Bud Collins - nbc.com
PARIS, June 1 ó It was a heady Sunday for Russia at the French Open as two of its young players rose to prominence by pulling off upsets of third-seeded Venus Williams and seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati, leaving the two highly-touted Americans looking dazed and confused.
Venus Williams is fully enveloped in her days of malaise and it showed in her 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 loss to Russiaís Vera Zvonareva, who is the No. 22 seed.
Venus came into this tournament at less than 100 percent physically, but that didnít excuse her horrific play against the 18-year-old Russian.
And Venus did not blame her recent abdominal problems for her loss.
Her opponent faced her down, using hard, consistent groundstrokes and a willingness to chase balls to the limits.
Zvonareva never quivered, but Venus quaked, careening 75 unforced errors, never taking advantage of big opportunities and not managing to get her forehand under control.
Venus was wandering around the court without much of a strategy.
For a four-time Grand Slam champion who once lit up the world with her beaming smile when she ruled in London and New York, it was a very sad day.
Since Venus lost her fourth straight Grand Slam final to her little sister, Serena, in Australia back in January, she has been a phantom on tour, winning only one title.
Her three-set loss to her sister Down Under has clearly devastated her.
In the last game of that match, she looked so unsure of herself that it appeared her right arm might fall off because it was shaking so mightily when she went up to serve.
The woman who could once scorch a heater at crunch time, the woman who dared her foes to hit wide to her backhand so she could launch a blistering reply down the line had gone up in smoke in Australia and was merely a ball of nerves.
That Venus Williams ó the one who had stood above all others in the womenís game, even her little sister ó disappeared in the Melbourne humidity and she really hasnít been seen since.
I think Venus is a little depressed because she isnít sure whether she can ever leapfrog Serena.
As a result, her level of play has dropped to a point where she is very vulnerable to a number of players, including younger competitors like Zvonavera.
Venus needs a large dose of confidence and the only way sheís going to get it is to get hungry again.
Venus has to show some emotion and tell herself, Serena, and the world that she still cares about competing and winning.
Venus has a beautiful smile that the world loves to see, but on court, she needs to flash her fangs a little more.
Venus needs to commit to making some decent-sized changes in her game.
Her failure over the past year and a half to charge the net when given the opportunity is really holding her back.
She needs to go for her second serve more and take more risks with her first serve.
Venus told me that coming in to the net isnít a natural instinct for her, but a woman of her height and with her wingspan could further develop her tennis mind and gradually get used to moving forward.
She completely retooled her forehand three years ago and so she can certainly learn to propel her long legs loping ahead.
Boy, do I ever concur with Bud's feelings in this article. Sometimes a defeat or an unusual can make or break a champion, it made a player like Agassi, but it clearly broke a sensitive player like VENUS. One of the mentally toughest players that I have ever seen is in a doldrums that she seems to find inescapable and is like the gunfighter of the old wild west who has lost their confidence and become a shell of their old self.
I want VENUS to get tough again, to regain that fearless confidence, improve that serve, tune that forehand and go out and whip her sister and everyone else and reclaim her rightful place on the tour once again.