Serena Williams should have a charm made with #81 engraved on it.
No one expected much from her in Melbourne this year. Her mother, probably playing rope-a-dope, said that her daughter was rusty. That started the piling on. Next, she was fat, lazy, incapable of rising to her past glories. After the second round, the Grand Poobahs of the press and the tennis blogosphere looked past her to predict who would make the round of 16, the quarters, and the semis.
But then #81 played that marvelous third-round match against Nadia Petrova. Poor Nadia. She had heard all the innuendo and regurgitated it in public. Maybe someone at IMG or her PR rep told her she needed some street cred, that Serena was an easy target. Whatever happened, Nadia found herself facing a Serena who had, to paraphrase Jay-Z, brushed that rust off her shoulders. You could hear the Grand Poobah’s collective gasp. This couldn’t be happening, they suggested. “Nadia’s a head case,” they said. No way #81 could have beaten her unless Nadia was somehow derelict in her duty.
In the fourth round, #81 faced the diva-licious Serbian princess known as Jelena Jankovic. Jelena had been playing great tennis. She had also played a lot of tennis. But the tennis world held its breath as these two Amazon Queens walked onto Rod Laver Arena to face off. Jelena had come within a whisper of beating Justine Henin at the 2006 US Open. Would she have another meltdown? Would #81, all bad footwork and movement, so they said, succumb to the bombs Jelena would throw at her?
Jelena did not meltdown, did not throw big bombs. #81, playing cold, cerebral tennis, dismantled the game of the princess. It was the tennis version of Chinese death by a thousand cuts. Jelena couldn’t even pull herself together to have one of her tantrums. She never knew what hit her.
#81 was through another round. The talk about her chances started to change.
Then came Shahar Peer. At nineteen, Peer is part of the next generation. The young Israeli soldier almost prevailed. Almost. #81 played another classic match and snatched victory from the girl’s grasping hands 8-6 in the decider.
Next up: Nicole Vaidisova. The feisty teen left a nasty taste in some tennisheads’ mouths when she threw a world-class tantrum at the US Open in 2005. That three-year-old who got her parents thrown off the plane? A piker. But Nicole proved a worthy opponent. Since 12-years-old, she admired #81, watching the champion through a fence. But that didn’t mean she was going to roll over and play dead. She fought #81 more than the men fight Roger. She had a minor tantrum but she held it together. With more experience, she might’ve forced a third set. In another year, Nicole will know better how to handle her business.
In the other semifinal, “Aussie Kim,” as Carillo kept intoning ad nauseum, faced the media darling Maria Sharapova. And once again, the Curse of the Cupcake Draw reared her ugly head. I did not see this match so my comments are based on those of posters on several forums.
Most fans wanted Kim to win. IMG and their seemingly bought and paid for shills – I’m sorry, announcers - wanted the Siberian woman to win. I thought that Kim, buoyed by fan support and competitive fire, would give Maria what for. Instead, it seems she made no effort at all. Give me Shahar or Nicole anyday. Jelena would have fought Maria tooth and nail if given the chance and may have pulled off the upset. Hell, Camille Pin seems to have fought harder than Kim.
Kim, do us all a favor. If you really just want to suck face with Brian and have his babies go do that. Let a woman who really wants to win, who wants her chance at the top of the heap get her chance at the brass ring. You had one of the easiest draws among the women so your performance had nothing to do with mental burn out. We’d like to remember you favorably.
From most reports, Maria didn’t play well. Hell, if I’d had the draw she had I wouldn’t be playing well either. She can blame her near loss to Pin on the heat so that will always be her out.
The final should be very interesting. Wonder how far into the match we’ll go before Maria takes a potty break or suffers some kind of bodily malfunction?
If anyone had told me last year that I’d be writing this much about the WTA, I’d have dragged them to the local asylum. The WTA product last year was dull and non-competitive. This year promises to be different.
The Australian Open was supposed to be all about Roger. Instead all eyes are on the women’s final. I wonder why? I wonder which woman pulled more viewers to ESPN’s coverage? Was it the one who is paid millions for her looks or the booty shaking diva in whom the competitive fire is still roaring? You only get one guess, kiddies.
That’s right. #81.