Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Venus Williams back in the spotlight
By Peter Bodo
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer finally restored order to men’s tennis after a wild 10-day shootout in the California desert, while the women left Indian Wells in a more chaotic state than when they arrived. But there will be a new sheriff in town in Miami come Wednesday: Serena Williams.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. Or are we making the familiar mistake of confusing the Williams sisters again?
Take a closer look at the season standings. Venus is 1-1 in finals this year (winning in Dubai) and 9-3 overall. Serena, who’s 9-2, has made just one final in 2014, bagging the title in Brisbane in the first week of main WTA tour play.
Serena has been flying well under the tennis radar in recent weeks, trading air kisses at fab Oscars parties in Hollywood rather than swapping forehands with the likes Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka. When last seen by us, she was stewing in Dubai on the eve of what might have become another in that dwindling series of Williams family crises.
Another sister-on-sister clash seemed inevitable as the Dubai tournament wound down, and both women reached the semifinals. At least this time they were on opposite sides of the draw. But then Serena lost her semi to Alize Cornet, thereby holding the door open for Venus to win for the first time since she triumphed in a tiny event in the tiny country of Luxembourg in October 2012.
In Miami, which has always been a home game for the sisters, Serena is the top seed and Venus sneaked in just under the wire at No. 29. The good news for the Williams clan is that once again the sisters are on opposite sides of the draw. They haven’t met in a tournament final since Serena beat Venus at Wimbledon and then the WTA Tour Championships in 2009.
In case you’re wondering, Serena leads the head-to-head 14-10, but the fine print reminds us that Serena hasn’t lost to Venus since Dubai of 2009, when Venus eked out third-set tiebreaker. Of course, that was before either of them turned 30, but these two have aged extremely well.
Venus can, and has been, written off by many -- but for so long that the pundits increasingly sound as if they’re crying wolf. Sure she’s 33 (a year older than Serena) and forced to manage her case of Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that leaves its victims susceptible to, among other things, fatigue. But as an athlete, she’s in the same league with Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, and when it comes to age in women’s tennis, 30 appears the be the new 20.
Venus showed us just how explosive and dominating she can still be with that run in Dubai. The lowest-ranked player she faced was her first-round opponent, No. 33 Elena Vesnina. After that, she knocked off, in succession, some worthy names: former No. 1 and Grand Slam champ Ana Ivanovic; Flavia Pennetta, who was Saturday’s winner over top-seeded Li Na and Sunday's winner at Indian Wells; and two-time year-end No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
Venus didn’t lose a set in the tournament, and she obliterated Cornet in the final, three-and-love. Some would say Venus earned that smooth ride, given that she might easily have won every match she’s lost this year. Two of those three defeats were 6-4 in the third; the other was a third-set tiebreaker loss to No. 6 Petra Kvitova.
Granted, the heat and humidity in Miami could present a problem for Venus, especially if she becomes embroiled in a few tough back-to-back matches. And her draw doesn’t look very kind. She starts with Cornet (again), but she might then have to face No. 6 Simona Halep followed by a confident lady who would have no compunctions about trying to run Venus into the ground, No. 10 seed and recent Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova.
So yes, Venus has her work cut out. But I wouldn’t pin that tin star on Serena’s chest just yet.