I'm your Venus
Big sister gets her glare, groove back at Key Biscayne
Big Sis is back -- hopefully in a big way -- and to those of us who remember the golden age of women's tennis, that is no small development.
Venus Williams' 6-1, 7-6 victory over her kid sister Serena in Key Biscayne, Fla., on Tuesday was not the most lucrative or memorable of her career, but it has a chance to be the most significant. If Venus, having finally overcome a mental obstacle most of us can't even imagine confronting, can build on this and reclaim her game, then tennis fans, and sports fans in general, will be in for a real treat.
Even in losing to third-seeded Maria Sharapova in Thursday's semifinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open, probably the most prestigious non-major tournament on the women's tennis tour, Williams looked more spirited and proactive than she has in a long time. The scores (6-4, 6-3) made her defeat appear one-sided, but Williams lost because of two sloppy games that resulted in consecutive service breaks bracketed around the set change.
After fighting off a match point to get to 3-5 in the second, Williams upped her game to flashback proportions, hitting several tremendous shots while earning six break points and fighting off another match point. It was telling that after finally winning the match, Sharapova dropped to her knees and let out a relieved scream.
If she can sustain this new-found energy and intensity, Venus has a chance to do what never seemed possible -- scrap her way back into our hearts. When she came on the scene as a teen phenom, Venus was the ordained superstar-in-waiting whose lightning-quick breakthrough at the U.S. Open (as a 17-year-old finalist in 1997) made her one of the sports world's hottest properties. Two years later, however, it was Serena, just before her 18th birthday, who captured the family's first Grand Slam by winning at Flushing Meadows.
Watching from a box with her parents, Venus couldn't contain her obvious discomfort as Serena triumphed in the final. Here she was, on the verge of stardom, and she'd already been eclipsed by her little sister?
I don't think this was a rational jealousy, and I don't think it's anything that the vast majority of us can possibly appreciate. I remember how I felt when I realized my little sister was smarter than I was -- in addition to a whole lot of other 'ers' -- and it nearly ruined my game of kickball at recess. The cool thing is, now that each of us is married with still smarter children, my sister and I don't have to deal with constant comparisons. But Venus and Serena compete in relation to one another almost daily in the most mentally tantalizing sport.
The great thing about Venus' dour demeanor that day at the U.S. Open was the way she channeled her emotions and began a startling run of achievement. Beginning with Wimbledon the following year, Venus proceeded to win four of the next six majors -- two Wimbledons and two U.S. Opens, which are a pretty good four to win. This was no small feat in an era that featured a harmonic convergence of stars in decline (Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario), established champions (Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and eventually Jennifer Capriati) and an unprecedented barrage of ultra-talented up-and-comers. Even Anna Kournikova -- and don't laugh, because people who know tennis know I'm not lying -- at one point was a legitimate threat to become a dominant force.