Tuesday, Jul 01, 2003
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By Nirmal Shekar
Former champion Venus Williams of the United States plays a double-fisted return in her fourth round match against Vera Zvonareva of Russia at Wimbledon on Monday. AFP
After the nightmare of Paris where, for the first time in 12 months, they failed to turn up for their customary final date with each other to contest for the big prize, the clouds have parted to make way for smiles and success.
On a dank day when intermittent showers frustrated the fans and players alike not to speak of the chief referee Alan Mills and his patient, efficient team in the 117th Wimbledon championships, Serena and Venus Williams led the mighty American brigade into the quarterfinals.
Early in the afternoon, the rains relented just long enough for the Williams sisters and their compatriots Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati to cut down hapless opponents sooner than it would be possible to fetch a punnet of strawberries from the Food Village at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
So, after all the talk about the fast advancing Russian army, it was the turn of the mighty American women to assert their superiority on Monday. Serena, raising her game a notch to match the demands of the business half of the fortnight, outplayed Elena Dementieva of Russia 6-2, 6-2 in 50 minutes and her older sister Venus took 10 minutes longer thanks to her own prodigal forehand to chop down another young Russian, Vera Zvonerava's meagre resistance for a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Equally ruthless were Capriati, Davenport as well as the second seeded Belgian Kim Clijsters. Davenport, the 1999 champion, earned a shot at Venus with a 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Shinobu Asagoe of Japan while Capriati blasted her way past Anastasia Myskina of Russia 6-2, 6-3.
Clijsters, for her part, showed no kindness to her friend and doubles partner Ai Sugiyama, racing past the experienced Japanese woman 6-3, 6-2.
So much, then, for the new-found "depth'' in women's tennis. Surely, these results will go a long way in promoting the cause equal prize money long espoused by the advocates of the women's game!
In a sport where a player world ranked 203 is often good enough to blow the defending Wimbledon champion and world No. 2 off the court in the men's game, there is about as much room for surprises in the women's game as there might be when you throw a lamb into the cage of a hungry lion.
What is more, apart from Asagoe, each one of the other four women who failed to so much as force their opponents to work up a sweat happens to be ranked in the top 20! As it is, at Wimbledon, the difference in prize money between the men and women is marginal, almost negligible. And there may be a case for the lower ranked men to fight for a larger share of the cake, for it is they who provide all the sparks in the first week of Grand Slam events.
In sport, as in life, some are more equal than the others and there is no getting away from that fact. And then, in the context of women's tennis itself, consider the Williams sisters.
For all the drama of the French Open, for all the strides made by Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, when Venus and Serena are playing their best tennis, they are still two levels above anyone else playing the sport.
Neither sister played faultless tennis today. But it was apparent that both of them were urgently alive to the demands of the second week. For, when challenged if you can term the meagre opposition they faced today as challenge they move into sixth gear, so to say, in a sport were even the best of the rest fail to find access to the fifth!
Before the start which, today, was delayed by an hour on the outside courts because of rains which reappeared around 2.30 to halt play Richard Williams, the man whose missionary zeal turned a pair of underclass kids in the drug-mafia infested, seedy Los Angeles suburb of Compton into world class athletes who'd raise the bar like never before in the women's game, made some interesting points in an interview on BBC.
He said that when his daughters are playing their best tennis, few, if any, can stand with them. Richard, as well as his daughters, have often been accused in the Western media of excessive hubris.
The Williamses, it has been said, not only have an intimidating swagger but they do not respect their opponents enough, and never tire of reminding everyone that they are better make that much better than anybody else.
Of course, they know they are better than the rest; and their body language as well as spoken language seek to clearly underline that superiority.
But that comes with the territory; few would realise how hard it might have been, given their social background and skin colour, to get where they are in a sport that is, at the very top, almost lily white.
Yet, it is not at all clear what their critics want of them. Perhaps to have them ''confess'' that they were swimming alongside equals and struggling to stay afloat?
All great champions step on the court in the belief that they are better than everyone else. When he set foot on a grass court here, the greatest of them all Pete Sampras was, every single time, surely awash in that great feeling of absolute superiority which, eventually, catapulted him to heights no man ever reached.
But Pete did it his way; and the Williamses are doing it their way. Hubris does play a part in the making of champions although it can be a double edged weapon.
In the day's matches, Venus was off the blocks sooner than her younger sister but it was she that faced at least token resistance from the talented Russian girl Zvonareva, who beat the two-time Wimbledon champion in three sets at the same stage in the French Open last month.
In Paris, Venus buried herself in a heap of 70 unforced errors and, this afternoon, after winning eight of the the first nine games to go 2-0 up in the second set, the gifted athlete was in a giving mood for a brief while, donating points to the Russian with her errant forehand.
This saw the young Russian fight back to 3-2, often standing well inside the court to intimidate the American on her second serves and feeding her misbehaving forehand all the time. But, at the mere hint of a challenge, the former champion roused herself to frenzied brilliance and raced home in style.
Serena, for her part, lost serve once against Dementieva; and that was the most gripping piece of drama (!) in the match.
"What they did to my daughter (in Paris) was wrong. The chair umpire should have taken action,'' said Richard Williams, looking back to the day when Serena mentally broke down amidst boos and taunts and lost to Henin-Hardenne in the French Open semifinals.
They the spectators don't do that in these parts and the Williams express is unlikely to breakdown on these slippery lawns. About the only real possibility is that of a head on collision between the Williams Express and the Williams Super Fast on Saturday, July 5.
The results (prefix denotes seeding):
Women's singles (fourth round): 1-Serena Williams (U.S.) bt 15-Elena Dementieva (Rus) 6-2, 6-2; 2-Kim Clijsters (Bel) bt 13-Ai Sugiyama (Jpn) 6-3, 6-2; 4-Venus Williams (U.S.) bt 16-Vera Zvonareva (Rus) 6-1, 6-3; 5-Lindsay Davenport (U.S.) bt Shinobu Asagoe (Jpn) 6-4, 6-1; 8-Jennifer Capriati (U.S.) bt 10-Anastasia Myskina (Rus) 6-2, 6-3;
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