Thursday, January 26, 2017

Venus and Serena: together again, as you always wanted to see them

Who would have thought, when the season's first major began, that we would wind up with Venus and Serena Williams facing off in the final? I didn't. But down went defending champion Angie Kerber, down went favorite Karolina Pliskova, down went upstart Jo Konta.

To me, Kerber, Pliskova, Serena, and Konta (in no particular order) were the players comprising the field that would produce a champion. And in that group, only six-time champion Serena Williams is still standing. But in her way is, of all people, her sister.

And isn't that kind of cool?

Between them, they have lived on this Earth 71 years. In tennis years, that's some kind of old. In Williams sisters years (or Navratilova years, or Date-Krumm years, or Lucic-Baroni or Schiavone years), it's no big deal.

I disclose my bias straightaway: I am an "older" woman who, on a daily basis, rebukes all the ageist nonsense about these numbers: You are fit and ready, or you aren't. Is it different from when you were 20? Of course it is. But can you nevertheless be in better shape than many who are much younger? You bet your hours-in-the-gym/court/studio butt you can. And you can--and do--win very big matches on the WTA tour.

Okay, I got that out of my system. For now.

Venus and Serena are elite athletes and elite tennis players. They are also elite survivors of life, which makes them elite competitors. Saturday, they will meet for the ninth time in a major final. Serena leads their major final head-to-head 6-2. If she wins this one, she will have won 23 major singles titles. For Venus, it would bring the total to eight.

Amd now a few words about the other semifinalists. I think of Jo Konta as fearless, but when Great Britain's number 1 player faced Serena Williams, she caved. This is not to take anything away from Serena's spot-on performance, but in this match, Konta just didn't look like the player who stormed into the top 10 with a huge serve and a keen court intelligence. The serve went away, and Konta looked lost.

CoCo Vandeweghe also lost her way, though there were moments when she found it again. The big-hitting, big-serving Vandeweghe has added so much strategy and finesse to her game that she now appears quite threatening. There are plenty of big hitters, but it is those who developed a more varied game--Venus, Serena, Kvitova, Cibulkova--who have the big careers.

Vandeweghe was philosophical in her press conference, stating that she was disappointed, but she wasn't able to respond well enough when her opponent changed her strategy in the second set. She also acknowledged that, in the big moments, Venus was just too good. Vandeweghe, who was able to convert only one of 13 break points, said she wasn't satisfied with her performance, but that this was just the beginning of a long season, and that her team had already lifted her spirits.

CoCo Vandeweghe, it should be noted, had an extremely tough draw, and took out the likes of Roberta Vinci, Genie Bouchard, defending champion and world number 1 Angie Kerber, and world number 7 Garbine Muguruza.

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--Kateryna Kozlova
round 2--Stefanie Voegele
round 3--Duan Ying-Ying
round of 16--Mona Barthel (Q)
quarterfinals--Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (24)
semifinals-- CoCo Vandeweghe

round 1--Belinda Bencic
round 2--Lucie Safarova
round 3--Nicole Gibbs
round 4--Barbora Strycova (16)
quarterfinals--Johanna Konta (9)
semifinals--Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

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