Commentary

Venus, Roddick look sharp so far

Updated: July 30, 2012, 2:11 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

When Venus Williams and Andy Roddick lost at Wimbledon in late June, some rightfully wondered if they'd ever be back.

Williams, who is fighting a battle with her health and on the wrong side of 30, was blown off court at the venue where she's won five titles by a player she would usually crush on grass, Elena Vesnina. And it was in the first round. Williams' only other first-round loss at Wimbledon came as a teen on her maiden visit in 1997.

Roddick, uncharacteristically, blew a kiss to the crowd in the wake of a defeat to David Ferrer. Roddick, in his better days, would have eased past Ferrer on grass, too, even if the Spaniard is a tough nut to crack.

Three times, after all, Roddick has been a match away from becoming a Wimbledon champion, and Ferrer, entering 2012, had never reached the quarterfinals at the All England Club. In his postmatch news conference, when asked if he'd return next year, a calm, retrospective Roddick surprisingly didn't say yes immediately. Perhaps he was simply down after a match that held so much promise. He had won the first set against Ferrer, before succumbing. But Williams, in one of the memorable moments of the fortnight, was downright defiant. She was "planning" on resurfacing in 2013 and vowed Sjogren's syndrome, which has limited her to seven tournaments since last year's U.S. Open, wasn't going to send her into retirement prematurely.

"There's no way I'm just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freakin' tournaments back," Williams said in a rare outburst. "You know, that's just not me."

Williams indeed stuck to her word and hasn't given up. She and Roddick were in action at SW19 on Monday.

Williams likely pushed herself more than she should have this year to qualify for the Olympics at Wimbledon this week. Not content to receive a wild card from the ITF, which probably would have come, she reached the quarterfinals at three tournaments earlier this season. That propped up her ranking to barely inside the cut-off line after the French Open.

On the same court and in the same round where Williams could manage a mere four games in the 6-1, 6-3 loss to Vesnina, she surrendered four games to French Open finalist Sara Errani in a near identical score, 6-3, 6-1 on Monday. Whereas Williams' performances at the French Open and Wimbledon suggested she was feeling particularly poor physically, her display against Errani rolled back the years. Williams struck 32 winners and made only half as many unforced errors, an impressive number since the diminutive Italian doesn't self-destruct and forces her opponent hit that extra ball in rallies. Williams' wingspan has long made her an imposing figure at the net, and her 26 net approaches were encouraging. Even better, Williams won 19 of those points. In what might be a good omen for Williams, her next opponent is Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak, who Williams beat in three hours after saving a match point in Miami in March. Williams would then go on to down Ana Ivanovic the next day at the Sony Ericsson Open, proving that with a good spell of health, her stamina won't desert her. Roddick, though not afflicted with an illness such as Williams', has had his own issues physically in the past two years. For most of his career, as Roddick has acknowledged, luck has been on his side on the health front.

Unlike Williams, Roddick played between Wimbledon and the Olympics and received a needed boost of confidence by winning a title in Atlanta.

He preceded Williams on Court 2 and won, although in a less tidy manner. A lone break in each set separated him from little known Slovakian Martin Klizan, 7-5, 6-4. Although not broken -- which is a good sign -- Roddick went a shabby 2-for-13 on break points. "I served really well," Roddick said. "I would have liked to have converted more break points. But I got a couple, and thankfully that's all I needed."

Roddick's first-serve percentage was an impressive 79, and he'll have to be that efficient, maybe more, to also win his next match because Novak Djokovic is his opponent. Not being seeded has its disadvantages.

Roddick, who can rub people the wrong way with his on-court antics, has nonetheless become a sentimental favorite, and the British have a particular fondness for him. They watched as Roddick was painfully beaten by Roger Federer 16-14 in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final three years ago.

Upsetting Djokovic would give Roddick his biggest scalp at the All England Club since 2009, and maybe his final big one overall.

The odds are against Roddick, and Williams' chances of winning a medal of any color still aren't great. One day she can feel fine, and the next day, her health can take a turn for the worse.

But lofty expectations for the pair should be a thing of the past. Let's not speculate on their futures for the time being, either.

They're both at the Olympics, which was the first priority. Going deep would come as a surprise. A pleasant one.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.