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Tortoise and Hare 11/07/2008 - 11:43 AM

Serena2

by Pete Bodo

It's funny, but the way the Venus and Serena Williams story has played out, we often lapse into thinking of them as two peas in a single Richard pod. One of the most remarkable aspects of their history is that they've flourished, prospered, and remained close in a sport so individualistic that the excellence of one sibling often sends shock waves through the entire family. In some cases, the vibrations can shake the traditional concept of sibling-hood: Chris Evert, whose siblings were fine but not-quite-terrific players, can tell you all about the agonies engendered therein.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have, say, the McEnroes. Their way of dealing with the pecking order determined by tennis talent was for each of the siblings to carve out wholly separate and sometimes dramatically different identities. Granted, some of this stuff is not a matter of choice, or behavioral conditioning; even in the closest of families, inherent traits can be wildly contrasting. I don't believe that John Patrick McEnroe ended up mercurial and Patrick even-tempered simply because John's talent for tennis was of a higher order of magnitude (and Mark is another story altogether).  But Pat and Mark (now a lawyer) certainly were prevailed upon to distinguish themselves as individuals, instead of lesser satellites, by John's gifts and accomplishments. That they were driven to do so speaks highly of their urge to identity.

In this regard, the sisters are a true anomaly. Can anyone think of two high-quality (to put it mildly) tennis players (never mind siblings) whose accomplishments are so similar yet who are so fundamentally different, in so many ways? As tennis KADs, our reaction is to lump them together (and I think I've been more guilty of this impulse than some of you) because, well, because they're both named Williams, they're best of friends, and they're both. . . great. But at this phase of their careers, and in mine as an observer, I'm increasingly struck by the degree to which they are radically different personalities. Hail, if they weren't sisters, you could build a sitcom around them as high school rivals, mining the personality of each for the very real, rich contrasts.

Early on, I felt that Venus had the less "interesting" game and a less bewitching talent, but that her athletic abilities would more than compensate for her relative lack versatility, or more pedestrian "feel" for the game. I saw Venus as a female Bjorn Borg (or Rafael Nadal, although there's an extreme quality to Nadal's game that makes it hard to compare him with anyone). She was armed with great speed, formidable power, and enormous reserves of stamina (all of which are rare assets in the women's game). I saw a player who could blanket the court and, unlike any player since Borg, turn tennis into a sort of exploded version of ping-pong, ranging left and right at the baseline and firing groundstrokes that declared, non pasaran! It's a deadly formula, and even moreso in a game where players live and die within feet of either service notch.

Adopting that attitude more or less demanded that I undervalue one of the great assets of a bold, aggressive shotmaker and ham actor like Serena - the ability to rise to a challenge and, simply put, take away our breath (and the wind from the sails of an opponent). Impulsive, theatrical, clearly given to drawing inspiration from the sweat-sheened faces overflowing the arena, Serena was a performer. What Venus had in added-value as a result of her athletic abilities, Serena had in the form of inspiration - the ability to produce shots so artful or difficult that they seemed to draw on resources unavailable to most other players. During the U.S. Open final, I felt as if all the energy of the crowd and all of the fast-twitch tension of the occasion somehow ended up channeled into Serena's game. It's a hard thing to explain, this facility for drawing power from elements beyond those in your immediate control, but it's at the heart of every great performer.

Venus Over the years, the Platonic underpinnings of the contrast between Venus and Serena were eroded by what I think of as the increasingly challenging extra-athletic dimensions of being a top tennis star. Put more plainly, by the perils of stardom, wealth, a life lived inside the bubble of celebrity, where even the most grounded of individuals can easily lose his or her bearings, simply because she's been cut loose from the moorings that keep most of us not just in check, but also connected to our basic nature. Throw in some family conflict and tragedy, and it's easy to see why both girls seemed to go adrift now and then - Serena floating in the funhouse of celebrity, Venus spiraling inward, perhaps to ask herself some tough questions. Some corrosion appeared in Venus's game - and that's the one thing someone with her kind of game can ill afford - and some antipathy or weariness may have crept into Serena's love of the stage.

It seems a little different now, and some of my early feelings about the sisters have been confirmed by this year's events. True to my gut feeling about the girls' contrasting personalities, I'm thinking that we may be watching an appropriately universal narrative play out here. Call it the tortoise and hare scenario. Steady, even-keeled Venus, slowly but surely catching up with bounding, exuberant Serena. The part where the tortoise catches up and finally pulls ahead of the hare is always near the end of such tales, and let's face it - both women are closer to the finish than the start line of career. 

So that's what I took away from Venus's win over Serena in Doha today. But I have one caveat: Given the striking difference in the way the girls are built, and Venus's seemingly Spartan approach to diet and fitness, I can see Venus following Martina Navratilova down the trail of long career. I don't see Serena doing the same, although I have no doubt that she's perfectly capable of fooling me, and everyone else, and in ways that are difficult to predict or explain.

I had to laugh when I read the player's quotes, given some of the criticism that gets heaped on Serena for failing to give her opponent's sufficient credit after she finds herself beaten. Of her loss to Venus, she said: "This is definitely the worst match I've played this year by far. . .I don't know why. I didn't even look like a Top 8 player today. Maybe Top 600 -  in the Juniors."

That she made that comment after losing to Venus pretty much confirms that Serena is all about Serena, and at this point I'm not sure I'd want to have it any other way. But I'm still betting on the tortoise in this race.


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Comments
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Posted by Sher 11/07/2008 at 11:55 AM

My mind was changed by the way Serena took her loses to Venus with the same 'sourness' as any player. Venus is one of the few players I tune in to watch on the women's circuit (the other being Sharapova) and I'd never lump the two together because you are so right Pete, they are completely different personalities. It makes it more interesting.

Posted by Sher 11/07/2008 at 11:56 AM

"the two together" refers to Serena and Venus, though it's not obvious from my phrasing.

Posted by Master Ace 11/07/2008 at 11:58 AM

Tortoise and the hare will be answered in 2009 beginning with the Australian Open for Venus and Serena

Posted by tina 11/07/2008 at 12:10 PM

I love the tortoise - but I'm betting on the hare to surprise us once again. Underestimate Serena at your peril....

Posted by C Note 11/07/2008 at 12:23 PM

"Underestimate Serena at your peril...."

So true, tina.

I too put my money on Venus. I also find her more pleasant to watch. Serena looks clumsy to me sometimes. Venus is so darn graceful.

Posted by unknown 11/07/2008 at 12:39 PM

Finally...I've always hated the way people always refer to them as the the "sister's" and assume that they have the same personality. Ofcourse they have similar characteristics/values(which siblings don't?),but they are "individuals" first.

Posted by unknown 11/07/2008 at 12:39 PM

These are terrible pictures BTW.

Posted by Kumar 11/07/2008 at 12:43 PM

Venus the one with "the less 'interesting' game and a less bewitching talent"? "her athletic abilities would more than compensate for her relative lack versatility, or more pedestrian 'feel' for the game"?? Not sure you are talking about the same Williams sisters any more. Of course, versatility is a vague term these days, because it is so hard to come by that we label anything straying from the metronomic 'versatile'. Venus, I agree, did not start her career looking to do anything more than lambast the ball off the surface of the court, but of late, she has sought to construct points more, approach the net for a short putaway, explore the angles of the service box and so on. To her credit, Serena has also realized that the power game has many more proponents these days than in the Hingis era, so she has cut down on the relentless aggression that takes you breath away, especially when is mind-numbingly erratic. However, that is also closely tied to her loss of speed over the years. Venus seems fitter and faster than ever, Serena seems to be operating on her last reserves from her golden years.

The reason Venus did not retain the upper hand in the rivalry during the 2002-03 period is that the rest of the field seemed irrelevant then, and so it was a time of self-assessment, when she had a near-clone of her own game, and her own sister, eager and hungry at a stage she had lost a bit of that herself, on the other side of the net. Serena seized the psychological advantage, and injuries conspired to keep Venus dormant. She is looking to peak more sensibly now, and I don't put it past her to collect another 3-4 Slams.

Anyway, I agree Venus appears to be capable of sticking around longer. If only a Henin or Mauresmo were still around to make matters more interesting.

Posted by Marian (walks in boxers on the court) 11/07/2008 at 12:45 PM

"These are terrible pictures BTW."

No, I'd call them realistic: one is terribly overweight and one old...

Posted by unknown 11/07/2008 at 12:48 PM

“So that's what I took away from Venus's win over Serena in Doha today. But I have one caveat: Given the striking difference in the way the girls are built, and Venus's seemingly Spartan approach to diet and fitness, I can see Venus following Martina Navratilova down the trail of long career. I don't see Serena doing the same, although I have no doubt that she's perfectly capable of fooling me, and everyone else, and in ways that are difficult to predict or explain.”

COMPLETELY AGREE!!


“That she made that comment after losing to Venus pretty much confirms that Serena is all about Serena, and at this point I'm not sure I'd want to have it any other way. But I'm still betting on the tortoise in this race.”


Unfortunately,I agree with this as well. *sigh*

Posted by Maplesugar at work 11/07/2008 at 12:50 PM

The most memorable (shocking) thing I've read of late about Serena is that as a Jehovah's Witness, she cannot vote. (This was something a friend sent to me from Serna's website.) Is Venus a praticing JW also? I know this is off-topic, but to think these two African American women were not a part of our recent historic election is really mind-boggling. They can be movie stars but they can't vote? I need more info on that.

I enjoyed the aricle, Pete.

Posted by unknown 11/07/2008 at 12:54 PM

@Marian...and you...mean-spirited...

Posted by Master Ace 11/07/2008 at 01:03 PM

Single Semifinals Order of Play starting at 9:30 AM TW
Vera Zvonareva vs Elena Dementieva
Jelena Jankovic vs Venus Williams

Posted by Charles 11/07/2008 at 01:52 PM

This doesn't sit quite right with me...
Serena is described as a "bold shotmaker" and Venus is "steady"...
???

Looking at their US Open matches... Serena averaged 20.9 unforced errors/match for the tournament. Meanwhile Venus averaged 28.0. Who is steadier? Even if you consider only their first 4 matches (before they played each other) Serena's average ue is 14.5 and Venus has 23.8.

So let's consider a tournament Venus won, Wimbledon. Venus had 16.7 UE average over 7 matches and Serena had 14.3. Even in the final, which Serena lost, Venus had more UE...

By all counts Serena is steadier...

So Serena is less "athletic" than Venus??? That is also hard to swallow--she's definitely a more solid build, but if anything I'd say Venus compensates for being less athletic than Serena by her (Venus's) reach....

I do agree with the comments on personality. Venus seems less self-absorbed...

just my 2 cents...

Posted by Andrew Miller 11/07/2008 at 01:55 PM

The Williams sisters prove me wrong every time. Their focus on the majors, almost exclusively, has absolutely helped them to be relevant and radiant for far longer than a decade in tennis. They are the most revolutionary players in women's tennis, alongside Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Martina Hingus, and Justine Henin.

All of that said and absorbing Mr. Bodo's tortoise/hare analysis, all I can say is...long term scoreboard says otherwise about match ups.

Venus may match up well against Serena, but Venus matches up marginally less well against every other player than Serena. Serena matches up well against EVERY other player, but slightly less well nowadays against her big sister. Given Serena's competitiveness, I cant overlook her, at least not until the next big thing arrives in women's tennis. Outside of the red stuff of Paris...there is no next big thing.

Jankovic is awesome and I hope she doesnt become a sub for Kimmie Clijsters (sorry...dont want to offend anyone but Kimmie is...Kimmie). Ivanovic works hard but short term is unlikely to upstage the injured Sharapova (and that's WHILE Sharapova is injured and sidelined! ...). So who's on the WTA tour is to challenge the Williams sisters in 2009, outside of Parisian red stuff? I love some other players games, but they just melt when put up against the greatest challenge in women's tennis.

It's either injury or no one. the next big thing isnt arriving until maybe october of next year.

And, going out on a limb here....the sisters are still the next big thing in tennis, more than a decade since they landed, revolutionized, and continued to evolve.

Posted by Andrew Miller 11/07/2008 at 02:07 PM

Here's the other big thing on the WTA: players with children. A shout out to Rossana de Los Rios - cracked the top 100 again and has a 10 year old. Props to her, Sybille Bammer, and Davenport...they take multi-tasking to a whole new level.

Posted by Sam 11/07/2008 at 02:31 PM

I’m with Andrew Miller – I’m backing Serena in this race. I think more than almost any other player I can recall, she has the ability to will herself to win (on top of her already high level of skill). And to me, that makes her especially dangerous.

Posted by Mark 11/07/2008 at 02:55 PM

I think Serena will end up with more grand slams than Venus, however I think Venus has her number and will continue to beat Serena.

Between the two, I enjoy watching Serena...........more drama, more intesity, more injuries, crazy "come ons!"

Posted by vetmama (TMF for TMC!!!) 11/07/2008 at 03:25 PM

I'm currently in a "Venus phase", but that could switch at any moment. I appreciate her grace, tenacity, and classiness that becomes more evident with every passing year.

Serena's playing style is more to my taste, and I've recently developed a liking for her personally. She's like that friend everyone has that makes you roll your eyes, laugh, and say, "God, you're a jerk!" Then you put an arm around them and go have fun.
As C Note says, I like it that she doesn't hide her crazy under a basket.

As far as which sister will pull away at this stage, I love the tortoise/hare analogy. However, I think it all depends on Serena's attention span. If she continues to want it, she has the goods to get it.

Posted by Ruth 11/07/2008 at 03:57 PM

I wish that I believed that Pete was right about which Williams sister will win the race because, for years, Venus has been, not only my favorite Williams sister, but also my favorite tennis player, period.

When I think of why Serena has been a part my "five faves" circle for the past several years, I can't help thinking of my girlfriends of many, many years ago who said that they tolerated my often charming, often annoying, always mouthy sister (22 months younger than I) just because she was my sister. :)

vetmama's description of Serena at 3:25 is a perfect description of both Serena and my own "little sister."

Posted by MrsSanta 11/07/2008 at 04:29 PM

"Serena is all about Serena, and at this point I'm not sure I'd want to have it any other way."

Pete has achieved true enlightenment. Its so beautiful. Although I disagree with the idea that Venus will more slams. Venus is too well adjusted for scary ambition except at Wimby. Serena still seems like she would get pissed off at someone else even her sister being crowned number one (not in the rankings just general public perception) and go on a rampage assuming she doesn't break some body part first.

Posted by vetmama (TMF for TMC!!!) 11/07/2008 at 04:37 PM

Strangely enough, those horrendous Halloween pictures of Serena wearing Roger's cardigan made me cringe, then conversely like her even more.

Posted by vetmama (TMF for TMC!!!) 11/07/2008 at 04:40 PM

"Pete has achieved true enlightenment. Its so beautiful."

Santa, it's like the end of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas".

Now maybe he'll have the strength of ten Grinches, plus two.:)

Posted by Ruth 11/07/2008 at 04:41 PM

You're so right, Mrs. Santa. I've been thinking that Serena's stomach strain did not occur during the match or practice but during the tantrum she threw in her room after being soundly whipped by Venus yesterday. LOL

Posted by vetmama (TMF for TMC!!!) 11/07/2008 at 04:49 PM

LOL Ruth:)

Posted by Blake Boldt 11/07/2008 at 04:55 PM

If the sisters can stay healthy, especially Venus, I could see them playing for at least 5-6 more years. Although they've expressed desire to follow the new WTA tournament schedule, I doubt that is on their long list of priorities. I imagine they could play 10-12 tournaments a year while pursuing other interests and be completely content.

Posted by Sam 11/07/2008 at 04:56 PM

LOL Ruth!

Posted by bluesunflower 11/07/2008 at 05:09 PM

Great article, I've always hated the way Vee & Serena are lumped as one entity. Venus has never been anything but grace and charm a credit to her sport. She seems to have less angst about loosing and thus I think is the secreet to her longevity. But alas it is also the reason that she hasnt had the success of Serena. But as she enters the twilight of her career i too am with the hare!

Posted by Markic 11/07/2008 at 05:09 PM

They've both got years left in them. Though the contrast between them is interesting, from the point of view of the future of women's tennis, it's still helpful to bracket them together. Virtually all of the other women play a game modelled on theirs, and they still do it better. This might be why Jankovic is always in the mix with them (she has very good career H2H with both): she makes them pay for mistakes, by remaining consistent herself. At their best, they've only ever had problems with a woman whose game was based on an entirely different approach and set of skills: Henin.

Posted by bluesunflower 11/07/2008 at 05:10 PM

Ruth lol!

& this is pure Serena.
Williams laughed off a suggestion from a reporter that she might feel the need to try to play for the crowd and the sponsor.

"You know, I think I know what I should do. I should make you work out for - how old am I? - for like 22 years and then make you have a sever stomach strain and then tell you to play for the sponsors," she said managing to smile. "You should try it. You should live your dream."

Posted by 11/07/2008 at 05:11 PM

Serena is the ultimate self centered selfish player on the woman's tour. Just read this article and decided for yourself:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/04/sports/tennis/04tennis.html?_r=1&ref=tennis&oref=slogin

Posted by bluesunflower 11/07/2008 at 05:19 PM

Ps those are VERY horrible photos

I love Rosangel's photos I have not seen a bad photo she has posted, I m sure she takes some that are not so flattering but chooses nice ones to post.

As fans we like to look at nice photos of our fav players. and for non fans how sad are you to think that a 28 year old Venus is old and Serena is fat based on a bad photo.

Posted by jb (Go Smiley Fed!) 11/07/2008 at 05:40 PM

I think i've gotta go with the tortoise on this one. i do think that while serena still has tremendous will, and i'd never count that girrrl out, on the long term, i think venus's body will hold up better. Seems that Venus takes better care of herself, and isn't in and out of shape like serena is. THAT may make the difference in the long run.

either way - tournaments are way more interesting when the williams are in the mix. imo at least!

Posted by eugene Waterval 11/07/2008 at 06:21 PM

Venus and Serena williams are the best.I was watching matches in Doha and i listened from lindsay davenport as commentator that serena and jelena exchange word about to be number one.Lindsay said serena comment tobe number one at least win grandslam,jelena said win grandslam only you're the best for 2 weeks period. i'm agree with serena because jelena play alot of matches/tournament therefore she is number one compare with serena or venus.my opinion about jelena are must win grandslam and also head to head with justine henin [former number one] vs jelena 9-0.jelena never win matches with justine compare serena vs justine,venus vs justine. i don't like jelena jankovic attitude on/off court.

Posted by Arun 11/07/2008 at 06:30 PM

I like Venus' game better - but, if I've to bet on a sister to win it would be Serena! It's amazing that these girls have been able to hang on to the Top 10 rankings for so many years (and still in running for so many more victories) when their chief competitors (and most of the players from their generation) have moved away.

Posted by pat ray frm philippines 11/07/2008 at 09:07 PM

i believe serena withdraw because of fears of another loss to dementieva.............

elena had beaten serena for the last two matches that they had......

and i think serena is just afraid to face her again...........

clearly on her match against venus, she was frustrated and not really giving the best of her, like what she'd do in the us open...

yes, their contribution to tennis is enormous, but we cannot neglect the fact that tennis is not all just about grand slams, it's all about playing the game to the levels you ought to play them........

i must agree to jankovic's statements, that she'd played even she had back pains.... serena should have played too...........

she must set aside the fears she had from elena.....i'm sure she could figure the weakness from elena's game.........venus could help her out but she did not do it or at least try it...........

pity for her.............but still i remain as a fan.......
and i hope she will play more, erase on injuries, erase on excuses, and prove tyo the woirld that still she is the world no.1.................

but i guess henin will be back...........hahahaahhaaaaa!!!!!!!!......2nd half of 2009 maybe???????

Posted by crazyone 11/07/2008 at 09:35 PM

You know, at this time last year I thought Serena's statements like "she got lucky, I was just so bad" were really poor sportsmanship and ill-conceived, but now I'm not so sure. I still don't think they're the classiest things to say out loud, but I think it's a productive attitude for a top athlete to have. It means that you have an unerring belief in your ability and know that it's never just the opponent getting hot but your allowing the opponent to play well. In contrast, I think Andy Roddick's statements of "He played well...I thought I played well" after some of his losses to unexpected customers seemed to be blind to the reality that he facilitated their playing well...it seems like there are quite a few players on tour who have had the "match of their career" while playing against Roddick...and afterwards he doesn't seem to be willing to acknowledge how badly he played.

So I think it's Serena's attitude that allows her not to be affected too much by losses in the long-term. And that may manifest itself negatively in some ill-chosen comments, but it manifests itself positively in terms of results on court.

Posted by JillfromNY 11/07/2008 at 10:03 PM

Venus and Serena have ALWAYS been different. I always thought it was only the haters who called them the "Williams Sisters" because that was their way of pooh-poohing the achievements of Venus and Serena. I don't really understand why Pete is now having some revelation that they are 2 individuals. It took Pete 10 yrs. to figure out they have different body-types and different personalities? DUH! But, way too typical of many in the tennis media.

Posted by Master Ace 11/07/2008 at 10:07 PM

Pat Ray,
I do not believe that Serena was(is) afraid of Elena but I do believe her ego took a hit after Venus won 12 out of the last 13 games of the match. Serena said that she hurts her abdominal muscles practicing her groundstrokes after she lost to Venus.

Posted by Master Ace 11/07/2008 at 10:12 PM

Jillfrom NY,
I could understand why the media put them together only in the aspects of them making 5 out of 6 Slam finals(4 of them consecutive) from the French Open 2002 to Wimbledon 2003 with Serena winning all the meetings. After Wimby 2003, both of them missed a lot of time due to major injuries. But, as you noted, they are completely different as Serena is fiery and confident while Venus is cool and reserved.

Posted by Hiren 11/07/2008 at 10:37 PM

umm where can I email Tom Perrota... cos his logic (and not to mention, his "selective" sample) is severely flawed.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 11/07/2008 at 10:40 PM

COmpletely different personalities, games, temperaments, mindsets, even world views, perhaps.

They each summed it up quite well in their post-match comments, I think, and those comments underscored why I've grown more fond of Venus -- who I always thought was too giddy after victory -- and less of Serena -- whom I still respect for the warrior that she is at her best, but who does not show an ounce of fairness to her competition in victory and especially in defeat. Serena's comments were as sour as I've ever heard, and showed no respect for her own sister. Venus, on the other hand, merely said that she was glad that Serena still had a chance to qualify for the semifinals.

One of the life lessons that tennis can offer all of us -- at any age -- is how to accept failure (not winning) with grace and with respect and admiration for the victor. Serena has shown that she is incapable of learning this lesson. Venus, again on the other hand, has shown a sensitivity and humanity that is refreshing and dignified.

Go Venus!

Posted by tson 11/08/2008 at 12:36 AM


Jankovic

the weakest

link

Posted by Eug 11/08/2008 at 02:59 AM

http://www.masters-cup.com/3/media/default08.asp
Funny thing that Roddick's not in it.

Posted by M-life 11/08/2008 at 05:52 AM

I don't know if this was mentioned above, but this is the second year in a row where Serena has pulled out of the YEC in the middle of the round robin. That puts enormous strain on everybody else involved. C'mon Serena, please feel free to display some of that unmatchable competitive fire you are so known for and finish what you start. Absolutely weak.

Posted by Marian ( walks in boxers) 11/08/2008 at 08:17 AM

I'll take Zvonareva over Jankovic: she plays almost like a man, aggressive with powerful shots and exposes Jankovic's lack of power (even fitness by comparison)

Cheers!

PS

Well almost a whole week of outdoor tennis, time to find refuge indoor again, probably for the winter...

Posted by Sarah 11/08/2008 at 09:04 AM

Does anyone have any clues about why Roddick isn't in the year-end photo? It seems a funny thing to miss.

He was in last year's for instance -- all eight were.

Is it just an "oops -- missed my wake-up" thing?

Posted by Or 11/08/2008 at 09:57 AM

Sarah - he arrived to Shanghai a day late, missed the photo shoot.

BTW, I watched the ceremony in Shanghai on the Shanghai sports channel stream - they looked like giggly school boys while the speeches were carried out. Roger was seated between Djoko and Murray, and giggled a lot with the both of them. Tsonga and Gill looked happy that they have each other.

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 11/08/2008 at 10:26 AM

Posted by Gregory Phillips 11/08/2008 at 10:41 AM

If you've watched Venus Williams over the years one thing is really obvious. She should come to the net even more. She is so good at hurting her opponets quickly in rallies with penetrating angled groundstrokes. I once heard someone say that if Venus ever fully exploited her abilities at the net it really wouldn't matter who she was playing. Her length, her lateral quickness, her abilities to jump and recover with explosiveness are unequaled in the history of women's tennis.

All tennis players start at the baseline, and many fall in love with it. The difference with someone like Martina Navratilova is that she knew early on that she would win at the net. Boris Becker would have won even more had he adopted the same attitude. He got caught up in wanting to show people he could play from the baseline. I agree with the assesment that if Venus Williams decides to increase the amount of time she spends at the net, she will be even more dominant to the point where she could leave no doubt as to who was the best player of her era.

Posted by Maha (TMF for Shanghai) 11/08/2008 at 10:53 AM

HELLO Y'ALL.

I lost track of TW a while ago... was ordering my customised T-shirt- free delivery in the UK :) I made my own shirt and placed the order... a white polo with the following words written in pearlish gold text: ALL HAIL THE MIGHT FEDERER.
I picked white and gold because it sort of gives the Wimby 2008 effect.... :D

Anyway when's tennis-nessnessness??? I'm getting a little weird now... resisting the use of exclamation marks in protest against Jacko's influence over TW is certainly not helping. GRRRR.

Posted by 11/08/2008 at 02:41 PM

Venus is always gracious, a win or a loss unlike Serena who is a little arrogant. I often wonder why it is so difficult for Venus to maintain the lead she gets in her first set? Look at today's semi. She won the first set over Jelena but lost the second. I hope she wins the third set. Good luck Venus

Posted by Ivory Penamon 11/08/2008 at 03:20 PM

I have always been a fan of venus!!! I also agree that she will be around the sport alot longer than her sister because she seems to be focused on tennis more so than outside activities! Serena will be around awhile also but I def see her leaving sooner than her older sister. I am predicting venus to win 2 grandslams this year and one obviously will be on grass and I think she will get the aussi one also!! SHe is the queen of grass and I can see her ending up with atleast 7 wimbledon titles!! GO VENUS!!...oh yea she did beat jankovic and will be in the final tomorrow! Win that last tourney of the year buddy and get that ranking up!!

Posted by tpw 11/08/2008 at 03:24 PM

I really wish everyone would shut the hell up about Serena not showing any class to others. Who cares. Others do it all the time. When was the last time no one did except Venus. Everyone always say that they should have done better and really never comments on how well the other person played. Serena can do what she wants. What really counts is that she shows class during matches and not play sick and try to throw others off like Janko does ALL THE TIME. What counts is that she doesn't still points from others like Henin and Capriati did to her! That's what counts. Being gracious on court is most important, not sitting there trying to be fake and comment on "how well" someone played...most of the time the players don't mean it anyway. So lay off!

Posted by tpw 11/08/2008 at 03:26 PM

I really wish everyone would shut the hell up about Serena not showing any class to others. Who cares. Others do it all the time. When was the last time no one did except Venus. Everyone always say that they should have done better and really never comments on how well the other person played. Serena can do what she wants. What really counts is that she shows class during matches and not play sick and try to throw others off like Janko does ALL THE TIME. What counts is that she doesn't steal points from others like Henin and Capriati did to her! That's what counts. Being gracious on court is most important, not sitting there trying to be fake and comment on "how well" someone played...most of the time the players don't mean it anyway. So lay off!

Posted by albert 11/08/2008 at 04:08 PM

Thank you for a very thoughtful essay. Spot on. So when are the other sports writers and broadcasters going to get it??? i.e. John M, Mary C, etc.

Posted by yougogirl 11/08/2008 at 04:13 PM

Why all this Serena bashing. What about Maria Sharapova and
all these sometimes fake injuries when she looses a close match.
It happened at the French Open and at Wimbledon, early round
loses. No mention of these curious injuries. Lets just be fair.
Serena has proved after injury she is capable of beating all the
top players. Serena did it at the Australian Open 2007. Players
that had been playing all year were demolished by Serena. When
she had came back from being injured, called out of shape and fat.
Well, the fat lady had the lsst laugh, she beat everybody. So
leave Serena alone. She will always be there to win.

Posted by yougogirl 11/08/2008 at 04:14 PM

Why all this Serena bashing. What about Maria Sharapova and
all these sometimes fake injuries when she looses a close match.
It happened at the French Open and at Wimbledon, early round
loses. No mention of these curious injuries. Lets just be fair.
Serena has proved after injury she is capable of beating all the
top players. Serena did it at the Australian Open 2007. Players
that had been playing all year were demolished by Serena. When
she had came back from being injured, called out of shape and fat.
Well, the fat lady had the lsst laugh, she beat everybody. So
leave Serena alone. She will always be there to win.

Posted by B. Blanding 11/08/2008 at 06:32 PM

I too agree that the Tortoise will win the race. People often link the two sister together, simply because of the fact that they are sisters. It used to be that these two ladies had the power game that separated them from everyone else. Over the years the field has caught up with them and have realized the effectiveness and importance of playing with power in order to be a champion.Although I support and love to watch both Venus and Serena, I have always leaned a little more towards the elder sister. People have yet to give Venus the credit see deserves. They often speak of the period when she wasnt winning grand slams. However, they foreget to weigh in that during that 2 yr stretch when Serena was dominating, Venus was the main one giving her a run for her money. When they met in the four or five grand slam final between 2002-2005, Serena may have beat Venus but it is eveident that Venus is the greater champion. Not many point out that Venus this year won Wimbledon, finalist in US open,and now a finalist at WTA Championships. Thats 2 out of 4 grand slams that Venus has been a factor. No she is not dominating the sport and winning every tournament she enters, but she is still competing at an elite level that I think fan can appreciate and more importantly that she herself values. So even is my words here I have done what others have felt is necessary, picking who is the better Williams sister when in fact it should not be that way. If they were non-related athletes this would not be an issue. I think the fair thing is to appreciate both women for their amazing talent and hope that they stay around for a long time. Lets face it, they along with Billie Jean King are responsible for the heightened state of tennis today.

Posted by Takver 11/08/2008 at 07:50 PM

I can't tell who is going to end up with more slams, though I agree that Venus' body-type may be more conducive to a longer career and have thought so even when they were young players. But my own take on the two sisters is somewhat different. When I look at the sisters for me it's a case of "Hustle and Flow".

I'm a Venus fan. Her game can be painful, but when she is on I find her the most exciting player to watch.

It's her athleticism, explosive power off the ground, her wonderful backhand, graceful court coverage, the Suzanne Lenglen-like lines and her ability to turn a point around and hit a winner off a winner that made me a fan. When she's playing well, it's zen tennis to me. She flows and makes extremely difficult shots and gets look easy and thus, unremarkable. Outside of Roland Garros she has exceptional balance. She uses the open stance so well that it's almost impossible to read where she's going to hit a backhand. (See her save Championship point against Davenport.)

Too bad she rarely hits drop-shots or lobs because on the occasions that she executes them, she usually does it well. She has good reflexes and improvises well, hence her success at Wimbledon in both singles and doubles.

I'm glad that she is starting to explore her untapped potential more by coming into the net as all and sundry have advised for years. Even her old nemesis, Hingis, identified her as the more 'handy' of the two sisters. She has better positioning, a more controlled, natural touch around the net and volleys well. I actually think that it has been to her detriment to be trained as a baseline basher. (Her lanky build and natural abilities are not really NOT suited to that style of play in the era of power. Her coaches she should have put her on the Sampras route.)

I laughed however, when you compared Venus' game to... Nadal!?

No.

If I had to draw comparison to a contemporary male player, I'd compare her style of play and talents to none other than Marat Safin. Both have powerful serves, deft netplay and volleying skills, formidable and attractive two-handed backhands (especially down the line), and the ability to cover the court and get down for low shots *despite* being tall. Like Safin she has mad talent in spades, but inexplicably loses matches to less able players because of mental inconsistency and wild errors.(He explodes and melts down, she implodes and mentally wanders off or checks out.) Both are also underachievers, though Venus less so.

Serena bears comparison to Nadal or Agassi.

She is the baseline player par excellence in the family, the fierce competitor who digs deep and refuses to lose. She's worked hellishly hard on her net approaches and volleys, but like Nadal she is NOT a natural volleyer. Her physique and game also resembles Nadal, in their shared love of blistering forehands, the use of cross-court short angles, aggressive play and the knee injuries they sustain to due to their physical, grinding style play.

Both are flamboyant presences with muscular physiques, both are intense with perfectionist tendencies who concentrate on controlling their errors, both bring unorthodox fashion to tennis, and at their respective heights each player has been incredibly hard-working, ambitious and almost impossible to beat. Both have come from the position of being the overshadowed underdog to rise to the top...

I like Serena and when she's not being an embarrassing brat I like her personality - but I don't love her game even as I respect it. While she has sounder technique than Venus which has been critical to her success, I have never associated it with natural 'flair', and the work (or lack of work)that she puts in is always evident to me. She can hustle, but it's so obvious that she prefers to hit the ball when it's on the rise, with her feet planted which doesn't excite me. In her younger day, even while she had blistering strokes and greater consistency she often looked awkward, off-balance and flat-footed to me, which (along with her sourness in defeat)is where she parts company from Nadal.

When she finally dominated during the Serena slam years, I thought: "Hmmm. She's *finally* got her footwork sorted. She's worked on it, worked it out." But unlike Venus, it was a glaring problem area that she had to overcome, and without consistent work in this area she is always in danger of reverting back to old habits.

To my eyes, Serena has always looked like the product of strength combined with hard work, sheer determination, competitiveness and desire. Serena will continue to work on her drop-shots because she knows it's one of her weaknesses - but that's what is admirable about her.

I would characterise Serena's game, if not her temperament, as the more steady of the two sisters. She has the more consistent serve, a technically steadier forehand, tends to hit more winners and less errors and she hustles and fights like no-one else which is one of her main weapons. Being a younger sibling places her in a more psychologically advantageous position when it comes to unfettered competitiveness.

So while I have always thought that Venus was more naturally gifted and has more (unrealised) potential, I also think that Serena is the more realised, and thus more accomplished player. Her mental determination and the greater consistency of her game makes her the easier bet in my opinion in any match-up between the 2. But as to what the future holds in terms of slams? We shall see...

@Charles:
As to the question of who is the better athlete? Athleticism isn't just 'strength', otherwise weightlifters would be the greatest athletes on the planet. Serena's strength in her shoulders and legs is such that it allows her to hit incredibly powerful shots when she has been pulled off balance. But don't forget that Venus has the biggest serve and puts more weight behind her groundstrokes.

Reach, footspeed, agility, reflexes, flexibility, balance - are all part of true athleticism along with strength. Yes Venus has always had greater reach, but she doesn't use it as a substitute for speed or good footwork. On top of that, she has *always* been the speedier of the two with more diverse athletic abilities. It's no accident that the press regularly asks Venus what sport she would have played if she wasn't a tennis player. Along with track, she *could* have been a long jumper, a high jumper, a pole vaulter, a basketball player, or even a football player but it is far more difficult to imagine even a younger Serena having as many options as an athlete at her disposal.

Posted by Takver 11/08/2008 at 08:00 PM

2 B Blanding.
Richard Williams once said that Serena would be 'the better player', but that Venus would be 'the champion'. He can act crazy at times, but I do believe that there is something of the sage in him...Slams matter, but it's not just the number of slams that make someone a champion.

The way that Venus conducts herself win or lose, her work on the WTA, or her multi-tasking success as a business woman is the behaviour of a champion. On or off the court, she's been blazing a path. She really is her own person. I think in years to come, people might finally realise what she's done for the sport and how she has created a prototype for the modern player that so many now follow, including her own sister.

Just one thing... Serena is the one that has made 2 out of 4 slam finals this year - not Venus. (Wimbledon finalist, USO champion.) Had they been on opposite sides of the draw, I believe that we would have had our 2nd all-Williams final of the year. But sadly, Venus was beaten by Serena in the quarter-finals.

Posted by don 11/09/2008 at 09:28 AM

Please don't let this Doha result confuse you. Sure Venus won the last two sets at one and love, but that doesn't not portend the future matches. Lest we forget, Davenport beat Sharpova love and love, and Serena routed Sharapova 1 and 2 in Australia '07 and two months later 1 and 1 at Miami. There are days when a champion plays poorly and days when the opponent performs brilliantly.

I was surprised that Serena's usually solid service game went south in her match against Venus, and Venus's service game was unusally error-free. Serena had 6 double fault (a rare occurance), and Venus had only 1 doube fault (a rare occurance). It was obvious that Serena had a lot of rust. She had only played 3 matches since winning the US open 8 weeks ago, and she had put on a lot of weight. It was even apparent in her face and neck.

I do believe that Serena has to turn over the plate and get in better shape if she wants to continue to be victorious. I hate to say it, but she is rather lazy when it comes to working out.
She said so herself that she hates to run or workout. She has so much innate ability, evidence her ability to comeback in '04 after months off and win the Nasdaq, defeating Dementieva 1 and 1 in that final and her comeback wins at the Aussie Open in both '05 and '07.

I think this gives her a false sense of security. It is getting more and more difficult for her to continue to do that. But it would not surprise me if she did. I do think that she is the better tennis player, but Venus is unquestionable the better athlete. Serena's shot-making abilities are phenomenal.

Also, it is interesting to note, that Serena does not have a losing record against anyone she has played more than once, and she is 33-0 in first round grand slam matches. What an accomplishment.

God only knows what she could accomplish if she stayed fit and toned down the negative emotions on court. When she is engaged, there is no one who can beat her, not even Venus. Her match in Doha showed anything but engagement.

Finally, more recently, Serena focuses too much on the crowd and less on her tennis. In short, she has become more of a drama queen. It doesn't matter who will win more slams, Venus or Serena. Why can't we just appreciate them both as GREAT tennis players, a rare treasure who both represent the best America has to offer on the court.

Talk about the tiny country of Belgium producing Clijsters and Henin, and the relatively small of country of Serbia producing Jankovic and Ivanovic. How about the small family Williams producing the world's best Venus and Serena. This tennis fan has enjoyed every single bit of it.

And Sharapova is going to be a GREAT player as well. She already has 3 grand slam titles, and in case you haven't noticed, her game is evolving. I am impressed.

Jankovic is the next drama queen. She has a bigger ego than Serena and hasn't won a slam yet. Just wait to see her attitude if she wins a slam or two. She spends every chance she gets telling us she is the best player, evidence her #1 ranking. Does she think she would be #1 if she hadn't played 10 more events than Serena. I think not.

By the way, good article Peter!!

Posted by L 11/09/2008 at 02:54 PM

It does make it interesting that they're so different in almost every way. Most people have siblings like that. My sister and I are the same way. They really have kept tennis interesting and in someways in the headlines. Without them, tennis would boring. Serena gives the game personality and strength and Venus gives the game grace.
You will never see anything like this in any sport for a long time.

I like the analogy that a writer used the other day, when he stated, "Imagine Tiger Woods being chased by his brother." That's exactly what the situation is with the Williams sisters.

It's great that they're different. They're not like other players, they have a lot more in their tank. They will win more grand slams. I think we will see both of them in double digits. Serena just needs one more and Venus three more.

They have been a true gift to sports in general.

Posted by L 11/09/2008 at 03:10 PM

I totally love ultra confident people. That's why I love Serena. But she doesn't just talk idly; she can back it up. And a lot of people hate the fact that she can back her talk up. That's why they hate on her even more. lol! I love that girl. She's hilarious and exciting to watch play.
If you took Serena out of the tennis mix, people would be very sorry. They might now admit it, but they would be. She's the best.

Posted by L 11/09/2008 at 03:33 PM

Serena plays her best when the money's on the table; Aka, during grand slams. She wins other tournaments but she brings her A game to the grand slams. I've seen her down then seen her come back and win 9 straight games to get the grand slam title.
She hates to lose more than she likes to win.

Posted by yvain thompson 11/09/2008 at 08:38 PM

I been a tennis fan since the borg and mac days, incidentily i'm black and in the borg &b mac days they wanted NOAH to cut his dreds. WHY? where i'm from we callit playa-hatin and of course, that's exactly what's goin-on V&S Williams. But the truth of the matter is blacks will always dominate sports of any kind, and any other professional fo that matter Why? because we are more physically and socially adept than any other race, i'm not saying this because i'm delusional or bias, racial or whatever else you may be thinking, its what's what time dictate...if you got ears you hear me... tennis is a silly game just like politics and religion but we are only people so we are going to believe what we want,,,but what ever you believe that's your choice, but believe this,,,, whatever your belief, its concern people. So just enjoy, especailly tennis, stop looking for something bad, cause that's exactly what you'll find(Richard or Tiger's dads) they'll always be there and they knew from the onset; thier child's ability...toi prove my point you those hockey players crack BRO-MAN cross the head with the hockey stick and he was 50 feet from the puck... If that ain't FEAR of ability then OBAMA did not convincingly when the presidency....

Posted by Joe 11/10/2008 at 01:28 AM

Jankovic is no. 1 because she played more tournaments, period. I honestly think she doesn't deserve her top ranking compared to say, Serena and Venus. Not having won a grand slam all throughout her career to date, diminishes Jankovic's current ranking. Her reply to Serena's comments downgrades the grand slams and she must be in denial -- for any tennis player, what matters most are the slams, even compared to the Olympics. Her having won this and that Tier II or Tier I tournament pales in comparison to having won a single slam event. Common Jankovic, get real.

Posted by unknown 11/10/2008 at 10:48 AM

"At their best, they've only ever had problems with a woman whose game was based on an entirely different approach and set of skills: Henin."


Serena may have had trouble mostly in the same year, but Venus still had a winning record on her 7-3 I believe. Once again, Henin’s dominance is a bit exaggerated.

Posted by Sagualagrande 11/10/2008 at 11:30 AM

I like Serena better, she comes to fight, and wins when she is not at her best and she hates to lose. Go Serena!!!

Posted by unknown 11/10/2008 at 12:40 PM

@pat ray frm philippines...Serena isn't afraid of anyone,muchless the Demented One.

Posted by Janet 11/10/2008 at 01:18 PM

Great article! They are two of the most intriguing athletes in sports history. Multifaceted, talent and ambitious is just scrapping the surface of who they are. We all doubted their dad because of such a cocky statement so early on, but ohhh how we bask in the reality of Richard Williams. I only watch women’s tennis when these ladies play. Sometimes they take it to the edge so much I have to look away. But with one eye slightly open, I cheer and I cheer and I cheer. I love watching and rooting for them like I enjoyed tuning in to pull for the great Pete Sampras. Congrats Venus on a spectacular event and win.

Posted by unknown 11/10/2008 at 01:32 PM

"I don't really understand why Pete is now having some revelation that they are 2 individuals. It took Pete 10 yrs. to figure out they have different body-types and different personalities? DUH! But, way too typical of many in the tennis media. "

So true...

Posted by Kaygee 11/10/2008 at 02:15 PM

I have always been and will always be a V&S Williams mega fan. To me they are the reason women's tennis is still relevant and for the last 10 years. I had gotten bored with tennis until they came along. The power and athleticism and just strong nerves and control from these women is something very new to tennis. No more tears and breaking down on court when things are not going well - these are athletes. Serena shows her emotions but she is not doing the "girl" thing - she is mad about her inability at the moment - I like that - not taking anything less than her best.

My sister and I are the exact body types of V and S. I am Serena and my sister is Venus - I mean exactly. However, to you guys I am sure astonishment - I am the athlete - not my sister. I have large muscles when I work out - she has a sleek body but no obvious muscles. It's just that I have a more compact body type - it is absolutely hard for me to lose weight - no matter how hard I try. I seem to get bigger when I work out as I got into my late 20s and later on (just like Serena). Meanwhile, my sister does no physical activity whatsoever - she gains no weight - eats whatever she wants and people seem to think she is perfect.

So, when the critics are giving forth their negatives about Serena, I take it personally and I know how it hurts for her to hear those things because I know she is just different - not inhuman. People, look in the mirror - you are not perfect - and no where as accomplished as Serena.

I do love Venus and I am very happy for her accomplishments - but she is different from Serena - not better. It's the old "can't be thin enough or rich enough" thing that excludes a great percentage of the world, especially women. Graceful does not mean better - it means we are programmed to think it's better to look at. I love the rawness of Serena - just like Rafa and Agassi.

Posted by L 11/10/2008 at 02:43 PM

I would compare Serena to Agassi and Venus to Sampras
Dre & and Serena have fiery personalities and Venus and Pete have more reserved personalities. All 4 are great champions.

Posted by NORA 11/10/2008 at 08:21 PM

Wow it is so funny how so many jump all over Serena for her mere passion of the sport. I have never seen an athlete that plays to loose; therefore it is amazing how so many stone her. Let him without sin cast the first stone.

Posted by NORA 11/10/2008 at 08:25 PM

Kaygee thanks for the personal insight. I think many more folks on here need to understand the concept of what it means to be a competitor and I am sure that while the critics continue to critique, these sisters have got to be sitting at home laughing about the amounts of money, endorsements, free clothes, etc. that they are bringing home.

Serena is such an actor, I think she does some of the things that she do merely for show because she knows that the critics are watching. LOL. Just funny.

Posted by Patrick Kernan 11/11/2008 at 02:47 PM

Pete, sometimes you hit it so squarely on the head, with such grace and smarts... it makes me want to weep a little :]

Beautiful article about two personalities and two games and one family.


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