So…Who Can Stop the Williams Domination? (LONG)
The Williams sisters, in 2002, have all but shut out the competition. Many fans have been saying they have been the best for a few years now, but it was easy for detractors to point to underachieving Grand Slam results, an underachieving ranking, too few tournaments, and a losing record against other top players. Everything was an “if” or a “maybe” (maybe if they can win on clay, maybe if they get to #1 or #2, maybe if they play more tournaments).
But Venus’ recent win over Martina Hingis was the official nail on the coffin: nobody in women’s tennis is better than the Williams sisters.
Not that I think they are great tennis players in the traditional sense, nor do I think they are better than players like Hingis or Capriati at their prime. Nor do I think they have “pretty” games, and they aren’t earth shattering doubles players.
But when a Williams sister walks out on the court against anybody, they are the favorite, by far. Let us face it: their last dozen or so losses, they beat themselves. The only recent matches (not against each other) where I can truly say “okay, the other player WON, the Williams didn’t hand it to them” was in the last two Australian Opens: Seles against Venus, Hingis against Serena. That’s one loss per year where the other player actually “wins”, in a sense. That just shows how dictating they are.
The question is, how long will this trend last? Is there anybody who can beat a Williams sister at least 50% of the time? Let’s look at the top players, and how they tend to do against Venus and Serena.
Up until last year, Hingis was the thorn in the backside of Venus and Serena. Winning records against both of them, a brutal 6-1 6-1 crushing of Venus, eliminated them in many Slams, etc. In fact, Hingis would make jokes about it. But since Australia 2001, Hingis is 0-5 against the Williams sisters. Four of those losses were in straight sets, two were under an hour, and the one three set match against Serena never appeared close anyway. Her loss to Venus today on clay is perhaps the most telltale sign; she lost to the sister she prefers to play on the surface she prefers to play on.
So what can she do? For Hingis, I would hate to say her time is up, but it is. I think she has more Slams to win, and will beat Venus and Serena many more times, but it is hard to see her beating them consistently. They keep improving, and Martina is maxed-out. What can she do to improve her game, really? For her physical restrictions, she does what she can. First, she needs to consistently beat the Tier II power players (Capriati, Dementieva, Dokic, etc) before she tries to tackle the Williams sisters.
Here is a player who always beat Venus, but like Hingis, has lost that dominance and gone zero for her last five against the sisters. She is the only player on tour who truly has as much power and more consistence than the Williams sisters, and the only player who can match their serves in mph. But the problem here is simple: Davenport is tall, strong, and aggressive. The Williams sisters are tall, strong, aggressive, and FAST.
I cannot picture Lindsay scoring many more wins against either sister. If she does, it will be a service-holding affair. Besides, Lindsay’s commitment to the game has been shoddy: constant injuries, and the fact that she seems content to not play tennis points to retirement some time soon.
Capriati is zero for her last five against the Williams sisters, and her seeming dominance of Serena has ended. The problem with Capriati is she is “Williams 90%”. She runs 90% as fast as them, hits it 90% as hard, serves it 90% as well, mixes is it up 90% as much, is 90% as successful as them at net, hits 90% as many winners. The problem with this is of course, she does nothing better. Maybe Jen has a better forehand, but not as good of a backhand as either of them. So what this means is that if both Jen and Venus/Serena are playing their best, Jen will lose. And Venus and Serena have been playing their best a lost recently. However, of all the players, Jen is CURRENTLY the biggest threat to take a Williams sister if either of them are slightly off their game.
She deserves a round of applause. Of all the players on tour (besides Shaughnessy), Monica is the only one who has a good recent record against the Williams sisters…she is two for her last three. And full credit goes to her for her win over Venus in Australia (despite what some say, Venus showed no signs of injury except in the first set, the set Venus won anyway). But the times Monica has been winning she has been “in the zone”, if you will, playing at 100%. I put her in the “Lindsay Davenport” category…she can beat the Williams sisters every once in a while if she serves good enough.
I have a hard time picturing Justine ever beating a Williams sister. Yes, you heard me right. She just doesn’t have the game. She does everything almost as well as the Williams sisters, but makes more errors doing it. Perhaps she tries too hard on each shot, and maybe it is her serve. But Serena has crushed Henin in the past, and if it’s not on clay, Venus has too. The problem is, once she gets close, Henin has a choking problem. Henin might stop one of them at Roland Garros in the future. Other than that…
So there are most of the top players on tour, and all of them are rather SOL when they play Venus or Serena. From this point forth I see each winning about ¼ times. So can anyone beat the Williams sisters consistently? No, not at all. But there are two players who have the potential.
Kim Clijsters, you say? Absolutely. Although her last two matches against the sisters were jokes (a 6-2 6-0 crushing at the hands of Serena, and the official ugliest match ever at the US Open quarters to the hands of Venus), she has more game than any other top ten player. She runs as fast as both sisters, but moves less awkwardly. She hits the ball off the ground with at least as much velocity as both players, but with more depth and topspin. She volleys better, and has much better drop shots and slices. So why has she come close to but never beaten either sister?
She has two problems: her serve and her consistency. When Venus makes an error, it is because she is going for the winner. Kim Clijsters goes on into these funks where she makes errors just for the sake of making errors…where every shot she hits, even if she’s not going for anything, sails long. Her other problem is her serve. This is the only part of her game that will absolutely never become as good as Venus’ or Serena’s. But other than that, she has the potential to do everything they do, but better, when she “fills out” her game.
Here is the biggest question mark, the wild card. Daniela has the forehand, backhand, and court coverage of Venus, the great second serve of Serena, and some nice variety. But what she lacks is consistency and experience. She gets nervous, and tends to send balls into the net. That’s fine: Venus used to do the exact same thing when she was a young player on tour. Daniela is the Venus of three years ago, no doubt. She should iron that out. But this will take time: she needs to get matches under her belt before she becomes completely comfortable. Not to mention the fact that she might not always get to play Venus or Serena, as she tends to lose early.
So there you have it. Kim Clijsters is, realistically, the next major threat to Venus and Serena, with Daniela Hantuchova close behind. But with these players still young and learning how to complete their games, the next two or three years are wide-open for Venus and Serena.
So what do you think? Do you think there is any player who currently can beat a sister half the times they play, or are there young players with the potential? Thoughts?