I'd rather say that she is the Top Cat.
Serena is tennis' Tiger
By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
KEY BISCAYNE -- The people who keep comparing Serena Williams to her older sister, Venus, are like the rest of the players on the WTA Tour.
They have some catching up to do.
Since the men's and women's tennis tours stopped here last year for the Nasdaq-100 Open, Serena has taken her game to such an ethereal place that the only valid comparison anymore is with golfer Tiger Woods.
The world's best women's tennis player has met the world's best golfer. Williams said Woods had an aura about him, "kind of like Sean Connery." Serena is the same way. Her magnetism is as strong as Queen Latifah's.
The younger Williams has in her possession all four Grand Slam titles, as Woods did in 2001. She is undefeated this year and has a 50-2 record in singles in her past 11 tournaments.
Like Woods, she is virtually unbeatable when she has her "A" game -- and tough as Teflon even when she doesn't. Against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals of the Australian Open, Serena staved off two match points on her way to overcoming a 1-5 deficit in the final set.
Serena defeated Venus in the final in Melbourne in three sets. Serena, 21, is playing at such a high level, she is making some resplendent players feel vastly inferior.
After losing her fourth consecutive Grand Slam final to Serena, in Melbourne, Venus said she wants to be just like her sister. It was a stunning role reversal. As recently as two years ago, Serena was her sister's Mini-me, mimicking everything Venus did to such a degree that she has said it was like having two Venuses around.
This week, Serena returns to the place where she declared her autonomy. Crandon Park is Serena's Independence Hall. The 2002 winner's check, cut by tournament organizers after her defeat of Jennifer Capriati in the final, is her personal bill of rights.
When Serena defeated Venus 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals last year, a seismic shift occurred in the family dynamics. It was only the second time in seven tries that Serena had defeated Venus in a WTA match. She hasn't lost to her since.
"It has never been easy for me to play Venus," Serena said, and not just because of their blood ties. "She's a great player. She's difficult to play and very difficult to beat. It was a little bit of a mental block for me. To finally win a big match against Venus in a big tournament was a pretty big confidence booster for me."
Serena, who had lost to Venus in straight sets in the U.S. Open final six months earlier, said the victory came wrapped in an epiphany. She realized, "It's OK to do well against your sister. I think that was a big point that I was able to assess and... finally, I was able to do what I knew I could."
She parlayed that hard-won knowledge into a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Venus in the French Open final. With the victory came the No. 1 world ranking. Serena hasn't budged from the top spot, despite spreading her wings last fall to give acting and modeling a try.
Serena played a teacher on the sitcom My Wife and Kids and did her best Tyra Banks imitation for every magazine from Sports Illustrated to Vogue. When the new season began, she seamlessly jumped back into her role as the WTA Tour's leading lady.
If her rivals were banking on Serena resting on her laurels, they were in for a rude awakening to 2003. Jennifer Capriati, the last woman other than a Williams to be ranked No. 1, admitted this month, "I'd like to say if I'm playing my best that I'll be winning everything. But I can't say that nowadays."
Good for Capriati for giving credit where credit is due. She was slow to do so last year, and her public image suffered for it.
Capriati does not have a defeatist attitude. She's not giving up: She's trying to be gracious. That wasn't a surrender she issued. It was a concession that right now, Serena is that much better than everybody else.
We've heard Woods' rivals say similar things. Ernie Els, after finishing second to Woods at the U.S. and British Opens in 2000, conceded then that when Woods was on his game, everybody else was playing for second.
He wasn't being spineless, just straightforward. That same year, Els started working with a sports psychologist. Perhaps not coincidentally, this year Els has emerged as a most worthy challenger of Woods. Indeed, the golf world is waiting with bated breath for Woods and Els to tee off this week at the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando.
There's nothing wrong with Clijsters' game, or Amelie Mauresmo's, that a sports psychologist couldn't cure. Clijsters and Mauresmo are one frame of mind short of their Grand Slam close-up.
Serena keeps winning because she has turned her mind into her best weapon. A fantastic journey fueled by desire is soaring on the wings of intrepidity.