Saturday, August 19, 2006

Advantage: Jankovic

Serena Williams has had a couple of semifinal runs since she’s returned. She’s won some tough matches against some good players (Myskina, Hantuchova, Shaughnessy) and has proven that she still has one of the most potent serves in women’s tennis. But in her semifinal loss to Jelena Jankovic in Cincinnati last week really revealed a few issues that need to be tweaked.
Now I know that the ESPN commentators are American and are catering to American fans, but let’s not lie: Serena is not fit, and she has not lost weight since we last saw her. Now if she ballooned up to 200+ pounds while she was gone, then that would need to be pointed out. But she is not fit. Yes, she played some tough matches before losing to Jankovic, but she’s barely played before that. We’re not talking about a Roger Federer here, who makes finals every week. If he loses early, like he did this week to Andy Murray, one could theorize that the man needs a mental break, and he does. But Serena has had her time off.
She also showed that she’s just as capable of taking mental breaks -- in the middle of a match. During the second set of her semi against Jankovic, the Serbian was hitting a couple of balls back to the ballboy, and one of them hit Serena on the foot. She stood there for a moment, staring down Jankovic, who had her face buried in a towel. At the end of the match, the two players shook hands, but Serena appeared to make a grab at Jankovic’s attention, asking her why she hit Serena with the ball, and informing her that it was ‘rude.’
Well. At least Serena told her. At least we know now that Serena had her mind correctly focused on teaching this girl a thing or two about messing with a Williams. If Serena had half a mind on the match, she would have realized that Jankovic unintentionally hit Serena. Then she would have asked herself: ‘Self, I’m down a set here, and I’m tired. What should I do to win this match?’
So, does Serena have a chance at this year’s U.S. Open? Even with Kim Clijsters sitting out, the answer is no. She isn’t physically ready, and her form is atrocious. She’s got some serious balance issues, and I’m only talking about her ground strokes here. But when you harbor something silly like a ball hitting you in the foot, (considering that she tried to drill Jankovic a new belly button every time she went to net) and you can’t use that perceived slight to play better, then she’s not mentally ready for a Slam yet. Heck, any player who saw her mini-breakdown should considering throwing a ball in her direction from now on.

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