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Virtual clinic proves showing beats telling

Venus Williams and Annabel Croft

Venus Williams took questions from around the globe Thursday alongside U.K. TV presenter Annabel Croft, who emceed. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

Two hours after the Open draw was announced on Thursday, participants hoping to gain insights into a player’s game could have hailed a cab from Flushing Meadows to Randall’s Island, just eight miles away, where No. 3 seed Venus Williams was holding a live interactive clinic. For an hour, the four-time Open champ (two singles, two doubles with sister Serena) simultaneously fielded tennis balls from her hitting partner and questions sent in from fans around the world watching the live webcast on sponsor Ralph Lauren’s website.

To see Venus be able to maintain a conversation while hitting a succession of warm-up volleys was impressive not because she wasn’t completely out of breath, but because she wasn't the slightest bit winded at all.

It revealed the energy and power required to do something that appears so smooth and effortless in the hands of the pros.

Wearing a headset to go with a white limited-edition dress designed for the event (by Ralph Lauren, natch), Venus went over all the fundamentals, including footwork, service, power and agility. An observant Annabel Croft, a British TV presenter and former tennis pro who moderated the event, helped to direct attention to details like the importance of keeping a firm wrist and knowing which foot to step in with on a forehand volley.

The difference in value between showing and telling was evident. Short of getting a living legend to physically correct your stance and stroke, watching a racket-wielding Williams sister talk through a demonstration of how to hit a high volley versus a drop volley versus a swing volley were educational and felt like privileged access. In contrast, non-technical questions about anticipation for this year’s Open and Serena’s health status (the younger Williams withdrew last week after undergoing foot surgery) yielded the expected responses (excited; she’s doing well) and felt like the filler they were.

Those who missed the webcast can view the full recording at; the website also provides the chat transcript, where viewers can click on a fan-submitted question to go directly to the segment with the response.