Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Empire Strikes Back: The Force Is With Serena Williams at the U.S. Open

It’s no surprise to avid tennis fans that Serena Williams is dominating at the U.S. Open. With her intense demeanor and occasional bear-like roars, Serena is the women’s game’s Darth Vader, seemingly capable of choking her rivals merely by thinking about doing it.

Serena entered this tournament seeded a laughable #28, a situation due to comparative inactivity on the circuit the past year, which in turn was partly due to a mysterious foot injury that laid her low for a good while. Clearly, she is all better--check out the splits, above--and it might be argued that the layoff only brings her into Flushing Meadows feeling she has something especially frightful to prove. And with all the talent to do just that.

If Serena scares me as I watch her play from my living room, I can only imagine what her opponents feel when the force is with her in spades down on the hardcourts. Though capable of a winning smile, and conducting herself with seeming modesty in her post-match on-court interviews--one journalist termed it her new “Aw, shucks” approach--Serena has a long way to go to win the hearts of many fans. Unlike Roger Federer, her male tennis counterpart--i.e., a longtime champion of unassailable dominance in his time--Serena doesn’t come off as particularly likable. And so, a fan such as myself can have tremendous respect for what Serena does--but I can’t say that I’m rooting for her. I want to see her get beat. It’s sort of like the way I feel about the New York Yankees.

With fellow past champions like Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters vanquished early or missing in action completely this year--and with sister Venus having withdrawn after the first round due to illness--there is only Caroline Wozniacki, the #1 seed, remaining to reasonably challenge a healthy Serena. Yet the 21-year-old Wozniacki still has yet to breathe the rarefied air of Grand Slam victory in her career, while Serena’s angling for her 14th such title. Youth is a great thing in tennis, but so is a crushing forehand, a potent backhand and a killer serve at any age. So far, Serena’s accuracy and consistency look good. Scary good.

Williams is listed at 5’9,” yet somehow she seems shorter, especially when compared to all those tall, lithe European gals. She’s also listed at 150 pounds, yet somehow seems heftier, especially when all those same opponents rarely come in above 130. (Sharapova, for example, packs her 130 pounds into a 6’2” frame.) But if Serena’s got thighs like football’s Ray Lewis, that only seems to reinforce her unique athleticism in a game where long and slender is the general norm. Fact is, no one is built like Serena. You might guess that her overall sturdiness might hamper her quickness, but somehow she seems to get to every ball.

She polished off #4-seeded Victoria Azarenka in Round 3, 6-1, 7-6, and it was even easier than the numbers imply. (You can bet that Azarenka wasn’t expecting her early round, low-seeded foe to be the greatest lady tennis player in the world.) In fact, until Serena’s second set with Azarenka, none of her opponents to that point had even won more than one game per set. On Labor Day, she dispatched #16-seeded Ana Ivanovic, 6-3, 6-4, in another fairly routine rout. Now it's on to the quarterfinals.

Serena turns 30 on Sept. 26, and doubtless she’s aware of it. What better way to celebrate that milestone birthday than with another Grand Slam title.

She’s probably gonna do it, and if she does, then hats off--and sincere congrats--to Serena Williams. But I don’t have to root for her.

(C’mon: No one ever roots for Darth Vader.)


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Mike said...

Haha, great comparison. Vader - Williams :)