A salute to Venus and Serena
I have never been a fan of the Williams sisters but on Saturday morning Venus Williams could win Wimbledon at the age of 37.
Aside from Martina Navratilova and Jimmy Connors, tennis players in the modern era haven’t made the finals or even the semis of major tournaments (United States, French and Australian Opens, and Wimbledon) after reaching their mid-30s.
Roger Federer is the exception.
Pete Sampras retired at 31, Chris Evert at 34 and John McEnroe won all his Grand Slams before his 26th birthday.
What irked me most about the rise of Venus and Serena? Tennis commentator Mary Carillo called it “Big Babe Tennis.” Which meant women who were 5’10” or taller with massive serves and devastating ground strokes, overpowering finesse players like Martina Hingis.
Now…the 5’7″ Hingis won all three majors at the age of 17 and would have captured the calendar Grand Slam had she not been involved in a horse riding accident prior to the French Open that year. And, a player of similar stature, Justine Henin, won several majors, hit with power and had a strong serve.
Hingis did not.
The story goes that Martina’s Mom (and coach) wanted to save the teenager’s arm by having Martina spin serves in at medium to 3/4 pace, rather than developing a first serve that could be a weapon (a huge asset then, an essential today). It worked in the short term. Hingis beat everyone in sight. A chess master and artist with incredible feel.
And then came Venus and Serena, Lindsay Davenport and the second coming of Jennifer Capriati (teen phenom who bounced back from legal and drug problems).
Carillo’s Big Babes.
It didn’t matter that Hingis excelled at volleys and could counterpunch like no one else. The lack of a strong first serve put her behind the eight ball in every match against those baseline bashers and serving machines.
So, yes, I have rooted against the Williams sisters for over 20 years.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Serena is one the the greatest athletes of all time. Any sport. Male or female. Still the number one player at 35, until she got pregnant earlier this year and I’m betting if Venus wins on Saturday, she will thank her sister for being an expectant Mom rather than a competitor in London.
Venus, win or lose, making the Wimbledon finals at 37 is a remarkable achievement and I wouldn’t bet against Serena winning the Australian Open in January. If any Mom can win a major, it will be the younger Williams sister.
As for Hingis, she’s 36 and still one of the world’s best doubles players. Martina has won several Grand Slam doubles titles in recent years…ladies with Sania Mirza, mixed with Leander Paes, and she’s made it to the Wimbledon mixed doubles semi finals with Andy Murray’s older brother, Jamie.
Good luck to all.