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On her own terms

Serena won't conform -- will it cost a spot in history?

Posted: Wednesday April 4, 2007 11:29AM; Updated: Wednesday April 4, 2007 2:52PM
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Serena Williams has won the Sony Ericsson Open four times in the past six years, and three of the past four Australian Opens.
Serena Williams has won the Sony Ericsson Open four times in the past six years, and three of the past four Australian Opens.
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When I see Serena Williams play as dominating a match as she did against Maria Sharapova [in Key Biscayne], I'm almost more frustrated with Williams. Not with how she's playing now (stellar) but at the years she wasted in Hollywood. She could have gone down as the best ever, don't you think?
-- Ken Schneck, Bronxville, N.Y.

I see your point, though you leave yourself open to the inevitable rebuttal of, "She had a death in the family. This swoon was not all about velvet ropes and eating coconut shrimp at premieres." Personally, I've reached a point with Serena in particular where I accept the contradictions and the wavering commitment as part of the gestalt and move on. A prominent male player recently dismissed Serena to me as "a talent abuser." This echoes Chris Evert's sentiments from last year, too.

I think this misses the point at some level. From day one, Serena approached the sport differently from other players. To both her credit and detriment, she never conformed. And she never will.

If you're looking her to play 18 events or train consistently or hire a coach with technical know-how or stress out about the WTA commitment rules, you'll be disappointed. Never going to happen. And if she costs herself a seat in the Graf-Evert-Navratilova table in the process, so be it. She is who she is, an exceptional player, happy to play on her terms but unwilling to conform to the usual rules and rhythms.

In reading Lisa Raymond's article regarding the change in the WTA's atmosphere of the player having her own team that they tend to be in their own world and not befriend other players: I wonder why in the ATP, even if the guys have their own team around them, they still practice with other players and seem to be friendly with them?
-- Marie, Philippines

We could base a senior thesis on this question. Boys and girls are socialized differently with respect to competition. The money has created class distinctions and blunted any notions of a collective consciousness, blah blah blah. A few practical points I would make before going all sociology 101 on this:

1) The male players are, on average, significantly older than the women. That doesn't mean a different maturity level but it means more chaperones and supervision and lurking agents on the women's tour. One agent in particular is famous for carrying his players' purses. Hard to forge much of a relationship with someone who has their own bag carrier.

2) Practice builds camaraderie. The men practice with each other because there's no other available competition; the women are better off hitting with their male coaches.

3) At some level, the culture is top down. Roger Federer is a good guy who engages his colleagues, lacks much in the way of ego and is best pals with a little-known doubles player (Yves Allegro). If the best player out there doesn't act like a jackass, it's hard for the other guys cop attitude.

I see a lot of criticism for the doping suspension of Guillermo Caņas, something which is legitimate if true. However, I read that his suspension was reduced due to mistakes by the tournament doctor that led directly to his positive test and suspension. If this is the case, he should not be blamed. What is the true story?
-- Marcos Clutterbuck, Buenos Aires, Argentina

We give tennis a lot of credit for -- buzzword alert -- transparency. Read the decision for yourself right here. I have to say that for all the dog-ate-my-homework doping alibis, you read this and you have some doubts about Caņas' guilt.

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