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Venus and Serena Williams' part-time approach not as easy as it looks - Jon Wertheim - SI.com
Jon Wertheim> TENNIS MAILBAG
Belgians show that Williams' cherry picking is harder than it appears
For many years, the knock on the Williams sisters was they were part-time players and did not dedicate themselves to the sport. They were also maligned because this part-time approach was deemed unfair, because it allowed them to be fit and fresh for the big tournaments. I believe the term used was "cherry picking." Now with the return of the Belgians and them opting for a similar schedule, this part-time approach is not seen as a bad thing. I for one don't think the Belgians will be successful with the part-time approach and, if they continue with it, there will be lots of upsets. Do you think the Belgians should continue with this approach, or should they go back to what made them successful in the first place? Remember though, it was the daily grind that prompted their retirements in the first place. I think with this part-time approach, a lot of people are going to begin to see the genius that is the sisters. Cherry picking is not as easy as it looks.
• Cherry picking is not as easy as it looks: That's a really good point. Some players need the rhythm and structure that comes with a full slate of events. For them, rationing their events, going weeks (months, even) without match play and then getting back in the winning business, isn't easy. Both Clijsters and Henin looked like regressed between Australia and Indian Wells, and you wonder if they didn't pay the price for playing so sparingly in between. This, of course, has seldom been a problem for Venus and Serena.
More generally, the entire way the Williams sisters have approached their scheduling needs to be reconsidered. When they burst on the scene and played only when they felt like it -- withdrawing often, retiring often, resisting the WTA's pressure to amp up their commitments -- they drew ire. As they began winning consistently, the attitude shifted, grudgingly, to, "It's unfortunate they're so unreliable, but whatever works for them."
Then, as other, younger players retired, unretired, burnt out, injured themselves and came back too soon, the Williams Method (circa 1998) has proven to be the most sensible philosophy. You don't burn out, You put your interest ahead of promoters' interest. You don't play hurt, lest you turn a tweak into a serious injury. You don't worry about rankings and points and bonuses. At a combined age that's nearing 60, they're still around. Case closed.
Has the women's game ever been this deep or are the top players really just that beat up? I'm beginning to think a girl like Radwanska, who has plenty of game to match her lack of power, might actually have a shot at say, Roland Garros? Henin is clearly focusing on Wimbledon and Clijsters is a day-to-day wildcard. Who knows what we'll get from Serena and Safina. All this melee has got to give Martina Hingis some anxiety about one last shot at the game. While I won't hold my breath, here's hoping that Radwanska gives her something to think about.
--James Frew, Corpus Christi
• Amen. An unabashed A-Rad fan here. She's like the Hingis for this era. She's not going to blast too many opponents off the court. But she does these weird things that are really effective. One is playing strategic tennis, leaving the mindless baseline bashing to the others. The other thing she does: She goes games and games without missing a ball.
Ironic and a bit disturbing that BNP Paribas would choose a TV ad campaign that shows fans jumping onto a tennis court and taking over a match. I bet Monica and Roger aren't amused.
--Dave Huddleston, Cleveland, Ohio
• Totally, totally agree. I made the same point to my wife the first time I saw that ad. Love BNP's commitment to tennis. But why on earth -- given both recent and not-so-recent history -- would you make an advertisement glorifying an interloper running onto the court?
I'm baffled here.
1) Natasha Zvereva is in the HOF, and you're balking at JCF? I'd say, a Grand Glam title, a Davis Cup win and the No. 1 ranking get him in. 2) Regarding Nicole Vaidisova, I think the note to agents should be, "Don't let Radek Stepanek anywhere near your player."
• Zvereva is in the de facto doubles corridor. (The same way I'd be willing to bet on the Bryans getting in over Roddick or Safin or even Lleyton Hewitt.) As for Vaidisova, apart from being burdened with "babe pressures" before she won much of anything, there were the familiar, familial coaching issues.
My buddies and recently contested whether or not professional tennis players are fantastic athletes. I contend that, yes, they are unbelievable athletes. My two friends, however, hold firm that tennis players aren't that great, and that returning a serve is not that impressive, considering the bounce slows the speed of the serve. Would you be kind enough to weigh in here?
--Jay Zavislak, Phoenix
• You win. Today's players are exceptional athletes, no matter how we define that term. Even a cursory glance ought to confirm that.
I don't know why but I am still a fan of Ana Ivanovic and I am absolutely stunned at how far she's dropped since winning the French. What is up with her? She used to be so mentally tough; now she's about as mentally tough as Anna Kournikova! I really should give up on Ana, but I really hope she can get her act together. I'm almost wishing she hadn't won the French!
--Keith Jacobson, Minneapolis, Minn.
• This has gone from a downturn, to an injury-triggered slump, to something entirely more disconcerting. You can only change coaches and tinker with both equipment and motion so many times before you have to ask yourself some hard questions. Remember that before Ivanovic won the French, she'd been firmly embedded in the top 10, she had already reached the final of a major and won plenty of matches. But lately she's lucky to win matches. I think the "babe trope" is wrong. Sharapova had immeasurably more marketing pressure and continued winning majors. The takeaways: 1) The serve is the foundation of a player's game. When that goes, the machinery goes. 2) Confidence perpetuates in both directions. Players with momentum can will themselves to win. Players with doubt lose before they step on the court. 3) Some players win majors and their hunger intensifies. "Now I've broken through, it's time to get greedy." Other players win majors and their hunger is sated.
I'd never encourage you to give up on a player. But (maybe Iva Majoli notwithstanding) I can't recall a player so young and full of promise win a major, and struggle so mightily.
In your March 17 mailbag column, you said, "Two disappointing results, especially at an event where the women's draw is depleted to begin with" in reference to Henin and Clisters' early exit. Since only three players from the WTA's Top 20 were absent (Serena, Venus, Safina), what do you mean by "depleted"?
--Linda, Suffolk, Va.
• The self-proclaimed "biggest event outside the majors" minus Venus and Serena equals depleted.
Regarding Juan Carlos Ferrero and the hall of fame. I tend to agree and, based on your criteria, I guess we should also forget about inviting in another player whose "lone major came during a soft spot in the men's game" and has the same number of Masters titles (four) as ... Andy Roddick.
--Ken Kelly, Oviedo, Spain
I think Alisa Kleybanova is more of a "fine" player as you put it. I'm going one step further and say she wins maybe one Grand Slam this year. You can call me out later. Also, I think she looks like John Isner ... no?
• You get credit for the Isner line. In terms of tennis, one of you also made a good comparison to a young Lindsay Davenport -- a clean ball striker who will be even better once she gets in better shape. As things stand now, it's hard to see her winning a Slam. But let's revisit in a year.
As baffling as it is when someone becomes a No. 1 tennis player without winning a Grand Slam, isn't it just as baffling (if not more, even) that Caroline Wozniacki is No. 2 without ever winning a Tier I event?
--Kody Leonard, Portland, Ore.
• Again the purpose of the rankings is really two-pronged: 1) to reflect merit/reward achievement and 2) to incent players to enter a lot of events. Wozniacki plays a lot of tennis al over the globe and is rewarded accordingly. She also -- let's not forget -- reached the final of a major (and the final of big-ticket Indian Wells) all at a time when the women's field picture is clouded by injuries, retirements, unretirements and general inconsistency. Wozniacki is not the second-best female in the world. But she could be one day.