While Serena Williams dominates, her big sister no longer
Moments after losing to Meghann Shaughnessy in the fourth round
of last week's NASDAQ-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., Venus
Williams let out a sigh of resignation. "You know, it's
impossible to win every match," she said. Oh, really? Lately her
younger sister, Serena, has been disproving that. After beating
Jennifer Capriati 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the NASDAQ final on Saturday,
Serena was 17-0 for the year and had lost only once since
mid-August 2002. The gap that separates her from the rest of the
field is, like her shoulders, impressively broad. "If I play my
best," she says, "I don't think anyone can beat me."
Here's what must be particularly dispiriting to her colleagues:
Serena was far from her best last week. She suffered from a
stomach illness early in the tournament, and her game was mottled
by errors. Still, until the final she had dropped not one set and
had stayed on the court for an average of only an hour. In the
semifinals Kim Clijsters, generally regarded as the leading
candidate to unseat Serena, mustered only six winners and had
little answer for Serena's power in a 6-4, 6-2 loss. The word
invincible hasn't been bandied about the WTA tour this much since
Steffi Graf's heyday. "Serena has absolutely no reason to lose
this year," says her quarterfinal victim, Marion Bartoli.
Venus is another story. No doubt jolted by the success of Little
Sis, Venus appeared uncharacteristically delicate last week. Both
her tennis and her body language indicated there were places she
would much rather be than on a tennis court. Though she gamely
fought off eight match points before succumbing to Shaughnessy,
she was beaten thoroughly 7-6, 6-1. Venus's swagger was missing,
and other players smelled blood in the water. "I think we can see
a little bit of a lapse in her game," says Jelena Dokic. "I don't
think she's as solid as she was before."
Adds Clijsters, who may soon inherit the No. 2 ranking from
Venus, "I'm sure [Serena] hits the ball even harder than Venus,
and she serves better than Venus."
Other players have also picked up on Venus's tendencies. Her
forehand breaks down under pressure. She has a hard time with
serves into the body. Her second serve is easily attacked. "When
you put Venus on the defensive, she is a different player," says
Shaughnessy's coach, Rafael Font de Mora. "Her whole personality
on the court changes."
Late in the Shaughnessy match, Richard Williams left his
courtside perch, shaking his head in disappointment. When an
usher offered a consoling pat on the back, Richard said, "It's
O.K., Serena's still around." Is she ever.
When you get the business end of the dreaded double bagel--tennis
vernacular for losing 6-0, 6-0--it usually augurs ill for your
career. One exception to this rule seems to be Robby Ginepri, a
20-year-old from Marietta, Ga. In 2002, his first full year on
tour, Ginepri lost to Giovanni Lapentti and Lleyton Hewitt by the
most ignominious score possible. "I didn't let my confidence get
too low," he says. "The way I looked at it was, What do I need to
Strength was high on the priority list. And after spending much
of the off-season adding bulk to his 5'11" frame, Ginepri has
cracked the top 50 and become a major figure in the renaissance
of U.S. men's tennis. He reached the quarterfinals at both the
Pacific Life Open and the NASDAQ-100, beating James Blake, Alex
Corretja and world No. 8 Marat Safin (who, in fairness, had a
stomach ailment). There was no shame in Ginepri's NASDAQ loss, as
he pushed No. 4 Carlos Moya to a third-set tiebreak.
The athletic Ginepri crushes his ground strokes (the forehand in
particular) and hits a powerful serve. Most important, he is no
longer in awe of his surroundings. "My goal for the first half of
the year was to be in the top 75 and beat a top 10 player by the
French Open," he says. "Maybe I shot too low." --L.J.W.