Tennis's Tough Standards
January 25, 2010 -- Over the course of The Australian Open we've watched more than one player excel every which way in a point, a set, and match.
Unseeded Marcel Granollers of Spain defeated the #9 seed Robin Soderling in the first round last week. Marcos Baghdatis came from two sets down to beat David Ferrer, seeded #17, one of the fittest men on tour. Maria Kirilenko stopped Maria Sharapova on day one. These were awesome accomplishments.
Watching those matches, you might think 'wow' I bet they might beat Federer, or Nadal, of Serena.
Actually, if they stood across the net from any of these upper echelon players, their results would not live up to our expectations. That's because these very best of players have set such high standards. They have raised the bar for mere mortal top-100 players.
Therefore, if players want to remain contenders for top spots in the men's and women's singles draws, they will have to play one of the above. It's simple. Want the men's title, beat Rafael Nodal or Roger Federer. Want the women's title, beat Serena Williams.
The Williams sisters have scripted over the last ten to fifteen years, and continue to write, the gold bar standard for women's tennis. They are the best the WTA tour offers. Venus, soon to turn 30 years old, was 17 years old when she played her first major final. It was at the U. S. Open against Martina Hingis. Venus lost that match to the experienced Hingis. However, the tennis world was introduced to a young woman coming of age. One destined to shake up the game, as we'd known it.
Tall and lanky, Venus didn't play like Martina Hingis or Jennifer Capriati. Venus wore beads in her hair. She had fun on court. She was a young African American woman with a power game that had yet to explode. She didn't play the junior tennis circuit, either, so no one could predict her course on the international courts of tennis. Pundits, in fact, dismissed the family's choice to bypass that route. It wouldn't work, they said.
Venus Williams has proven herself many times over since then, especially at Wimbledon. She has hoisted the Venus Rosewater Platter five times. The lawns of Centre Court awaken brilliance inside of Venus. No one can beat her footwork on grass. She loves Wimbledon, as if she had strolled the courts in times past. Her comfort level is sublime. Her confidence utterly complete.
Richard Williams, the father and coach of Venus and Serena, extolled the heights both girls would climb. Early on, though, he predicted that Serena, the younger sister, who no one had really seen yet, would surpass Venus. Wait till you see Serena, he told the world.
And we waited. And we see that he was right. Serena Williams, the defending women's champion at this year's Australian Open, is the odds-on favorite to win her 12th major title come this Saturday on Rod Laver Arena court.
When she arrives at a Major tournament, Serena bears down. She raises her own standards. She concentrates better than any other woman currently on tour. Her intuition on court is rock solid. Her serve is mechanically the best, and consistently a forceful weapon. Serena served ten aces in two sets against Aussie favorite Samantha Stosur today.
"I think today it was all about the serve," Williams said. "Honestly, I'm just hoping I can serve again like that, because it was pretty cool."
Stosur went farther, saying, "If she can keep up that form, no one will get near her in the final."
We haven't reached the semifinals, yet Stosur sees Serena winning the final.
Serena epitomizes the women's power game, which is only equaled by Venus's power. Some women, though, have pressured Serena. Think back to last year's semifinal at Wimbledon. Elena Dementieva came within a hair's width of sending Serena back to America.
History will remember Venus and Serena Williams in one breath, in most conversations. A few of the women poised to step inside their tennis shoes in future Majors have reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne. Serena will meet Victoria Azarenka, the woman who defeated Serena in Miami last year. Venus will play Li Na, seeded #16, a powerful player in her own right who has missed the glare of tennis coverage because of injuries and the competition.
On the men's side, although Rafael Nadal is the defending champion, Roger Federer is the icon -- the King -- of the court Down Under. If Roger beats Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals, he will have reached his 23rd consecutive Major semifinal. No one will ever approach this record. If he wins the title, it will be his 16th Major.
Roger Federer was asked what makes him so good, in his press conference.
"I think the love for the game is very important," Federer began. "I go through the daily grind and practice and matches with a very positive attitude. I can always adjust to any type of player. I think with the experience and the mental toughness and the physical capabilities I have, I think it's a very good combination obviously."
Yes, any man here in Melbourne knows that Roger Federer has made them better players. Men's tennis is so intense, in part, because of Federer. And, it is because of Serena Williams and her big sister Venus that the women's game has given way to a vigorous sport that entertains and thrills millions around the world each and every year.