Williams sisters into Rome quarterfinals

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ROME — The Williams sisters have reached the quarterfinals of the Italian Open.

Top-ranked Serena Williams defeated Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 on Wednesday as she plays her first tournament in three months. Venus Williams also advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Shahar Peer of Israel 6-3, 6-4.

The sisters are back from knee injuries, and could meet in the semifinals after being placed in the same half of the draw.

Serena Williams had been off the tour since she won the singles and doubles at the Australian Open, and was a wild-card entry in Rome. Against the 49th-ranked Petkovic, her game was erratic at times. She closed the match with almost as many winners as unforced errors, 25 to 21.

Williams got off to a good start, winning the first set with a five-game streak. But she quickly fell 4-1 behind in the second, came back to 4-3 but conceded another, decisive break to Petkovic. In the third set, she picked up her game and played aggressively.

The fourth-seeded Venus Williams, sidelined with a knee problem since losing the Key Biscayne final, broke once in the first set and dropped just four points on her serve. Both players then lost serve early in the second, and Venus had to save two break points at 4-4 before getting the decisive break in the next game with a forehand winner.

She saved another break point when serving for the win before converting her second match point.

Also, Nadia Petrova of Russia won 6-0, 3-6, 6-2 against Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania, who knocked out defending champion Dinara Safina on Tuesday.

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Venus remains as imposing as ever

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Before her self-imposed, non-negotiable annual Indian Wells hiatus, Venus Williams had more momentum than anyone else on the women's tour. She's 14-1 this season going into the Sony Ericsson Open, with two titles and a fat check from an exhibition in Madison Square Garden.

Williams' sole loss thus far has come in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and she had to beat only one top-10 player en route to defending her titles in Dubai and Acapulco, but this has been an auspicious start for a player who would like to add to her haul of seven Grand Slam singles trophies.

"Win, win, win, win,'' she sang pleasantly when a reporter asked her about her 2010 goals. She'll try to pick up where she left off Thursday, when she takes the court for the night's featured match -- a slot originally occupied by her injured sister, whose knee problem has sidelined her since she stormed to another Australian Open championship.

This event used to be Venus' cup of tea, starting back when Lipton sponsored it. She won three championships and reeled off 22 straight wins in Key Biscayne between 1998 and 2002 but hasn't been back to the final since 2001. The years since haven't exactly been fallow, especially on the lawns of Wimbledon, but it does seem puzzling that Williams hasn't made more of an impact recently in a venue that's a quick drive down I-95 from her own backyard. Just don't suggest that the world No. 5 has a better chance in this edition because the world No. 1 and five-time champion, Serena Williams, happens to be missing.

"I don't base my confidence on who's in the draw,'' Venus said. She wouldn't be baited into discussing her sister's plight, either: "I don't answer questions about my own injuries, let alone someone else's. Hopefully you'll be able to track her down in one of these hallways if you can see her, spy her out.''

Venus radiated good humor in her pre-tournament sit-down with reporters, and why not? She may not always win-win-win, but she's managed over the long haul to conquer perhaps the most insidious opponent of all: burnout.

"Serena and I have done some great career planning, and we're playing really at the peak of our tennis right now,'' the 29-year-old Venus said, echoing what her parents were predicting when her hair was still in braids. "I think tennis has been a sport where people play this insane schedule from 14 years old, so of course at 26, it's over. We've really paced ourselves in order to play great tennis as long as we want and as long as we're healthy and obviously we still have the talent in our bodies. … It's working out well for us.''

The sisters have the key to yet another exclusive club as minority owners of the Miami Dolphins. "I don't think it really set in until we went to one of the owners' meetings at the Super Bowl and were like, 'OK, hey, we're in the door,''' Venus said.

But their off-court paths continue to diverge in interesting ways. "No TV, no acting for me,'' she said. "I'm kind of a more behind-the-scenes kind of woman even though what I do is very public. I'm really low-key and I don't need to be the center of attention.''

She's hosting, rather than hitting in, a high-firepower exhibition in Atlantic City, N.J., next month that features Ivan Lendl versus Mats Wilander in Lendl's first match of any kind since his retirement, along with appearances by Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and James Blake.

And rather than bare her own soul, as Serena did in an autobiography last year, Venus turned to USA Today's Kelly Carter to help her conduct and compile interviews with famous people about how sports shaped them. The resulting book, "Come to Win,'' will be released in June -- the same month Williams turns 30 -- and includes chats with former President Bill Clinton, ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nike chief Phil Knight, designer Vera Wang and actor Denzel Washington. Serena didn't make the list. "She wants to know why she's not in it,'' Venus said, tongue-in-cheek. "I said, 'People know your story already.'"

The process put Venus on the other side of the microphone. She admitted it was daunting at times, making her feel "Like you guys,'' she said, looking at the reporters clustered around her. "Am I going to get in all the questions I need? I hope we can get through the material. Are they going to hang up after five minutes?"

Williams' willingness to keep learning, breaking up the tedium of tour play, may be the key factor in what has kept her in the game long enough to play opponents who are a decade younger. "I grew up with Venus,'' said Romania's Sorana Cirstea, who will play Williams for the first time. In some ways, watching the well-rounded, supremely grown-up Williams play kids now is more interesting than watching her beat older players when she was a kid herself.

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This could be every tennis fan’s dream.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Imagine Bob Bryan playing with Venus Williams, against Andy Roddick and Serena Williams.

Or Mike Bryan playing with Melanie Oudin, against Rafael Nadal and a countrywoman from Spain.

Mixed doubles has been added to London 2012 Olympic Games, and the event could produce some interesting teams comprised of the world’s top players.

American Bob Bryan, who is part of the world’s No. 1 doubles team with his twin brother, Mike, is extremely excited about the possibility of playing in another Olympic Games.

“When I heard that mixed had been added, it put a big smile on my face,” said Bob, who along with Mike earned a bronze medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. “I always thought about that. Why didn’t they have mixed in it from the start? I was hoping that would happen.

“It’s awesome to have more chances to win a medal. Michael Phelps has like 10 chances to win a medal. We get one, or two, depending on if you play singles and or doubles.”

The Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters, along with Roddick, have already started some friendly smack talk via their Twitter accounts about the possible mixed doubles teams.

“We’re all so excited—I want to play, Mike wants to play, Andy wants to play, we’re all going to battle to the death for the gold in London,” Bob said, adding a friendly laugh. “I think it’s going to be so great for the fans. They’re going to get to see all the stars of the game, playing on one court, for their countries, for a medal. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The format has not been settled for the 16-team mixed doubles tournament, which will be held at the All England Club—better known as the grass court home of Wimbledon.

It is likely to follow the standard at Grand Slams: having the top singles and doubles players in the world, as determined by rankings, entered. A country such as the U.S. will be able to field more teams, as there will be more high-ranked players, such as Roddick and the Williams sisters, available to form mixed teams.

Players who are the lone representative of their country in the singles tournament will probably be out of luck in getting a partner for the mixed tournament.

Jeff Ryan, the United States Tennis Association’s senior director of team events, said there is wide-spread enthusiasm for mixed doubles being part of the Olympic Games.

“That’s a great testament to this, if the Bryans love it so much, because they love doubles,” Ryan said. “Whatever makes the players happy, makes us happy. It’s good for the sport. The Grand Slams all have mixed doubles. One can argue that Grand Slams are the pinnacles of our sport, so adding mixed to the Olympics brings it up there with the Slams now.

“Tennis welcomes the opportunity to be in the Olympics. It’s every four years, a tremendous opportunity to be on even greater stages.”

Mixed doubles, aside from the game, always brings a special form of drama: does the male player go after the female player? Those who submit to chivalry may find the female player making them eat fuzz.

But if a male player really goes to hit a woman with a blistering return…let’s just say fans and her partner won’t be happy.

It’s a complex dilemma, but Bob has figured out a solution.

“Oh, I never let up, because those girls can just whale on the ball and make you look silly if you’re not careful,” Bob said. “Where I do well is with my lefty serve. I just bomb it out wide, and I’ve had girls just tell me they were scared of it. They don’t often see power, or a lefty serve, like that on their tour, so it’s an advantage for me. I’m never going to on purpose go for hitting a girl, that’s not right. But I am not going to let up playing, I am there to win, and so is my partner.”

Bob and Venus Williams have played together before, finishing as the runners-up for the 2006 Wimbledon mixed title.

He thinks they can do one better in the Olympic Games.

“How cool would that be if we won the gold at Wimbledon, at the Olympics?” Bob said. “That would be unreal. I’m fired up right now thinking about that.”

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Williams sisters win Women's Doubles title at Australian Open 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

Venus and Serena Williams defeated Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-4, 6-3 in the Womens' Doubles Final at the Australian Open 2010 last night to take the title for the fourth time in their careers.

Not surprisingly, it was their offensive tactics of breaking the opposing team's serve that allowed them to take the lead and finish the game quickly. Venus did not repeat her mistakes from the Singles round and held her ground. Ultimately, Black and Huber played right into the Williams' sisters hands with several missed and netted shots.

"I have to congratulate Venus and Serena for a great tournament -- you guys are too good," Black said in an interview with ESPN afterward.

Serena still has to face former No.1 Justine Henin in the Singles Final on Saturday which will certainly be a tough match for both. Venus was eliminated by Na Li in the Quarterfinals on Wednesday.

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