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Marcell
Jul 16th, 2008, 12:28 AM
Erasing the Asterisk




Hi, everyone. Like many of you, I'm still in suffering from Wimbledon hangover (for a look at one tangential aspect of this condition, click here). And I still have some unfinished Wimbledon business in my notebook. Some of it may be hopelessly dated, but one item is very relevant to the coming months - with the Olympic Games and U.S. Open not that far down the pike. And that's the subject of Venus Williams.

A few of the usual press suspects, including me, had a chance to sit down with Venus shortly before the men's final for a substantial conversation on topics including her win over her kid sister Serena in the women's final. When our interview was over and everyone filed out, I had one of those naturally occurring moments when I was face-to-face with Venus and she wasn't looking elsewhere or otherwise engaged. I congratulated her on the final, and told her that the match represented the highest level of women's I'd ever seen in some thirty-odd years covering the pro tour. She spontaneously lit up and said: Really?

"Really," I replied. "Nobody - not Steffi, not Martina, not Billie Jean King ever played at so high a level as well as I remember against an equally dangerous opponent."

Venus looked pleased, and here I have to paraphrase because the tape recorder was off by then:

The funny thing about that was that because it was Serena, we both had a kind of feel for what the other person would do. So it was - it was like, a little bit weird, because I knew where she was going to go with the ball, and she knew what I was going to try to do, so both of us had to do something else. . . it was kind of strange, and that's why some of the points developed in kind of a funny way, you know, like no rallies, or both of us more or less being in the same place at the same time.

This rang true, because it rephrased in somewhat more abstract form something she had said in the mass press conference right after her epic win (a triumph that secured Venus's fifth title, and her undisputed place among the greatest Wimbledon champions of all time). Let me lift the passage from the post I wrote right after that match:

You know, uhm, I think the level of play was really high. I think a lot of the times one of us was overpowering the other . So I hit a hard ball on the line, she can't get it back. Or, you know, I tried to go for too much because I'm anticipating that she's gonna run my shot down. Or I hit a huge serve, she hits one I can't return.

So in between us overpowering each other we had, I think, some really competitive rallies and intense points, you know, where one player would come back and take the point, when it looked like the other player was gonna win.So, you know, we're both very powerful, and I think it showed out there.

The key word here, folks, is "overpowering." And for those of you who took issue with my contention that this was the highest level of women's tennis I've ever witnessed (what, you wanted a proverbial "great match" too?), I can only say that "overpowering" is not a word generally associated with WTA tennis. Artful? Sure. Graceful? Sure. Impressive? Yeah, that too. Overpowering? Rarely - at least not in the strictest sense of that word. The word draws its meaning from the root word "power" (apologies to Mr. Webster if this somehow runs counter to his definition). I understand that many of you don't necessarily worship at that altar, and that's fine. But ignore it at your peril.

Right after the final, I almost wrote what I still think was my most noteworthy observation about the match. But I avoided it, partly out of concern the way it might be taken as a slight when it wasn't intended as one. Now, I'll come clean. When I watch a women's match, there's usually a small asterisk somewhere in the back of my mind, and no matter how enjoyable or riveting the match, that asterisk demands that I add the phrase, . . . for women's tennis. That is, I might think, "That's a great backhand. . . for women's tennis. Or, this is great stuff. . . for women's tennis. But watching as well as reflecting on the Wimbledon final later, the asterisk was conspicuous in absence. For once, I didn't have to shove it into a back corner of my mind.

Maybe I'm just confessing some deep-rooted and indefensible prejudice - I'm entirely open to that idea. But my policy, developed many years ago, was to see WTA and ATP tennis through a different set of eyes, embracing different standards of measurement. This was especially true in the service department, where you could just throw the First Commandment of Tennis (Thou Shalt Hold Serve) right out the window, and not read too much into the breakfests that often masqueraded as matches - that was the point, in fact: they weren't masquerading as anything. They were part of the women's tennis deal.

The women's game overwhelmingly tended to turn on how well the players handled the Second Commandment (Thou Shalt Play Consistently), and whether or not they managed to play with sufficient aggression - especially when they were back on their heels. It's hard, though, to draw up a specific set of criteria for all women's matches - it's always been more like looking at each match as a unique organism in which the Commandments did not always apply, or apply as forcefully and comparably.

For that reason, a serve statistic unearthed via my correspondence with Tribe member who challenged my analysis of the match might be telling: Serena Williams fastest serve was 121 mph, her average first serve clocked 109, and her average second serve was 87 mph. Venus's fastest serve was a 127 thunderbolt, she averaged 111 on her first serve, and hit her second at an average of 92.

Now let's dare compare that to the men. In the final, Roger Federer's fastest serve was 129, and he averaged 117 on his first deliveries. His average second-serve traveled at 100 mph. That was slightly better than Rafael Nadal (who, in case you hadn't heard, won that match), whose fastest first serve was 120, while his first-serve average was 112 and his average second clocked 93. The takeaway: Venus Williams topped Nadal by a whopping 7 mph in the "fastest" department, and she trailed him by a single mile per hour in the other two critical averages. Granted, Nadal is a spinmeister, which costs him mph numbers. Still, the statistics are a tribute to Venus - and they set a new benchmark for the women's game. To borrow a phrase from Barack Obama (who appears to have stolen it from that other great statesman, Bob the Builder): Yes, we can!

Regular readers of this blog know how much stock I put in the serve in the men's game; I've frequently bemoaned the slowing of the surfaces, with the attendant de-emphasis on the serve. As I've written before, the serve should be worth more (and still is worth more, which is something you'll discover if you peel the onion); after all, the entire scoring format is based on the assumption that it's a significant advantage to be serving - to start a point with the only shot entirely at your command, the only shot that doesn't require an adjustment to a previous shot, and the only shot that you unconditionally put where you want. So the serving prowess of the Williams sisters is a critical step in eliminating one of the key elements that encourages us to view women's tennis through a different lens. It sounds too highfalutin' to put it this way, perhaps, but the Sisters have introduced real gender-equality to tennis in terms of pure athletics.

This is no mean feat, and looking at some of the other Hall of Fame women players underscores the point. Chris Evert won despite her serve, rather than because of it. The only thing that separated her from the women ranked well below her (or, for that matter, Shahar Peer or Jelena Jankovic) was her extraordinary nerve. Evert may have struggled to break 100, but more to the point she found a way to put her 80 mph second serve into the corner, or along the sideline, to keep her window of vulnerability small. That she was able to do this at the most critical of times, against the best of opponents, demonstrated that you can serve well without having or making a lot of power; in fact, some of the best servers of Evert's era (Betty Stove and Hana Mandlikova come to mind) had outstanding serves - except, sometimes, when it really counted. But Evert wouldn't last out there today.

For Evonne Goolagong the serve was nothing less than an adventure, and it helps explain why she didn't collect more Grand Slam titles. For someone as loose-limbed, smooth, and artful, Goolagong's serve was almost painful to behold. She often got tight, but somehow avoided becoming the Elena Dementieva of her era through sheer guts - you could feel with every serve, especially second serve, the battle between fear and determination playing out in her mind, traveling through her arm, expending what power it carried at just about the time the strings touched the ball - leaving little force behind the shot.

Steffi Graf certainly got the job done, but she tossed the ball straight up and went after it, without ever getting enough forward (rather than upward) momentum to get maximum weight and spin behind the shot. Working almost exclusively with the arm, Steffi produced crisp, rifle-shot like serves when she was on, but they were the shots fired by a rimfire rifle, not a cannon.

And what of Martina Navartilova, the creative, lefty, aggressive player who took serve-and-volley tennis to new heights in the women's game? She made the most of a serve that, given her player profile, was not in the same league as her volley, backhand, or athleticism. She was rarely able to exploit her left-handedness in the way some many of her male counterparts did. John McEnroe, he of the wicked "can opener" lefty slice, is the outstanding example. But Goran Ivanisevic did enormous damage with his serve, and so did Roscoe Tanner. The bottom line is none of the standout women players of the Open era used her serve nearly as effectively as Venus and, to a lesser extent, Serena. The ones who did (at times, Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Helena Sukova, Jana Novotna, Jennifer Capriati) often didn't have enough to back it up and failed to reach the highest level and stay there.

Venus and Serena broke new ground at Wimbledon (in our interview, she virtually crowed about the fact that she had lost serve just eight times in the tournament - twice in the final, and once in each of her previous matches). Of course, other factors contributed to the sense that they had erased the asterisk - among them the bold selection, the pace of the rallies, the general lack of hesitancy the women showed. This last quality is hard to pin down, but it comes down to this: it's a great day when choking or mysterious lapses in shot control don't figure into a match, even though those factors often make matches more compelling. Choking, for example, is understandable when it occurs at an excruciating moment, but it's a buzz kill when it happens repeatedly, at unexpected times, or when it permeates a series of points or games. At such times, it's just frustrating and inexplicable, rather than revealing.

For all those reasons, the women's Wimbledon final made me believe that either I was watching the future of tennis, or simply lucky enough to be see two young women armed with a surfeit of gifts erase the asterisk. My gut feeling is that it may be the former; when a bar is moved higher, all contestants tend to jump higher. And Venus and Serena have set the bar higher than it's ever been before.

P.S. - I got a little sidetracked here, but I'll have another full-length post on the interview with Venus at a later date - perhaps right before the Olympic Games begin.

supergrunt
Jul 16th, 2008, 02:32 AM
:speakles:

supergrunt
Jul 16th, 2008, 02:35 AM
http://youtube.com/watch?v=j8QYi5nKzNQ
http://youtube.com/watch?v=1iq05VipZkU&feature=related

spencercarlos
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:14 AM
Blah blah blah this pure worshipping is really sick, sure the final was high quality, but not as much as to say it's the highest ever, in fact the match itself is not even a classic.

And the fact that the match was decided mostly on Serena's stubborness and poor attitude on court it just made the whole final and especially the second set really hard to watch after 4-2 in the first set.

Still for me the highest level match played between these two belongs to the Australian Open 2003 or even the Usopen 2002 final.

sasha&tennis
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:24 AM
That is awesome.

ikarinokami
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:37 AM
Blah blah blah this pure worshipping is really sick, sure the final was high quality, but not as much as to say it's the highest ever, in fact the match itself is not even a classic.

And the fact that the match was decided mostly on Serena's stubborness and poor attitude on court it just made the whole final and especially the second set really hard to watch after 4-2 in the first set.

Still for me the highest level match played between these two belongs to the Australian Open 2003 or even the Usopen 2002 final.


Well the whole point of the article was not that this was a classic match but this was the highest quality match, with quality not being decided by "consistancy", but instead by the sheer power, and control of that power. I agree with Mr. Bodo, thier final felt more like a men's final than a womens final. It's the difference between watching the WNBA and the NBA, its the same game with the same rules, yet still it's not the same game.

This final brough a level of explosiveness and power that just was not seen before in a women's match, by both players. However I do not think the bar has been raised yet, simply because, the william's sisters are just way more talented than every other female tennis player, this no more an insult than saying kobe bryant and lebron james are more talented that almost every other basketball player on the planet. unfortunately and unlike kobe and lebron there is no else on either of sister's level whom they could have a match, like the one they put on at the finals at wimby. However I do agree that the match proves that a woman's match can look and feel like men's match.

Yonexforever
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:41 AM
I disagree with a lot he has to say in terms of history!
Martina most certainly took advantage of that lefty serve... go ask Chris she will tell ya!
Quite frankly the monster serves of the 90s belonged to Kathy Jordon, Barbara Potter, Helena Sukova etc!.. No one wanted to face those chicks on grass either!
He needs to get more perspective for a journalist with all that access.

supergrunt
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:44 AM
Well the whole point of the article was not that this was a classic match but this was the highest quality match, with quality not being decided by "consistancy", but instead by the sheer power, and control of that power. I agree with Mr. Bodo, thier final felt more like a men's final than a womens final. It's the difference between watching the WNBA and the NBA, its the same game with the same rules, yet still it's not the same game.

This final brough a level of explosiveness and power that just was not seen before in a women's match, by both players. However I do not think the bar has been raised yet, simply because, the william's sisters are just way more talented than every other female tennis player, this no more an insult than saying kobe bryant and lebron james are more talented that almost every other basketball player on the planet. unfortunately and unlike kobe and lebron there is no else on either of sister's level whom they could have a match, like the one they put on at the finals at wimby. However I do agree that the match proves that a woman's match can look and feel like men's match.

I think Justine was on their level, which is why it is such a shame that she quit. :sad:

ikarinokami
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:54 AM
I think Justine was on their level, which is why it is such a shame that she quit. :sad:

Actually I think justine henin, would sort be the type of tennis player who have the *. She wins not because of power but consistancy. In other words every word you would use for justine henin is her backhand, or her serve is great for a female tennis player. As I said, Mr Bodo, is not merely taking about overall level of skill, but instead skill coupled with power and speed, in every facet of the game. Justine Henin has neither the power nor the speed. It's the difference between michael chang vs. pete sampras and andre agassi vs. pete sampras.

tennnisfannn
Jul 16th, 2008, 04:08 AM
Actually I think justine henin, would sort be the type of tennis player who have the *. She wins not because of power but consistancy. In other words every word you would use for justine henin is her backhand, or her serve is great for a female tennis player. As I said, Mr Bodo, is not merely taking about overall level of skill, but instead skill coupled with power and speed, in every facet of the game. Justine Henin has neither the power nor the speed. It's the difference between michael chang vs. pete sampras and andre agassi vs. pete sampras.
Justine was very underated in term of power, her average serves last year and return games were faster than serena's.

stevos
Jul 16th, 2008, 04:09 AM
I adore this article.
I even love that he admits that he puts that asterisk there. It's frustrating such a prominent writer does do that, but we all knew he did, and he has gained my respect by putting that out there.
And he put a lot of effort into a Women's tennis article! I just love it.

Very good points.

V's a star
Jul 16th, 2008, 04:25 AM
Blah blah blah this pure worshipping is really sick, sure the final was high quality, but not as much as to say it's the highest ever, in fact the match itself is not even a classic.

And the fact that the match was decided mostly on Serena's stubborness and poor attitude on court it just made the whole final and especially the second set really hard to watch after 4-2 in the first set.

Still for me the highest level match played between these two belongs to the Australian Open 2003 or even the Usopen 2002 final.

im sry Spencer but the USO 2002 final was anything but high quality. both girls had more errors then winners, where as the wimbledon final there was double the winners for both. the USO that year was jus bad for Vee she played 3 weeks in a row then a long 3 setter b4 playing Serena :help:

but heres the stats from USO:
Serena-Venus stats
Aces: 3-3
Double faults: 1-10
Winners: 16-13
Unforced errors: 19-33
Break points: 5-17 :tape:
Total point: 68-51

PS get back to me about Venus Amelie :wavey:

court70
Jul 16th, 2008, 01:52 PM
Well the whole point of the article was not that this was a classic match but this was the highest quality match, with quality not being decided by "consistancy", but instead by the sheer power, and control of that power. I agree with Mr. Bodo, thier final felt more like a men's final than a womens final. It's the difference between watching the WNBA and the NBA, its the same game with the same rules, yet still it's not the same game.

This final brough a level of explosiveness and power that just was not seen before in a women's match, by both players. However I do not think the bar has been raised yet, simply because, the william's sisters are just way more talented than every other female tennis player, this no more an insult than saying kobe bryant and lebron james are more talented that almost every other basketball player on the planet. unfortunately and unlike kobe and lebron there is no else on either of sister's level whom they could have a match, like the one they put on at the finals at wimby. However I do agree that the match proves that a woman's match can look and feel like men's match.

Pleas tell me who else on the tour are more talented than they are?

court70
Jul 16th, 2008, 01:56 PM
Actually I think justine henin, would sort be the type of tennis player who have the *. She wins not because of power but consistancy. In other words every word you would use for justine henin is her backhand, or her serve is great for a female tennis player. As I said, Mr Bodo, is not merely taking about overall level of skill, but instead skill coupled with power and speed, in every facet of the game. Justine Henin has neither the power nor the speed. It's the difference between michael chang vs. pete sampras and andre agassi vs. pete sampras.

You have got to be kidding with that statement. FYI, JH was a power player just like the big babes.

court70
Jul 16th, 2008, 01:59 PM
im sry Spencer but the USO 2002 final was anything but high quality. both girls had more errors then winners, where as the wimbledon final there was double the winners for both. the USO that year was jus bad for Vee she played 3 weeks in a row then a long 3 setter b4 playing Serena :help:

but heres the stats from USO:
Serena-Venus stats
Aces: 3-3
Double faults: 1-10
Winners: 16-13
Unforced errors: 19-33
Break points: 5-17 :tape:
Total point: 68-51

PS get back to me about Venus Amelie :wavey:

It's amazing to me because if they have played anyone else and the stats were the same we would not hear a word about it but because it's V&S here comes the negativity.

Chance
Jul 16th, 2008, 02:07 PM
I think Justine was on their level, which is why it is such a shame that she quit. :sad:

Yeah I was thinking that same thought...
I would love to see another Justine and Venus match.

Slutiana
Jul 16th, 2008, 02:37 PM
http://youtube.com/watch?v=j8QYi5nKzNQ
http://youtube.com/watch?v=1iq05VipZkU&feature=related
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=wSUEOhSCzCs
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=D7yWVAxgQ9k
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=mcqg-x9bQrM

These are better. Oh, and..
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ym-AlrJ2uHE

Womens Tennis. :drool:

I think Justine was on their level, which is why it is such a shame that she quit. :sad:
Agreed. The only match i've seen on par with this Final was the Justine Venus match last year but even that wasn't as good.
I adore this article.
I even love that he admits that he puts that asterisk there. It's frustrating such a prominent writer does do that, but we all knew he did, and he has gained my respect by putting that out there.
And he put a lot of effort into a Women's tennis article! I just love it.

Very good points.
Agreed.

Watching
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:13 PM
Good article but he has failed to recognize Serena's serve is better than Venus although admittedly Venus does hit it harder.

ladydiana
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:13 PM
Peter Bodo is talking about the power of the current women in tennis. And that happens to be Venus and Serena.


If Justine wanted to be included in this category, she should kept playing and not retired. He didn't mention Kim Clisters either and she could hit the ball between 109 and 113mph.


When Venus and Serena were out due to injuries, that's all people talked about was the Belgins and the Russians. Well the Belgins are out and the Russians are fading by the wayside. It's the Williamses that will increase ratings and interest in women's tennis.


Maria and Ana got their praise for winning the AO and FO, now we're talking about Venus and Serena. Besides, Venus and Serena ushered in a different type of power tennis and athleticism, and Justine, Kim, Maria, Ana, and everyone else has had to develop their games to fit the style that the sisters have dictated.


The sisters has changed the face of tennis to the point that they've almost made doubles obsolete. These players have to work on their games 24-7 and keep up their fitness just to stay alive. They have to work so hard that they have no leverage to play the doubles. Whereas, Venus and Serena can just all out of the blue, decide that they want to play doubles and walk in and win it all.


Everyone is playing Williams tennis. The WTA is definitely the Williams Tennis Association with Larry Scott and the tennis organizers adapting to the Willamses influence as well. They have manipulate the draw and has given easy draws to Maria and those who they want to make it to the finals, and has changed the surface of the tennis courts in an effort to help out these less naturally gifted athletes , but it's still not working.

Watching
Jul 16th, 2008, 03:19 PM
I think it shows most of all they raised the bar in 00-03 and although the others have caught up a bit they still are the best.

Venus Forever
Jul 16th, 2008, 04:36 PM
That was a great read!! :D

sweetpeas
Jul 16th, 2008, 07:23 PM
Pleas tell me who else on the tour are more talented than they are?

Thanks so much...They"re still out there,trying to give their all!Beleive me,Venus and Serena known"s their real fans....Win or lose!They know...

Denise4925
Jul 16th, 2008, 07:42 PM
OMG Peter Bodo :eek: :speakles:

All I can say is :worship: But, so lonnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggg. :lol:

Shuji Shuriken
Jul 16th, 2008, 08:05 PM
Oh Peter...you just brought a tear to my eye :sobbing:. Venus you're a Queen...you transcend your sport by a million lightyears :hearts: :sobbing: :worship:.

frontier
Jul 16th, 2008, 08:09 PM
I watched the match it was fantastic tennis..serve,movement and intrigue were all there.I think Vee and Serena saved the womens side at Wimbledon...imagine if the final was Sveta and Dementieva.

supergrunt
Jul 16th, 2008, 08:56 PM
anyone who watches the V/Henin match in full will see how poorly Vennus played in patches. :(

I say that because of the youtube video that was posted.

misael
Jul 16th, 2008, 09:03 PM
I hate this article, Mr. Bodo says that he always looks at women's matches withan asterick, it a good backhand for a women, I hate this line, a good backhand is a good backhand, it seems terribly sexist.

clementine
Jul 16th, 2008, 09:23 PM
But what does Justin Gimelstob have to say about the women's final?

Denise4925
Jul 16th, 2008, 09:45 PM
I hate this article, Mr. Bodo says that he always looks at women's matches withan asterick, it a good backhand for a women, I hate this line, a good backhand is a good backhand, it seems terribly sexist.

It is and he admits it. :shrug:

Volcana
Jul 16th, 2008, 10:00 PM
I surprised at the article. He makes admissions about his own biases that most writers won't make.
I think Justine was on their level, which is why it is such a shame that she quit. :sad:I don't quite agree, yet my disagreement is on so fine a level as to almost be irrelevant. Henin could certainly play either of them when they were playing that way. She tossed in a lot more off speed stuff though. She wasn't minded to attempt to 'overpower' Venus or Serena, using that term as Bodo used it. There's a different between slective use of power, and constant use of it. even if the level of top power is the same.

NOTE: Re Venus' serve vs Serena's. Serena has a better serve, but Venus was returning Serena's serve batter than Serena was returning Venus'. On that day.

V's a star
Jul 16th, 2008, 10:11 PM
It's amazing to me because if they have played anyone else and the stats were the same we would not hear a word about it but because it's V&S here comes the negativity.

actually id say sumthing about it Venus is obviosily going to lose any match if she makes 33 errors and only 13 winners. So i personally dnt look at the match differently Serena is just another opponent

Andrew Laeddis
Jul 17th, 2008, 12:01 AM
I hate this article, Mr. Bodo says that he always looks at women's matches withan asterick, it a good backhand for a women, I hate this line, a good backhand is a good backhand, it seems terribly sexist.

I too measure ATP and WTA matches on different scales, othersie I wouldn't enjoy womens tennis as much as I do because the quality (not drama) of mens matches is in most cases superior. My expectations for WTA matches is a little different which is why I can actually sit through a match like Kuznetsova/Chakvetadze USO 2007 because I know the women are more prone to errorfests whereas I couldnt imagine a ATP semi final to be that horrible. I think this is what Bodo was trying to say. I dont consider myself sexist (in fact as a straight male the misogynistic views of some of peers does bother me), but I cant speak for Bodo.

Andrew Laeddis
Jul 17th, 2008, 12:04 AM
I watched the match it was fantastic tennis..serve,movement and intrigue were all there.I think Vee and Serena saved the womens side at Wimbledon...imagine if the final was Sveta and Dementieva.

:help: But at least the Dementieva fans would be thrilled because she would finally have a slam.