"WAY TO CARRY IT - SERENA" "YOU'RE A BADD GIRL FOR LIFE"
Posted on Sun, Mar. 30, 2003
Serena's top spin has tour dizzied
She is Tiger Woods.
Serena Williams is that kind of champion now, the kind who can overcome sickness, fatigue, pain, boredom, sloppiness, weather and whoever has the misfortune of being on the other side of the net, though the last element is less relevant than it ever has been.
The only thing that can slow her now is that she becomes weary of holding trophies over her head, bored with excellence. She has turned the tour into a story that always has the same ending, the championship reduced to redundancy. Jennifer Capriati, Kim Clijsters and even Williams' sister, Venus, are doing nothing more than playing for second place.
And here's what happens as Williams stacks all these successes atop one another, winning every meaningful match this sport has had on the female side for more than a year: Her aura grows so huge that it gets to the court before she does and becomes as big a weapon as her serve.
She knows she is going to win, and her opponent does, too, and there is no underestimating the value of that when things get uncomfortable late, belief undefeated against doubt.
Earlier in this tournament, Capriati created a stir by warming up to Outkast's majestic Bombs Over Baghdad, the opening lyric of which is ''Thunder pounds when I stomp the ground like a million elephants with silverback orangutans.'' You got the impression Saturday, as Williams thundered back on Capriati, that Capriati was looking over her shoulder throughout that third set, not only waiting but expecting to be trampled by those elephants and orangutans.
What was Williams thinking after she lost that first set? That it would take her three sets to take that trophy away from Capriati instead of two? Compare that with Capriati's state of mind, which she described thusly: ``When you are playing the point, there's high anxiety.''
You can't hit a tennis ball where you want if your hand or mind is trembling. Williams' strength, it isn't just something you'll find in her legs.
The match was over before the scoreboard confirmed it. Capriati, out of shape, withered in the heat (South Florida's and Williams'). Part of the reason for Capriati's fatigue, aside from a lifestyle that had the tabloids reporting her dancing on bars topless while waving cigarettes and hanging out with her ''Friend'' Matthew Perry? She was haunted by Williams the night before, Serena creeping into Capriati's sleep.
''Racy mind,'' Capriati said. She meant ''racing,'' but Williams can leave your mind scrambled that way.
Williams is lured to this like sharks to chum.
''She was getting a little tired in the third,'' she said of Capriati.
Then, through a laugh: ``And I was just starting.''
It's hard to criticize Capriati too much for not being in the kind of shape that won her the Australian Open when her career resurrection is rivaled only by John Travolta's. (Can we get him to go away, by the way?)
She celebrated her 27th birthday Saturday, meaning she has been famous for half her life, and we can use the word ''celebrated'' even in defeat because there was a time there when she was on the kind of self-destructive path that made you wonder if she'd ever get near 27.
Still, she didn't give herself or the fans the third set they deserved because she is softer than she should be, and it is hard enough to beat Williams even if your body and mind are in perfect condition. It doesn't make for good punctuation, Capriati dissolving as soon as Williams won the second set. Capriati was defeated already even though the match was tied.
Not that Williams has been singularly focused lately. She described through giggles a workout regimen that had too much Snickers and not enough weight work. She admitted, to her trainer's dismay, she hadn't been to the gym for a month.
And doesn't that have to be the most discouraging thing for anyone trying to climb toward her throne? Williams was sick earlier in this tournament and still won. She played about as poorly as she can Saturday, against one of the world's best, and still won.
She went a month without working out or even practicing much and still won.
If nobody can beat her at her worst, what are they going to do with her best? Williams sounded a little bit embarrassed about that afterward, saying, ``I can't keep doing it like that because there are people out there working harder.''
So she'll return to the practice courts this week and add to her aura, which is all she needs on some days.
But now she has this victory, which is something to put in her arsenal as well as her trophy case. Because the next time she is in a real third set, a tight one, she'll know that she can win, no matter how sick she is or how poorly she is playing or how little preparation she has done.
Her mind is stronger today than it was before this victory, which means her game is, too, and that should make the minds of opponents all over this tour start racing the way Capriati's was when Serena crept into her sleep.
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