Venus Williams / Lleyton Hewitt face tough draw
BY MATTHEW CRONIN
Jun. 22, 2002 5:31 a.m.
There are good draws, tricky draws and indifferent draws, but if Venus Williams is to three-peat at Wimbledon and No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt is to win his first crown at the All-England Club, they will both have to hit more miracle shots out of the deep rough than Tiger Woods did at Bethpage Black.
Hewitt's draw is sickeningly bad, which may be the reason that he came down with a stomach virus on Thursday and was forced to pull out of a Wimbledon warm-up event. First, he'll have to face veteran all-courter Jonas Bjorkman, a Swede who was once ranked as high as No. 4 in 1997 and owns one of the best returns of serve in the game, in the opening round.
Should the 21-year-old Hewitt pass that stern test, he may have to face huge-serving lefty Michael Llorda of France in the third round. Should he get by Llorda, he'll likely have the unenviable task of confronting No. 16 seed Nicolas Escude of France, the rocket launcher who knocked him out of Wimbledon last year and who defeated him on grass in the '01 Davis Cup final.
Hewitt will feel excellent about his chances should he survive Escude, but next up could be No. 7 seed Roger Federer of Switzerland, the multi-talented volleyer extraordinaire who upset seven-time Wimbledon champ Pete Sampras at last year's Wimbledon. If Hewitt foils Federer, he will very likely have to take on an entire nation in the form of England's Tim Henman, who has one of the sweetest draws in history and is playing the best tennis of his life right now. Although Hewitt won't say so, he must more than a little peeved when he looks at Henman's path to the semis, which includes two qualifiers, a shaky Croatian in Ivan Ljubicic, a variety of seeded clay court specialists and the rapidly shrinking Aussie Open champ, Thomas Johansson.
If Hewitt silences Hen-mania, his final-round opponent could be one of any number of talented folks: the game veteran Andre Agassi; the desperate-to-win-again Pete Sampras; the streaky Russian giant Marat Safin; or possibly mad service bombers Andy Roddick or Greg Rusedski. A title run here for Hewitt would be nothing short of miraculous, especially given that fact that it's been 10 years since a non serve-and volleyer (Agassi) has won the Wimbledon title.
Venus Williams is still a strong favorite to win her third crown at Wimbledon, but unlike in Paris where she wasn't seriously tested until she was skunked her sister Serena in the final, Venus will have to break out all her clubs before the tournament's last Saturday. The 6-foot-2 powerballer will likely have to push past Roland Garros quarterfinalist Paola Suarez in the third round and then could get tricky lefty and No. 17 seed Patty Schnyder in the fourth round. Schnyder has been playing excellent tennis the last three months and appears to be regaining the confidence and shotmaking ability that once brought her to the top 10.
Should Venus shoot down Schnyder, a match-up with Belgian teen and No. 5 seed Kim Clijsters, the same player who toppled her in the final of Hamburg in May, is likely. While Clijsters is much more at home on hard courts than she is on slick grass, she's one of the few players on tour with the athletic ability and firepower to hang with Venus from the baseline.
Unlike at the French Open, Venus Williams could face a challenge or two on her way to the finals at Wimbledon.
Francois Mori /Associated Press
But you have to give Venus the edge there too, based on experience, volleying prowess and surface familiarity. But if toppling one brash Belgian teenager is a difficult feat, how about two in a row? Likely waiting for Venus in the semis will be 2001 Wimbledon finalist Justine Henin, who pushed Venus last year, and until she fell ill at the outset of Roland Garros, was one of the hottest players on tour. The little magician appears to have regained her form this week in a warm-up tournament in the Netherlands, and with her quick feet, murderous backhand slice and sound volleys, she can take down any player who is a little bit off on grass.
Fortunately for Venus, her No. 2-ranked sister, Serena, is in the other half of the draw and will likely get a little bruised in her matches against the probable likes of Austrian lefty Barbara Schwartz; the towering Russian Elena Bovina or recovering Russian Anna Kournikova; hard-swinging Yugoslav and grass lover Jelena Dokic; and fierce rival Jennifer Capriati.
If Venus and Serena should meet in the final (another historic first, this time at Wimbledon), Venus will be well-tested and you can bet she'll put on a much better show than she did in Paris. She'll undoubtedly remember Serena's trash-talking line after the Roland Garros debacle -- "When you are playing a person like me who runs down every ball, maybe Venus thinks that she needed to hit more to the lines" -- and come on court with a game face that resembles Lennox Lewis' just before he teed off on Mike Tyson.
Whether she will be able to overwhelm Serena like Lewis did to Tyson is in question, but you can bet that this time that if Venus loses, she won't be walking around the court with a smile on her face snapping pictures of her triumphant sister. She'll be burying her head in a towel because she will have lost her No. 1 ranking to the girl she used to walk to school.