Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Erasing the Asterisk
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Erasing the Asterisk 07/15/2008 - 3:11 PM

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Hi, everyone. Like many of you, I'm still in suffering from Wimbledon hangover (for a look at one tangential aspect of this condition, click here). And I still have some unfinished Wimbledon business in my notebook. Some of it may be hopelessly dated, but one item is very relevant to the coming months - with the Olympic Games and U.S. Open not that far down the pike. And that's the subject of Venus Williams.

A few of the usual press suspects, including me, had a chance to sit down with Venus shortly before the men's final for a substantial conversation on topics including her win over her kid sister Serena in the women's final. When our interview was over and everyone filed out, I had one of those naturally occurring moments when I was face-to-face with Venus and she wasn't looking elsewhere or otherwise engaged. I congratulated her on the final, and told her that the match represented the highest level of women's I'd ever seen in some thirty-odd years covering the pro tour. She spontaneously lit up and said: Really?

"Really," I replied. "Nobody - not Steffi, not Martina, not Billie Jean King ever played at so high a level as well as I remember against an equally dangerous opponent."

Venus looked pleased, and here I have to paraphrase because the tape recorder was off by then:

The funny thing about that was that because it was Serena, we both had a kind of feel for what the other person would do. So it was - it was like, a little bit weird, because I knew where she was going to go with the ball, and she knew what I was going to try to do, so both of us had to do something else. . . it was kind of strange, and that's why some of the points developed in kind of a funny way, you know, like no rallies, or both of us more or less being in the same place at the same time.

This rang true, because it rephrased in somewhat more abstract form something she had said in the mass press conference right after her epic win (a triumph that secured Venus's fifth title, and her undisputed place among the greatest Wimbledon champions of all time). Let me lift the passage from the post I wrote right after that match:

You know, uhm, I think the level of play was really high. I think a lot of the times one of us was overpowering the other . So I hit a hard ball on the line, she can't get it back. Or, you know, I tried to go for too much because I'm anticipating that she's gonna run my shot down.  Or I hit a huge serve, she hits one I can't return.

So in between us overpowering each other we had, I think, some really competitive rallies and intense points, you know, where one player would come back and take the point, when it looked like the other player was gonna win.So, you know, we're both very powerful, and I think it showed out there.

The key word here, folks, is "overpowering." And for those of you who took issue with my contention that this was the highest level of women's tennis I've ever witnessed (what, you wanted a proverbial "great match" too?), I can only say that "overpowering" is not a word generally associated with WTA tennis. Artful? Sure. Graceful? Sure. Impressive? Yeah, that too. Overpowering? Rarely - at least not in the strictest sense of that word. The word draws its meaning from the root word "power" (apologies to Mr. Webster if this somehow runs counter to his definition). I understand that many of you don't necessarily worship at that altar, and that's fine. But ignore it at your peril.

Right after the final, I almost wrote what I still think was my most noteworthy observation about the match. But I avoided it, partly out of concern the way it might be taken as a slight when it wasn't intended as one. Now, I'll come clean. When I watch a women's match, there's usually a small asterisk somewhere in the back of my mind, and no matter how enjoyable or riveting the match, that asterisk demands that I add the phrase, . . . for women's tennis. That is, I might think, "That's a great backhand. . . for women's tennis. Or, this is great stuff. . . for women's tennis. But watching as well as reflecting on the Wimbledon final later, the asterisk was conspicuous in absence. For once, I didn't have to shove it into a back corner of my mind.

Maybe I'm just confessing some deep-rooted and indefensible prejudice - I'm entirely open to that idea. But my policy, developed many years ago, was to see WTA and ATP tennis through a different set of eyes, embracing different standards of measurement. This was especially true in the service department, where you could just throw the First Commandment of Tennis (Thou Shalt Hold Serve) right out the window, and not read too much into the breakfests that often masqueraded as matches - that was the point, in fact: they weren't masquerading as anything. They were part of the women's tennis deal.

Venus The women's game  overwhelmingly tended to turn on how well the players handled the Second Commandment (Thou Shalt Play Consistently), and whether or not they managed to play with sufficient aggression - especially when they were back on their heels. It's hard, though, to draw up a specific set of criteria for all women's matches - it's always been more like looking at each match as a unique organism in which the Commandments did not always apply, or apply as forcefully and comparably.

For that reason, a serve statistic unearthed via my correspondence with Tribe member who challenged my analysis of the match might be telling: Serena Williams fastest serve was 121 mph, her average first serve clocked 109, and her average second serve was 87 mph. Venus's fastest serve was a 127 thunderbolt, she averaged 111 on her first serve, and hit her second at an average of 92.

Now let's dare compare that to the men. In the final, Roger Federer's fastest serve was 129, and he averaged 117 on his first deliveries. His average second-serve traveled at 100 mph. That was slightly better than Rafael Nadal (who, in case you hadn't heard, won that match), whose fastest first serve was 120, while his first-serve average was 112 and his average second clocked 93. The takeaway: Venus Williams topped Nadal by a whopping 7 mph in the "fastest" department, and she trailed him by a single mile per hour in the other two critical averages. Granted, Nadal is a spinmeister, which costs him mph numbers. Still, the statistics are a tribute to Venus - and they set a new benchmark for the women's game. To borrow a phrase from Barack Obama (who appears to have stolen it from that other great statesman, Bob the Builder): Yes, we can!

Regular readers of this blog know how much stock I put in the serve in the men's game; I've frequently bemoaned the slowing of the surfaces, with the attendant de-emphasis on the serve. As I've written before, the serve should be worth more (and still is worth more, which is something you'll discover if you peel the onion); after all, the entire scoring format is based on the assumption that it's a significant  advantage to be serving - to start a point with the only shot entirely at your command, the only shot that doesn't require an adjustment to a previous shot, and the only shot that you unconditionally put where you want. So the serving prowess of the Williams sisters is a critical step in eliminating one of the key elements that encourages us to view women's tennis through a different lens. It sounds too highfalutin' to put it this way, perhaps, but the Sisters have introduced real gender-equality to tennis in terms of pure athletics.

This is no mean feat, and looking at some of the other Hall of Fame women players underscores the point. Chris Evert won despite her serve, rather than because of it. The only thing that separated her from the women ranked well below her (or, for that matter, Shahar Peer or Jelena Jankovic) was her extraordinary nerve. Evert may have struggled to break 100, but more to the point she found a way to put her 80 mph second serve into the corner, or along the sideline, to keep her window of vulnerability small. That she was able to do this at the most critical of times, against the best of opponents, demonstrated that you can serve well without having or making a lot of power; in fact, some of the best servers of Evert's era (Betty Stove and Hana Mandlikova come to mind) had outstanding serves - except, sometimes, when it really counted. But Evert wouldn't last out there today.

For Evonne Goolagong the serve was nothing less than an adventure, and it helps explain why she didn't collect more Grand Slam titles. For someone as loose-limbed, smooth, and artful, Goolagong's serve was almost painful to behold. She often got tight, but somehow avoided becoming the Elena Dementieva of her era through sheer guts - you could feel with every serve, especially second serve, the battle between fear and determination playing out in her mind, traveling through her arm, expending what power it carried at just about the time the strings touched the ball - leaving little force behind the shot.

Steffi Graf certainly got the job done, but she tossed the ball straight up and went after it, without ever getting enough forward (rather than upward) momentum to get maximum weight and spin behind the shot. Working almost exclusively with the arm, Steffi produced crisp, rifle-shot like serves when she was on, but they were the shots fired by a rimfire rifle, not a cannon.

And what of Martina Navartilova, the creative, lefty, aggressive player who took serve-and-volley tennis to new heights in the women's game? She made the most of a serve that, given her player profile, was not in the same league as her volley, backhand, or athleticism. She was rarely able to exploit her left-handedness in the way some many of her male counterparts did. John McEnroe, he of the wicked "can opener" lefty slice, is the outstanding example. But Goran Ivanisevic did enormous damage with his serve, and so did Roscoe Tanner. The bottom line is none of the standout women players of the Open era used her serve nearly as effectively as Venus and, to a lesser extent, Serena. The ones who did (at times, Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Helena Sukova, Jana Novotna, Jennifer Capriati) often didn't have enough to back it up and failed to reach the highest level and stay there. 

Venus and Serena broke new ground at Wimbledon (in our interview, she virtually crowed about the fact that she had lost serve just eight times in the tournament - twice in the final, and once in each of her previous matches). Of course, other factors contributed to the sense that they had erased the asterisk - among them the bold selection, the pace of the rallies, the general lack of hesitancy the women showed. This last quality is hard to pin down, but it comes down to this: it's a great day when choking or mysterious lapses in shot control don't figure into a match, even though those factors often make matches more compelling. Choking, for example, is understandable when it occurs at an excruciating moment, but it's a buzz kill when it happens repeatedly, at unexpected times, or when it permeates a series of points or games. At such times, it's just frustrating and inexplicable, rather than revealing.

For all those reasons, the women's Wimbledon final made me believe that either I was watching the future of tennis, or simply lucky enough to be see two young women armed with a surfeit of gifts erase the asterisk. My gut feeling is that it may be the former; when a bar is moved higher, all contestants tend to jump higher. And Venus and Serena have set the bar higher than it's ever been before.

P.S. - I got a little sidetracked here, but I'll have another full-length post on the interview with Venus at a later date - perhaps right before the Olympic Games begin.


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Posted by Erin 07/16/2008 at 02:48 PM

Did Brenda Schultz-McCarthy ever even serve? Each time, I hear a different serve speed. When Venus seved 127 mph, I read BSM served 128 mph. When Venus served 128 mph, I read BSM served 129 mph. Now that Venus has served 129 mph, I read BSM served 130 mph. This "alleged" serve of BSM is fast becoming something of myth!"

no, it's not a myth, Brenda had a serve documented at 130mph in tournament play. This is from wiki:

In July 2006, Schultz-McCarthy claimed her place as the fastest server in WTA history, recording a 130 MPH (209 km/h) serve in the first round of the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open qualifying tournament, held in Cincinnati, Ohio. Venus Williams previously held the women's record set in 1998 of 127 MPH (204 km/h) in a match in a quarter-finals win against Mary Pierce in Zurich.

Posted by Erin 07/16/2008 at 02:52 PM

Posted by Syd 07/16/2008 @ 11:45 AM

Another great, fabulous women's match was Capriati v Henin in the 2003 French semis. 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4). "

Syd, I was thinking about the USO semis with Justine and Capriati, that was a match for the ages.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 03:01 PM

Carlo,

I think one could make a case in your favor, that Martina Navratilova's serve was fearsome. But it is true, as Mr. Bodo has stated, thatbher movement -- her quickness and agility -- and her volleys were superior to her serve.

That sai, the leftiness of her serve and her relentless attack behind it caused near-insurmountable problems for all who faced her. She was deadly, as was McEnroe and as is Nadal, in the advantage court, and her lefty serve had a large role to play in that.

Posted by frances 07/16/2008 at 03:01 PM

Syd, none of the matches you mentioned compare to the 2005 Davenport-Venus W. Wimby final. That's a classic.

..and stop hating. Henin hasn't set any bar anywhere. Young players coming up are trying to learn how to beat the Williams game -- not Henin. Jeez. She had a "beautiful" backhand...so what. She's second-tier among the greats. Navratilova, Seles, Graf, Evert, Venus, Serena, Court. She couldn't even win Wimbledon.. What bar did she set by not winning Wimbledon? Stop hating.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 03:13 PM

frances,

Unless I've missed something, syd doesn't seem in my opinion to be spewing hatefulness at the WIlliams sisters by saying that Henin set the bar higher. I'm getting the vibe that syd is referring to a playing style or a depth and breadth of the tookit. It's clear that Henin posessed a large set of skills, including power in her groundstrokes, in particular, especially considering the tiny package they came in. It could be said she raised the bar in certain ways: (1) the efficacy of the all-court game; (2) the strength and efficacy of the one-handed backhand, all-but-extinct from the WTA; (3) the ability to rise above the power baseline wars to sculpt a game based on defense, tactics, and stroke proficiency.

The Williams sisters certainly seem to have succeeded in raiing the bar when it comes to serving speed, power, efficacy. Perhaps in other areas, too, including perhaps the most important: the will and determination to succeed.

Posted by creig bryan 07/16/2008 at 03:20 PM

>...In July 2006, Schultz-McCarthy claimed her place as the fastest server in WTA history, recording a 130 MPH (209 km/h) serve in the first round of the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open qualifying tournament, held in Cincinnati, Ohio...."

The general consensus is that Qualifying Stats don't count.

ks

Posted by frances 07/16/2008 at 03:22 PM

If something is extinct how can a bar have been raised -- players would be trying to make their one-hand backhands better -- not stop using it. Hating is slang, Slice-n-Dice. Why am I bothering with this. Watch the Queen tonight -- the legend -- the five-time Wimbledon champ -- the young woman whose name will now be mentioned in the same breath as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Margaret Court, et al greats -- on Larry King Live tonight.

Posted by cafe-au-lait 07/16/2008 at 03:23 PM

Without due respect, Mr Bodo, I don't think the women's final was that great a match. Sure it was compelling and had its moments and probably was the most competitive contest between the 2 sisters, but it wasn't the highest quality match ever. For my money, that honor has to go to the '92 French Open final between Graf and Seles. Now that was a hell of a battle! Probably the equivalent of the '08 men's Wimby final.

Posted by Erin 07/16/2008 at 03:28 PM

osted by creig bryan 07/16/2008 @ 3:20 PM

>...In July 2006, Schultz-McCarthy claimed her place as the fastest server in WTA history, recording a 130 MPH (209 km/h) serve in the first round of the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open qualifying tournament, held in Cincinnati, Ohio...."

The general consensus is that Qualifying Stats don't count.

ks"


I think you have missed something or perhaps would simply like to overlook it, it counted for the WTA, and most people when talking about fastest serve, bring up Brenda, I think even Pete did an article on her and mentioned the serve.Brenda has been serving bombs for a long time in lots of matches.

Posted by Erin 07/16/2008 at 03:34 PM

Posted by frances 07/16/2008 @ 3:01 PM

Syd, none of the matches you mentioned compare to the 2005 Davenport-Venus W. Wimby final. That's a classic.

..and stop hating. Henin hasn't set any bar anywhere. Young players coming up are trying to learn how to beat the Williams game -- not Henin. Jeez. She had a "beautiful" backhand...so what. She's second-tier among the greats. Navratilova, Seles, Graf, Evert, Venus, Serena, Court. She couldn't even win Wimbledon.. What bar did she set by not winning Wimbledon? Stop hating."

I don't think Syd has been doing any hating, but you're on the border there. Justine Henin has set the bar for all court prowess, versatility and for her ability to combine power with finesse and shot making and athleticism, she was the Queen at that, no peers. For some reason the word "athleticism" never comes up with Justine but for my money she was probably the most athletic of ALL, she was very fast, very agile, had great soft hands, and could hit hard and flat or off pace with spin or slice regularly, plus she was near the top of the power category too, what more could you want in a player other than a couple more inches of height.The other players were lucky Justine was small, she would have won everything most of the time if she hadn't been undersized and had to work so hard to compete with the giants on tour to the detriment of her body.

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 03:35 PM

Slice-n-Dice: Well said in your 3:13 post. To your closing remarks, I would add that Venus & Serena were the first to combine excellent court coverage with big hitting off both wings. When they came along during the 1990s, the big hitters tended to be poor to average movers.

As for great matches, I may be in the minority, but I would place the 1985 US Open final (Mandlikova d. Navratilova) slightly above the 1992 Graf-Seles French Open final.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 03:40 PM

I knew I shouldn't have tried to hold a reasonable discussion with an unreasonable person. I guess Joe Walsh, guitarist with The Eagles had it right all along.

Posted by SLice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 03:41 PM

Sam, you are precisely correct. Thanks for adding that fine point.

Posted by frances 07/16/2008 at 03:42 PM

Erin wrote: "....probably the most athletic of ALL..."

Erin, get help. It's called delusion. There is no better athelete than Venus on the tour. Henin was no more atheletic than Kuznetsova who could play probably any sport along with Dementieva, Venus and others...

Posted by frances 07/16/2008 at 03:44 PM

Venus got five Wimbledons y'all. Count 'em. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

Henin's got (wait) none.

Posted by vanessa 07/16/2008 at 03:46 PM

I am not too sure how I feel about this article. I can surely talk about how I felt watching the women's final. It was strange, it wasn't exciting for me (as well as both played) and it was because they are sisters and I couldn't figure who to back. Don't take me wrong I like them both equally, but I would have rather seen one of them against another player. Having said that and while I admire the fast serves, I rather see players win because of other abilities.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 07/16/2008 at 04:43 PM

This is a perplexing article, Mr. Bodo. You make many fine points in your usual easygoing style, but you also basically destroy your credibility as a tennis journalist by admitting that the women might as well be dancing on Center Court as playing tennis because the main event, the good stuff, is next. It does indeed appear to be an indefensible prejudice.

Just one of a million counterexamples for the women: I remember Carillo saying about the Henin v. Mauresmo Wimby final that it had more and better serve-volleying in it than most of the men's tour. I would argue that Amelie has hit some of the best volleys of anyone, man, woman, child, or GOAT, in the last five years.

DM: It's interesting that you propose narrowing the court for the women today. In 1980, wouldn't you have suggested widening it for them? Then, the women didn't have enough power to hit winners from the baseline. Now, they have so much power they hit too many winners from the baseline.

Thanks to the usual suspects for their edifying comments.=:)

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 05:07 PM

"Unless I've missed something, syd doesn't seem in my opinion to be spewing hatefulness at the WIlliams sisters by saying that Henin set the bar higher."

Slice-n-Dice: Come on, isn't it clear to you that Venus' 7 Slams make her an all-time great, while Henin's 7 Slams are rather unimpressive? Until frances enlightened me, I was so delusional that I actually thought both of them were great players.

Posted by Slice-n-DIce 07/16/2008 at 05:12 PM

Elevennis Anytwo?

I like your thinking, and your style.

And I also was pondering Dunlop's suggestion for the women's game. It just didn't feel right to me. And now I've finally put my finger on it. If the court were narrower for the women, allegedly in an effort to mitigate the speed/court coverage differential between the men and the women, we'd actually see more straight up and down baseline bashing, not less. Any attempts at making an angle would yield too little to make it worth the risk. Depth and power of shot would rue the day. Except for the forays to the net. But as much as I pine for more graceful, explosive serve-and-volley players (in the WTA and the ATP), I'm not a huge fan of the kamikaze approach by players with 80-plus inch wingspans. THe passing game would disappear, or rest solely on power.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 05:14 PM

Now that you mention it, Sam, and make the math clear to me, I see the error of my previous thinking. I must really be losing it to not see the inherent logic in frances' logic. Woo-hoo, time for a stiff drink. :-)

Posted by Carlo Centeno 07/16/2008 at 05:20 PM

Thanks Slice & Dice. I thought I was alone but you said what I meant to point out more precisely. I really am appreciative of the fact that the both Senus & Venus gave us their best match (very competitive and a lot of winners from both of them). I just disagreed with Peter that this was the best of the best just because of hard both of them were hitting the ball on serve & rallies. As many observers have opined, I would much rather see a variety of shot placements & shots than power. The Williams match 2 Saturdays ago had a lot of power but most of them were to the middle (if you know what I mean). Whereas the '92 Seles/Graf French final had power and angles that made both players scramble from side to side. Or the 1985 Wimbledon between Martina & Chris wherein most points were built with a variety of shots and contrast. I even rank the '91 Graf/Sabatini Winmbledon final or '95 Graf/Sanchez final more entertaining if only for the contrast and variety of shot placements & shot selections.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 05:39 PM

Carlo,

I couldn't agree with you more. Level of play does not always correleate directly with entertainment or interest value.

Look no further than the Sampras vs. Ivanisevic Wimbledon final of... help me here, Sam, please... 1999? in which both men put on an awesome demonstration of serving power and precision, followed by great volleys and huge overheads, with occasional screaming passing shots to break the otherwise monotonous tone of the match. Some called it a snoozefest. Of course, I'm one who greatly appreciates and admires the great servers, but there is something to be said for match-up that have stylistic differences at the core.

For that reason, I also found the Graf vs. Sanchez-vicario matches highly entertaining.

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 05:54 PM

Slice-n-Dice: I believe you're thinking of the 1998 Wimbledon final. ;-) In 1999 Sampras put on a dominating performance against Agassi.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 07/16/2008 at 05:56 PM

Thanks SnD. Your analysis of the court changes seemed funny at first, but after another read, I agree. Part of the court coverage equation is how much time you have to see, react, and move to an incoming shot. More power reduces that time and your effective range is reduced. More shots will get past you, just as would on a wider court. So, a narrower court would seem the right solution. But, as you say, the law of diminishing returns applies. Too narrow and the available angles diminish, thus counteracting the purpose of the change: to induce longer, more varied rallies. I don't know what's the right solution (or if it's needed), but it probably goes back to the rackets.

I'm usually against any changes to the geometry of tennis. It's amazing how a bunch of simple shapes creates such a complex game. A sphere, a few rectangles marked on flat ground, handheld plane surfaces, and two or four human beings and bang - magic! With the right human beings, we get Wimbledon 2008!

Posted by creig bryan 07/16/2008 at 06:24 PM

You know, Pete watched the match live, not on television.
One(s) might consider this small fact in one(se)'s evaluations and comparisons and convictions. I'm just sayin...

Keep Smiling

Posted by Tony 07/16/2008 at 06:39 PM

U idiots kill me trying to belittle the WS with the contradiction that JuJuliar is. The WS have been the mainstay in the WTA for over a decade now, they set the bar then with power, and they have set it again for power, percision, and accuracy. Both the WS UFE were low Serena-11 Venus-13, and they both hit more winners than UFEs. Serena created that which is Pova, and tears it down every chance she gets! (et tal taken to the wood shed) By the way, Venus has joined in that beating too in case you hadn't noticed. Also, that argument about Pova's shoulder-get a grip it only bothered her when she returned from that wood shed! She had no issues against any of the other WTA players. Back to miss Juicy....we all know why she's gone, and that will come out sooner or later...Her best season still wasn't good enough to beat Serena's SERENA SLAM. Amazes me that you people can laud Juicy and tear down the WS when she herself admitted her game wasn't good enough to win Wimby....that tiny juiced up package is worn out! Did you see her at the FO, she looked haggardly and ghost white...I tell ya...that abrupt retirement REEEEKS of scandal!

Peter don't try and back out of it now, The quality of this match set the bar higher period. Their service game, return game, ground strokes all the elements were there.

Posted by ncot 07/16/2008 at 08:36 PM

dude, no one was tearing down venus and serena. if there is anyone who's embarrassing them, it is you. :)

Posted by Ren 07/16/2008 at 09:00 PM

This is marvelous! The WS tribe have spoken. And boy, do you all do it with justice!

Sam: Your 5:07 post confuses me. Was it sarcasm?

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 09:04 PM

Ren: Heavy sarcasm. ;-)

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 09:05 PM

While I would never dream of speaking for Sam, I do believe, Ren, that you understood his intent. He aimed it at me because of frances' repsponse to my attempts to engage in a reasonable dialogue. Didn't work out, as you might have guessed from Sam's witty comment.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 07/16/2008 at 09:06 PM

Oh... Sam, you're still hanging! How goes it, brother?

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 09:24 PM

Hey Slice: Just chillin' after a long day at the office. How 'bout you?

BTW, your comment that "Level of play does not always correleate directly with entertainment or interest value." was spot on.

Posted by Pete 07/16/2008 at 09:36 PM

Tony, I'm not backing out at all; I just reiterated what I said or implied in my original post, and my feelings haven't changed one bit since I watched the women's final. But this is a good discussion, and that's the point.

And Misael, as for "keeping women down", I'm just stunned that you would say that. . .

Posted by Ren 07/16/2008 at 10:01 PM

Sam: Ah, ok. Me and my naivete! Well, 7 slams is 7 slams! Just winning 1 is difficult, so the two players are among the tops! No argument as to who is the better player. Venus and Justin have different styles, and both are admirable. I respect Henin for her beautiful and best backhand. I respect Venus for her power and elegance. I don't think we should declare war just because we believe the other one is better, right?

Some people just defend their positions as if these were their SELVES, don't they Sam?

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 10:05 PM

" I don't think we should declare war just because we believe the other one is better, right?"

You got it, Ren!

Posted by Ren 07/16/2008 at 10:17 PM

SaM: BTW, how's your cofee drinking? Its quite stormy here so I've been drinking so much coffee lately. Nice to chill out a bit after those tiring debates re Wimby results, Sam. I have fully recovered from the devastating loss of Fed, and have been solaced by the idea that the days of the hard courts are here! Any bets winning the Olympics?

Posted by Sam 07/16/2008 at 10:23 PM

Ren: I had been on quite a coffee kick the past few months, but the past week or so I've been drinking more green tea. I feel the same way about the hardcourt season being here!

Posted by MWC 07/16/2008 at 10:35 PM

I chose not read everyone's comments about the article, there are too many and I have little time to respond. I did not see in the original article any mention that though Venus and Serena from time to time hit a faster serve than the male counterparts, that the "heaviness" of their ball after the bounce, would pale in comparison to that of the male tennis player. This is due to a male's mass, as well as the weight of the racquets being used - Venus and Serena's racquets are relatively light compared to that of Nadal and Federer.

Posted by Ren 07/16/2008 at 10:44 PM

Sam: Going for the health drink ha? They say that green tea is the magic beverage.

MWC: That is why women's game should not be compared to the men's.

Posted by MWC 07/16/2008 at 10:57 PM

Now that I have had a chance to read a few comments, just some general observations:

First, I think some people have a liberal view of "hating" on a player. Just because someone doesn't espouse the same level of superlatives to a player that you may like, doesn't mean they are hating. It simply means they have a different opinion. It is logical that two people could look at Venus and Justine, and one think Venus is better and one think Justine is better. One won Five Wimbledons, One won four French Opens...the one you think is better will depend on what style of play gives you a gleam in your eye.

Posted by MWC 07/16/2008 at 11:03 PM

I would like to get Pete's opinion on the Wimbledon-French Double that Nadal successfully completed...

Do you think it is fair to compare Nadal's double to that of Borg's? After all, Borg's double was done on a significantly faster Wimbledon grass (They changed it beginning in '02). Granted players are hitting the ball harder now then in 1980, but the change in grass has seen back court play dominate in the last 6 of 7 Wimbledons (Federer actually Served and Volleyed in 2003). I felt at the time in 2002 that it would only be a matter of time befroe someone who won the french would win Wimbledon since the balls would be bouncing higher at Wimbledon, helping a clay court player. Anyways, it would seem that while both Borg's and Nadal's feats are rare and should be praised - they are dissimilar enough because of the surface change that they should not be compared to one another. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Posted by 07/17/2008 at 10:49 AM

"Unless I've missed something, syd doesn't seem in my opinion to be spewing hatefulness at the WIlliams sisters by saying that Henin set the bar higher. I'm getting the vibe that syd is referring to a playing style or a depth and breadth of the tookit. It's clear that Henin posessed a large set of skills, including power in her groundstrokes, in particular, especially considering the tiny package they came in."


Same could be said about Serena and Venus-especially Venus. Never has a player of her height moved so well on the court. Venus' height could have been a hindrance as well.

Posted by Erin 07/17/2008 at 11:03 AM

Posted by frances 07/16/2008 @ 3:42 PM

Erin wrote: "....probably the most athletic of ALL..."

Erin, get help. It's called delusion. There is no better athelete than Venus on the tour. Henin was no more atheletic than Kuznetsova who could play probably any sport along with Dementieva, Venus and others..."

I don't need any help, if you could look in an unbiased manner at the players you're going to see, Henin was more agile than Venus, most people as tall as Venus are not overly agile, and she's no different... Henin was as fast, and had better reflexes at net too.. so what is your definition of athletic, just tall and powerful? Pretty narrow definition, Maria Sharapova is tall and powerful too, although Venus has better foot speed and agility than Sharapova, she doesn't have those things over Justine Henin at all, quite the contrary, that was evident at US Open 2007.

Posted by 07/17/2008 at 11:20 AM

" don't need any help, if you could look in an unbiased manner at the players you're going to see, Henin was more agile than Venus, most people as tall as Venus are not overly agile, and she's no different... Henin was as fast, and had better reflexes at net too.. so what is your definition of athletic, just tall and powerful? Pretty narrow definition, Maria Sharapova is tall and powerful too, although Venus has better foot speed and agility than Sharapova, she doesn't have those things over Justine Henin at all, quite the contrary, that was evident at US Open 2007. "


Venus still has a winning record over her(7-4 I think). One match doesn't prove anything. The fact that you can't see that Venus is one of the best movers on tour regardless of her height is just bias IMO. Wimbledon is notorious for rewarding the best "athlete". I don't think it is coincedence that Venus holds the title 5 times.

Posted by misael 07/17/2008 at 12:25 PM

Pete, Thank You for responding to my post, I feel very blessed. I read your column all the time, and for the most part I love it, although... In your own words "When I watch a women's match,there's usually a small asterisk somewhere in the back of my mind, no matter how enjoyable or riveting the match,the asterisk demands that I add the phrase,...For women's tennis"....As I write this, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth,Women and Men are different, and reading this ,I could'nt help but feel that you believe that men are better, we are just different. John McEnroe still says he would love to play a top women's player, what is this going to accomplished, but to feed John's ego...I truly did not mean any disrespect, but it's just the way i feel.

Posted by Erin 07/17/2008 at 11:17 PM

Venus still has a winning record over her(7-4 I think). One match doesn't prove anything. The fact that you can't see that Venus is one of the best movers on tour regardless of her height is just bias IMO. Wimbledon is notorious for rewarding the best "athlete". I don't think it is coincedence that Venus holds the title 5 times."

I think Venus is a very good mover for her height, but as I said before, like most really tall people, she's not that agile, and her footwork is not the best in the business, sometimes she can look awkward, that is most evident at net, if the volley is not right in front of her or close to her, or if it dips even a little, she tends to dump it in the net, her footwork is just not the cream of the crop. Justine Henin holds the French Open four times, and could have won it more if she hadn't retired... and the truth, clay is known for favoring BETTER MOVERS and people with great footwork, whereas grass is known for favoring big servers. Justine has great footwork and footspeed and she was the cream of the crop in that department.

Posted by Pete 07/18/2008 at 12:15 AM

Aw, Misael, that was a very sweet reply and rest assured that while I'm not sure it's our job to sit in judgement over ourselves (it's a task better left to others) I can assure you that there was no dig or put-down intended with my "asterisk" theme. It's just certain realities seem difficult to ignore, and I assure you that I respect women players and enjoy their games; like I said, I've learned that it's more fun when you don't feel obliged to compare and largely I do not.

Posted by misael 07/18/2008 at 10:09 AM

Thank You Pete, You're a class act, looking forward to reading more of your columns, P.S.You made my day.

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