The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 7/7/02 ]
No contrasts, no rivalries
What a muddled game tennis is these days.
Here at the end of its most hallowed fortnight, the sport finds itself woefully short on compelling story lines. There is little women's tennis anymore outside the front door of a single household. OK, it is an interesting sidelight that the top two players in the world could readily donate kidneys to each other, but after awhile, even that rarity is going to grow tired.
And with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in retreat, the men's half of the draw is as faceless as a bad boy band. Plenty of steak, no sizzle.
Even good, loyal ALTA-playing people are finding themselves disengaged from the pro game. If they want to watch a family trade forehands, they can drive over to the subdivision courts any weekend.
Tennis finds itself in one of those cyclical troughs now, a down time for producing real, memorable matchups, not just a nice exhibition. Beyond the volleys, what makes tennis watchable are the colors and contrasts of its rivals.
It just helps to have some rooting interest on one side or the other of the net. Do you throw support behind the prim baseliner (Evert) or the go-for-broke power player (Navratilova)? The stoic (Borg) or the bubbling cauldron (McEnroe)? The sprawler (Becker) or the tactician (Edberg)? The jerk (McEnroe) or the jerkier (Connors)?
The search for a passionate rivalry goes sadly wanting these days. The next generation of men has yet to distinguish itself. Meanwhile, you should be able to teach your kids to share as generously as Venus and Serena Williams are sharing the spoils of the women's game. All the toys get spread around willingly, equally.
It is the job of rivals to bring out the best in each other. On the court, the Williams sisters often seem to bring out the worst. All the bold and beautiful tennis they display early in the tournament turns tentative when aimed at each other. It is impossible to summon your competitive best while worrying about the opponent's feelings.
Getting one close set out of the sisters, observers were delighted with the Wimbledon final Saturday. That was considered a great step forward. But it is difficult to imagine a real edge to any of their matches because it's obvious they love each other just too darn much.
Nobody knows quite what to make of this situation. It's so unprecedented. One sporting sibling is always superior to the other; that's nature's way. Suddenly, it's like Henry and Tommy Aaron both chasing the all-time home run title at the same time.
The question is asked the Williams sisters with increasing frequency: Are you good for tennis? As if they are supposed to answer, "No. I think we should be split up and forced into separate nunneries."
The two are so clearly better than anyone else that there will be many more meetings like Saturday's. Little sister Serena has all grown up, earning the No. 1 world ranking, her first Wimbledon singles title and her very own German stalker. She definitely has overcome all traces of Venus envy.
So, who do you pick, Venus or Serena?
Guess I'm more of a Serena person. From a distance, she seems to be the stronger-minded of the two, the one of a little more depth.
Why not throw support behind the one who says, "I can tell the difference between me and Venus on the court. I'm more emotional, I pump my fists more, I scream a little more."
And: "I'm the first to cry, especially in the movies."
Granted, those are pretty flimsy grounds for choosing sides, but these are difficult times for tennis, what with rivalries blurred all the way to the genetic level
I found this article which sums up the situation well