When Henin announced her decision to pack her bags and go home to another life that doesn’t include playing tennis for a living, it opened the door for some top players to take home the championship at Roland Garros and here’s my five top challengers for the title: Serena Williams (my pick to win), Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and yes, Venus Williams.
If I have learned one thing about the Williams sisters since they first joined the WTA tour it’s never to count them out of any tournament. In the past I and many others have counted them out of contention based on some circumstances that seemed to be working against them heading into tournaments and then they’ve gone on to prove all of us wrong. So I’m not about to do that again with Venus at the French Open.
When I take a look at Venus, who came into this Paris fortnight with just a few clay-court matches played this year -- three to be exact -- I still see her in a positive light. A player like Venus doesn’t pay much attention to the surface she’s playing on. Venus doesn’t much care about the surface she’s performing on for any given tournament. Venus takes a look in front of her, sees a tennis court and says I can play and win on it so let’s go. She’s got that kind of confidence.
Venus, who is seeded eighth here, was certainly not in her best form in her first-round match at Roland Garros on Monday when she beat Israeli Tzipora Obziler 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Venus looked better in a second-round win over Tunisian qualifier Selima Sfar, 6-2, 6-4. For the most part she played solidly from the baseline and also fared well with her charges to the net. Venus mixing up her attack helped confuse Sfar.
Venus served poorly against Oblizer -- eight double faults, five of which came in the final set. She had only three double faults against Sfar. I thought it somewhat discouraging that Venus allowed Obziler -- a 35-year-old player ranked No. 93, who is not nearly the quality of player Venus is by any stretch of the imagination -- take the match to a third set. That is a serious no-no, but Venus survived that risk.
There were some encouraging things about Venus’ performance against Obziler. Most importantly she came to the net quite a few times. That is great for her since she has long arms and so why not use such a great wingspan towards winning points off volleys. For years Billie Jean King, Venus’ one-time Federation Cup captain, tried to get her to do that -- get up there and force the play.
Looking at the big picture things could prove quite favorable for Venus the next couple of weeks in the City of Lights. She appears to be in a good mood and she has always been a huge fan of Paris. In my mind she came to this major with no pressure and that’s a good way to compete.
Venus and Serena never appear to feel much pressure at any tournament primarily because they have wonderful temperament. But if Venus was to be feeling pressure at a major it would be at Wimbledon later this year when she will be attempting to defend her title, something I believe she is very capable of doing.
When looking at Venus’ draw at Roland Garros it’s definitely fair to anticipate her reaching the quarterfinals, where if play holds to form she would come up against third-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia. If Venus gets past that match, she will likely be looking at either little sis – fifth-seeded Serena Williams or second-seeded Ana Ivanovic -- in the semifinals. While Venus might not be the favorite against either of those players in the semifinals there is no reason why she -- if playing top quality tennis -- couldn’t beat either Serena or Ana.
Only once (in 2002 when Serena beat her for the title) has Venus made the French Open final. It’s puzzling as to why Venus has not fared better on clay overall and especially at Roland Garros. She should have a better history in Paris because she is way too good a player not to have made more than just one serious run at being the queen of this major.
As far as a weakness for Venus on clay? Well, it’s probably the same thing she has fought against no matter what surface she is playing on. Venus tends at times to lose her concentration on the court. And the result of forgetting to pay attention to the task at hand is that Venus’ forehand goes south and she starts dumping balls into the net.
y take on the Williams sisters going forward is that they can’t be dismissed no matter what the tournament and no matter what the circumstances involved. Venus at Wimbledon in 2005 and 2007 – well those are perfect examples of what I’m talking about -- she seemed down and persevered both years, summoning her game to a high level on the lawns and thus went on to win two more majors. She simply has the stuff of champions and who am I to dispute that winning quality.
So when asked if Venus can win the title at Roland Garros this year, I say, why not?
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