Why Venus fascinates in 2004
Why Venus fascinates in 2004
by Mark Woodforde
Wednesday, January 21, 2004</I>
The fascinating element of the women's draw is whether Venus Williams has the 'legs' so to speak, to win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on the final Saturday of the championship.
Fascinating, isn't it that Venus Williams along with her sister would be the first two names you would usually mention when assessing the field for a Grand Slam championship.
Australian Open 2004 is slightly different. There has been a lot of talk about Henin-Hardenne being seeded No.1 for the first time, or Kim Clijsters' path being impeded by an ankle injury suffered at Hopman Cup.
The return of Lindsay Davenport to competitive play or even Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo's need to hold the trophy after a few years of being thereabouts on the women's scene has also cropped up in discussions.
It is not as if the Williams name has been deleted from the list of contenders. On paper, she is the best in the field, with no disrespect to Justine who had a fantastic 2003. Or to Kim who is a constant threat in every Grand Slam event she plays.
But if you haven't played the matches, you struggle. As we see in sports like football, players who don't engage in a proper pre-season campaign struggle to play at the required intensity when the matches start.
There have to be doubts that Venus can win the championship when the last tournament she played before here was at Wimbledon, more than six months ago. As talented and as athletic as she is, a question mark hangs over her form.
So what are the signs? If Venus is engaged in a drawn-out encounter, locked at, say 3-3 in the third set, we might see some ordinary play. The pace on her second serve suffers and her forehand will become less potent.
Along with Lindsay Davenport, Venus carries the hopes of the United States at Melbourne Park over the next week and a half.
Australia's little battler is Nicole Pratt, whose form is more like that of a fine wine (better with age) than many of her peers, who play their best tennis in the their early 20s.
'Pratty' has invested a lot of time and money into lengthening her career. This is her 14th Australian Open and her best effort here came as recently as last year when she made it through to the final 16 for the first time.
Her never-say-die attitude has shone through with successive victories but she needs to adopt a far more aggressive gameplan to trouble her next opponent, Vera Zvonareva, who handily dispatched Nicole last week in Sydney.
Most notable about the men's draw was the unfortunate loss of Carlos Moya to injury. In my book, he is a serious player and would have contended mightily here.
The loss of Guillermo Coria, Max Mirnyi, Younes El Aynaoui, Nicholas Massu, Mardy Fish, Arnaud Clement, Vince Spadea, Tommy Robredo, Rainer Schuettler, Martin Verkerk, Feliciano Lopez, Felix Mantilla and Jonas Bjorkman doesn't take away the focus from the real contenders and their prospects.
To be truthful, each was capable of playing up to their seeding, but not to claim the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on the final Sunday. In 2004 however, they didn't appear to be in the same class as Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis.