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tennisIlove09
Mar 19th, 2003, 06:28 PM
Challenging the Williamses: Anyone?
March 19 2003
By Charles Bricker
THE SUN-SENTINIEL

KEY BISCAYNE - Daniela Hantuchova, a stick figure with a baseball cap and a racket, settled in behind the north baseline on the stadium court at the Nasdaq-100 and began serving while Nigel Sears, her estimable British coach, fed her ball after ball.

Sears continued until you had the sense that Hantuchova's long, slender right arm was going to collapse from fatigue.

"If you want to beat the Williams sisters, you have to serve accurately and you have to have a second serve that doesn't get annihilated. That's a huge key to beating them. We spend an enormous time working on Daniela's serve," Sears said.

"It's not bad now," he added, "but it needs to get a whole lot better."

That's what it has come to now on the women's tour -- not just training to improve your overall game but placing high emphasis on the specific skills it will take to beat Serena and Venus, who have become almost unbeatable in the big events.

On the first day of the Nasdaq, run down the list of suspects in the top 10 and eyeball a few young prospects, primarily Russian, who are rolling up quickly from the top 50. Is there anyone out there capable of knocking Serena and Venus off their perch in the next five years?

Jennifer Capriati? She's 0 for 4 against Venus and has lost her last seven to the sisters. Plus, she has a terrible serve when the money is on the table.

Lindsay Davenport? She has one win in her past nine meetings with Venus, at Linz, Austria, in 2000, and four straight losses to Serena, whom she last beat in 2000, long before Serena swapped her nerves for four straight Grand Slam titles.

Justine Henin-Hardenne? Nice game, great backhand, lots of grit and a small-time serve. Doesn't fit the how-to-beat-Serena-and-Venus mold.

Amelie Mauresmo? She's hurt all the time.

Monica Seles? She's 29, frequently injured and hasn't been in a Grand Slam final in five years.

If there are two young players on the WTA Tour that can challenge the Williamses in the next couple of years it's Kim Clijsters and Hantuchova, and nothing is certain about either.

Clijsters is big enough, quick enough, strong enough and has enough serve to compete with the sisters, though the results aren't there. She had Serena down 5-1 in the third set of their Australian Open semifinal this year but lost her nerve and the last six games.

She's 1-6 against Serena and has lost three of her past four to Venus, with the only win coming when Venus strained her leg at the tour championships last November.

At No. 3 in the rankings behind the Williams sisters, Clijsters has beaten back the rest of the tour. But there's a wide chasm between her and the sisters. Who can say when she'll play her best tennis? Maybe in the next 12 days. Maybe next year. Maybe when the Williams sisters retire from tennis, bored and ready for a new world to conquer.

At 19, Hantuchova is in only her third full year on tour and, though she has risen quickly to the top 10, Sears readily acknowledges that "she's still an evolving player, and a lot of the work she has to do is mental. Daniela is young, and that maturing will only come through playing in tight situations."

It's not just a bigger serve and mental stability she needs, but the ability to abandon her strong baseline game and come forward. "To beat the Williamses is not just a matter of outslugging them," Sears said. "It's outthinking them as well."

When Hantuchova finished her serving, she moved to the service line, where Sears gave her a hundred short balls -- a drill designed to raise her confidence in finishing points halfway to the net.

"When you get those half-chances against them, you have to take it, have to be able to come forward," he said.

It's not easy to bend for short balls when you're 6 feet tall and used to winning points from the baseline, but Sears urges Hantuchova on, telling her not to worry about making errors.

"Sometimes, you have to make a hash of a few things early on to get it right in the end," he said. "I want Daniela to come forward with an eye to the future rather than the immediate."

The future for her, and for Clijsters, is perhaps a year away ... maybe two. Will the Williams sisters still be playing tennis? If they are, they'll be on twin thrones, waiting for the next pretender.


Charles Bricker can be reached at cbricker@sun-sentinel.com.

Gowza
Mar 19th, 2003, 06:32 PM
hjantuchova and/or bovina might in the future but we don't know how much they'll improve and how consistent they'll be. i think they both have the talent to beat the williams sisters but at the moment they are inconsistent and still need to improve a bit to get to that level. but persoanlly i can see the talent there. i think kim can do it if she fixes her mental game and jelen has the potential but needs to find the right mix in her game.

Volcana
Mar 19th, 2003, 07:47 PM
Kim lost her last match to Venus because Venus abandonned HER power game a little, and started slicing and (good God) lobbing. (I think she was kinda using Kim to prepare for Serena a little.) Kim has insane court coverage, but she's conservative with her own groundies. She's a bigger, stronger (dare I say faster Arantxa). She has more tools than ASV, but that's how she plays. She's keeps getting the ball back til you miss, or you give her an easy winner.

The problem comes in when the opponent doesn't miss, AND doesn't give Kim a shot at an easy winner. (See Ai Sugiyama) She needs more offense if she wnats to be more thanthe third best player inthe world, regardless of rank.

Re Dani: I'm VERY happy to see nigel Sears sees that Dani has to get off the damn baseline.

BigTennisFan
Mar 19th, 2003, 07:50 PM
"Daniela Hantuchova, a stick figure with a baseball cap and a racket"

:D Now THAT'S funny. :D

Someone has got to kidnap Dani and force feed her some Baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, butterbeans and hamhocks and hot water cornbread. We gotta get some weight on that child. :)

King Lindsay
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:18 PM
that article did short-sell Kim a bit, omitting her win over Venus in the hamburg final and also not mentioning she was the only player to score a win over both venus and serena all year.

volcana, i know she's not a go-for-broke mary pierce/lindsay davenport style slugger, but i've always thought kim does just fine offensively. what i think she really needs to work on is her tactics. my observation from her australia matches against myskina and serena was that she often hits the wrong shot, or plays the right shot to the wrong side of the court. i think sometimes she tries to be too clever, instead of just hitting to the open court, she'll try and hit behind her opponent, or she'll hit the drop shot, or otherwise make things needlessly complicated. reminded me of a guy i used to play badminton against. so much of the time when he had an easy smash up at the net and i was way out of position, he would play the wrong shot. instead of just crushing a smash that i would not return 90% of the time, he'd play a stupid drop shot in an attempt to be too sneaky. after a while, i got wise to that plan, and he was never able to beat me. anyway, has anybody else noticed this about kimmy, or am i dreaming things that aren't there?

1jackson2001
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:36 PM
I gotta see Venus lob. :)

1jackson2001
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:38 PM
that article did short-sell Kim a bit, omitting her win over Venus in the hamburg final and also not mentioning she was the only player to score a win over both venus and serena all year.

volcana, i know she's not a go-for-broke mary pierce/lindsay davenport style slugger, but i've always thought kim does just fine offensively. what i think she really needs to work on is her tactics. my observation from her australia matches against myskina and serena was that she often hits the wrong shot, or plays the right shot to the wrong side of the court. i think sometimes she tries to be too clever, instead of just hitting to the open court, she'll try and hit behind her opponent, or she'll hit the drop shot, or otherwise make things needlessly complicated. reminded me of a guy i used to play badminton against. so much of the time when he had an easy smash up at the net and i was way out of position, he would play the wrong shot. instead of just crushing a smash that i would not return 90% of the time, he'd play a stupid drop shot in an attempt to be too sneaky. after a while, i got wise to that plan, and he was never able to beat me. anyway, has anybody else noticed this about kimmy, or am i dreaming things that aren't there?

If you're dreaming, then we must be dreaming the same dream. ;)

King Lindsay
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:43 PM
Good to know. :D

disposablehero
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:45 PM
What exactly has Hantuchova done to be put above the field?

maccardel
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:57 PM
Henin is the only player to defeat both Venus and Serena when they were both healthy so to count her out is foolish and to think that all Justine needs to work on is her mental game. I see Justine being more of a challenge than Daniela. Justine has improved a lot since she came on the tour and like some other players she has to contend with the fact that while she is top 10 material, there are other players who are improving at the same rate she is, like Kim. I feel that Justine has the skills to move up faster and last longer than the others she is currently competing against.

I think the writer didn't give Justine enough credit since she would have been the french open finalist and probably champion if she didn't lose her mental game against Kim in the semifinals. She would have beaten Jennifer the same way she did at Wimbledon the following month.

I am skeptical about the writing of this article and see it more as a hype to Daniela than a description to her game. Her game is not at the same level as the other challengers like Kim, Amelie and Justine.

King Lindsay
Mar 19th, 2003, 08:59 PM
"Henin is the only player to defeat both Venus and Serena when they were both healthy"

wrong.

TeeRexx
Mar 19th, 2003, 10:37 PM
This is a funny, but somewhat factual article.
I have said before that the real competition to V&S are between 12 and 15 and not yet on the tour.