by Karen 

Can we all pause for a minute and reflect on the legend that is Venus Ebony Starr Williams.  A few months shy of her 35th birthday, and battling an auto-immune disease that leaves her fatigued, Venus Williams has started the 2015 tennis season without losing a match. Coming off a title in Auckland, New Zealand, defeating marathon runner, Caroline Wozniacki, Venus has become an inspiration to anyone who thinks that they are old and they don’t have the ability to keep doing the things that they love. 

In  a highly anticipated round of 16 match against No. 6 seed Aga Radwanska, Venus would battle from a break down in the third set to run away with the set 6-1.  Showing her all court prowess, her movement, her volleying skills and most importantly her ability to remain calm under pressure and shake off the point that went before, Venus continues to inspire. 

Her press conference transcript after her win over Radwanska is a must read.  I have extracted some important parts of it:

On Age

Q. When playing a player much younger, how would you compare the advantages between years of experience as to they have a younger body?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I think at this level the younger body doesn’t help, per se. Everybody out here is ready to go. If you’re here and you’re playing this deep, it means that you’ve done the work and you’re fit. So whatever age, doesn’t matter what age you are, you got to go to the gym, you got to do the work on the court. That definitely is not a factor, no matter who you play. Of course, experience is definitely a factor. But I was 19 once. I beat players who were more experienced. So at the end of the day if you can hit the ball in the court enough times and get enough points on your side, that will be who wins no matter what the other numbers are.
On Inspiring Others 
Q. Do you feel your performances affect people and are an inspiration?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Definitely. I think all of us touch lives in ways that we never dreamed of growing up as kids. You just want to be No. 1 in the world, you want to win a major. You never think about the people you inspire from your efforts and your attitude. Yes, that’s been my experience in my life and most professional players I think it’s their experience as well.
On Lindsay Davenport as coach and player 
Q. You played against Lindsay more than anybody else in your career, 27 times. Are there moments in your rivalry with her that stand out to you?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I think that what stands out most in the rivalry was how one-sided it was in the beginning. She probably won’t remember this, because when you’re winning you forget the count, but when you’re losing you don’t. I know when we played our first Wimbledon final, she had nine wins and I had three. So it was very, very unbalanced, especially for her wins. I think I was able to compete well in some of our most important matches. So that was nice.
Q. Do you see similarities from what you’re seeing in Madison, between her game and Lindsay’s game?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Definitely. Lindsay used to just hit a clean ball. She was so fun to watch play. I loved watching her play. Of course, didn’t love watching her hit those clean balls against you. That was a part of it as well. I thought she brought a lot to tennis. I think she should actually get more credit. People don’t always mention her name. But she was an amazing player. Yeah, definitely some similarities. Madison hits a clean ball, goes for it. So it looks like it’s a good match.

Next up for Venus is unseeded 19 year old American, Madison Keys. If one believes in destiny and the nature of things, Keys started playing tennis when she saw Venus playing at Wimbledon and admired the dress that Venus was wearing so much that she asked her parents if she could get the dress.  They told her that she could if she became serious about tennis. She eventually did and she has.  

The other round of 16 matches that took place yesterday saw Serena Williams going up against Garbine Muguruza.  This was a highly anticipated match when the draw first came out and it did not disappoint.  Muguruza threw everything she had at Serena but unfortunately for her, Serena can always dial it up another gear and this she did.  While doing this blog post, I am watching the replay on Tennis Channel and it is instructive that both Brett Haber and Martina are of the view that players always seem to play their best against Serena.  Both Haber and Martina have seen Muguruza play and they have both opined that they have never seen her play this well.   Martina’s take on this is that when you are ranked No. 1 everyone raises their game against you.  She said it is unfortunate but that is what happens when you are sitting atop the heap.  Everyone wants to knock you off.   

Serena had to call upon all her Grand Slam experience to eventually take control of this match and she did that.  After the match 

Dominika Cibulkova was fined US$4,000.00 for illegal coaching during her match against Victoria Azarenka, which she won.  Why did I start with that? Because players need to be called out when they receive illegal coaching from the stands as they have brought the game and themselves into disrepute. Cibulkova had no reason to cheat, because that is what illegal coaching during the Grand Slams amount to. She was already outplaying Azarenka.  She was blasting the ball and she was doing what needed to be done to win the match.  Once Azarenka started to change strategy and was making inroads, that was when Cibulkova started to cheat.  I am also incensed that her player box does not get censored more as a result of their very vocal chants during matches.  Next up for Cibulkova will be Serena Williams against whom she is 0 and 4. 

19 year old Madison Keys has made her way her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.  This is an amazing effort but something that has been in the offing for quite some time.  The rise of Keys has seen a lot less publicity than the rise of a former young American, Sloane Stephens, and before her, Melanie Oudin.  While Sloane only showed up at the biggest events to showcase her skills, Keys has used the WTA regular to hone her skills.  She has worked on her game, her fitness and her mental ability.  In her run to the Eastbourne title in 2014, the work that she had been putting in to make her game more compact was there for all to see.  Fast forward to 2015 and her hire of 3 time Grand Slam champion and Hall of Famer, Lindsay Davenport as part of her team, and you can already see the improvements, especially in the way she kept calm under pressure in serving out the match against 2 time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova. 

This and That 

During her on court interview after her match against Muguruza, Serena Williams was asked about how she manages to deal with an opponent who is playing her tough.  Serena mentioned that she has always had to do that as she does not call a coach down on the regular Tour as you can’t do that at the Grand Slams. As a result she has always had to find a way to win matches by relying on her skills and changing up her game.  I do hope that other players who want to be able to win Grand Slams really listened to what Serena had to say. 

I strongly believe that the fact that Azarenka stopped calling her coach down on court led to her meteoric rise in 2012 and to capture back to back Grand Slam titles and take her to No. 1.  It is for this reason why Caroline Wozniacki will always have trouble winning a Grand Slam as will people like Cibulkova and Muguruza.  When you are unable to think yourself out of trouble, you will always have problems when you have no one else to rely on but yourself.  

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