Match of the day (2): Mary v Venus By Benjamin Waldbaum
Friday, May 28, 2004
And so we arrive at the first women’s showdown of Roland Garros 2004. French former champion Mary Pierce takes on Venus Williams, a finalist here in 2002. Pierce’s star has been on the wane these past few years, but she has been in sparkling form this week. Venus is staging something of a comeback of her own, and dreams of capturing the title at one of her favorite Grand Slams. It might be tight, it might be quick, but one thing’s for sure - Philippe-Chatrier Court won’t know quite what’s hit it when these two start firing cannonballs at each other on Saturday.
Venus Williams left us for a while after reaching the Wimbledon final last year. A stomach muscle injury kept her away from the courts until the start of this season, when she took her first tentative steps back into competitive tennis.
Her initial results were disappointing, and some were even beginning to question her desire to return to the top, but since the clay court season began, the former world number one has stopped those tongues wagging. From Charleston to Berlin, the American strung together a series of 15 straight wins, including tournament victories in South Carolina and Warsaw. She only brought that run to an end with a withdrawal from the final in Berlin. An ankle injury picked up in her semi final win over Croatia’s Karolina Sprem cost her a stab at another title there.
Venus is still wary of that ankle and has been working on her footwork to make sure she doesn’t go over on it again. With two matches under her belt she must be feeling more confident though, especially as she has only conceded 12 games in all.
Mary Pierce’s 2004 record of two wins in six matches hardly made her a pre-tournament favourite, but the Frenchwoman just loves Roland Garros and often saves up her best tennis of the season for the tournament she won four years ago. A finalist as long ago as 1994, she has all the experience you could possibly want, and the desire for a swansong success.
Sven Groeneveld has been working Mary hard in the lead-in to Roland Garros this year. A 6-2 6-3 win over Claudine Schaul and a 6-1 6-1 stroll past Gala Leon Garcia would suggest that preparation is paying off.
THE KEYS TO THE MATCH
In the early 90s Mary Pierce was one of the first players, along with Jennifer Capriati, to bring power hitting to the women’s game. Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters followed suit a little later and began to beat her at her own game.
Pierce was forced to add variety to her game, and most notably began charging the net to steamroll her opponents. She will certainly need to volley - and volley hard - if she is to outmanoeuvre Venus. The American’s second serve opens up that option, but if her first serve finds the spot, Williams will be hard to break.
HEAD TO HEAD
Venus Williams leads 5-2, including two successes on clay in Hamburg and Rome in 1999. The two last met nearly five years ago, in October 1999 in Zurich. That is a long, long time in tennis, so in truth their head to head record matters very little.