Venus Needs Coaching Aid
Elena D. and Nadia P. Come Alive
Fish the Right Davis Cup Pick; Andy's Big Win
By Matthew Cronin
Venus serve has deserted her.
Letís make the somewhat sound assumption that Richard Williams has been coaching his daughter, Venus, when sheís been at home in Florida during the past month. Then letís fast forward to her horrific serving and to a degree returning performance in her 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 loss to Elena Dementieva in the NASDAQ quarters. The four time Slam champ is having major technical problems on her serve that someone needs to fix. Venus obviously canít do it on her own and Richard certainly isn't helping.
Itís a good thing that Venus will be getting some work in with US Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison and coach Billie jean King in a few weeks time. Both of them know how to coach the serve and if memory serves me correctly, it was at the Fed Cup week in Lowell, Mass., nearly one year ago where Venus last showed her top level. A week after that, she tore her abdominal in Warsaw and she hasnít won a title since.
The loss to Dementieva is by no means a disaster. The Russian is an excellent player with a measly and inconsistent second serve of her own, but she can hang with just about anyone off the ground. But Williams cannot be happy double faulting four times serving at 5-4 in the third set. Even if the wind was swirling, sheís way too good a player to making that many critical mistakes.
Venus is a caring and fiercely loyal person who has gone out of her way time and time again to prop her dad, but Richard appears to be past the point of having much value as a coach anymore and if she is going to right her ship (re no semifinals in four tournaments this year), she needs to look elsewhere. A call to Lori McNeil might not be a bad place to start.
Asked where she stands these days, Venus replied, "Just on the up and up." Perhaps as a person, but her game on the teeter and totter.
Quote of the day has to go to Elena D, who when asked how she managed to win the contest after a 63-mph serve, said, "She has more difficulty on my second serve than my first serve because she has no return in her return, to return this kind of serve."
Dementieva, who hired former Russian serve-and-volleyer Olga Morozova in the off-season to help coach her, said sheís trying to change her service motion, but noted that making bio-mechanical changes at this stage in her career is a long term project. She did play smart, however, banging into Venusí body rather than letting the tall and agile American whip back strokes when she was on the run.
The í00 Olympic silver medalist let it fly in the tiebreaker, certainly a mental breakthrough for a player who has never lived up to her potential. "Even in the tiebreak, I was enjoying myself," she said. " I wasn't thinking about score, I wasn't thinking about semifinals of this tournament. I was trying to play my games and to win."
Dementieva will face fellow 22-year-old and fed Cup teammate Nadia Petrova in the semis, who looks to have regained her stride after an early January injury. Petrova waxed Nathalie Dechy in the other quarter.
Petrova can slug with Dementieva, but he isnít as agile. However, she is more formidable teeing up serves and isnít afraid of the net. Unlike Dementieva, Petrova has never won a title. But itís great to see to such talented Russian "veterans" making progress like their compatriot Anastasia Myskina has, rather then falling backwards a la Elena Bovina.
"Nadia's a good player, she has a great serve," Dementieva said. She moves very well. It's always interesting to play against her. It's going to be a tough one."
The winner of that contest will face Serena Williams who has been extremely impressive in her first tournament back since Wimbledon. Say what you will about Serenaís off-court diversions, but she can flat out play and almost never comes on court unprepared Her 6-4, 6-4 victory over 35th-ranked Eleni Daniilidou showed off an improved slugging percentage, where she nailed 28 winners (including seven aces) with only 25 unforced errors. "I'm surprised at my serve," Williams said. "It has been with me the whole time. When I need it, it just comes out. It was perfect."
Daniilidou said that it was impossible to read Serena, still the tourís most accomplished server. "She serves unbelievable. I couldn't even see where she was serving," said Daniilidou. "She took two or three games just because of her serve. It was very tough to make a return.
Roddick pulled off a huge win against Moya.ANDy' Comeback; on Pmac's fish of the day
The menís semifinal that everyone is Florida wants to see is Andy Roddick. v. Vince Spadea, but Spadea must find a way to blunt Argentina's Agustin Calleriís huge forehand. Roddick pulled of his most impressive victory of the year in coming back from a break and 4-5 down in third against Carlos Moya on Thursday. He badly needed that win mentally.
On Friday, third seed Guillermo Coria will attempt to prove that heís an all-court force when he faces Chileís Fernando Gonzalez in the semis. Itís already apparent that Coria can play well on cement, but itís an open question as to whether he can go all the way and win a prestigious hard court crown.
Speaking of Vince, itís time to weigh in on US Davis Cup captainís pick of Mardy Fish over Spadea for the second Davis Cup spot. Without question, Spadea has been the better player over the past five weeks. He won Scottsdale (beating Blake, Roddick and Kiefer), took a tough loss early at Indian Wells and now has advanced to the NASDAQ quarters with a series of terrific three-set wins, including one over Marat Safin.
For his part, Fish has down little since reaching the final of San Jose.
But if youíre the captain, you have to go with your gut. This reporterís gut tells him that not only is Fish a slightly more talented player than Spadea, but also wonít freeze up after the national anthem is played on Good Friday before the tie against Sweden. Iím not sure thatís the case with Spadea, who is certainly as gritty as they come, but has yet to play a huge Davis Cup match. Mardy has against the Slovaks away on clay and came through with flying colors. If Fish plays up to his potential, heís better on a slow outdoor hard court than anyone the Swedes trot out there.
In many ways, this is PMacís last chance at proving that he has the right coaching formula to bring the US itís first Cup title in nine years. A quarterfinal loss to the Swedes at home wonít cut it with many people. The team is no longer green, features a Slam winning No. 1, Roddick, and a Slam winning doubles duo, the Bryanís, as well as a top 20 player in Fish and back-up top-25 man in Vinny.
The only way that a lesser Swedish team that includes the declining Thomas Enqvist; the still green Joachim Johansson (who by the way has done seer since winning Memphis indoor); the still-yet-to-really-impress Robin Soderling and the smart but beatable Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson can upset the US is if Mats Wilander out-coaches PMac, or Roddick, Fish and the Bryans choke.
Itís up to McEnroe to make sure that doesnít happen. And if Mardy does come through as he should, the why-not-play Vince chorus will be dulled to mouse-like squeal. If not, McEnroe better get out of South Florida before the first editions of the newspapers hit the driveways on Monday morning.