Wertheim gives Justine hardly any credit and says that the semi "wasn't a classic"
Wertheim is starting to really annoy me. I normally enjoy his jokey style and the fact that he's opinionated, but this article is just innaccurate. Yes, both players made some errors but hardly any compared to many other matches this year; Yes, both players got a little nervous. But, I've been following tennis for coming onto ten years, and I've rarely seen such a superb display of shot-making from two players. Both Serena and Justine made some beautiful winners and there were some stunning rallies.
To me it sounds as though he just can't cope with the fact that he underestimated Justine and gave her no chance against Serena. I expect that if she wins against Kim, it'll also be because of her opponent's errors. What does she have to do to get some credit?
Nerves, errors lead to demise against Henin-Hardenne
Posted: Thursday June 05, 2003 1:45 PM
Serena Williams' year-long reign over the four Grand Slams ended Thursday with a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals of the French Open. SI.com spoke to Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim to get his impressions of the match.
SI.com: How was Henin-Hardenne able to beat Serena?
Jon Wertheim: It's a big win for Justine, which really is what matters. The scoreline was good and the drama was good, but this will not go down as a classic semifinal match. I think both of them got nervous, and Serena's tactics just went to hell. I talked to her mother, Oracene, afterward, and Oracene said she was going to wring Serena's neck if she keeps trying dropshots.
When Serena was up 4-2, 30-0 in the third, the crowd really got on her, and despite what she said, that really seemed to have an effect. On the other hand, Justine had a chance to serve the match out, and she was broken at love. So I don't think anyone really gutted anything out. Justine benefitted from a lot of Serena's errors, then at 6-5 she played a strong game and deserves credit for that. The scoreline would indicate this was a great match, but really it wasn't.
SI.com: What was with all the service breaks? Did both players just have an off day or was it something the opponent was doing?
Wertheim: I think both were nervous. Serena said otherwise, but even Oracene thought Serena looked jittery. Both players are good returners and neither of them hit their serves very well Thursday. There was not a lot of variety and there were a lot of double faults. It was funny, because the conditions didn't seem that bad. But sometimes you have good matches and sometimes you don't. Service breaks didn't mean much, that's for sure.
SI.com: Has Serena's fitness ever come into question? She really seemed a step slow toward the end of the match.
Wertheim: Serena's fitness didn't seem to be an issue in Australia when she played a match with Kim Clijsters that was just as long but in hotter conditions. But on Thursday Serena did seem a little fatigued. Maybe the dropshots figured into it, because it was pretty clear long before the third set that that was not an effective tactic.
But it's a huge win for Henin. When you're serving to beat Serena Williams to go to a Grand Slam final -- like Clijsters did in Australia -- one shudders to think what it would do to your confidence if you're not able to win the match. So, as a human being, it's nice that Justine was able to serve it out.
SI.com: In addition to the many errant dropshots, Serena overall seemed to be very sloppy. Was her strategy flawed?
Wertheim: Those dropshots were just crazy. Even at 4-all in the third she was still trying them. There was a lot of hitting off her back foot, the kind of stuff she can get away with when everything's clicking. I also think she felt a lot of pressure because she played so well in her last match, almost too well. It was inevitable that her game was going to come down, and when she came out so slow Thursday that was jarring. She lost more games in the first 15 minutes than she did in her entire quarterfinal match. She was down 0-3 after 10 minutes, while she lost only three games the whole match against AmŽlie Mauresmo.
The Williams family does things its own way, and I have to believe not a whole lot of scouting was done. Their attitude is, I'll win if I'm supposed to win, and I'll lose because I don't hit my shots. The opponent is almost irrelevant -- but Thursday that was not the case.
SI.com: Serena's game definitely seems off compared to last year. Has she slipped at all?
Wertheim: I think playing on clay has a lot to do with it. But we have to give Justine credit -- she did serve well in parts and she flustered Serena with her fast start. Going up 3-0 and winning the first set with three breaks rattled Serena.
It would have been nice for women's tennis to have had a Grand Slam winner, but at the same time a player stepped up and beat Serena in a major, which nobody's done in almost two years. There was so much disappointment after Mauresmo's shaky performance, but it will be good to have a first-time winner.
SI.com: How did Clijsters play in her easy win over Nadia Petrova?
Wertheim: Clijsters looked a little nervous at the beginning, but it was pretty clear she was the superior player. Down set point in the first set, she hit a let-cord, dropshot winner; she only lost one game after that.
SI.com: Rather than two Williamses, we now have two Belgians in the final. Did anything you saw Thursday change your pre-tournament prediction that Clijsters will win?
Wertheim: No, I'm sticking with Clijsters. She has the added benefit of playing doubles Friday, which gives her a match to stay fresh and keeps her from having a day to get nervous.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim is in Paris covering the French Open for the magazine and will file regular reports from Roland Garros. Click here to send a question or comment to his Tennis Mailbag.