Tiger also lost Sunday. So it proves the best can be beaten on any given day. Although in golf - does the player beat himself - the course -the other players - or all three?
"YOU'RE STILL THE 1 TO BEAT - SERENA" "U 2 - VENUS"
April 16, 2003
Serena Williams intimidates, inspires everybody in women's tennis
By Mike Christensen
RIPPLES from Serena Williams' loss in the final of the Family Circle Cup on Sunday were felt even on the clay courts of Jackson's River Hills Club, where the Trustmark/USTA $25,000 Challenger began this week.
"In a way, it was good to see her lose," said Teryn Ashley, 24, a former Stanford star who's ranked 171st and seeded second here. "It's encouraging for the other players."
Serena Williams looms over women's tennis these days much the way Tiger Woods does over golf.
Players at the challenger level of the pro tennis circuit players still honing their games while scrambling for ranking points are fully aware of how high the bar has been set by Williams.
"I would be intimidated by Serena," said Tanner Cochran, an 18-year-old, second-year pro who is ranked in the 240s.
"Against a lot of the others (in the Top 10), I wouldn't be, but I am (intimidated) by her."
And that's understandable.
Sunday's loss at Charleston, S.C., to Justine Henin-Hardenne, was the first of the year in 22 matches for Williams.
The world's No. 1 player has won the last four Grand Slams, including the Australian Open in January, and she will be the woman to beat in every Slam for the foreseeable future.
"She's so strong and fast," Ashley said. "She's relentless, mentally tough. I'm sure she wins half her matches just through intimidation."
A big target
Even the top players, former No. 1s, have reason to feel insecure in Williams' presence.
Williams has beaten Jennifer Capriati six straight times.
She's beaten Lindsay Davenport five straight times.
Martina Hingis, now essentially retired, could not beat Williams when she departed the scene last year.
Serena has even put distance between herself and older sister Venus, the world's No. 2 player.
Serena Williams' expected run at a sweep of this year's Grand Slams could be a good thing for tennis and not just for the media and fan attention it would generate.
Having one dominant player gives the others even players outside the top 100, such as the ones here this week a target at which to take aim.
Williams has a big serve, possibly the best in the history of women's tennis. She hits with wicked power off both sides and seems to take great delight in covering every nook and cranny of the court.
"She has definitely raised the level of play for everybody," Cochran said. "She's a step ahead. You watch her play and you want to add the things she does to your game, because she's winning everything."
'Love to play her'
After the loss to Henin-Hardenne, Williams, whose expressions of confidence often border on arrogance, issued the following warning:
"Sometimes you need to lose. Like, I'm so motivated now. I can just feel it coming on again. So you've got to watch out."
One wonders if the other Top 10 players shuddered when they heard that.
Yet here at River Hills on Tuesday, we had Diana Ospina, 23, and a full-time pro since 1998, offering a refreshing opinion of the challenge posed by Serena Williams.
"I would love to play her," Ospina said. "I would think, 'What an awesome opportunity!' I'd have nothing to lose.
"To me, that's the whole point of what we're doing. You play the No. 1 player in the world and see where you're at.
"I've always been taught to play the ball, not the opponent. Serena's a great player, a Grand Slam champion. But I'd give myself a shot."
Perhaps more players in the women's game need to take that attitude.