November 8, 2002 E-mail story Print
Serena Issues a Wake-Up Call
Looking, if not playing, in the pink, she enlivens an otherwise dreary second night at WTA Championships.
Serena Issues a Wake-Up Call
Weary Dokic Says She Could Use Peace and Quiet
By Lisa Dillman, Times Staff Writer
Maybe a coffee company should seize title sponsorship of the Home Depot WTA Championships next year.
Winners are tired. Losers are exhausted. Even an out-of-it-looking ballboy had to be gently prodded into action the first night of this season-ending event.
It's called the race to the Championship. How about the crawl?
There was one visible exception Thursday: No. 1-seeded and defending champion Serena Williams.
Williams said she wasn't operating at optimum level — calling it a C-minus performance — but her 6-2, 6-2 first-round victory over Anna Smashnova of Israel would have been at least an A-minus showing for anyone else. She took out Smashnova in 54 minutes, hitting six aces and 28 winners.
The match yielded one unusual statistic. Smashnova failed to hit a single winner. That's hard to do, frankly.
"She overpowered me. It's another level," Smashnova said. "Normally my game is not hitting winners and today it would be more difficult for me to hit one. I would probably have to risk so much and hit maybe 50-50 shots and I didn't want to do that."
In other first-round matches, eighth-seeded Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia defeated Anastasia Myskina of Russia, 6-3, 6-4; Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria upset No. 7 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, 6-2, 7-5, and No. 3 Jennifer Capriati beat Silvia Farina Elia of Italy, 7-5, 6-1.
Though the crowds were sparse again, even for the night session, the atmosphere was more lively than the first night, which obviously had something to do with Williams, the reigning French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion.
Apparently, the stress of defending this title is minimal.
"I have a large bounty on my head," Williams said, smiling.
Williams, wearing a pink dress and pink headband, embraces being the entertainer and she pulled out a versatile array of shots, mixing power with angles and an occasional venture to the net.
She added a new element to her victory celebration, in part borrowed from Mr. Entertainment himself, Andre Agassi. Williams blew kisses to the four sides of the court. Well, at least someone appreciated the few fans who did show up on a Thursday night.
"It's hard in L.A. I think over the weekend we'll have a great crowd, but normally on weekdays, it's tough to get people to come out to the tennis," Williams said. "I do perform better in front of a larger crowd. I get into it a little more. I guess it's just that whole entertainer thing comes into mind."
One of the reasons Williams doesn't look like she is trying to conceal a yawn on the court is her scheduling. This is her 13th tournament of 2002, and after winning the U.S. Open, she played back-to-back events in Tokyo and Germany. She called a timeout after Germany.
"It's been a really long year, and the end of the year is always especially tough," she said. "It's like one more tournament, one more match. And that can get you to go crazy.
"I was on the verge of that in Germany, but I had to take a little break and step back."
Now, her decision to pull out of her next three events after Germany looks sensible if you look and listen to the other players in the field. Vacations are needed all around, based on this sampling:
Myskina: "Today, I feel really bad. I feel it's the worst match in my life.... I'm going to send my racket straight to Russia and go the opposite way."
Maleeva: "Everybody is tired. I'm dead. You just deal with it."
And finally, there is Dokic, who is playing her 29th tournament. Dokic is the Yevgeny Kafelnikov of the women's tour. If she played a Williams-like schedule, it would practically be a sabbatical.
"I think a lot of players are getting tired and injured," she said. "I think it's the schedule that does it. Mentally, I'm really feeling it much more than physically. It's hard to fight out there when you play so many matches and tournaments. The last five or six tournaments, it's hard because your mind is not on the court so much. Maybe only 20, 21 tournaments. I'll cut down a lot."