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American sisters have taken on tough challenge of shining at French Open
By Bud Collins
MSNBC contributor

Bud Collins


PARIS - A big question for tennis fans these days is are the Williams sisters still major factors in the sport?

There is a ray of hope that they are. With Venus taking care of business in her first test at the French Open -- a day after Serena did the same -- we’ve just witnessed the sisters both making the second round at a major for the first time since the 2005 U.S. Open. So maybe they’re both fit and ready for a fight.

So far sisters have been so-so
In the recent Williams' saga, Serena, seeded eighth in Paris, hasn’t played enough this year, but proved herself to still be a champion by winning an eighth major in Australia after coming into the event ranked 81st in the world. She also took the title in Miami. But Serena's lack of matches certainly took a toll as we saw on Day One at Roland Garros as she struggled in and lost the first set against a young Bulgarian, Tsvetana Pironkova, before dominating the last two sets, 6-1, 6-1.
As for Venus, who is the No. 26 seed, she came through with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 17-year-old Frenchwoman Alize Cornet. But for me, in the big picture, Venus has been just plain disappointing during most of the season.

In a very wet Paris the last couple of days I wonder if these dark clouds might have followed Venus here from her disappointing second-round upset on clay in Istanbul last week. That’s where Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai sent her packing 6-4, 6-4.

It hasn’t all been gloomy for Venus in 2007 as she did manage to win her first tournament of the year in Memphis, but that was back in February and one’s memory can barely go back that far. Since then it’s been nothing to write home about for Venus as she lost in the third round of Miami to Maria Sharapova, the quarterfinals of Amelia Island to Tatiana Golovin, the semifinals of Charleston to Jelena Jankovic, and the quarterfinals of Warsaw to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Clearly, her most recent shining moment was leading the U.S. to victory in the Fed Cup quarterfinal against a decidedly unheralded Belgium squad in April.

Venus should embrace aggressiveness
The match against Cornet looked like a practice session for Venus, which probably was a good thing. The young Frenchwoman didn’t just go away, but she did help out by making some errors at crucial times. Venus appeared to be steady and consistent in getting the match done between the raindrops in what turned out to be just an hour-and-a-half window of clear weather.

Venus shows a lot of sameness in her game and against Cornet it was enough to win the match. Taking that into account, I was quite amused that at her press conference she said, “I don’t try to be too conservative…I’m not a conservative player.”

In my mind, Venus is a conservative player in that she hangs out way too much on the baseline, playing matches as if they are just workouts. She’s tall, trim and athletic and it’s a shame that she doesn’t utilize that to her advantage by being aggressive. Venus is quick, she’s a wonderful retriever, but that’s not all she has to be.

During her press conference, Venus talked about her parents, who are both here this year, always telling her the same old stuff when it comes to their roles as coaches. I can tell you that if she’s getting tired of hearing the same message from her nearest and dearest, she can try hearing my voice if she’d like. I promise you that if she was listening to me, she’d hear something very different. I would be telling Venus to slice those backhands and get to the net. When you’re as tall as Venus and have a wingspan that wide, she could own the net.

To be fair to Venus the clay is playing really slow and it does take a while to get comfortable on the surface, and a bit more of an effort to get comfortable when the weather is slowing the surface to a crawl.

Third round could prove acid test
Up next for Venus is fellow American Ashley Harkleroad and she should get through that encounter unharmed. But Venus could be in big trouble in the third round where her opponent is likely to be fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic. Venus has already lost to Jankovic this year at Charleston in a match decided in a third-set tiebreaker.

Jankovic has certainly declared herself a force to be reckoned with on the clay this spring. She won the Charleston title on the Har-Tru in the U.S., and won the Rome title two weeks ago. The 22-year-old Serbian, who also won the Auckland title on hard courts in January, is establishing herself solidly in the top five. The one concern with Jankovic might be that she’s playing too much tennis and could be weary. If not for a stomach ache that caused her to pull the plug on her semifinal match against Anabel Medina Garrigues in Strasbourg last week, she could have hung around for two more matches and scored another title, which would have taken additional energy to execute.

Jankovic if healthy and energized is one of the favorites here, which translates to a big test for Venus. There's a consensus that Venus can't beat Jankovic the way the Serbian is playing at the moment. Jankovic is a good shotmaker, a good retriever, and while she likes hard courts better from training at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy as a kid, she feels comfortable on the clay. And most of all, she’s riding a crest of confidence.

If Venus is going to have a chance against Jankovic, she has to take advantage of her speed to get to the net. She needs to take some chances when her opponent is serving to give herself a winning edge. And while I don’t expect her to re-invent herself into a serve-and-volleyer, she might want to try the tactic once in awhile to show the person across the net that she’s still capable of employing such a style.

Meet me in the final?
I’ve written it before and still believe it. Venus and Serena could do with hearing another voice, although I just joke when I say I could provide them with another coaching voice. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Mama and Papa Williams. They’ve done an unbelievable job in bringing both Venus and Serena to the level of champions. But another voice -- a voice like Darren Cahill, who still is out there since Andre Agassi retired, could offer some excellent coaching advice. But I don’t delude myself because I know that the sisters are too well imbued with the family to probably seek some outside counsel.

The bottom line is that the American hope at Roland Garros rests strictly with Serena and Venus -- they are the only players with a shot at the trophy. Serena’s already done the deed in 2002 when she beat Venus for the Paris title. That was the only time Venus reached the final on red clay. Her best showings other than her meeting for all the marbles with her sister have been quarterfinal appearances in 2005, 2001, and 1999. Slide show: Week in Sports Pictures

This year there could be another Paris meeting of the sisters -- in the semifinals. While Venus' biggest hurdle appears Jankovic, Serena faces a potentially title-worthy showdown with top-seeded Justine Henin in the quarterfinals. But for fans of American tennis Venus against Serena at Roland Garros is somewhere between wishful thinking and a growing notion the odds will be overcome by each player to make it happen. That notion grows stronger with each win by Venus, with each win by Serena.

But clay is not the favorite surface of either of the sisters. Just like grass or hardcourts, clay crowns champions in this sport, but winning titles on it has proven elusive to many a tremendous player. The name Pete Sampras should be the first to come to mind. So in appraising the chances we'll see Venus or Serena standing tall on the last Saturday of this fortnight, it's only wise to figure against it, but I'm not about to rule it out.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18908971/
 

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American sisters have taken on tough challenge of shining at French Open
By Bud Collins
MSNBC contributor

Bud Collins


PARIS - A big question for tennis fans these days is are the Williams sisters still major factors in the sport?

There is a ray of hope that they are. With Venus taking care of business in her first test at the French Open -- a day after Serena did the same -- we’ve just witnessed the sisters both making the second round at a major for the first time since the 2005 U.S. Open. So maybe they’re both fit and ready for a fight.

So far sisters have been so-so
In the recent Williams' saga, Serena, seeded eighth in Paris, hasn’t played enough this year, but proved herself to still be a champion by winning an eighth major in Australia after coming into the event ranked 81st in the world. She also took the title in Miami. But Serena's lack of matches certainly took a toll as we saw on Day One at Roland Garros as she struggled in and lost the first set against a young Bulgarian, Tsvetana Pironkova, before dominating the last two sets, 6-1, 6-1.
As for Venus, who is the No. 26 seed, she came through with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 17-year-old Frenchwoman Alize Cornet. But for me, in the big picture, Venus has been just plain disappointing during most of the season.

In a very wet Paris the last couple of days I wonder if these dark clouds might have followed Venus here from her disappointing second-round upset on clay in Istanbul last week. That’s where Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai sent her packing 6-4, 6-4.

It hasn’t all been gloomy for Venus in 2007 as she did manage to win her first tournament of the year in Memphis, but that was back in February and one’s memory can barely go back that far. Since then it’s been nothing to write home about for Venus as she lost in the third round of Miami to Maria Sharapova, the quarterfinals of Amelia Island to Tatiana Golovin, the semifinals of Charleston to Jelena Jankovic, and the quarterfinals of Warsaw to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Clearly, her most recent shining moment was leading the U.S. to victory in the Fed Cup quarterfinal against a decidedly unheralded Belgium squad in April.

Venus should embrace aggressiveness
The match against Cornet looked like a practice session for Venus, which probably was a good thing. The young Frenchwoman didn’t just go away, but she did help out by making some errors at crucial times. Venus appeared to be steady and consistent in getting the match done between the raindrops in what turned out to be just an hour-and-a-half window of clear weather.

Venus shows a lot of sameness in her game and against Cornet it was enough to win the match. Taking that into account, I was quite amused that at her press conference she said, “I don’t try to be too conservative…I’m not a conservative player.”

In my mind, Venus is a conservative player in that she hangs out way too much on the baseline, playing matches as if they are just workouts. She’s tall, trim and athletic and it’s a shame that she doesn’t utilize that to her advantage by being aggressive. Venus is quick, she’s a wonderful retriever, but that’s not all she has to be.

During her press conference, Venus talked about her parents, who are both here this year, always telling her the same old stuff when it comes to their roles as coaches. I can tell you that if she’s getting tired of hearing the same message from her nearest and dearest, she can try hearing my voice if she’d like. I promise you that if she was listening to me, she’d hear something very different. I would be telling Venus to slice those backhands and get to the net. When you’re as tall as Venus and have a wingspan that wide, she could own the net.

To be fair to Venus the clay is playing really slow and it does take a while to get comfortable on the surface, and a bit more of an effort to get comfortable when the weather is slowing the surface to a crawl.

Third round could prove acid test
Up next for Venus is fellow American Ashley Harkleroad and she should get through that encounter unharmed. But Venus could be in big trouble in the third round where her opponent is likely to be fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic. Venus has already lost to Jankovic this year at Charleston in a match decided in a third-set tiebreaker.

Jankovic has certainly declared herself a force to be reckoned with on the clay this spring. She won the Charleston title on the Har-Tru in the U.S., and won the Rome title two weeks ago. The 22-year-old Serbian, who also won the Auckland title on hard courts in January, is establishing herself solidly in the top five. The one concern with Jankovic might be that she’s playing too much tennis and could be weary. If not for a stomach ache that caused her to pull the plug on her semifinal match against Anabel Medina Garrigues in Strasbourg last week, she could have hung around for two more matches and scored another title, which would have taken additional energy to execute.

Jankovic if healthy and energized is one of the favorites here, which translates to a big test for Venus. There's a consensus that Venus can't beat Jankovic the way the Serbian is playing at the moment. Jankovic is a good shotmaker, a good retriever, and while she likes hard courts better from training at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy as a kid, she feels comfortable on the clay. And most of all, she’s riding a crest of confidence.

If Venus is going to have a chance against Jankovic, she has to take advantage of her speed to get to the net. She needs to take some chances when her opponent is serving to give herself a winning edge. And while I don’t expect her to re-invent herself into a serve-and-volleyer, she might want to try the tactic once in awhile to show the person across the net that she’s still capable of employing such a style.

Meet me in the final?
I’ve written it before and still believe it. Venus and Serena could do with hearing another voice, although I just joke when I say I could provide them with another coaching voice. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Mama and Papa Williams. They’ve done an unbelievable job in bringing both Venus and Serena to the level of champions. But another voice -- a voice like Darren Cahill, who still is out there since Andre Agassi retired, could offer some excellent coaching advice. But I don’t delude myself because I know that the sisters are too well imbued with the family to probably seek some outside counsel.

The bottom line is that the American hope at Roland Garros rests strictly with Serena and Venus -- they are the only players with a shot at the trophy. Serena’s already done the deed in 2002 when she beat Venus for the Paris title. That was the only time Venus reached the final on red clay. Her best showings other than her meeting for all the marbles with her sister have been quarterfinal appearances in 2005, 2001, and 1999. Slide show: Week in Sports Pictures

This year there could be another Paris meeting of the sisters -- in the semifinals. While Venus' biggest hurdle appears Jankovic, Serena faces a potentially title-worthy showdown with top-seeded Justine Henin in the quarterfinals. But for fans of American tennis Venus against Serena at Roland Garros is somewhere between wishful thinking and a growing notion the odds will be overcome by each player to make it happen. That notion grows stronger with each win by Venus, with each win by Serena.

But clay is not the favorite surface of either of the sisters. Just like grass or hardcourts, clay crowns champions in this sport, but winning titles on it has proven elusive to many a tremendous player. The name Pete Sampras should be the first to come to mind. So in appraising the chances we'll see Venus or Serena standing tall on the last Saturday of this fortnight, it's only wise to figure against it, but I'm not about to rule it out.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18908971/
Go post. Got to give it to Bud, he makes some good points.
 

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Oh Bud, I thought the sisters were declining.:eek:
 

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I am not ruling it out either!!!!! I know it is going to be difficult for Vee to beat Jankovic but its not impossible and I can see Serena getting past Justine. I have booked them for the semis!!!
 

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the way Venus has been playing lately she doesn't have that good of a shot against Jankovic. She makes too many errors. More than that she often hits 4 errors in a row to completely give away a free game. And against a good player like Jankovic one free game can mean defeat. Actually she gives away at least 2-3 or completely free games per match.

And as for Serena. I think she's vulnerable on clay here. Its her first RG in 3 years so I don't think we'll see her in the SF. I just hope she gets to the QF for a showdown with Justine.

Either way I can't wait for USO where I hope BOTH sisters will shine.
 

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Oh Bud, I thought the sisters were declining.:eek:
Bud is an old man, you have to give him a break. :lol: Anyhow, he's always liked the sisters and spoke up for them when other commentators (no names), were talking smack and starting rumors about them.
 

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Bud is SOOOOOOOO right on so many levels.

And i really think they could use another voice (mainly Venus since Serena already sought outside help).

And aggressive netplay isn't a terrible strategy on clay, esp. in the WTA.. Tim Henman make a magnificent run to the French semi's once and with Venus's height and wingspan, I see no reason why she isn't at the net more often.
 

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Good article. He makes very good points. I too believe that maybe if they heard even the same things from a different voice, it would make a change for the positive in their games. But, I always just hope for the best for Vee and Rena in any tournament and that they stay healthy win or lose to fight another day.
 

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Has Cahill expressed interest or was that just Bud's wish?
I'm guessing Bud's wish. Why would Cahill jump to the WTA? He could possibly coach Federer while he attains GOAT status or many other ATP players. I'm guessing this is just Bud thinking.
 

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Bud is SOOOOOOOO right on so many levels.

And i really think they could use another voice (mainly Venus since Serena already sought outside help).

And aggressive netplay isn't a terrible strategy on clay, esp. in the WTA.. Tim Henman make a magnificent run to the French semi's once and with Venus's height and wingspan, I see no reason why she isn't at the net more often.
I agreed with your post until you used Tim Henman as an example. :lol: BTW, Billy Jean and Garrison have both talked to Vee about coming to the net. When she's playing well she'll do it but when she's just playing so-so I don't think she has the confidence.
 

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I agreed with your post until you used Tim Henman as an example. :lol: BTW, Billy Jean and Garrison have both talked to Vee about coming to the net. When she's playing well she'll do it but when she's just playing so-so I don't think she has the confidence.
:eek: Tim is my favorite ATP player... had to mention him there :angel:

But my point is when you have the weapons to attack, do so. I'm kind of tired of begging Venus (and Roger Federer vs. Nadal) to move forward, to be aggressive. I think the 2003 injury robbed her of her aggressiveness. I hope it comes back. If you're going to make 40 UE's, do it while being aggressive.
 

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Bud is an old man, you have to give him a break. :lol: Anyhow, he's always liked the sisters and spoke up for them when other commentators (no names), were talking smack and starting rumors about them.
I have no problem with Bud, he's a bit weird but not mean at all. I was just being a little snippy.:lol:
 

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That was the only time Venus reached the final on red clay. Her best showings other than her meeting for all the marbles with her sister have been quarterfinal appearances in 2005, 2001, and 1999.
:confused:
 

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:eek: Tim is my favorite ATP player... had to mention him there :angel:

But my point is when you have the weapons to attack, do so. I'm kind of tired of begging Venus (and Roger Federer vs. Nadal) to move forward, to be aggressive. I think the 2003 injury robbed her of her aggressiveness. I hope it comes back. If you're going to make 40 UE's, do it while being aggressive.
I've seen Venus force herself to move forward and it was a disaster. She just needs to cut down on the UE. Not and easy thing..but hopefully she can find a way.

And..Cahill to my knowledge hasn't expressed interest in coaching Venus but I do remember Brad Gilbert saying something on air once about how he could totally help Venus with her forehand and her game. I think Brad Gilbert would a good pairing for Venus. Lol..Diva against DIVA!!
 

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I thought when Cornet was letting her she was being agressive:shrug: She was also standing quite far inside the baseline to receive serve...
 

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Some good points there but Venus consistantly coming in behind slice backhands??? don't know about that considering she has one of the best 2 handers in the world.

It all comes down to consistency. An erratic Venus still lost 7-6 in the third to Jankovic in Charleston. As great as Jelena is, Venus can still hit a bigger ball and has more game, however if she is not able to find the confidence to play a match consistently from start to finish she will not wn the matchup.
 

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