How long will Venus Williams tolerate poor results?
Posted: Wednesday June 1, 2005 2:59PM; Updated: Friday June 3, 2005 1:24PM
Venus Williams, who has four Major titles to her name, has not won a Grand Slam tournament since the U.S. Open in 2001.
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A quick mid-week Mailbag from Paris ...
Do you think Venus and Serena Williams (especially Venus) would benefit from a coaching change? Venus needs work on her serve and forehand, and a coaching change could help. -- Valerie, San Diego
Without a doubt, the decline of Venus was the hot topic this week -- many of you asking Valerie's question in one form or another. It seems to me Venus and Serena's greatest strength has now become their greatness weakness. Their lack of interest in "tennis convention" not only made them intriguing personalities, but it helped their tennis. They didn't squander their adolescence at tennis gulag or traveling to tournaments every weekend. They didn't clutter their minds with psychobabble or stay up late dissecting opponents. (As Serena once put it: "I don't really focus on which person's side is better or 'they hit this shot at this angle.' I just focus on what I'm going to do.") They simply played on their terms, and it worked.
But now, this "convention-bucking" mentality is serving them ill, Venus in particular. Her game is clearly in a state of deep disrepair and while the problems are obvious to the most casual observer, there's little sign she's taking steps to make improvements. You're uncomfortable replacing your mother and/or father as coach? That's understandable. But why not spend a week with Robert Lansdorp or hire a technical expert part-time to work out the kinks in your forehand and second serve? Why not consult a sports psychologist?
As your results have tailed off so dramatically, why not pay more -- not less -- attention to detail? After her third-round loss, Venus was not a beacon of candor at her postmatch press conference. But her admission that she had never before heard of Sesil Karatantcheva was startling. One of the reasons a player like Andre Agassi can still compete is he takes care of every off-court variable. He trains right. He is a freak about the stringing and the weight of his racket. He takes pains to figure out a sensible playing schedule. He has scouting on his opponents. He knows the weather forecast before he goes to the courts. He may not always win, but he's doing everything in his power to give himself the best possible chance.
You wonder: How can Venus expect to reverse her fortunes when she's so cavalier (or delusional?) about the reality? And how much longer will she continue playing if these results persist? The hope here is that she takes stock of her career and gets serious about changing both her game and her philosophy. But it's only wishful thinking right now.
Why do I continue supporting Marat Safin? Why? -- Margethe, Manila
Because he is thoroughly entertaining, even in defeat. Because he is the human Skinner Box, a model of unpredictability, capable of stunning and stunningly bad tennis -- often on the same afternoon. Because is thoroughly without pretense. Because he drips with personality, looks like a model, is funny even on the rare occasion he tries not to be. Because tennis would be incalculably less interesting without him around.
But if you're asking me to explain how a two-time Grand Slam champion with talent to burn could have played such unconfident tennis deep in the fifth set, I have no answer for you.
If/when Roger Federer wins at Roland Garros, would you consider placing him above Pete Sampras on the all-time best list? Federer seems at least as dominant as Sampras, and, with a win on clay, would achieve something Sampras never did. -- Mindy, Kansas
A "Career Slam" would be yet another feather in Federer's bandana. But it's premature to start anointing Federer as the best ever. Sampras was ranked No. 1 six years in a row, set the standard for Grand Slam titles and was a force for more than a decade. Federer is a singular talent who may well one day earn the "best-ever" mantle, but he still has a ways to go.
What has happened to Mardy Fish? Just noticed he checked out in the first round at the French. Is his game on life support? -- John M., NYC
First, let's try something new and address Fish without making any piscatorial puns.
If you were looking for Fish to emerge, it wasn't going to happen at the French. Like most Americans he's as comfortable playing on clay as he is preparing a soufflé. The guy clearly has some psychological work to do. But in fairness he's been hurt for much of the year. Not sure of his status for Wimbledon. But look for him to rebound in Newport, R.I., and then on the hard-court junket.