April 30, 2008

Serena's service return game's most dangerous weapon

By James Beck
The Post and Courier /
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Serena Williams has a secret weapon on backhand service returns. She shoots straight from the hip. It's almost impossible to jam Serena with a serve into her backhand because of this shoot-from-the-hip technique.

Watching several of Serena's Family Circle Cup matches from the baseline from near courtside while concentrating on her service returns shed new light for me on why she is so dangerous on service returns.

Opponents surely recognized that danger during her march to the championship. Serena doesn't step back with her left foot or attempt to turn sideways on serves directed into the left side of her body. She simply flexes her wrists to her left, a move that places the racket on her hip. She combines her incredible upper-body and arm strength with the power of the serve to drive service returns toward the server, often with near-unreturnable pace. The bullets sometimes arrive near the middle of the opposite baseline before her opponent can make a move for them.

She seems to have more trouble with serves into the "routine" backhand area that force her to extend her racket out from the power pocket of her hip. Yet, serves a little wider and out of the routine backhand area on the "ad" side fall back into the danger zone for servers because Serena tends to power these balls cross-court, or maybe even down the line.

Because of her service returns, especially from the "ad" side, Serena has the most dangerous weapon in women's tennis on the decisive point of a receiving game that goes to six or more points.

Combining the threat of her service return with her ability to serve aces so routinely should make Serena Williams nearly unbeatable. If she can stay healthy, and maintain her physical fitness and focus, the rest of women's tennis may be in trouble for several more years.

April 24, 2008

Serena unveils Nike 2008 Women's Fall Line

Tennis player Serena Williams hosts the unveiling of the Nike 2008 Women's Fall Line on April 24, 2008 in Venice California.

Serena attends opening of BAPESTORE

Serena attended the opening of the BAPESTORE in Hollywood on Wednesday night.

A Bathing Ape (or BAPE) is a Japanese clothing company founded by Tomoaki "Nigo" Nagao in 1993. The company specializes in urban and hip hop fashion, operating stores in Japan, including BAPE, BAPE Store, Foot Soldier and the Bape Exclusive store (located in Aoyama, Tokyo). The company also operates Bape Cuts hair salon, Bape Café and gallery, Bape Sounds records. There are also stores located in Hong Kong, London, New York, Taipei and Los Angeles. Nigo also founded the women's clothing lines "APEE", and "BAPY", the female "couture" clothing line.

April 20, 2008

Serena wins Family Circle Cup: 3rd Consecutive Title of 2008

Serena has defeated Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to win her 1st Family Circle Cup title (31st overall). It has been six years since Serena won a clay court title. Today's win vaults Serena to #6 (up from #9). She has also exceeded the $19 million career earnings mark (#6 on all time women's list). What a wonderful start to the season: 3 consecutive finals, 3 consecutive titles, wins over 4 of the Top 5 players in the world and a stellar 19-1 record. With this win Serena becomes just the third active player to win three or more clay court events at the Tier I level or higher, having won Rome and Roland Garros in 2002 (ahead of her in that stat are Henin with nine and Amelie Mauresmo with four)." Congratulations Serena!!

April 19, 2008

There's something about Serena.....

Per The Family Circle Cup website (http://www.familycirclecup.com/)

"Williams improved to 40-11 lifetime in Sony Ericsson WTA Tour semifinals with the win (over Alize Cornet), a 78.4 winning percentage. Even more impressive is her record in the semifinals of events at the Tier I level or higher, which now stands at 28-4 (87.5%). She will now play her second final at this event, having finished runner-up to Justine Henin in 2003. She will also try to become just the third active player to win three or more clay court events at the Tier I level or higher, having won Rome and Roland Garros in 2002 (ahead of her in that stat are Henin with nine and Amelie Mauresmo with four)."

Family Circle Cup: Final (Sunday)

[5] Serena (USA) vs. Vera Zvonareva (RUS)
Serena leads Head-To-Head (4-1)
(Note: ESPN2 is scheduled to air the match LIVE @1:00pm)

Noteworthy: With Serena reaching the final, the eight-time Grand Slam winner has passed the $19 million mark in career earnings (which places her at #6 on the women's all-time list).

Serena Wins: Advances to Family Circle Cup FINAL!

Serena has defeated Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the Family Circle Cup FINAL! Serena started slow and was down 1-4 in the 1st Set, but like the champion she is, she found a way to turn it around. Serena's Championship battle will be against the winner of the Vera Zvonareva / Elena Dementieva match. She leads the Head-To-Head matchup against both players (4-1). With today's win Serena rises in the rankings to #7 and if she wins the title tomorrow, she will jump to #6 (when the new rankings are released on Monday). She is currently ranked #9. The former No. 1 has won 14 consecutive matches, including back-to-back titles in Bangalore and Miami. “"If I keep playing well, the ranking will come. I’m just trying to take it one tournament at a time right now,” Williams said when asked about cracking the top five again. “Staying healthy and playing well is my focus. I’m not thinking about rankings, I’m thinking about titles. If anything it (owning a ranking below her ability) makes me work harder. I know that I know what to do to beat the big players." Go Serena!!!

Family Circle Cup: Semi-Final Saturday

[5] Serena (USA) vs. Alize Cornet (FRA)
Head-To-Head (0-0)
(Note: ESPN2 is scheduled to air the match LIVE @1:00pm)

April 18, 2008

Noteworthy: Serena vs. (current) Top 5 players

So far this year, Serena has defeated 4 of the current Top 5 players in the world: (1) Justine Henin, (3) Svetlana Kuznetsova, (4) Maria Sharapova and (5) Jelena Jankovic. She has yet to play (2) Ana Ivanovic (this year). Keep up the good work Serena. The ranking of an opponent means nothing to Serena as she's said, "Honestly, I don’t get concerned about who I’m going to play. I’ll go up against anybody except Federer or Nadal. Or Santoro. Anybody but them. Especially Santoro." Oh my, what does that say about the rest of the men on the ATP Tour? (lol).

Serena slams Maria and ties serve speed record; Advances to Semis

Serena Williams has defeated Maria Sharapova 7-5, 4-6, 6-1! This was indeed an AWESOME match. Both of these ladies played some spectacular tennis. I must honestly say, when Serena is on, SHE IS ON! Serena extends their Head-To-Head matchup (5-2). Serena said afterwards that "in the 3rd set she played the Serena-Game and what a display it was! It was as if she could do no wrong. The match lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes. Congratulations SERENA! Much love and respect to and for you. SERENA ALSO TIED VENUS' SERVE SPEED RECORD, CRACKING A SERVE AT 129mph! WOW!

Clash of the Titans: MARIA vs. SERENA!

Clash of the Titans: Maria vs. Serena
By: John Berkok (http://www.familycirclecup.com/)

Just two of the 56 players in the main draw of the 2008 Family Circle Cup had made it all the way to the world No.1 ranking, the pinnacle of women's tennis. In Charleston on Friday the two former No.1s will meet as Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams do battle in the quarterfinals of the Tier I clay court event.

Sharapova and Williams split their first four match-ups evenly, 2-2. Williams won their first meeting, on the hardcourts of Miami in 2004, 6-4, 6-3; Sharapova retaliated with two wins later that year, notching high-profile final wins at Wimbledon (6-1, 6-4) and the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships (46 62 64, having trailed 4-0 in the third set). Williams won a nail-biter at the Australian Open at the beginning of 2005, saving three match points en route to prevailing, 2-6, 7-5, 8-6, to even their head-to-head. But that's when the American completely took over.

In their only two meetings since then Williams has completely dominated, with a 6-1, 6-2 win in the 2007 Australian Open final and an even more lopsided 61 61 win in the fourth round of Miami a few months later. With those two wins, the 26-year-old became the only player ever to beat Sharapova twice with the loss of only three games or less (those who have achieved the feat once are Monica Seles, Kim Clijsters, Anastasia Myskina, Lindsay Davenport and Ana Ivanovic).

Although the two players have played each other six times already there is an unknown remaining, as this will be the first time they will do battle on clay. Williams has a better clay court resume, claiming two titles on the surface - at Rome and Roland Garros in 2002 - but Sharapova is coming on strong on clay this year, claiming her first title on the surface at Amelia Island last week. With their big serves, huge groundstrokes and steely nerves, this is going to be a match to remember on the green clay of Charleston.

April 17, 2008

Family Circle Cup: Quarter-Final (Friday)

[5] Serena (USA) vs. [2] Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Serena leads Head-To-Head (4-2)
(Note: ESPN2 is scheduled to air the match LIVE @1:00pm)

Serena advances to Quarter-Final

Serena has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup, by defeating Katarina Srebotnik 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday. The 3 set match took 2 hours and 13 minutes. Serena will now face Maria Sharapova! This one should be VERY interesting.

April 16, 2008

Family Circle Cup: 3rd Round (Thursday)

3rd Round
[5] Serena (USA) vs. [12] Katarina Srebotnik (SLO)
Serena leads Head-To-Head 2-0
(Note: ESPN2 is scheduled to air a LIVE Match 1:00pm - 2:30pm)

April 15, 2008

Serena wins opener at Family Circle Cup!

Serena won her 2nd Round match (and 1st clay court match of the season) at the Family Circle Cup (Charleston, SC) by defeating Gisela Dulko in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 (in an hour and 19 minutes). Congratulations Serena!!

Serena and Maria are in Charleston, SC

Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams sign Family Circle Cup memorabilia on Monday.

April 14, 2008

Family Circle Cup: 2nd Round (Tuesday)

2nd Round
Serena (USA) [5] vs. Gisela Dulko (ARG)
Head-To-Head (0-0)
Feature Night Match on Family Circle Magazine Stadium

April 13, 2008

TENNIS Magazine: The Game-Changers

The May 2008 issue of TENNIS magazine is a special issue: "40 Years of Open Tennis: From Rod Laver to Roger Federer, We Celebrate the Players and Personalities Who Have Changed The Game."

(Venus) and Serena are featured on page 43: "The Game-Changers: The Sport Was Never The Same After These Five Open Era Champions Played It." (The fiver players included in this feature are: Ivan Lendl, Chris Evert, Venus and Serena Williams and Bjorn Borg).

"If there were a soundtrack to the careers of Venus and Serena Williams, it would be Frank Sinatra's "My Way." With their father, Richard, at the helm, the sisters rose to prominence by breaking the conventions of the sport. Junior tennis? Don't need it. Thin-beam racquets instead of widebodies? Not for us. Closing your stance on your backhand? Why bother?

While skeptics were confident that the sisters would fall on their faces to opponents who came up the ranks the "right" way, the Williamses proved the doubters wrong, playing a brand of power tennis the likes of which the women's game had never seen.

Call it hit-first, ask-no-questions-later, Venus and Serena went big on EVERY shot, not just the forehand. Serves, returns, backhands, swinging volleys - everything they did on the court was imbued with the desire to crush the ball. The competition could no longer sit back and wait for a mistake. The Williamses raised the bar by forcing their opponents to go for their shots or perish, a style of play that defines women's tennis today. " (The top picture of Serena from the 2004 French Open is the exact one used in the article).

Serena also came in at #1 on the Top 5 Best Dressed List (page 49). "From the cat suit to the soccer socks, Serena has made tennis fashion a sport of its own."

The other tennis players making the cut were #2 Bjorn Borg, #3 Chris Evert, #4 Maria Sharapova and #5 Roger Federer.

April 12, 2008

Stay in step with Serena!

Tired of checking / guessing to see if there is a new entry to the blog? Care to receive automatic notification of updates to this blog? If yes, then take advantage of the "newly added" RSS Feed feature (located on the sidebar beneath the Profile of a Champion). Click "Subscribe To My Blog."

April 11, 2008

Serena's UPDATED (tentative) 2008 Schedule

Scroll the sidebar (to the right of the page) and you will find (beneath the "Serena Slideshow") Serena's updated 2008 Tournament Schedule. It looks mighty impressive and gives the vibe of a serious commitment towards regaining her #1 ranking. I'm loving it.

Serena chosen as marquee match @ Family Circle Cup 35th Anniversary Kick-Off Celebration

CHARLESTON, SC (April 10, 2008) – Serena Williams has been scheduled to compete in the feature match of the evening during the Family Circle Cup’s 35th Anniversary Kick-Off Celebration on Tuesday, April 15th. Justine Henin has been forced to withdraw from the Family Circle Cup due to a right knee inflammation. The Family Circle Cup is scheduled April 12th - 20th, 2008 at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

Williams, a former World No. 1 and 8-time Grand Slam Champion who won her fifth Sony Ericsson Open title in Miami on April 5th, will be making her fifth appearance in Charleston. The Family Circle Cup, scheduled to begin later this week, continues to have a strong player field including defending champion Jelena Jankovic and Australian Open Champion Maria Sharapova contending for this historic Tier I championship.

“Coming off her recent victory in Miami, Serena will enter this year’s Cup with some great momentum and we are delighted that she will be a part of our marquee singles match during our special 35th Anniversary Kick-Off Celebration,” said Robin Reynolds, Family Circle Cup Tournament Director. “It is unfortunate that Justine will have to miss this year’s Cup, but our player field is incredibly strong with the perfect blend of seasoned veterans and up and coming stars.”

Interesting "mailbag" question/answer

The Williams soap opera:
On-again, off-again stars may be most compelling tale

by John Wertheim: Tennis Mailbag (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/)

(A reader posted the following question to John Wertheim):

I don't claim to have watched every match Serena Williams has played, or read every article about them, but it seems to me that if Mary Carillo and almost every other tennis announcer/journalist says that Serena only loses when she plays badly, why is it soooo awful when Serena says it? Against Jelena Jankovic [in the Sony Ericsson Open final], it was obvious that Jelena had nothing to do with the outcome of that match. Your thoughts?-- P-Sqaured, NYC

Truthfully, I was thinking the same thing the entire tournament. And I came away with a new perspective re: Serena's sour reaction to defeat. I don't want to give Serena a total pass on her sore losing. (It's beneath her to attribute losing to an opponent's "lucky shots" or "playing at 40 percent.") But put yourself in her shoes.
She has the capability to blow away the world's top-ranked player 6-2, 6-0, as she did in the quarterfinals. She has the capacity to blow through a tournament, as she did last year in Australia and last week in Miami. She has the ability to render her opponents essentially meaningless. How immensely frustrating must it be to lose? When all cylinders are firing, she's virtually unbeatable. One can see how it must drive her nuts when that doesn't happen.

Larger point: I've said this before, but I don't see how you can follow the sport and not be awed by the whole Williams narrative. You couldn't craft a richer story than this: humble beginnings, great triumphs, outsider status, insider status, family tragedy, divorce, race, money, grace, disgrace, education, sports.

The plot wavers all the time. "Venus is cooked! No, wait: She's Wimbledon champ!" "Serena is bored! No, wait: She's trim and buff and toasting Justine Henin!" "Serena rules! No, she's pulling out of an event and taping a reality show." "Venus is looking fairly strong! No wait: She's taking an unexpected leave!" Really, it's just remarkable. And I'm not sure the Republic of Tennis realizes how lucky we are to have them around.

Serena: In a class of her own

by: James Martin, TENNIS.com (posted: 4/2/08)

For years, Serena Williams's apologists have argued that little sis is the best player in the world. Forget what the rankings say. Never mind that she's a part-time player with one foot on the court and another in Hollywood. Pay no attention to whether she appears to be in shape. It doesn't matter. When Serena Williams decides to concentrate on tennis, so the apologists tell us, she will beat anyone, anywhere, anytime.

For years, I've never been able to bring myself to support this argument. If Williams is not No. 1, for whatever reason, she's not the best player in the world.
Well, forget it. After watching Williams destroy Justine Henin in the quarterfinals of Miami this week, I now count myself as one of the converted, a card-carrying member of the Serena Williams appreciation club. How many times do I have to watch Williams pull a disappearing act (in February, she vanished for emergency dental surgery) only to return to the court and thrash the top players before I believe that she is, indeed, the best player in tennis when she puts her mind to it?

There has never been a player who can so easily come and go as he or she pleases. Not Bjorn Borg. Not John McEnroe. Not Martina Navratilova. Not Chris Evert. Serena is in a class all her own. She's kind of like the game's version of the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. That guy breaks all the conventions -- he spends most of his time doing woodwork rather than incessantly honing his acting chops, and then eventually comes out of hiding to put on a virtuoso display.

Could Serena Williams clean up if she focused on tennis 24/7? I'm not betting against her. But what does that say about the state of the women's game that a part-time player can thrash someone like Henin, who, the computer tells us, is the No. 1 player in the world? On some level it might bespeak a lack of depth on the WTA Tour. But proficiency with strokes and strategy isn't where Serena Williams holds the formidable edge. It's her attitude.

Serena Williams is fearless. She goes for all of her shots, from serves to swinging volleys, with the intention of putting the ball away or blasting right through her opponent. This isn't to say that Williams is immune to choking, but that she is the rarest of players who has an uncanny and unwavering belief in her ability to execute every time she steps on to the court. It doesn't matter how fit she is or how many matches she's played. Serena never loses the plot.

Williams' father, Richard, deserves credit for giving his daughter this borderline bizarre self-confidence. It can make Serena sound beyond arrogant at times, and positively strange at others. It also makes her the era's defining champion.

What about Williams' competition? Henin can be fragile. You get the sense that Ana Ivanovic still doesn't completely believe that she belongs on the biggest stages. Jelena Jankovic? Please. Nicole Vaidisova, once thought to be a future No. 1, is a mental midget. Svetlana Kuznetsova? She's lost eight of her last nine finals. Maria Sharapova is the only player who comes close to matching Serena Williams' fearlessness.

When Williams deigns to show up, she is the best player in tennis. And most, if not all, of the players are intimidated by her. Can you blame them?

April 9, 2008

2008 Miami Review


* Tied Steffi Graf with most Sony Ericsson Open Titles (5) *

* Now leads Head-to-Head match up with Justine Henin: 7-6 *
* (Served a 2nd Set bagel to #1 Justine Henin: 6-2, 6-0) *

* Leveled Head-to-Head with Jelena Jankovic: 3-3 *

* Maintained position in Top 10 (#9) *

* Increased Head-to-Head against Svetlana Kuznetsova: 4-1 *

*Defeated 3 of the Top 4 Players in the World:

#1 Justine Henin, #3 Jelena Jankovic and #4 Svetlana Kuznetsova *

April 5, 2008

Post-Match Interview Snippets

Q. How far back do you think you've come to your very best level? Is it possible to assess that or not?

SERENA WILLIAMS: I think I'm ‑‑ you know, I'm doing more of the right things that I should be doing more. I feel like I have a little more variety in my game. I feel like I'm on the right track. I'm not there yet, and I feel like ‑‑ I've always said I feel like I've never reached my potential. I really want to get there.

Q. She (Jelena) said you looked nervous out there. Is that even possible considering you have been playing tennis your whole life?

SERENA WILLIAMS: I don't know if I was nervous. I know I got tight. I guess you can classify that as nervous. Normally I just close it out. I just didn't make the right shots. Then really though sometimes the wind, it was windy, and I just made the wrong ‑‑ I made the mistakes at the wrong time. Whether it was nerves or not, it was me definitely technically not doing everything I did and I was supposed to do in practice.

Q. Does it surprise you to get tight, Serena? Is that something you don't expect from yourself?

SERENA WILLIAMS: No, I get tight often. My forearm gets a little locked up. I've gotten tight in a couple of matches, but I usually get over it and get through it.

Q. You get distracted?


Q. The fact that you still get tight in a match like this even after all your wins and all your experiences, is that a reflection of your desire level at this point?

SERENA WILLIAMS: I definitely think it's a reflection on my desire level. Especially now I feel like all I want to do is play tennis, and all I want to do is be the best and win. My whole life is dedicated to nothing but tennis. I've been working so hard, and I feel like everything will come together in time. Sometimes when it doesn't come together I get frustrated, but I feel like it's not going to be in vain. So I definitely think that the fact that I do get tight or get ‑‑ I did get tight, you know. I think everyone gets tight at some point. But the fact that I did today, I feel that it definitely ‑‑ you can definitely see my desire and my dedication.

Serena wins 5th Sony Ericsson Open Title!

Serena has defeated Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-3. With this win Serena ties Steffi Graf's record of winning the Sony Ericsson Open 5 times! Serena DOMINATEDthe 1st set, blinked in the 2nd set and slammed the door (after some shaky play and a slew of errors) in the 3rd and final set. Serena had many chances to close out the match and she FINALLY converted on Championship Point #8! (At one point she even smashed her racquet in disgust). All in all, Serena came up with the goods when it mattered most. Even though Serena won this match, her ranking will drop to #10. (Crazy, I know). Serena also leveled the head-to-head match up with Jelena (3-3). On the road to the title Serena dispatched the #1 player in the world (Justine Henin), the #3 (Jelena Jankovic) and the #4 (Svetlana Kuznetsova). The computer may rank Serena at #9 or #10 but we KNOW better!

Williams survived some shaky play down the stretch and an improbable comeback by Jankovic, who trailed 5-3 in the second set. Williams closed out the elusive victory on her eighth championship point with an overhead slam. "It definitely got tough," Williams said during the trophy ceremony. "I think maybe I got a little tight and put too much pressure on myself."

Williams arrived at Key Biscayne a trimmer player, thanks to a recent rigorous training regimen, and needed to be in top condition in the 2½-hour final. Both players held up well in the 85-degree sunshine, and some of their best rallies -- one lasting 26 shots -- came in the final few games. Williams, who grew up in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, also won the tournament in 2002-04 and 2007. "The Serena and Steffi Open," Williams said. "I love Steffi Graf. She's a great champion and was my role model. To even be compared to her is awesome."

Williams improved to 14-1 this year, with her only loss to Jankovic in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. At first it appeared the final might not last an hour. Williams dominated for a set and a half, and she was three points from victory in the second set when she began spraying nervous shots, while Jankovic started to play better. Williams lost her serve at love for 5-all, then double-faulted to lose set point and forced a third set.

"I was thinking, 'Maybe she's going to be nice to me,'" Jankovic said. Even the pro-Williams crowd applauded the dogged effort by Jankovic, who had rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the third set and there was more drama to come. Angered by her lapse, Williams raced to a 5-0 lead in the third set but again wavered. She had her first championship point in the next game, another at 5-1 and three more at 5-2. Williams twice exhorted herself with screams but lost that game, then slammed her racket against the concrete and sent it skipping into the side wall, which drew jeers from the crowd.

Jankovic saved two more match points in the next game before Williams closed out the victory with her 51st winner. She also had 52 errors. "She was just too strong," Jankovic said. "She's a great champion. All the credit to her." Williams, who improved to 47-5 at Key Biscayne, won $590,000. Jankovic received $295,675.

April 4, 2008

Sony Ericsson Open Women's Final is Saturday!

Serena (USA) [8] vs. Jelena Jankovic (SRB) [4]
Head-To-Head (2-3)
Stadium Court @ 12:00pm

April 3, 2008

Final Bound! Serena defeats Svetlana

WHAT A FIGHT! A 3-set Thriller! After losing the first set, Serena storms back to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. The match last 2 hours and 47 minutes! Serena had 45 winners, 45 unforced errors, 3 double faults and 13 aces. She had a 60% First Serve percentage. During the 1st Set, Serena called for the trainer (medical timeout) for an issue she was having with her back. Serena will now (on Saturday) compete for her 5th Sony Ericsson Open Title. If Serena wins the final, she will not only retain her position inside the Top 10, but also tie Steffi Graf’s record of five singles titles in Miami.

April 2, 2008

Sony Ericsson Open: Day 9 (Thursday)

Serena (USA) [8] vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) [3]
Head-To-Head (3-1)
2nd match of the day on Stadium Court
(Not Before 1:00pm)