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creo en la diosa ♥ Sveta ♥
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I'm your Venus

Big sister gets her glare, groove back at Key Biscayne

Posted: Thursday March 31, 2005 10:22PM; Updated: Thursday March 31, 2005 10:23PM

Big Sis is back -- hopefully in a big way -- and to those of us who remember the golden age of women's tennis, that is no small development.

Venus Williams' 6-1, 7-6 victory over her kid sister Serena in Key Biscayne, Fla., on Tuesday was not the most lucrative or memorable of her career, but it has a chance to be the most significant. If Venus, having finally overcome a mental obstacle most of us can't even imagine confronting, can build on this and reclaim her game, then tennis fans, and sports fans in general, will be in for a real treat.

Even in losing to third-seeded Maria Sharapova in Thursday's semifinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open, probably the most prestigious non-major tournament on the women's tennis tour, Williams looked more spirited and proactive than she has in a long time. The scores (6-4, 6-3) made her defeat appear one-sided, but Williams lost because of two sloppy games that resulted in consecutive service breaks bracketed around the set change.

After fighting off a match point to get to 3-5 in the second, Williams upped her game to flashback proportions, hitting several tremendous shots while earning six break points and fighting off another match point. It was telling that after finally winning the match, Sharapova dropped to her knees and let out a relieved scream.

If she can sustain this new-found energy and intensity, Venus has a chance to do what never seemed possible -- scrap her way back into our hearts. When she came on the scene as a teen phenom, Venus was the ordained superstar-in-waiting whose lightning-quick breakthrough at the U.S. Open (as a 17-year-old finalist in 1997) made her one of the sports world's hottest properties. Two years later, however, it was Serena, just before her 18th birthday, who captured the family's first Grand Slam by winning at Flushing Meadows.

Watching from a box with her parents, Venus couldn't contain her obvious discomfort as Serena triumphed in the final. Here she was, on the verge of stardom, and she'd already been eclipsed by her little sister?

I don't think this was a rational jealousy, and I don't think it's anything that the vast majority of us can possibly appreciate. I remember how I felt when I realized my little sister was smarter than I was -- in addition to a whole lot of other 'ers' -- and it nearly ruined my game of kickball at recess. The cool thing is, now that each of us is married with still smarter children, my sister and I don't have to deal with constant comparisons. But Venus and Serena compete in relation to one another almost daily in the most mentally tantalizing sport.

The great thing about Venus' dour demeanor that day at the U.S. Open was the way she channeled her emotions and began a startling run of achievement. Beginning with Wimbledon the following year, Venus proceeded to win four of the next six majors -- two Wimbledons and two U.S. Opens, which are a pretty good four to win. This was no small feat in an era that featured a harmonic convergence of stars in decline (Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario), established champions (Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and eventually Jennifer Capriati) and an unprecedented barrage of ultra-talented up-and-comers. Even Anna Kournikova -- and don't laugh, because people who know tennis know I'm not lying -- at one point was a legitimate threat to become a dominant force.

Then, once again, Serena eclipsed Venus. Unlike her first breakthrough, this was a comprehensive one-upping, from performance (Serena, beginning with the '02 French Open, won five of the next six majors and became the world's undisputed No. 1 player) to personality. Serena is more outgoing, more outspoken and more fiery. She became the superstar that Venus never felt comfortable being.

This time, rather than using Serena's ascent as motivation, Venus assumed a subordinate role. She became more passive and less intense, as if by not showing the world how much she cared she could mitigate the pain of playing second-fiddle. The signature moment came during Venus' 7-6, 7-6 defeat to Croatian teenager Karolina Sprem in the second round at Wimbledon in 2004, when chair umpire Ted Watts lost track of the score in the second-set tiebreaker, awarded Sprem an extra point -- and Venus never made a peep of protest, during or even after the match. Serena would've smashed a racquet; John McEnroe would've torn down the net and wrapped it around Watts like a straitjacket.

Significantly, Venus also lost six consecutive matches to Serena, the past five in the finals of majors. Even for two sisters who clearly love one another as much as Venus and Serena, that had to be excruciating. In sports, a mental barrier against an opponent can be insanely difficult to overcome, but this was a whole new level of psycho-drama.

That's what was so lovely about Tuesday's match. The level of tennis in a head-to-head meeting of these two sisters was typically stilted, but this time Venus was as passionate and aggressive as she'd been in a long time. The glare -- the same one she'd flashed as a menacing teenaged threat to the game's top players -- was finally back, and Serena wasn't pleased, mangling her racket and cursing and talking to herself in frustration.

The rest of us, however, should be thrilled. With the dearth of young American talent -- no U.S. teens are among the top 100 women's players -- Venus and Serena may be the only homegrown heroes we have in this sport for a while. Off the court they're sweet, smart people who have seen their share of pain, including the tragic shooting death of their older sister Yetunde Price in Compton, Calif., a year and a half ago. Both are exceptionally talented, and each is capable of ascending to legend status if she can crank up her game over the next several years.

For the second time in less than a decade, women's tennis has a chance to become a scorching hot commodity. Sublime Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne have bounced back from severe injuries. France's Amelie Mauresmo is finally fulfilling her tremendous potential. Sharapova, with her classy game and youthful beauty, is headed toward mega-stardom, with about 15 intriguing Russians in hot pursuit. Davenport and Capriati are still hanging around. Even Hingis, the brilliant Swiss shotmaker who won five majors before her 19th birthday, only to retire at 22, is contemplating a comeback.

Paging, Ms. Kournikova. Anna Kournikova. Please pick up the yellow courtesy balls.

Sorry, fellas -- didn't mean to get you all worked up. That is a little far-fetched. But if Venus can harness this momentum and make a run at recapturing her former glory, that will be exciting enough.

3,380 Posts
just finished reading this on si. god i hope venus is finding her stride again it would be so good to see. this week though you could definitely tell that she was so much less passive out on court, esp. against serena. she also was serving a little bit better than she has been, i know here serve will probably never be completely back after her abdominal injury, but a confident serve would help her so much. :hug:
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