Americans Serena Williams and John Isner shine — The Friday Five
By Maud Watson
In the Zone
Serena Williams was firing on all cylinders last week in Charleston, which wasn’t just bad news for the rest of the field – it was devastating. Serena showed no mercy as she demolished her opponents en route to the title, dropping a grand total of just three games in the semis and final. Though it was an absolute clinic by the decorated Grand Slam champion, it’s difficult to use as a barometer for how she’ll perform in Paris. For starters, near the latter rounds, she played above her head (even by her lofty standards), and that level for her has increasingly become the exception rather than the norm. Additionally, while there are few players who at their best can potentially hang with Serena at her best, it’s still worth noting that the currently hottest players on the WTA were absent. Finally, there’s the fact that the win is unlikely to have a substantial carry-over effect on Serena herself. She’s frequently shown she never lacks for confidence at any event, irrespective of how match fit she is, simply taking things as they come. So, congrats on a well-deserved 40th career singles title for the younger Williams, who reminded the world of what she’s capable of when her heart and head are in it, but one fantastic title win does not just yet a heavy favorite for Roland Garros make.
Riding the Momentum
Where Ryan Harrison failed to capitalize on his opportunity when named to the U.S. Davis Cup Team, John Isner continued to shine. Since upsetting Roger Federer in the team competition this past February, he’s continued to improve and surprise everyone, including perhaps himself. He delivered a much-needed win against Simon to pull the Americans even with France on the opening day of last weekend’s tie, and he clinched the victory with his triumph over Tsonga. He’s also being smart with his scheduling, choosing to sit out the optional Masters 1000 event next week in Monte Carlo in order to rest and get fit for the remainder of the clay court and following grass court seasons. As he continues this good run of form, he’s set to become the No. 1 American man sooner rather than later. Such an achievement would be a crowning moment for Isner as well as the USA, given that Isner has been one of the handful of Americans to consistently comport himself with class and dignity this season.
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario needs a crash course in public relations stat. We previously heard she was broke thanks to the mishandling of her finances by her parents, which has since been followed by rebuttal from her mother claiming otherwise. Now the “Barcelona Bumblebee” is upsetting her nation’s top female player by personally attacking Anabel Medina Garrigues during her announcement that Garrigues would not be part of her Fed Cup squad. As captain, it’s her prerogative as to who she’d like to select for the team, but there was no need to launch an attack against the Spanish No. 1. Her actions and decisions in recent months might suggest it’s time for the Spanish Tennis Federation to consider looking at a potential replacement. It’s a shame given what all Sanchez-Vicario has done in the sport and for her county, but recent behavior dictates that a review of her ability to be a leader at this point in time is in serious doubt.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be facing off in an exhibition on July 14, when they hope to break the tennis attendance record by filling all of the 80,000 seats in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid where the match will take place. The proceeds from the match will go to both the Real Madrid Foundation and the Rafael Nadal Foundation, which provide funding for programs aimed at disadvantaged children. It’s great to see two of the biggest names in the sport continue to give back (especially in the midst of a busy summer schedule), and while they’re going for an ambitious record, as one of the most exciting rivalries in the sport right now, they might just do it.
Mary Joe Fernandez is living in a dream world if she thinks Serena’s “heart is in Fed Cup, ” as Serena’s sudden patriotism is undoubtedly spurred on by her desire to play in the Olympics. Despite committing to her second tie this season, Serena will still need to get special permission from the Olympic Committee to compete in London. Sister Venus is looking to try and raise her ranking high enough to gain automatic entry for the London Games, but if she doesn’t, she’ll also require special permission to compete in the British capital. Where this may get messy is if another player – a player who has put in more time representing their country during the non-Olympic years – gets burned. It’s hard to vilify the Williams Sisters, who are just doing the same as other top pros this season and also have historically performed well in the Olympics. Still others will contend spots should go to those who have put in the time and who arguably could still medal for the USA (especially when factoring in Venus’ health liabilities). Of course, the ITF could just spare the U.S. and other nations, like Russia, this potentially ugly situation by doing away with the whole problematic Fed/Davis Cup participation rule, but hard to see that happening any time soon.