The Toronto Star
Sep 08, 2007 04:30 AM
She was hoping for a magic pill, an infusion of pep, even a jump-up jelly bean to turn the trick.
But there was no elixir available to Venus Williams yesterday, just mystification over ill-timed illness and a U.S. Open final – the tantalizing taste of it – flushed down the toilet.
Head spinning, belly roiling, Williams all but lurched off the court, unbalanced and enervated by whatever's been ailing her of late, leaving Justine Henin to make solo sweet with a crowd clearly disappointed over the 7-6, 6-4 outcome: No Williams sister, indeed no American of either gender, left to contend for this made-in-the-U.S.A. championship.
"I was feeling dizzy, a little sick to the stomach, was just having energy problems,'' Williams explained, adding that the nausea had arisen earlier in the week – long before a bathroom duck just before this semi match began (hydration problem, that, she explained delicately, too much liquid guzzled). And well before Williams summoned a trainer to her side in the second set, having willed herself back from an early break, appearing to seize the momentum from Henin, the Belgian atypically tentative, vulnerable, throughout this encounter.
Trainer took Williams' pulse, fingers pressed to throat and handed her a packet of pills. "I don't even know what she said. I was, like, in a zone. I was just hoping that she had a magic pill. She gave me some sports jelly beans. I tried to eat 'em but I was still feeling dizzy.''
From Henin, who proceeds into tonight's final against Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova – both have won this tournament before – there was just the slightest hint of skepticism about Williams' health issues, as if she sensed another excuse therein. Informed that Williams claimed she'd been less than 100 per cent for this match, Henin dropped a cool and sarcastic: "I'm surprised.''
A few nights earlier, of course, Serena Williams was disgracefully ungracious about her quarter-final loss to Henin, with lots of sniping about "lucky shots.''
Henin countered that she was hardly feeling cartwheel hot herself, with an unspecified breathing problem. "I saw the doctor also.''
It did sound a bit odd for Williams to retroactively play the malaise card, suggesting indisposition had been affecting her for the past two weeks, when she had been playing with sublime form here, her best tennis in years.
She did look bleary-eyed afterwards, though.
"I felt I was fighting some circumstances I couldn't conquer.''
What she couldn't conquer, notably, were several of Henin's brassy drop volleys and angling topspin shots. Nor was it characteristic of Williams to be so weak on her second serve, successfully attacked by Henin.
In sweeping the siblings, Henin accomplished what no woman has managed at a major other than Martina Hingis, who pulled off the double-slam at the '01 Australian Open, though losing the final to Jennifer Capriati.
World No.1 Henin, who hasn't dropped a set here, had earlier admitted being somewhat in fear of the Williams sister, coming into this match with a 1-7 record against Venus, though the two hadn't met head-to-head since 2003. Henin has captured six majors since then, the same as Venus.
"I didn't believe in myself, didn't trust myself enough in the last few years against them. This year, a lot of things have changed. I still have a lot of respect but I'm not scared anymore. It's been really, really important to me in this tournament to play both of them. It was a great challenge and I did it.''
Then, one turn of the screw: "They are both great champions. I can admit that.''
Not-so-subtle implication: They can't.