Williamses offer glimpse of tennis to come
Williamses offer glimpse of tennis to come
By Jerry Magee
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE
CARLSBAD – The Williams sisters, now and forever.
Well, not forever. In the tennis community, however, there are those who are suggesting that should Venus and Serena Williams choose to hang around, they can command women's tennis 25 years from now just as they currently do.
The judgments are not fancifully made. Venus, preparing to go for a third straight championship in the $775,000 Acura Classic, beginning today at the La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, is 22. Serena, not participating at La Costa, is 20.Venus Williams banks a fifth title
Tickets: A courtside box seat for every session is $450. A reserved seat in rows 1-4 of the grandstand for every session is $270. A reserved seat in rows 5-9 of the grandstand for sessions from Friday through Sunday is $180. A reserved seat in rows 5-9 of the grandstand for sessions from today through Thursday is $58. Individual tickets from today through Wednesday are $20. On Thursday individual tickets are $25, Friday $30, Saturday and Sunday $40.
At 45, Martina Navratilova continues to be a formidable player. The oldest woman to win a major title was Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, who was 42 when she captured the U.S. National Championship for the eighth time in 1926, according to the archivist at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
The Williamses, it should be noted, are not apt to remain in the women's game for another 10 years, let alone 25. They have other interests. Venus has been studying for an associate's degree in fashion design and Serena, with her own clothing line, often wears costumes she has created. A year ago, Serena's appearances on the Sanex WTA Tour were so few that her ranking suffered – not an indication that tennis for her was an all-consuming passion.
Through examining the possibilities of the siblings continuing their ascendancy for a prolonged period, however, one gets an idea of what women's tennis is apt to be like in 2027:
Tennis players are projected to be wielding rackets that are even lighter than today's and have handles made of substances that give them the quality of membranes. The handles would yield to the hand like putty.
Players will have been introduced to tennis at a young age through a process known as "targeted sports selection" – in which a person is matched to a sport because the participant is found to possess characteristics that lead to success in that endeavor.
"Finding the right athlete for the right sport tends to be by default in this country," said Dr. Peter Davis, director of sports science for the U.S. Olympic team and also director of coaching for the U.S. Olympic effort. Davis, a native of Australia, said the United States is one of the few countries that has not engaged in this sort of matching process, and he is championing that it do so.
What characteristics would he look for, he was asked, in attempting to identify future tennis champions?
"I would look for an athlete who had good endurance," Clark said, "and who had height, strength and speed."
He seemed to be discussing the Williamses.
"They're the prototypes," said Clark. "They're setting the standard. They have a weightlifter's strength, and they just go out and overpower their opposition."
Their height – Venus is 6-foot-11/2, Serena 5-10 – also is a useful asset, according to Clark.
Larry Willens is a San Diegan with backgrounds in both tennis (as the former coach of the San Diego Friars of World Team Tennis) and physical education (as a member of the San Diego State faculty). Perpetuating her career would be easier for Venus than Serena, in Willens' thinking.
"If Serena doesn't stay tremendously fit, she is going to gain weight. Just because of her body type," said Willens. "As she takes breaks, it is going to be hard for her to maintain her weight, particularly between the ages of 25 and 30."
Willens is predicting that Serena, having beaten her sister this year in both the French Open and Wimbledon finals, is going to achieve a wide advantage in this series. "Serena has much better strokes, a better forehand and a better serve," said Willens. "Venus has a hitch in her serve.
"And Serena's motivation is much better. I don't think Venus handles losing, period, and especially losing to her sister."
Should the Williams sisters elect to prolong their times in tennis appreciably, they eventually are likely to be using rackets with those membranelike handles that are strung with strings much finer than those in today's rackets.
"Very fine," said Kurt Kamperman. "For better feel."
Kamperman is the ranking officer of the Tennis Industry Association. Based in Hilton Head, S.C., it is the game's marketing arm, measuring sales of rackets, balls and tennis apparel.
The major change in rackets, of course, occurred in the late 1970s, when wood rackets went out of vogue, being replaced by rackets made of space-age materials that were infinitely more powerful than those made of wood.
Put a bit more sock into rackets than is in them now and Kamperman said tennis would be likely to place limitations on their power coordinates. For this reason, Kamperman said he does not anticipate rackets becoming much more potent.
Kamperman is among those who question how long the Williams sisters are going to remain in tennis. "I have a hard time accepting that they will be playing 10 years from now," he said. "There's talent, but there's also practicing. And dedication to the sport is difficult when you have $100 million in the bank."
By continuing to dominate, Venus and Serena would be certain to attract other women with great athleticism into tennis, Kamperman said. He pointed out that women who could play basketball in the WNBA for, say, $30,000 a year would have to be beguiled by the prospect of touring the world as tennis players and possibly earning close to a half-million dollars merely in one event.
"Because of Venus and Serena, women are going to be looking to go into tennis," Kamperman predicted.
Bring 'em on. The sisters aren't going to last for years and years. Or are they?