Article: Long Layoff For WIlliams
Rick Stevens / AP Long layoff shows
effect in Venus' loss
Williams just wasn't ready
for Grand Slam competition
Venus Williams was "shocked" by losing to Lisa Raymond on Saturday.
By Bud Collins
Updated: 3:11 a.m. ET Jan. 24, 2004MELBOURNE, Australia - In Venus Williams own words she said she was “shocked” after Lisa Raymod upset her 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the third round here at the Australian Open, a tournament where Down Under is really right side up.
Williams was the favorite in the match against Raymond; many thought she was the favorite to win the title. Even the tournament bigwigs thought she had a good chance -– that’s why they elevated her status in the draw by moving the No. 11 ranked player up to the third seeding position. But she hasn’t played in six months -– her last appearance was when she lost to little sis, Serena, in the Wimbledon final – and since that time she was nursing back to health a stomach muscle pull. While she made it through the first two matches here against Ashley Harkleroad and Vera Douchevna, respectively, with relative ease, Raymond was a more formidable opponent.
What happened out there?
Long layoff a factor
There were two factors involved in Venus losing to Lisa Raymond on Saturday. First of all, you can’t lay-off for six months and come back to the big leagues -– not even a Williams sister can hope to do that. Venus had a lot of chances, but quite honestly, she just wasn’t sharp. And the other very important point is that Raymond, who is known as a choker in a lot of situations, did not choke. Today, against Williams, she was up to the task and I say “Bravo” to her.
Raymond was hitting brilliant forehands all day long and she was clever enough to keep changing the pace on Venus, giving her a lot of different shots to look at during the match. That strategy was the key to Raymond putting together the third round upset –- the first real upset of the women’s competition here this year. Interestingly, a lot of other players don’t try to change things up on Williams –- I guess they figure they have to stick to their best skills to try and win -– but changing up the pace is a smart way of trying to beat either Venus or Serena. Raymond was also very mobile, and her ability to cover the court so adeptly had to put Venus off a bit.
I found it interesting that Williams started to feel that Raymond was going to play well even when they were just warming up. Certainly, it had to mean that Raymond was looking sharp from across the net, but it also has to say that, maybe, Williams wasn’t feeling so secure in her own game. Sure, she played a couple of exhibition matches in Hong Kong before the Australian Open, but that’s a very different kind of animal to an actual match in a forum as big as a Grand Slam.
It’s my belief that this loss for Williams, the earliest Grand Slam loss she’s had since a terrible first-round drubbing at the French Open in 2001, will prove to be stimulating for her future efforts this year. She’s allowed the Australian Open title to slip out of the family hands since defending champion Serena didn't enter the tournament as she is still healing from knee surgery in August. I’m thinking that Venus’ feelings are probably hurt. I’m absolutely convinced that she came in here and felt she could win it -– the whole thing -– even though she hadn’t played since early July. I believe that because as far as I can tell the Williams sisters believe they can win everything in their sight –- that’s part of their mystique.
I think everybody felt that when Williams pulled even to 4-4 in the second set tiebreaker courtesy of a whopping ace, she would come back and work out the match. I know that sitting out and watching the match, I kept thinking she would pull it off, especially at that point. The normal script for a Williams sister is if they let the first set go, even if they struggled in the second set, they will even the score and pull away in the third.
But give some credit to Raymond, there’s no doubt about the fact that she deserved to win that match. From a psychological perspective, she was definitely the underdog in the match and that let her play freely. This actually was a banner day for Raymond, whose biggest career victory came at Zurich in 1997 when she beat Martina Hingis when the Swiss Miss was the world No. 1. Coming into the match against Williams, Raymond had never even won a set in their three previous meetings. And now she’s won two sets for a very big win.
I think one thing in Raymond's favor this year will be her teaming up with Martina Navratilova in the doubles. They’ve decided to play all year long in hopes of representing the U.S. in doubles at the Olympics. When I heard about this pairing, I felt that Navratilova would be playing the resident psychiatrist for Raymond. And she admitted that I was pretty much on the mark. Navratilova has been offering Raymond support on every front and she’s just the type of person Raymond needs to boost her morale. As she said after the win against Williams, “I knew that playing doubles with her was not only gonna be an unbelievable partnership on the doubles court, but just she was gonna help my singles. And she already has. She’s come to watch me play a couple of times already. She sent me a text message this morning and said, 'Just be brave and believe in yourself.'”
Clearly, Raymond must be good at taking advice because she definitely played a brave match against Williams, and she definitely looked as if she believed in herself, most especially on some of those sticky points where she’d frequently fail to close out a match in the past.
Of course, Williams losing kind of takes its toll on the American flag waving proudly here in Melbourne, at least as far as the women’s draw is concerned. But we can still hope to raise the “Stars and Stripes” for Lindsay Davenport, Chanda Rubin and, of course, Raymond, as the draw heads into the fourth round.
© 2004 NBC Sports