Venus d. Genie in packed Atlanta ATP exho

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It was definitely out-of-the-box thinking for a smaller ATP Tour event.

Typically, these tournaments will bring in some legends of the game to add some box-office bite.

But the BB&T Atlanta Open thought differently. It booked American tennis legend Venus Williams and Canadian Genie Bouchard to play an exhibition Sunday night.

The 250-level event, the first American hard-court tournament in the leadup to the US Open, officially begins main-draw action Monday.

The initiative was an instant success; the tickets moved in a hurry, and they even added more seats later, after the March launch.

Atlanta is a big-time tennis market that is vastly underserved by the professional game. As well, the city’s percentage of African-American residents (per the 2010 US Census) was 54 per cent.

Bringing in Venus was smart thinking. And they couldn’t know, back in March, that the 37-year-old would be coming in fresh off the Wimbledon ladies’ singles final.

 

When the men visited the women …

The only comparable cross-pollination of the men’s and women’s Tours was a misguided idea hatched by the Rogers Cup tournaments in Montreal and Toronto in 2013.

The women draw very good crowds in Toronto, especially by WTA Tour stand-alone standards. But nothing like they do in Montreal. And so the organizers decided it would be a “great” idea to fly in some of the early losers from the men’s event in Montreal to play an exhibition at the women’s event. They also had several men’s legends matches.

Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic volunteered (for $20,000 US and expenses, of course).

Ironically, Venus Williams was a first-round loser at the women’s event in Toronto that year. But she wasn’t offered that same opportunity to go to Montreal and play an exhibition.

Luckily, the idea – which came up late in the game and with rather little fanfare and was the result of a government funding program – quickly was cross-checked going forward.

A full house in Atlanta

On Sunday night in Atlanta, the place was packed for the two women. They might not even get a crowd that good for the men’s final next Sunday.

For some photos of the two, click here.

The two players were premiering some summer kits. Bouchard was wearing the red and blue other Nike athletes were wearing in tournaments this week. Williams’ dress was, to say the least, spectacular.

Venus
Part of the exhibition gig is making nice with the more well-heeled patrons, which Williams and Bouchard did before the match.

Bouchard has had a busy week. After her first-round exit at Wimbleldon, she was in Las Vegas training with physical guru Gil Reyes (and hitting tennis balls under the watchful eye of Andre Agassi, too).

And then, she flew to New York City on Monday to do some Nike promotional work with golfer Michelle Wie.

The Canadian returned to Vegas for some more training before she headed to Atlanta for this one-night stand. Bouchard will play two World Team Tennis matches in New York City Thursday and Friday. She then will head to Washington, D.C. on the weekend for next week’s Citi Open.

Williams’s next stop is Philadelphia. She will play World Team Tennis Monday night.

It’s not a significant fact, but Williams defeated Bouchard 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Muguruza soars to first Wimbledon title

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WIMBLEDON – The women’s singles final was turning out to be everything you could hope for.

Then – suddenly, unexpectedly – it wasn’t.

It was a rout.

And 23-year-old Garbiñe Muguruza earned her first Wimbledon title, her second Grand Slam title, going away.

For the Spaniard, they may be many more. But on the other side of the net, 37-year-old Venus Williams may look back with regret the opportunity lost.

It was her best opportunity during a nine-year Grand Slam drought to hold up the big trophy once more.

And for reasons that may only ever be truly known to those close to her, she crumbled.

Early promise unfulfilled

Until 4-5 in the first set the final was a battle of shaky forehands at times. But the errors were interspersed with some baseline exchanges of breathtaking quality. It was a heavyweight battle of championship caliber.

Muguruza
Williams, alone with her thoughts for a brief moment during the trophy ceremony.

Williams had two set points, 15-40 at 4-5 on Muguruza’s serve.

A forehand into the net. A missed service return. Muguruza managed to hold.

Williams never won another game in the 7-5, 6-0 defeat.

The American’s forehand deserted her in the next game and as doubt settled into the mind, and the cumulative physical effort of six previous matches settled into her legs, her younger opponent’s championship mettle took over.

At 6-5, 30-15 as Muguruza served out the first set, Williams’s nerve failed her.

A great defensive retrieval by Muguruza went high in the air, heading for the corner of the court.

It was nowhere being an automatic out. But Williams’ feet didn’t move. It was a “Oh, please, let that ball be out” moment.

Except it wasn’t. And when it took a sideways hop off the court, it was too late for Williams to recover. One point later, the first set went to Muguruza.

“Yeah, I went out there and maybe I was too aggressive, you know, too hungry to win the point. I was missing few shots maybe too early. But they were long, so I was not that worried because I knew that eventually they were going to go inside maybe deep. So with the match and feeling more comfortable, feeling more in the court, they were getting in,” Muguruza said. “I thought it was just a matter of time, of going through the first nerves of the match, then that’s it.”

Was that the moment Venus, in her own mind, knew it was over?

Second-set disaster

A match is never over until the handshake. But as the second set began, Williams was pressing.

She double-faulted into the net – her service motion collapsing down as it has done, at times, in key moments during her career.

At 0-2, Williams threw all caution to the wind, but not necessarily in a good way.

Muguruza had come to the net more than Williams in the first set, mirroring their forward-thinking efforts through the fortnight.

But now, Williams was doing it out of desperation, illogically, foolheartedly.

Had the legs run out of steam in her seventh match in less than two weeks?

Perhaps.

Was she panicking as she saw this golden opportunity to hold up the namesake Venus Rosewater dish above her head one last time slip away?

Even for a time-tested veteran of so many tennis battles, that possibility can’t be discounted.

Williams was behind the baseline on some of those attempts, which seemed to be more a matter of bailing out of rallies than being aggressive in a positive way. At times, she didn’t even get near the service line on the way up, making the passing shots elementary. On one butchered volley, facing yet another break point, the feet never got sorted and the miss was monumental.

The message it sent to her opponent was resounding.

Muguruza stays the course

And Muguruza, to her great credit, kept doing exactly what she had been doing. She hit hard, she missed rarely. As she said after the victory, she might have been nervous, but she was composed.

When the Spaniard faced break points, the speed on her strokes went up a measured five miles an hour.

By the time it was 5-0, and Muguruza was serving for the title, Williams had surrendered.

Muguruza
Two years after her first appearance in the final, Muguruza gets her name etched on the trophy. (Wimbledon.com)

It’s an astonishing thing to see a grand champion just give up on such a big occasion. Even if the mountain to climb seems insurmountable, tennis’s scoring system allows a player to come back even if they’re just a single point away from losing the match.

She barely moved in that final game.

When it was over, the reaction of the crowd was eerily quiet. It was the quietest moment of the entire match, which was played under the Centre Court roof because of some misty weather outside.

When the roof is closed, every sound inside is amplified. The ball sounds like it’s hit harder. The grunts from both players sound louder, and the applause is in stereophonic sound.

But the combination of the match ending on a line-call challenge, and the disappearance of the five-time champion in its latter half left the crowd stunned. Even the perfect acoustics couldn’t up the volume to where it should have been, to the level Muguruza deserved for her big moment.

Maximizing Muguruza

At 23, she now has four career titles. Just four. And two of them are Grand Slam titles.

Since the beginning of 2016, in 33 tournaments, Muguruza has made just two finals. Both were Grand Slam finals. And she won both of them.

“It is very hard to find, like, a recipe to feel good fitness-wise, (tennis-wise), mentally. I think in this tournament I put everything together, which is very hard,” Muguruza said. “Normally, you know, you’re tired, I feel pain here, my confidence is not there. So I felt this tournament I find somehow, you know, to put everything together and perform good at every level.”

Williams was highly gracious afterwards, as she has never failed to be no matter what.

Whatever emotions she may be feeling, whatever was preventing her from showing her best in the second set, she was keeping deep inside her.

As she did the on-court interview with former player Sue Barker, Williams said the right things. But her voice lacked conviction – until she looked into the camera and spoke to sister Serena, at home awaiting the birth of her first child.

“I tried my best to do the same you do,” Williams said. “But I think there will be other opportunities. I do!” With an arch grin, Williams was off.

Muguruza
Muguruza gets a nice hug from an always-gracious five-time champion

Close to the vest

There was no further elaboration in her post-match media conference. There rarely is, with Williams. She keeps it private, nearly always. If there’s any conclusion tobe drawn, it’s that her answers were even shorter and less revealing than usual. 

Asked about the seismic shift between the first and second sets and whether she was fatigued, she said this:

“Yeah, there’s errors, and you can’t make them. You can’t make them. I went for some big shots and they didn’t land. Probably have to make less errors.”

Asked again if she was also feeling a little tired, she didn’t respond.

“Yeah, I think she played amazing. She played amazing,”

So that’s that.

Two years ago, when Serena defeated Muguruza in the final on the same court and Muguruza couldn’t hold back the tears, the 23-time Grand Slam champion had a feeling.

It took two years, and it took a crushing win over her big sister, but Serena was right.

 

Wimbledon Day 12 – Ladies’ final day

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WIMBLEDON – If, on the day of the women’s single draw, someone told you Venus Williams vs. Garbiñe Muguruza was going to be the ladies’ singles final, would you have laughed?

Or would you have been intrigued by the journey?

Williams, 37, has enough of a track record this yea  with the Australian Open final that her being there on the final day was not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Especially on grass. And especially at Wimbledon.

Had sister Serena been here, the scenario would have been quite different – not only for Venus, but for the rest of the field. 

Mowing down the youngsters

Presuming Williams didn’t have one of those days she can have because of the Sjogren’s disease, where she wakes up and just has no energy, there was no one in her way she couldn’t overcome to get here.

She faced a series of three hard-hitting youngsters, all born in 1997, and handled them all in straight sets. Not easily – the lack of fear from the new generation is as potent a weapon as a big forehand – but with consistency.

In Johanna Konta, she faced a woman who carried a country of tennis fans on her back. Konta also had been through the wringer during this tournament, surviving Caroline Garcia and No. 2 seed Simona Halep and, most dramatically, 21-year-old Donna Vekic in the second round.

Konta won that one 10-8 in the third set. And with that, her first trip past the second round at her Home Slam, she was on her way. But against the five-time champion Williams, she just didn’t have enough.

Nine-year drought

And so Williams will be in search of a sixth Wimbledon title. It would be her first since 2008, when she defeated her sister here.

The presence of the woman is such that her stature in the game goes far beyond what she has actually accomplished over the last 15 years. Her career had come in two waves: before sister Serena surpassed her, and afterwards.

Williams has not won Wimbledon in nine years. And other than Wimbledon, she has not won a Grand Slam title since she defeated her sister in the 2001 US Open final.

It was an event held on a Saturday night for the first time. And the schedule change came, in large part, because the two sisters were expected to be fighting it out for major titles for the next decade.

Now, in Williams’ tennis dotage, she is adding a third wave. And perhaps it might be the best wave of all.

“I don’t think about my age. I know I have a lot to give, still. I don’t feel any particular age. So it’s not a factor,” Williams said. “I’m still in love with this part of my life, and I don’t want it to end.”

It has never seemed as crucial to Williams to be the best, to win it all, as it always has to her sister. She never, outwardly at least, carried the same fierce ambition. But the determination must have always burned inside of her. If it didn’t, she wouldn’t be here on this day, ready to make some history.

For Muguruza, a second title awaits

Meanwhile, her opponent is just getting started.

Muguruza’s problem, in this matchup, is that everything she does well, Williams does better on a good day. And Williams does a few more things that Muguruza doesn’t do.

Is it a (relatively) easier task than it was two years ago, when Muguruza made her first major final but had Serena Williams in front of her? Probably. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Most impressive about Muguruza in defeat in 2015 was that despite the mismatch in experience, she was hardly overwhelmed. She competed well, and she made it close.

“I just remember that everything went very quickly. I didn’t realize it. And suddenly I was in the trophy ceremony,” Muguruza told the BBC. “I’m going to take my time and really breathe out there, and enjoy, also. Because it’s very fast.”

 

Venus Williams is a different challenge.

Back in 2013, when Muguruza was still a teenager, Williams pulled out a victory 7-5 in the third at a small WTA Tour event in Brazil.

More recently, in the quarterfinals of Rome this year, on clay, Muguruza was the winner in three sets. It was the kind of match that signalled the Spaniard was coming out of the torpor that can affect first-time Grand Slam champions.

After winning the French Open in 2016, Muguruza had struggled with injury, with expectations, with pressure self-imposed and from the outside. Once the French Open was over this year, and the weight of defending that title (she didn’t) was off her shoulders, Muguruza is showing some of her best tennis again.

But Venus Williams isn’t Magdalena Rybarikova, the Slovak Muguruza defeated in the semifinals Wednesday.

With Rybarikova, Muguruza was able to get to the net first in many instances. But she had more opportunity to do so against an opponent a little frozen by nerves, and one who doesn’t hit the ball nearly as hard.

Against Williams, that will prove a far more difficult task. Surprisingly, Muguruza has come to the net more during this Wimbledon than Williams has.

Part of that was that Williams played a series of those young ball bashers, and the opportunities were harder to carve out. But how much each will move forward in this final will be a fascinating dynamic to watch.

In the end, it seems the two will have to mostly slug it out from the baseline. 

Whoever slugs best on the day will emerge the winner.

Muguruza received a surprising amount of support from the crowd when she played Serena two years ago.

This time around, Williams is obviously the popular choice. As with Roger Federer on the men’s side, advancing age brings sentimental support.

There are never any guarantees that any Grand Slam champion will win another one. But in their mid-30s and beyond, the opportunities to do so are cherished all the more by the players and fans alike.

Muguruza will be up against that. She also will be up against a public that, in large part, doesn’t think there is any other tournament all season long besides Wimbledon.

Williams has won “their” tournament five times. She is therefore “theirs”. Muguruza is going to try to become one of theirs on Sunday.

Experience wins out as Venus, Muguruza make Wimbledon final

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WIMBLEDON – So often in sports, Cinderella stories can end before the clock actually strikes midnight.

The fairy-tale finish line sometimes is a little ahead of the actual one.

The more experienced, like Venus Williams and Garbiñe Muguruza in the Wimbledon semi-finals, have a more developed sense of pacing. They know, because they’ve done it before, where the true finish line is and have a better sense of direction about getting there.

That real finish line at Wimbledon is on Saturday. And the player who crosses it first will be holding up the Venus Rosewater Dish on famed Centre Court.

Venus will try for No. 6, at 37

At 37, Williams is writing a final chapter to her 20-year tennis career that is quickly becoming even more of a page turner than the many compelling chapters that came before.

Her 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 6-seeded Brit Johanna Konta Thursday was a master class in consistency and focus from a player whose technical flaws haven’t always allowed her that luxury. She’s been there, if not for many years. She’s done that. And she knew what to do.

For Konta, who didn’t play poorly but who didn’t play well enough, it was the best Wimbledon of her career by far. And it certainly offered hope that Great Britain can one day have a matched set: a modern women’s champion to go with modern men’s champion Andy Murray.

“She dictated the match from the very first ball till the very last one. I think she just showed her true qualities and why she’s a five-time champion here, just a true champion that she is,” Konta said. “It was very difficult for me to get a good foothold in the match. The few opportunities that I did get, she did incredibly well to take them away from me. I don’t think I did too much wrong out there. I think it was all credit to her.”

Forehand battle

The difference came with the forehands. For both, it’s the weaker side. But Williams wouldn’t allow it to be a weakness on Thursday. Instead, she went about breaking down that side in her opponent.

Konta has improved the shot, to be sure. And in doing so she has brought herself into the top 10. But the ghosts of the older, poorer technique tend to appear like unwelcome weekend guests in extreme moments.

That’s true not just of Konta, but of any less-experienced competitor vying to achieve beyond what they’ve done before, against an opponent who has already done it.

Williams had a huge part in making that happen.

And after Konta had break points to go up 5-3 and serve for the first set – and didn’t make them – it was all but over. When your opponent is down break point, down to a second serve – and fires it in at 106 mph – you have to know you’re in for a tough day.

Muguruza to second Wimbledon final

Earlier, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza ended the self-title “fairy tale” of 28-year-old Magdalena Rybarikova with an efficient 6-1, 6-1, dismantling. It took just 65 minutes and sent a loud message to the rest of the WTA Tour: I was lost, but now I’m found.

There was no doubt Rybarikova froze in the biggest moment of her career. Who wouldn’t, really? The Slovak might have dreamed of some day making the semifinals of Wimbledon. But after the year she has been through, with two surgeries and a long fight back up the rankings at the lowest levels of tennis, who knew it would be this year?

“Because she was the favorite, she had the pressure, she’s supposed to win this match. She handled it absolutely amazing. But I just wanted to play good match. I just wanted the crowd to enjoy that. I don’t think so they did because was very fast match,” Rybarikova said. “Even we had some very good rallies, but I was, like, sometimes I could not believe. Sometimes I really was great, and she played even better.”

Absent was the free-swinging, serene, grass-court craftswoman who upset soon-to-be No. 1 Karolina Pliskova earlier in the tournament. But such are the twists and turns of Cinderella stories. They tend to finish before the end – Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open being a notable exception.

Rybarikova admitted she was nervous, that her legs were a little weary, and that she didn’t handle the big occasion the way she would have liked. Mostly, though, there was too much Muguruza to counter.

The logic is that even if Rybarikova went no further, she could still close the book on a spectacular tournament. For Muguruza, who has played on the final Saturday here and has hoisted up the champion’s trophy at Roland Garros, the story needed to continue.

Muguruza find old self

Muguruza’s renaissance this Wimbledon has been somewhat unexpected, and throughly impressive. The reasons for it can only be speculative. But the one big difference for her this fortnight has been the presence of countrywoman Conchita Martinez at her side.

“I think she’s helping me to deal with the stress of the tournament, because it’s a long tournament. I’ve been here already since a while. … So she just knows, you know, how to prepare, how to train, what to do,” Muguruza said. “Not that I’m doing something different, honestly. But, you know, to have her by my side gives me also this little confidence on having someone that has won before.”

Spanish combo clicking

Martinez, who is both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain for Spain, won Wimbledon in 1994 and looks to be the chill to Muguruza’s ice. 

Muguruza’s regular coach, Frenchman Sam Sumyk, is not here as he returned to California to await the birth of his first child with wife Meilen Tu, a former player and currently a player agent.  Their frosty relationship has played out in public many times. Under his guidance, Muguruza won the 2016 French Open. But she hasn’t won a tournament since. She has not even made a final.

She said Sumyk is in regular contact.

“Conchita and Sam are really working together. Before I do something, they both decided. So it’s not that that magic is not happening. I think I’m here because I’ve been working not only the last few days, but longer time, getting ready for this kind of moment,” she said. “I think a lot of things are clicking also with her and the team this week, so it’s very nice.”

There have been some inexplicable early losses, including a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Barbora Strycova in Muguruza’s first match at Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon. But there have been recent glimmers of hope, including a three-set win over Venus Williams in Rome.

The player who destroyed Rybarikova Thursday was the old, aggressive, take-no-prisoners Muguruza. She took the net away from her more forward-thinking opponent by taking it over herself, It was welcome shift in tactics in the tournament, bringing back an element that had disappeared in recent months in tandem with Muguruza’s decision to forego doubles.

Been there, done that

When it comes to Saturday’s final, Martinez can be of significant help once again to her younger charge. She has not only been there; she has been almost exactly there. And she did that.

When Martinez won Wimbledon in 1994, she defeated a player who remains the oldest woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era in Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova was a Wimbledon legend; Martinez was the Spanish outsider, although an accomplished one given she was the No. 3 seed. 

Martinez was 22 then; Muguruza is 23. Williams is 206 days younger than Navratilova was in that 1994 final.

Will history repeat? Or will Williams add another major title to her resumé, her first in nine years?

If she does, at her age, it will be a victory for the ages.

“There were definitely some issues. I had a lot of issues. This year has been amazing in terms of my play, playing deep into the big events actually. Of course, I’m excited about being again in another final. Try to take it a step further,” Williams said. “There’s still a lot to be done. I have one more match that I’d like to, you know, be the winner of. I have to go out there and take it and play well. But I like to take courage in the fact that I’ve been playing well this tournament and this year, and all these moments have led to this.”

The Women’s quarterfinals – what they said

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WIMBLEDON – With the help of the Centre Court roof, all four women’s quarterfinals were completed Tuesday.

One was played outdoors on No. 1 Court. Two were played under the roof on Centre Court (one ending with the scream of an overeager British fan).

And the last one began on No. 1 Court, and was completed three hours later under the roof.

The two women’s singles semi-finals, to be played Thursday, are set.

No. 6 Johanna Konta of Great Britain is the highest seed remaining. She will play No. 10 Venus Williams.

quarterfinals

The other semifinal will feature 2015 finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, seeded No. 14 against the fairy tale of this fortnight, Slovakia’s unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova.

Here is what they said.

[6] Johanna Konta (GBR) def. [2] Simona Halep (ROU) 67 (2) 76 (5) 64

Konta: “I guess to be in the semifinals of my home Slam, and to do that in front of a full Centre Court, I mean, it’s pretty, pretty special. I think the level of tennis that both of us played today, it was just a tremendous match. … I feel very happy with how I was able to maintain my level throughout the whole match, and really just tried to stick very closely to how I felt I wanted to play out there, and did that kind of through the thick and thin.”

Halep: “I think was a great tennis. Both of us played a good level. I was very close, again. In the tiebreak maybe I could serve better and stronger a little bit. Then in the third set, the serve game that I lost was a little bit tough to still believe that I can break her because she was serving pretty well. … I think everything was okay. Many positives from this match. And she played really well, so she deserves to win.”

[10] Venus Williams (USA) def. [13] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)

quarterfinals

Williams:  “I know she had to be feeling confident. She played a great match. Not a lot of errors. I never played her. Watched her. Didn’t really know what to expect. The grass, of course, changes the game. So just a lot of factors. I was really happy to come out on top. … ”

Ostapenko: “She was playing good today. She was serving well. I think I didn’t start the match very well. I was missing a little bit. But, yeah, she was serving really well. It was very tough to break. Because of that I had more pressure because I had to keep my serve. … It was also a good match today for me. … I had kind of, like, some pressure because, as I said, she was serving really well today. She started the match good. She made a lot of aces. But, yeah, I was not, like, feeling nervous. I just couldn’t really play my best today.”

[14] Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) def. [7] Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 63 64

Muguruza: “I’m very happy and very pleased also with this match, because obviously Kuznetsova is a very tough opponent. We all know she has been and is a great player. I managed to play a good level during all the match. I earned the victory. … Before I was more emotional. You know, I was showing more emotions on the court. Now I’m trying to handle it better. I think that’s experience. Like I said before, the year I made final here, I felt like I was a completely different player. Now I maybe feel more solid mentally, going out there knowing what to do. I think it’s with experience and the years.”

Kuznetsova:  “I think in the start I had some options on her serve. I had love-30, 15-40, couldn’t turn it around. Then I just lost silly break, quite fast one, the first set. Then it was again everything even. Second break in the second set, it’s pretty simple. But these small moments, small chances really matters a lot. I think Garbiñe recovered very good today. She defend very good.”

[PR] Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) def. [24] Coco Vandeweghe (USA) 63 63

Rybarikova: ” I just recently played ITFs in Surbiton. I was thinking that I was nervous more there than today. I have no idea how come I was that calm. Obviously I was nervous, but I was not like I would shake. Sometimes I can get really nervous and really tight. But this match I was quite positive. I was saying to myself, if I’m not going to make this serve, I still can break her because I had a lot of chances before so I can still make. If not, then I have third set. I was still up. So you still have to believe. Somehow I was not nervous. But I don’t understand it quite well, but that happened. … Always some player who surprise. Now I was lucky to be me. Yeah, I’m really grateful for that.”

Vandeweghe: “That’s why Grand Slams are the hardest tournaments. They’re over two weeks and you have to play well for two weeks. … I think (Rybarikova is) playing the best tennis of her career right now. She’s won a lot of tournaments. And she’s playing really well. She’s in the semifinals.”

Video absolves Venus of fatal fault

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WIMBLEDON – The Palm Beach County police issued a statement on Friday about the fatal car crash involving Venus Williams.

The police viewed new evidence – video from the gated community in which the Williams sisters have residences. And in their estimation, it absolved the 37-year-old of responsibility in the crash.

Two weeks after the accident, 78-year-old Jerome Barson died of his injuries.

Fault or not, Williams carries a heavy heart about the tragedy.

In her press conference after her first-round win at Wimbledon earlier this week, she became quite upset and had to leave for a brief period to gather herself.

The USA Today story on this is here.

Here is the statement.

“Based on the evidence obtained in the ongoing investigation, it has been determined the vehicle driven by Venus Williams lawfully entered the intersection on a circular green traffic signal, and attempted to travel north through the intersection to Ballenisles Drive.

“As Williams was traveling through the intersection, a Nissan Altima entered the intersection traveling south, and made a left turn in front of Williams’ vehicle, causing her to stop advancing through the intersection to avoid a collision.

“The traffic signal then cycled to green, at which time Barson continued westbound and entered the intersection. The front end of Barson’s vehicle collided the right front of Williams’ vehicle.” 

The original investigation determined Williams was at fault. The police say the investigation remains active.

Lawsuit still ongoing

The lawsuit filed by Barson’s family continues. The USA Today story details the extensive injuries suffered both by the deceased man and his wife, who also was in the vehicle. 

(If you can’t see the video above, click on the USA Today story link to see it there).

After her win, Venus’s emotions spill over

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WIMBLEDON – The first few questions were gingerly asked, because it’s not subject matter that’s easily brought up in a tennis press conference.

As well, the press conference stewards have a lot of experience with off-court questions and cutting off reporters at the pass. So it’s almost like trying to get through a censor at times.

But Williams’ 7-6 (7) 6-4 victory over Elise Mertens of Belgium was not the most newsworthy Williams story of the day.

It was the first time the 37-year-old had met with the media since word leaked out about the car crash she had been involved in last June 9 in Florida. A man in the other car, 78-year-old Jerome Barson, ended up dying in hospital two weeks later.

Some failed attempts

“Can you describe your feelings being back at Wimbledon after still a very tough period?”

“How difficult has it been, the last couple weeks, for you?”

“How would you describe your emotions of the last month, all the way through being here today?”

“And your emotions before you got here over the last month?”

“You had your great run in Melbourne. You spoke about the simple life, a dog, love playing tennis. Out of nowhere the incident occurred in Florida. Can you talk about dealing with how life gives you the inexplicable changes, curve balls, how you’ve been dealing with that yourself, if you would.”

“Do you think having gone through all the things you have, both mentally and physically, that will help you deal with this situation when you’re just trying to be a tennis player?”

Venus was not answering the questions put to her with anything more than platitudes.

If an answer was to be had, someone was going to have come straight out with it, or come out with it the right way.

Finally, one journalist found the right way to ask it.

“I saw that you wrote on your Facebook some very heartfelt words about the accident. Anything else you would want to say about that?”

Finally,  Williams answered.

“There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and – yeah. I’m completely speechless. It’s just – yeah, I mean, I’m just…”

She couldn’t get any more words out. The tears came.

To see Williams – so strong, having been through so much in her life and always handling whatever came with strength and grace, become so emotional in public was … It was poignant.

The steward announced that Williams couldn’t really discuss the situation any further, clearly because of pending legal issues. And then he asked her if she wanted a moment.

Williams left the room to gather herself. Surprisingly, she came back, with the steward suggesting, perhaps, that tennis questions be asked.

The subject eventually veered back to the accident, and that was pretty much the end of it.

So it is clearly with a heavy heart that Williams undertakes her 20th Wimbledon. Compared to the family that lost a husband, father and grandfather, of course, it pales in comparison.

Wimbledon only posted the press-conference excerpts involving strictly tennis questions. Which seems so, well, “message control” given everyone knows what happened.  

Wimbledon Day 1 – What to watch

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WIMBLEDON – It’s finally under way.

And with no first-round byes and some dangerous floaters, there is no breathing room at all before the intriguing matches start coming at us.

Big courts hopping

Some were surprised Rafael Nadal got the No. 1 Court assignment while Stan Wawrinka – who has never won Wimbledon and is seeded lower at No. 5, got Centre Court.

It’s worth remembering that No. 1 also is a ticketed court. And, as at the French Open with Court Suzanne Lenglen, the tournament also wants to give full value to those patrons. 

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As is custom, defending champion Andy Murray will open  Centre Court promptly at 1 p.m. And he’ll take on an intriguing customer in lucky loser Alexander Bublik.

There’s no more dangerous player on grass than an unpredictable, rather unknown player. So while Murray theoretically knows what to expect, he can’t truly know until they begin to play. That’s where the best-of-five format is an advantage to the established player.

Whether the loosey-goosey Bublik suffers a case of Wimbledon nerves, or seizes the moment, is part of the intrigue. Making your Wimbledon career debut on the Centre Court against the British defending champion is quite a way to kick it off.

Kvitova back in her happy place

Two-time champion Petra Kvitova, the No. 11 seed, also gets Centre Court as she triumphantly returns from the horrific stabbing incident last December. There surely were times she thought she would never be here on this day. 

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On No. 1 court, British female hope Johanna Konta takes on a familiar foe in Hsieh Su-Wei. 

Sometimes the draw gods are cruel. And in this case, Konta’s opponent was the one who came back from a 1-6 first set to defeat her in the first round at the French Open just a few weeks ago.

Different tournament, different surface. But Hsieh (who has aWimbledon doubles title) has a whimsical game that is just as tricky on grass as it is on hard courts when it’s on.

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No. 10 seed Venus Williams once seem destined to dominate at Wimbledon her entire career but in fact has not won here since 2008. She’s dealing with a devastating personal issue, as she was involved in a car accident resulting in a fatality a few weeks ago. And she’s without her sister (with whom she won the doubles just a year ago). But it’s hard to see her losing to Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Three men’s seeds to watch

[20] Nick Kyrgios vs. Pierre-Hugues Herbert (1st, Court 3)

Kyrgios is an unknown quantity, particularly health-wise. And he’s facing an accomplished grass-courter in Herbert, whose doubles skills help him on this surface.

[31] Fernando Verdasco vs. Kevin Anderson (2nd, Court 18)

Anderson has been seeded before here, but injury has dropped his ranking. With his huge serve, on grass he’s a threat to anyone. And this is a tough first-round matchup for both.

[28] Fabio Fognini vs. [PR] Dmitry Tursunov (3rd, Court 17)

The former top-20 player Tursunov has barely played for a year, using his protected ranking to enter tournaments only to withdraw. Currently ranked No. 715, at age 35, this is very likely his final Wimbledon. You have to think he’ll lay it all out there against new father Fabio.

Three women’s seeds to watch

[4] Elina Svitolina vs. Ashleigh Barty (2nd, Court 3)

Svitolina is up against a grass-loving Aussie who has shown great form during the preparatory season, and who has reached a Wimbledon final in doubles. Just 21, back from a retirement sabbatical, Barty could well pull off the upset.

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[25] Carla Suárez Navarro vs. Eugenie Bouchard

A year ago, Bouchard was beating British hope Konta on Centre Court, in an impressive display of timely tennis that belied her poor form coming in. The match is a TBA, which means it will get on a show court late in the day. The specific court will be determined by the length of the scheduled matches. Bouchard has been tough on Suárez Navarro even on the Spaniard’s favourite surface, clay. And they have practiced together often. 

[27] Ana Konjuh vs. [WC] Sabine Lisicki (4th, Court 14)

The German, who lost the 2013 Wimbledon final to Marion Bartoli, returned to action for the first time this season at the grass event in Mallorca. And she did surprisingly well. In this big-hitting battle, the younger Konjuh might be at an experience disadvantage.

Unseeded must-sees

[PR] Victoria Azarenka vs. Cici Bellis (TBA)

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The return of Victoria Azarenka to Wimbledon after missing it a year ago is one of the highly-anticipated moments of this Wimbledon.

With baby Leo in tow and a new Yonex racquet, she gets 18-year-old American CiCi Bellis in the first round. That’s not easy. On the plus side, the two have (coincidentally) practiced several times on the grass since Azarenka’s return, so she won’t be faced with some unknown kid who will take it to her.

[WC] Tommy Haas vs. [Q] Ruben Bemelmans (3rd, Court 16)

The 39-year-old Haas gets the lefty Belgian qualifier first up. He can’t ask for much better than that as he undertakes his final Wimbledon campaign

Dustin Brown vs. Joao Sousa (1st, Court 14)

The Dredded One is always a a treat to watch on the Wimbledon lawns. And given he’s on small Court 14, you’ll have to plan it well to get a seat.

Camila Giorgi vs. Alizé Cornet (1st, Court 8)

Watch for Giorgi’s father Sergio on the side of the court if Cornet takes a lead in this one. It’s WTA drama of the best kind as these two quick players battle the grass – and themselves

[WC] Denis Shapovalov vs. [PR] Jerzy Janowicz (1st, Court 7)

The two played at a Challenger in Leon, Mexico last winter – outdoors, at altitude, on a hard court. So they’re familiar with each other (Janowicz won in a third-set tiebreak).

Shapovalov earned the Wimbledon wild card with the combination of his junior title a year ago, and his current ranking in the top 200. He defeated Kyle Edmund in the first round of Queen’s Club two weeks ago and is definitely one to watch. But the former top-15 player is a tough first round, even if he’s unseeded.

The Weather

The Wimbledon forecast is an exercise in brilliant creative writing every day. So we’ll bring it to you each morning.

“A largely dry morning with some brightness and even sunshine at times. Cloud amounts increasing through the morning with the slight (20%) risk of some showers for the start of play until mid-afternoon, around 1600.

Some warm sunshine developing for the end of the afternoon and through the evening where it will feel rather humid.

The light south-west winds will freshen slightly. Temperatures reaching a maximum of 24 Celsius, 75F.”

People watching

The Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a Kate) will be on hand to open proceedings and see defending champion Murray off in his quest to repeat.

And, of course, HRH the Duke of Kent and HRH Prince Michael of Kent will be on hand.

Andy Murray’s father Williams gets the call in the Royal Box.

Venus and Serena to donate $1 million to the ATA in honor of father Richard

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A century ago, when the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association formalized a policy barring African-American players, the American Tennis Association – the ATA – was born.

It had to be born.

As it celebrates its 100th anniversary, the oldest African-American sporting organization in the U.S. has ambitious goals.

And Serena and Venus Williams may play a major role in helping the organization cement its legacy.

The ATA wants to set down permanent roots to help ensure African-American kids get every opportunity to thrive in the sport.

Lasting legacy

To that end, it plans to build a new facility in south Florida. The location, subject to municipal procedures, is set for the city of Miramar’s regional park. The complex, to be called the ATA Tennis and Education Complex, will house the association’s relocated offices as well as a museum.

And it also will include a national training centre for promising young African-American players. 

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The Williams family celebrates after Serena Williams won Wimbledon in 2012.

The first major news is the imminent announcement that the first inductee into the ATA’s new Hall of Fame will be … Richard Williams.

There will be a stadium court in the middle of the proposed new complex. And in appreciation of the court being named after their father, Tennis.Life has learned that daughters Venus and Serena intend to endow the project with a hefty sum – $1 million.

Now 75, Williams did the seemingly impossible when he brought daughters Serena and Venus from the pitted courts of Compton, California to sporting immortality.

“Everyone thought he was a buffoon, that his process was ridiculous, that his girls would never make it. And he proved them wrong,” former ATA executive director Albert Tucker told Tennis.Life.

Offices, a training centre and museum

The first two phases will cost about $7 million. First will be tennis courts and the ATA offices. Phase 2 will add more courts, and the museum.

Richard Williams holds court at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, back in 2009.

“Not only will it be a permanent home, but it also will help the development of the city,” Tucker said. In addition to being an ATA member, Tucker also is vice-president of multicultural business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The organization has been trying for decades to make this a reality. There were plans even as far back as 20 years ago in south Florida. 

But the ATA’s visibility will increase with the Hall of Fame induction, the 100th anniversary and the significant gesture by the Williams sisters. So there may never be a better time to bring the project to fruition.

Cultural gap

The Williams family walks off the practice court following a warmup prior to their meeting in the 2001 US Open singles final. The glamour Saturday night stand-alone slot inaugurated that year would never have happened, had the sisters not been the star attractions.

The Fort Lauderdale area was a natural for the project.

The ATA held a national tournament in the area the last five years. And more than 3,000 amateur and junior tennis players and their families took part. The contribution to the local economy did not go unnoticed.

There are more African-American kids playing tennis at the professional level than there have been in a long time.

No doubt that growth can largely be attributed to the success of the Williams family. 

But who knows how many more players slip through the cracks?

“We need additional resources out there for these young people and their parents, additional conversations about what the process is. And a focus on reaching out to more individuals of colour,” Tucker said.

“The biggest thing, from a cultural perspective, is that it’s almost imperative that individuals understand the history so they can understand how certain things have transpired. But the (current) players don’t understand how we got to where we are.”

The museum will highlight the accomplishments of distinguished ATA alumni. But there are many more beyond Gibson and the late Arthur Ashe. The ATA was an integral part of the development of Zina Garrison, Chanda Rubin, MaliVai Washington and current USTA president Katrina Adams.

“Katrina’s first access to tennis wasn’t the USTA, it was the ATA,” Tucker said. “Lori (McNeil) and Zina were her mentors. And her name is in ATA history from the time she was a junior.”

The museum also will be a repository of information on tennis at historically black colleges, as well as Caribbean tennis.

Festivities in Baltimore

Williams will be officially inducted Aug. 2 in Baltimore during the combined ATA centennial celebrations and national championships.

The joint ATP/WTA tournament in nearby Washington, D.C., is held the same week. The Citi Open benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation as part of its philanthropic mission.

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Nobody believed Richard Williams when he said his two young daughters would be the best in the world.

Tucker remembers Richard Williams bringing young Venus and Serena to the program’s courts to train, when their sister attended nearby Howard University.

“I learned a lot from him. But also I learned a lot about the sport. I learned about the discrepancy that exists in the narrative, depending on who was speaking,” Tucker said. “If we had more athletes into the game, more resources into the game, more direction for families and individuals and more of a comfort level in who they can talk to, it would help tremendously in getting more kids into the sport.”

The task of fundraising, with brick sales a part of the project, will officially begin there.

The sisters, to say the least,  have given the effort a hefty head start.

“We have resources in the greater Fort Lauderdale community that are committed to the process,” Tucker said.

With Dad in her corner again, Venus vanquishes a No. 1

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KEY BISCAYNE – The most compelling player on the WTA Tour right now did it again Wednesday night in Miami.

Venus Williams upset world No. 1 Angelique Kerber in two tight sets to reach the semi-finals of the Miami Open.

Her sister had the right take:

Click here to read my piece in the New York Times about the tennis player who is defying time more than any other (even Federer)

And here are some pics and video I shot in Charleston last year, the last time Mr. Williams was at an event. His adorable little son Dylan was there, too.