Too much Serena is way too much
-- Venus Williams made an interesting comment after she won Wimbledon, and it sounded as if she meant it. Asked how she had retained her confidence through so many months of despair, she said, "I got that from Serena. I've seen her fight back to win matches she definitely should have lost, and I never forgot that. I always wanted to be like her."
Now it's Serena Williams' turn to uphold the family's fighting spirit. At age 23, she needs to launch a rigorous conditioning program or fall out of the tennis elite.
Physically, Serena isn't at all like her sister. Venus has a wiry, naturally lean frame that suggests she will look much the same at age 40. The stockier, more muscular Serena showed up at Wimbledon noticeably heavy -- and it showed in her third-round loss to Jill Craybas.
"That's her primary problem, fitness," noted author Michael Mewshaw, a longtime insider on the women's tour. "She is grossly overweight in all the wrong places."
Even Serena's father, Richard, wouldn't let her off the hook. "Serena's in the worst shape of her life," he said after the Craybas match. "She's in worse shape than I am."
Craybas knew it, too. "When I played her previously, I'd look across the court and think, 'Oh, my God, I'm playing the No. 1 player in the world,' " said the 85th-ranked Craybas, who had lost 6-0, 6-1 to Serena in their previous match (Miami, 2004). "This time, I felt like we were equals."
Without question, Serena's training was slowed by an ankle injury that kept her out of the French Open. In any case, she has some work to do. She entered Wimbledon proclaiming she was the toughest player mentally and could win the title with little preparation, saying, "I worked extremely hard the last week."
Well, one week won't cut it. Serena has a world of career opportunities out there, including movies and television, in which her performances have shown some promise. The acting career is gone, though, if she gets too heavy. Serena is an astoundingly formidable figure when she's in shape; many directors would hire her on her looks alone. Without that chiseled body, she's just another face in the Hollywood crowd.
At the 2000 U.S. Open, Australian great John Newcombe was asked his opinion on the Williams sisters. "I think Venus will do better in the end," he said. "Serena's a very big girl, and she's still in her teens. I'm not sure what her mobility will be in four or five years."
It's up to Serena to prove everyone wrong. Judging from the Williams family history, you'd be unwise to bet against her.
Closing the Wimbledon doors on other fronts:
Diva: Speaking of dual careers, 2004 champion Maria Sharapova took some heat from Martina Navratilova before the tournament. Noting all the publicity surrounding Sharapova, who stands to make some $20 million this year on endorsements alone, Martina said, "She considers herself part athlete, part businesswoman, but you can't have two careers. Too many outside interests are a distraction from your tennis."
Typically, Sharapova fired back gracefully. "You know, I'm number two in the world," she said. "I don't think so far anything has distracted me. I feel really satisfied with how hard I work on the court. If I wasn't enjoying anything I did off the court, I wouldn't be doing it."
Just take a look at Sharapova. She would be foolish to turn down some of the offers that come her way. On the court, she's one of the best fighters to come onto the scene in recent years, and her semifinal loss to Venus Williams did nothing to disprove that. Sharapova battled desperately to the end, making Williams work for every point. If it meant hitting a shot left-handed on the dead run, she tried it. That was women's tennis at the highest level, and the second set marked the most deceptive 6-1 score in memory. "Sharapova never quits," said former great Tracy Austin, now a television analyst. "She claws and dives and gives every ounce she has. It doesn't enter her mind that she could lose."