Very Confident Venus (interesting article)
THE ******************** NEWSLETTER: FRIDAY, APRIL 23, NO, 81
Peaking Venus is ready to be the Fed Cup stopper
Williams: 'I know that when it comes to having a tennis game and ability, I'm the best … I have every single goal left that you can think of'
By Matthew Cronin
FROM FED CUP IN PORTOROZ, SLOVENIA – Somewhat amazingly, this is the first time that four-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams might have to play the role of stopper for the US Fed Cup team. Venus' sister, Serena, pulled out this weekend's tie against Slovenia with a knee injury and the likes of Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Chanda Rubin and Monica Seles are back in the States either injured or unwilling to compete.
US captain Zina Garrison has turned to the elder Williams to lead her team and should number two singles player Lisa Raymond falter on Saturday to top Slovenian Tina Pisnik, it's the once mighty Venus who will be called upon to stop the bleeding.
Williams feels like her top form is just around the corner. It was just last week that she began to look like she capable of challenging her sister Serena and top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne when she won the Family Circle Cup. She's ready to re-install the fear factor into her foes' minds.
"Anytime someone plays me they know they have to battle until the end, into the tiebreakers if they are going to beat me, whether I'm playing well or not," Williams told ********************. "And if I am playing well, the win is going to be for me."
Venus the Magnificent has lofty goals this year, but first things are first. She has to show the team that she is willing to put them on her shoulders if necessary, because the charged-up Slovenians are itching to pull an upset on red clay.
Venus has to put away Slovenia's Katarina Srebotnik in Saturday's second match and then take care Pisnik on Sunday. If she does, it's probable that Raymond will notch one win in singles and the tie won't have to go down a nail-biting fifth match. It appears that Venus legendary confidence is swimming her head and heart once more.
"I know that when it comes to having a tennis game and ability, I'm the best," Williams said. "Now I just have to execute it. It's a matter of going out there and doing it."
This is the first time since 1999 that Venus has been called upon to be a Fed Cup stopper. Even then, when she was the top US player in the final against Russia, the very capable Davenport was there to back her up at number two and US Open champ Serena was on the bench just in case.
DIRT COULD TARNISH US' CHANCES
While Raymond has improved her mental game tremendously over the past six months, she's still vulnerable on clay. Without question, clay is the surface where Venus has had the most trouble, but she's still won titles on dirt.
However, she's not looked upon as the most feared player on tour anymore, not when she hasn't won a Slam in nearly three years and has taken losses in four out of the five tournaments she's played in '04.
But Venus has by no means tabled her ambitions. She's pleased to have won four Slam crowns, but when she suits up for Fed Cup practice and walks on court with Navratilova and Billie Jean King, she knows that if she wants entrance to the same Hall of Fame wing that they are part of, she has a long road ahead of her.
"I have every single goal left that you can think of," Williams told this reporter. "People like Martina and Billie, they have unbelievable records. They played year in and year out. I may not achieve those records, but I'm not doing that badly at this point. But I'd like to do more. If I didn't want to do more, I wouldn't be playing."
It's been a rough two-and-a-half-year stretch for Venus, who after having won back to back titles at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2000 and 2001 and holding a brief stint at No. 1, watched Serena and now Henin-Hardenne leap over her.
She gave it her all the first half of 2003, nearly toppling Serena in an Australian Open final that could have been hers, and then playing through an extremely painful abdominal tear in the Wimbledon semifinals against Kim Clijsters (a three-set victory) and the final against Serena (a three set-loss). Because she was playing so well going into the Clijsters match and felt like she had to impress upon the world that she would compete hard against Serena even when she wasn't feeling her best, she took a huge risk with her body. Consequently, she was forced to take the rest of the season off to recover from the injury.
"I never like to play hurt, not day in and day out," Williams said. "Wimbledon was the only time I considered doing. It was an in the moment kind of thing. It was crazy."
Her year didn't get any better when her half-sister, Yetunde, was murdered in Compton. As always, her family pulled together and now they are looking ahead. Venus didn't grow up in a vacuum and has enough life experience to know that existence is never an everyday bed of red roses.
"You have to deal with things and life and not just go down," Venus said. "This is the world, unfortunately. I try to always stay thankful for all the happy and good times, looking for more."
DESIGNING AN ALL-ROUND PERSON
Venus has never been an all-tennis all-the-time type of person and during her time off busied herself with her interior design firm and sketching dresses and outfits. But there was never even a little question as to whether she would return to the court. She said she could imagine life without tennis, but not in her immediate future.
"I'm not so closed-minded that I can't, but I want to play," she said. "I don't know if I missed tennis exactly, but I was awaiting my return. I don't think I had time to miss anything. I'm not the type who plays tennis, or never stops talking about tennis. I had other things I could do. It wasn't as if that when I couldn't play I said, 'Oh wow, who am I and what am I going to do?'
"This is my job. It's what I do and what I do best and I look forward to it, but that's not who I am. Sometimes people expect athletes to just be athletes. For example, if you're a football player and you're not playing, then you're not seen as serious. That's not what it's all about. It's not life. I'm preparing myself to live life, not just be a tennis player."
Before her title run in Charleston, Williams had failed to reach in a semifinal in the four previous tournaments she entered this year, taking losses to Raymond at the Australian Open, withdrawing from her quarterfinal in Tokyo, falling to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Doha and then to Elena Dementieva in Miami.
Minor injuries struck her again and she was flustered because she felt like she was striking the ball extremely well in December.
"I expected to play well and was playing well until a week before Australian and had to cut back on practice. My stomach was still sore, I had to cut back serving and then my serve went off. Then my game went off. I also twisted an ankle after that and it was hard. In Miami I played a little better but I still wasn't at my level. It's no good to play when you are 25 or 50 percent and you say to yourself, 'I could have won those matches I lost.' That's not good for your game or reputation."
Williams feels like her reputation took a bit of hit in Miami, when Dementieva climbed all over her fluttering second serve. When Venus was at her peak, she cracked 95-mph plus second serves that truly bit. If she's to be a top player again, she needs to rediscover that weapon in a big way.
"The match against Dementieva, my second serve was really off," she said. "I said, 'Never again, V. If your going to miss, you're going to miss going crazy, doing it all.' It is a weapon."
With each passing year, most players mentally mature and see their games in different lights. Venus prefers not to dwell on her glory years of 2000 and 2001, or on her stint as No. 1. But she's realizes that she was a more aggressive player then and was more confident going for her shots at closing time, but she likes the 2004 version of V a whole lot more.
"That's was a different time and I'm actually a better player now," Williams said. "I look at those tapes and I know I could beat [myself then]. I just have to get into the shape to do it."