older sister

Consistency Is Key To Being No. 1

NEW YORK – OK, so what if Serena Williams has won the women’s singles at the three of the last four Grand Slam tournaments. Who cares that Serena is the defending champion here at the US Open. After all, we’re talking consistency, and that’s what really counts on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

“If you play consistent, you can be very highly ranked,” said Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister. “I guess it’s all about playing consistent these days.”

Kim Clijsters knows something about being ranked number one in the world. She held that lofty spot herself some six years ago.
“It’s just a matter of consistency,” Clijsters said. “It’s the biggest key.”

If nothing else, Dinara Safina is consistent. She entered the US Open with the best main draw match winning percentage on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour with a 52-12 win-loss record. The Russian is one of four players to have won three titles this year, and she has reached the semifinals or better in the last four Grand Slam tournaments.

She also has consistently failed to come away from one of the sport’s four major tournaments with the championship bling. And that’s why there is controversy about her number one ranking.

“The poor girl, she’s trying her best,” said someone who should know, Marat Safin, Dinara’s brother and a former number one on the men’s tour. “She gets the attention, but not the kind of attention that a person deserves, especially when you’re number one in the world.

“Everybody is giving her hard time about, ‘Are you really number one in the world?’ Yes, yes, she’s really number one in the world. Go check on the ranking. She didn’t do the ranking.”

The burden of expectations proved Thursday to be almost heavier on Safina than the weight of her opponent’s shots. For her second straight match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Safina fought through her nerves as well as over-matched opponents.

She advanced to the third round by outlasting Germany’s Kristina Barrois 6-7 (5) 6-2 6-3, but instilled no fear in her future foes. As she did in her opener, another three-setter, Safina survived her own twin terrors of double faults and unforced errors.
“She was playing better at the end, serving better,” said Barrois, who turns 28 at the end of this month but has been a professional player for only three years. “I’m disappointed I came close. It was close, but not close enough.”

Barrois was playing in just her second US Open, losing in the opening round a year ago. Safina, on the other hand, was a finalist at both the Australian and French Opens earlier this year, falling to Serena Williams “Down Under” and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Paris.
That history made no difference under the bright skies and strong sunshine at Louis Armstrong Stadium. For most of the match, Barrois played Safina evenly, for better or worse. The world’s top player had 38 unforced errors, five fewer than her opponent; Barrois had six double faults, Safina 15.

“In the first set I played on my highest level,” the German said. “At the end she was serving well. The important thing is how you play the important points.”

For the second straight match, Safina was forced to go three sets. For the second straight match, she emerged the winner. That’s what number ones do.

American teen-ager Melanie Oudin pulled off the tournament’s first big upset, knocking off fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva 5-7 6-4 6-3. The 17-year-old is no stranger to the big stage, having reached the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this summer.

“I played with no fear today,” said Oudin, a 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia. “She’s expected to win and I just went out there and played my game and I came out with a win.”

Sixth-seeded Jelena Jankovic followed Dementieva out of the tournament, falling to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 6-3 6-7 (4) 7-6 (6). Jankovic, who held the world number one ranking at the beginning of this year, said the death of her grandmother Wednesday night was uppermost in her mind rather than the match.

Safina may have been able to have had a much easier day. She had two set points in the 12th game of the opening set, when Barrois double-faulted to 30-40 and again at ad point following a razor-sharp backhand pass down the line. But Barrois was able to hold and send the set into a tiebreak.

Of the 12 points played, seven went against serve. Barrois took the lead when Safina double-faulted at set point. Safina wasted no time moving out front in the second set. But Barrois broke back in the fourth game.

“I play a lot of slice,” Barrois said. “She likes a heavy ball, so I play slice to her and short.”

That strategy worked until unforced errors began overwhelming the German’s game. At the same time, Safina finally was able to quiet her nerves and cut down on her mistakes.

After Safina took a 4-3 lead in the final set, breaking her opponent in the seventh game at 30, Barrois jumped out to 0-40 advantage, triple break point, thanks to two double faults and a wild forehand that sailed wide. Safina won the next two points before Barrios had an open court but sailed a backhand long.

She bent over and buried her head into her hands, knowing her best chance at an upset had disappeared.

Safina finally held to 5-3 , then broke Barrois at love to advance to a third-round meeting against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who beat Italy’s Tathiana Garbin 6-1 6-3.

When It Comes To Rankings, Serena Has Only Herself To Blame

When Serena Williams won Wimbledon earlier this summer, she mockingly praised Dinara Safina for her No. 1 ranking, saying she earned it by winning Rome and Madrid before bursting out into laughter.

Delightfully catty as these comments might be, Safina has ultimately been able to accomplish something that Serena hasn’t: producing consistent results over an entire calendar year.

Common sense would tell you that three Grand Slams are more worthy of the No. 1 ranking than winning a few premiere events as Safina has done. However, throughout their entire careers, Serena and older sister Venus have remained an anomaly, the exception to virtually every rule in tennis. Serena’s results over the last year are a prime example of this. How can a player win three of the last four Grand Slams, yet fail to win a WTA event in almost 18 months and post a 3-5 record in WTA events since April?

Serena’s position below Safina has nothing to do with a flawed ranking system. Rather, it’s a direct result of Serena being absent from tournament play for months of a time, and then showing up at regular tour events with a level of play well below the expected standard of a dominant force in tennis.

Serena virtually skipped the entire fall season last year, winning only one match, and sported an 0-3 record in all of her clay court tournaments leading to Roland Garros this year. That means there’s a five-month stretch of time over the last year where she has failed to do anything of note.

The new roadmap that the WTA has put in place, requiring mandatory participation at select events throughout the year, should have served as a benefit in helping Serena take over the No. 1 ranking. However, she’s showed up at most events not in match shape and in some cases looking disinterested. A prime example of her often lackluster play in WTA events came last week in Cincinnati, as she displayed a listless, error-filled game in losing to Sybille Bammer in the third round.

Wimbledon is far more difficult to win than Marbella or Stanford, so why can’t she win these lower events? How can she be walloped by Elena Dementieva in Sydney and then dominate her at the Australian Open less than two weeks later? The simple answer is that she doesn’t take WTA events as seriously. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you’ve achieved almost everything possible in your sport.

Safina may not have won a Grand Slam yet, but the rankings don’t solely rely on the results of one tennis match. She makes it to the weekend stages of almost every tournament she plays and despite crumbling in the Grand Slam finals she has played in, should be commended for even making it that far. She will need to win at least one Grand Slam to have the Hall of Fame worthy career that Serena has, but Safina should be applauded for her efforts, not criticized.

As for Serena, the fall season that she typically avoids will await her after the US Open. She’s defending less than 400 points during that stretch, while Safina has to defend a mountain of points during that time. In theory, Serena could go on tour this fall to promote her upcoming autobiography On The Line, or simply kick back for three months and watch the No. 1 spot fall in her lap. However, if Serena thinks the ranking system is a farce, I expect her to play a full schedule in the fall and reclaim the spot she rightfully deserves.

Only then will she have truly deserved the last laugh.

An Early Look At New Serena Book

Here’s an early look at the upcoming Serena Williams book called “ON THE LINE.” Originally called “Queen of the Court,” to book will debut on September 1, 2009. You can PRE-ORDER the book by clicking this link – On the Line

The official book description is as follows; One of the biggest stars in tennis, Serena Williams has captured every major title. Her 2009 Australia Open championship earned her the #1 world ranking for the third time in her illustrious career – and marked only the latest exclamation point on a life well and purposefully lived. As a young girl, Serena began training with an adult-sized racquet that was almost as big as her. Rather than dropping the racquet, Serena saw it as a challenge to overcome-and she has confronted every obstacle on her path to success with the same unflagging spirit. From growing up in the tough, hardscrabble neighborhood of Compton, California, to being trained by her father on public tennis courts littered with broken glass and drug paraphernalia, to becoming the top women’s player in the world, Serena has proven to be an inspiration to her legions of fans both young and old. Her accomplishments have not been without struggle: being derailed by injury, devastated by the tragic shooting of her older sister, and criticized for her unorthodox approach to tennis. Yet somehow, Serena always manages to prevail. Both on the court and off, she’s applied the strength and determination that helped her to become a champion to successful pursuits in philanthropy, fashion, television and film. In this compelling and poignant memoir, Serena takes an empowering look at her extraordinary life and what is still to come.

Endorsements for the book are as follows:

“From the first time I met her, to watching her capture the US Open, Serena has always amazed me with her ability on the court, her curiosity away from it and her overall love for life. Serena Williams is taking her life to an all new level.” (Billie Jean King )

“On the court, Serena is the most challenging opponent I’ve come up against, and off the court, she is a loving sister and a true friend. Serena has been a role model for me and an inspiration. It is difficult to imagine how I would have achieved many of my greatest accomplishments without her in my life.” (Venus Williams )

“Serena has dredged deeply into her emotions and those of the First Family of tennis-hopes and fears, aches and triumphs-to craft an exceptional memoir. Ascending from nowhere to the top of the world, she has run an exciting zig-zag course transforming darkest days into bright victories on her way to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.” (Bud Collins, author of THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS )