Davenport: Is she ready to challenge the Williams sisters?
By Sandra Harwitt
There's no denying that the buzz around tennis circles for most of this year has focused on the sheer brilliance of the "sisters" – Venus and Serena Williams. The constant mention of the siblings being considered practically invincible to all but each other was solidified when the two reached the final of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon with Serena taking the honors on each occasion. The family Grand Slam tally currently stands at four Grand Slam trophies for Venus with Serena closing in quickly with three titles of her own.
All this dominance has naturally brought up the question as to whether this is actually the best scenario for the women's game? Despite their both having intriguing personalities and the fact that there matches against each other are proving to improve, will fans start to get bored with an ongoing all-Williams family Grand Slam final show?
Of course, the outgrowth to this worry is whether there is anyone out there to challenge Venus and Serena?
Naturally, the name of Jennifer Capriati comes up, but at this point the three-time Grand Slam winner is not working any wonders when she faces the sisters. For instance, in four matches played against Serena this year, the reigning two-time Australian Open champion is 0-4 in terms of success. The lowdown on Capriati, which is not a new revelation, is that she needs to improve her serve and carve it into a weapon. For a player of her size, her first serve should pack more punch and not falter as often as it does when she gets nervous. As for Capriati's second serve, it simply is not reliable enough to get the ball in play when she's in a jam, often leaving her double faulting at crucial moments.
DAVENPORT'S MAKES SOLID RETURN
After the brief evaluation on Capriati, the one name that repeatedly surfaces as a possible serious challenge for Venus and Serena is Lindsay Davenport, the player who ended 2001 as the No. 1 but was sidelined with an injury from the start of 2002. Now that Davenport has returned to the court after undergoing right knee surgery in January, the Southern Californian was being carefully scrutinized on her first outing at the Fed Cup competition against Israel this past weekend in Springfield, Missouri. The scouting report brought some good news – although there were moments when she appeared rusty, she came through her matches rather unscathed. Interestingly, she scored a 6-3, 6-3 over Anna Smashnova in her first match of the event, a player who has scored some very impressive victories all season long, but struggled against unknown Tzipi Obziler before securing the match in a third-set tiebreaker.
Of the win over Smashnova, Davenport said, "You know, any time you can win over a Top 20 player, you've got to be happy. My first match back in so long, that I'm even walking afterwards, I'm very, very happy that my knee held up and everything went smoothly. So, I mean, for me it's a 10. I know I have to get better and I'm going to get better. But all things considered, it's just a great way for me to start off again after not playing for so long."
Davenport has done her homework and discussed what to expect when on the comeback trail after a lengthy injury time-off with other players who have experienced a similar situation. She seems aware that it's not going to be a walk in the park – that she isn't just going to return to the level that brought her three Grand Slam titles – the '98 U.S. Open, '99 Wimbledon and '00 Australian Open.
PREPARED FOR THE RIGORS OF HEALING
"Just to start off with a win and physically right now I feel really great – all of that stuff is going to help me," said Davenport, after beating Smashnova. "But I don't know the level of my game or how consistent it will be. I really have never been off this long. A lot of times – the people I've spoken with who have had injuries said to expect up and downs, and it takes a little while until you really feel like you were before the surgery, before the injury."
It's not surprising that Davenport is the person that comes to most minds when the search is on for a player that could score against Venus and Serena. After all, she matches them in size and power, two factors that seem essential to fare well against the siblings. In career meetings, Davenport holds a slight 10-9 edge over Venus, but trails Serena by 7-2. The last time that Davenport played Venus was in the New Haven final almost a year ago and Venus scored the win. Davenport, who has lost to Serena the last three times they've played, was scheduled to face Serena in the 2001 Championships final in November, but having re-injured her knee in the semifinal against Kim Clijsters, withdrew from the match. Without a doubt, it would be foolhardy to expect Davenport to be able to mount a real winning effort practically the minute she steps on the court. Despite that fact, tennis pundits will be watching this week's Bank of the West Classic very closely in hopes that Davenport might come up against Venus Williams during the week. At this point, however, it would be advisable for the conservative gambler to put their money on another All-Williams final to take place at the upcoming U.S. Open.
"For now, Roddick seems to play with the intelligence of a fence post."
Greg Couch, Chicago Sun Times