Venus forces the issue
January 24 2003
By Peter Hanlon
Venus Williams does not generally talk tactics with her coach/mother, which spares both from wasting their words. Or word.
Aggression is all Venus knows, and as Justine Henin-Hardenne was reminded yesterday, if you throw caution to the wind and the various elements of your game all come along for the ride, good luck stopping the train.
Forests have been felled to cater for assessments of the Williams' power game, and there was nothing new in the elder sister's evenly-paced elimination of Henin-Hardenne, 6-3, 6-3, in two 37-minute sets.
"I think that Venus played much more aggressive than me," Henin-Hardenne said. "She returned well, she served good, you know, she came more often than me to the net. She was really aggressive. So nothing to say."
Succinctly put. Williams opened the match with a love service game that included the first of seven aces, six more than her opponent could muster and, appended to two fewer double faults, meant the American virtually received two of her 12 games for free.
Henin-Hardenne's gumption, as ever, could not be questioned. She would have none of the lifeline that things might have been different had she not spent more than three hours on the same court - a portion of it writhing in considerable pain - in dispensing of Lindsay Davenport four days earlier. "That's not the reason."
The Belgian was flat post-match, as you might be after showcasing your wares - the dreamy backhand, solid forehand and firm hands under fire at the net - and finding them still short of the mark. Her shoulder hurt by match end, and she was "generally tired"; playing Venus on song must do that to you.
When asked what is required to catch the world's most famous sisters, she did well not to groan. "It's always the same question," Henin-Hardenne said, adding that it will be tough, and everyone else will just have to keep trying.
Williams seemed to control the match so completely, it was surprising to reflect that Henin-Hardenne was first to break serve, taking a 2-1 lead when her opponent drilled a forehand volley into the net.
Williams returned the favour immediately, and after four games in a row went to the receiver, the American settled into her considerable stride. A 210 kmh fault began the last point of the set, and she drew to 1-1 in the next with aces of 174 kmh, 185 kmh and 193 kmh, then a 181 kmh offering that Henin-Hardenne flapped back into play, but not for long. Williams dropped serve for a second time at 5-2, but closed the door in the next.
It will not cheer the rest of the WTA Tour that Williams is planning to work harder on her serve when she returns to Florida "because it's a really important part of the game . . . it's where you start the point". Henin-Hardenne eschewed such groundbreaking pronouncements, preferring to identify her opponent's return as the killer blow.
When all was done, Williams awaited her opponent's congratulations still bouncing on the balls of her feet at the net, and gave as close to an indication as there is in Venus land that she will occupy the same ground whenever the chance presents itself tomorrow.
"I try when I have some short balls," she said of her 19 net approaches at a 63 per cent success rate. "But a lot of times the girls are playing the balls deep, especially as the tournament goes on. So when I have the chance, I'll try."
Her focus will be on staying within herself, knowing that the errors come when mind gets ahead of body and impact is lost in the rush. But the gameplan will remain the same.
"It's my nature to play an aggressive game because really the people that are winning are playing aggressive and making something happen on the court."