics Doubles Golds, while Venus has 7 Singles, 12 Doubles and 2 Mixed Doubles Grand Slams in her kitty, the second highest among active players, only behind her younger sister, and also winning 2 Olympics Doubles Golds and a Singles Gold. Serena has won over $ 36 million in prize money, the highest among women athletes and fourth highest among all players, and is trailed among women by Venus, who has over $ 28 million in prize money. During their careers, 4 times have they held the number one and two rankings in singles, the latest being in 2010 and have also held the top spot in the doubles rankings in 2010. They were the first pair of tennis players, and until this year's French Open when Nadal and Djokovic matched their feat the only pair, to contest four consecutive Grand Slam Singles finals from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open, with Serena winning all of them. Since 2000, every Wimbledon save two, featured at least one of the sisters, them winning the title nine times out of ten finals, four of which were contested between the two! Need anyone say more?

[Eyes fixed on the ball during a match at the 2009 US Open.]
Nearly every tournament they contest, they are among the hot favourites, although why they do not perform at their best at minor tournaments escapes me; but as long as they outshine the rest at the Grand Slams, who cares, for it is ultimately these that are remembered for generations. However, right from the start of their careers, their game was riddled with injuries, reducing the number of tournaments they play drastically, sometimes being out of action for months on end. In 2011, both the sisters were out of action with life-threatening diseases, not knowing whether they would be able to hold a racquet again, but thankfully they did. All this leading to slip and rankings and the rise of other players. However, the truth remains, as long as there is a Williams in the tournament, she will be among the favourites.

This year they both played fewer tournaments, although Serena won 2 tournaments before the French Open, while Venus made quarter-final appearances at some tournaments. They looked in fine form to offer a tough fight at the French Open, with Serena being a title favourite, however she lost in the first round to local hero Virginie Razzano (ranked a lowly 111 in the world), although Serena was up in the second set and just 2 points away from victory an astounding nine times in that set! She looked emotionally unstable, and even while she was still leading in  the second set, she broke down, her eyes welling up and the usually aggressive fierce athlete, who has scared not only opponents, but also line judges and chair umpires, looked a shadow of her former self making far too many unforced errors and having her massive serve desert her. It was her first loss at the first round of any Grand Slam in her entire career, that is, one loss after making the second round 46 straight times! Virginie had the crowd behind her, but she lost in the next round itself. I hate it when some nondescript player ousts a favourite, has their 2 minutes of fame, never to be seen again, but in their single most important victory, change the course of the tournament; not that Maria Sharapova did not deserve to win it. She, who has described herself on clay as 'a cow on ice' played a much consistent game throughout the tournament, and even though I do not like her that much, I would agree that she deserved to complete a Career Grand Slam. Serena was also competing in the mixed doubles at the French Open this year, for the first time since 1999, with compatriot Bob Bryan, but unfortunately lost there too in the first round. Venus too did not play well losing in the second round in singles to Agnieska Radwanska.

Does that mean there are done and dusted? Serena, aged 30, and Venus, 32, are certainly past the prime years in an individual game like tennis, and with it becoming increasingly competitive and with the emergence of youngsters, it looks like they have a tough task ahead of them in their twilight years. Roger Federer at 31 surely seems to be way past his prime, not winning a major since the 2010 Australian Open, and struggling against the top two players, although you want him to win a couple of more Grand Slams. However, with the Williams sisters it is different, having spent a lot more time on tour and at the highest stages of competition, they have far more experience and firepower to overcome any obstacle. They, and probably Sharapova and Samantha Stosur seem to be the only female players playing a power game, having enough strength to compete even in the mens draw. Maybe another round of Battle of the Sexes is due. When Serena, my favourite tennis player, though not many of friends agree with me there, won the 2010 Wimbledon, I remember someone posting on Facebook, "Soon a man will have more Grand Slams than Federer", and expecting it to say Nadal, again my favourite, I scrolled down to realise, it was a joke aimed at Serena! That can surely be possible, (no sexist undertones there), given that she probably has bigger muscles than every male player save Nadal.

[One of those rare occasions when their fashion sense appealed to me.]
Many people may have written the two sisters off as old, and particularly Serena as too fat to win (when in fact that is all muscle), but I certainly have not. I may not like their fashion sense (it is just hideous), or Serena's verbal rants (she has anger management issues, clearly), but of one thing I am certain, that they are among the best players, and Serena is most certainly the best active player. She lent the women's game stability after Justine Henin's sudden and premature retirement in 2008 (why did the little genius have to retire? I liked her even more then Serena), when in its aftermath, the world number one position changed five different pair of hands more than five times, until she claimed it and cemented her position at the top, and since her injury-laden off season again was held by a bunch of different players. The last 6 Grand Slams were won by all different women, 4 of them winning their maiden Grand Slams. Change and variety are good, but beyond a point it becomes annoying. With Wimbledon starting day after tomorrow, their favourite tournament, and this year being a special one with the Olympics at Wimbledon on grass, where they have achieved tremendous success, one can only hope that they perform their best, in what may be their last Olympics appearance. I want nothing more than an all Willaims final at Wimbledon with Serena clinching the title and them winning the Doubles title there too, competing together after two years, but more than that I want Serena to win the one important thing she has never, an Olympics Singles Gold and also get a Mixed Doubles Gold, making a return for the first time in the Olympics since 1924. The phoenix shall rise again!

[Serena roaring during the 2010 Wimbledon final.]
God speed to the goddesses!





[Hope the Indian doubles players sort out their own mess before the Olympics and send a team that can win us a medal.]

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