Was this the best Bank of the West Classic ever? Maybe so. The tennis world was waiting to see how Serena Williams would recover after Wimbledon—was she okay? Sister Venus Williams, at 34, seemed to drink from the fountain of youth, hitting an incredible 10-stride sprint shot during a straight-set victory over a former No. 1 almost a decade her junior, Victoria Azarenka. Add a world record for fastest serve, the unexpected arrival of a characterful teen upstart, and a player field that included four top 10 players and nine of the top 20, and as tournament director Kim Hall pointed out, this year’s Bank of the West “brought back memories of years past when the event was loaded with legends like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and Kim Clijsters, as well as Venus and Serena.” (For her part, Evert chimed in on television that Bay Area fans are “intelligent and tennis-savvy.”)
As for the Serena question, the answer is a solid yes. The current No. 1 adeptly fielded questions about her Wimbledon woes in a press conference at the start of the tournament, then proceeded to play strong, composed tennis—her demeanor on court was notably calm and indrawn—to claim her third Bank of the West title. The road wasn’t always smooth—self-described “California girl” Serena’s wins were characterized by slow starts, and she had to overcome a one-set deficit against Ana Ivanovic (who beat her in Australia this year) in the quarterfinals. Only twenty or so minutes into the final, Serena was already down 1-5 to Angelique Kerber, until—becoming more aggressive and moving forward—she countered Kerber’s five games in a row with five of her own, staving off a pair of set points at 2-5 on the way to a 7-6, 6-3 victory.
Though Spain reigned supreme in doubles, thanks to winners Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, this year’s Bank of the West had a strong German subplot. In the second round against Ivanovic, Sabine Lisicki broke Venus Williams’ 129 mph world record for fastest serve by a woman with a 131 bomb against Ana Ivanovic. Ironically, Ivanovic—who won the match, going on to reenter the top 10 during Stanford—ended up with more solid serving stats overall, a fact that reflects the showy Lisicki’s general struggles off of grass courts. Two of her countrywomen, Kerber and the charismatic Andrea Petkovic, fared better. Petko defeated Venus in a dramatic three-set quarterfinal before falling to Serena in the semis. Kerber took advantage of the bottom half of a top-heavy draw, clawing back from the brink of defeat with some help from opponent Varvara Lepchenko in the semis. Her forehand was firing in the early stages of the final against Serena, but when Serena turned on her power game, Kerber was left clutching her oft-ailing back in the wake of some of the more grueling points.
One of the Bank of the West Classic’s highlights happened early on, when 16-year-old qualifier Naomi Osaka fought off a match point to upset Sam Stosur in the first round. Like last year’s US Open Stosur-conqueror Victoria Duval, Osaka has Haitian roots, though her mother is Japanese and she claims Japan as her home country. Perhaps following the path of the Williams sisters, Osaka and her older sister Mari have skipped the juniors entirely before joining the pro tour, and Naomi brought some bold swagger and hilarious deadpan wit to her first-ever press conference after the Stosur win. Though her game is very much a work in progress, she is capable of serving big, and she hit a blinding forehand winner in the second set of her second-round loss to the sporting Petkovic, who marveled “Did you see that forehand?” afterward. If Osaka and fellow 16-year-old Ana Konjuh rise in the ranks, the WTA may have some next-level big hitting in its future.
Konjuh wasn’t at Stanford, but her home country of Croatia played a supporting role in Serena’s win. After her Wimbledon wipeout , Serena traveled there with longtime hitting partner Aleksandar “Sascha” Bajin, to find her footing and confidence again on court, and during her winner’s speech, Serena dedicated her victory to Bajin, who’s been perhaps even more important than usual to her in recent weeks, with coach Patrick Mouratoglou not rejoining her camp until the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Serena’s third Bank of the West win ties her with Evert and Davenport behind Navratilova, who won the event six times. It’s also Serena’s fourth title of the year, the most of any WTA player, and she remains undefeated against top 10 players in 2014. (Conversely, Australian Open winner Li Na has yet to score a top 10 win.) Make no mistake—once again, a strong win at Stanford has set Serena’s US Open campaign in motion.
All photos by Brent Bishop. More »
The Bank of the West Classic is the longest-running event on the WTA tour, and Venus and Serena Williams have a long and strong connection to the tournament—in fact, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Venus making her pro debut at the Bank of the West, back when it was held in Oakland, Both Williams sisters have won the Bank of the West twice. With Serena making a successful return to the courts after her Wimbledon woes, and Venus marking her anniversary with a straight-set win over Victoria Azarenka, the time is right for a look at their latest appearance at the Bay Area’s top pro event. Enter photographer Brent Bishop—credit for the photos in this post goes to Bishop:
Today at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Serena Williams gave her first interview since her much-discussed appearance at Wimbledon this year, where—having lost in the third round of singles—she appeared listless and disoriented, double-faulting four successive times before retiring from a second-round doubles match. (She was diagnosed as having a “viral illness.”) What is going on in the world of Serena Williams at the moment? Here are some answers:
On her recovery:
After Wimbledon I stayed around in Europe. I was entered in Bastad and I felt so bad about not being able to play there. I went on what I call a “vacation,” which is where you have fun in the sun but you practice every day in the morning. You try to practice really early.
I’ve been working out really hard, running and swimming and jumping in the ocean, and hoping no sharks will come and get me. That always works really well for conditioning.
On the second-round doubles match at Wimbledon:
I didn’t feel great walking on the court. I didn’t even warmup before the match. I went down to the car right before the other match ended.
I was really scared afterward, because I didn’t realize how I felt until later. I was like, “Serena, take your time. You have the rest of your life to play tennis, hopefully.”
Venus was like, “Serena, walk off the court,” I think she almost punched me. “As big sister, I’m telling you, you have to leave.” I was like, “It’s just half the court, I can do it, I can do it.”
They [the doctors] just said I was really ill and under the weather.
It kind of reminded me when I had my other illness [the pulmonary embolism in 2011], I didn’t realize how sick I was until my dad came over. We were walking outside for no more than three minutes and I said, “Okay, I gotta go inside,” and I slept the whole day and woke up the next day. After this happened, I kind of had that flashback. When you’re in this moment, you don’t realize how sick you are until you kind of step back and picture everything.
I was really, really sick. Literally for the next three days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Usually, when you lose in a tournament, you leave. Most people don’t want to be in [those] surroundings. But I literally stayed until the tournament ended, because I was not actually allowed to leave. The doctors told me, “Don’t leave, you gotta stay.”
On seeing footage of the match:
It’s weird, it’s like, “Is that me?” But that’s the fight in me. I always go, go, go, I never stop. I never know when to say when.
On the crowd reaction at Court One during the match:
I don’t know, ’cause I wasn’t in the crowd. My head was down. To be honest, I don’t remember a wave, or I didn’t see a wave. My head was down the whole time.
On media coverage and online response:
I heard a lot of the response weeks and weeks later, because I didn’t leave my house or my bed for a few days. By the time I read about it, or heard about it from other people, I was like, “Oh, really?” I’d already moved on and I’d started working out to try and play again.
I didn’t meditate or think about it for too long, because for one, as you guys know, I never really read anything about me. I have a big huge book that I hope to look at one day at the end of my career. Then maybe I can give you a better answer.
On the open letter from Chris Evert in 2006:
Like I said then, everyone is entitled to their feelings. Obviously an open letter from Chris Evert was almost a compliment, meaning that she wanted to see me do well—that she’d take the time to even write or even reach out and say, “Serena, this is how I feel, I think you have so much potential.” Coming from a great like that, it’s pretty cool.
[Told that Evert says she's had the last laugh] I think and hope she is right.
On her age:
I’m 32 and proud, baby.
On the pressure to win her 18th slam and tie Chris and Martina:
I got stuck at 13 for a while and I was really depressed about it: “I’m never going to get to 14.” That was before I got ill, I was stuck at 13. And I thought about that just about a week ago, and I was like, “Serena, don’t put pressure on yourself.”
I keep saying I don’t think about the numbers. but everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s thinking about it, and I think subconsciously, it began to twirl in my mind. I was thinking that I just need to relax and remember that I’ve been in this position before. If it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year, and I have no points to defend.
We have four times a year [to win a Slam], and I’m still going.
On whether fatigue from her strong seasons in 2012 and 2013 has caught up with her this year:
I was thinking about that, and I’ve been thinking a lot of things—a lot of things have been crossing my brain. I’ll get a lot of tests done at the end of the season and go from there.
On going to Croatia to practice and train with longtime hitting partner Sascha Bajin:
It was unexpected, it was last-minute. I was like, “I’m going to play Bastad,” and my mom looked at me sideways and I thought, “Okay, I’m not going to make the same mistake again, so I won’t play Bastad, I’ll just work out and train.”
I didn’t know what to do, and Sascha suggested we go to Croatia. I thought, “Really? I’ve never been.” He said, “There’s more tennis courts than people there.” That’s maybe why there are so many good Croatian tennis players coming up.
And now I understand, because I saw so many tennis courts there—everywhere you looked there was tennis.
I’m glad I went, it was so pretty. I never expected it to be that pretty. And I was able to practice ice cream catching (laughs).
On how she’s feeling today:
I’m feeling pretty good about my game, because as you know, I’m never feeling great about it. I’m always wanting to do more to improve, I’m always thinking and nitpicking at every little thing that I want to get better at.
Like I said at Wimbledon, I was really disappointed because I worked so hard. But I’m working hard for long term results.
By Bill Simons
PRETTY GOOD RACKET: In three Grand Slams this year, Croatian Petra Martic has won one game and earned about $100,000.
TALKING POINT: After Aussie Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa Nadal, Jon Wertheim wrote: “What would US tennis do (pay?) for a charismatic 19-year-old who could beat Nadal on Centre Court? Already had Canada Envy. Now this?”
YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN BRITAIN WHEN… Even though you’ve been there for just two days, you use the word overcooked … Each day, workers polish the brass door handles in the media center and scrub the stairs … The Prime Minister’s press secretary is called a spin doctor … The TV in Wimbledon’s cafeteria features Question Time, the high-octane, sarcastic debate in the House of Commons … A tennis broadcaster uses the word perspicacity …There’s a long segment on Wimbledon’s champagne bar.
BASHING BULGARIA: When it was noted that Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov left home to train in France, John McEnroe said, “Not too many people are going to say its a horrible thing to leave Bulgaria to go to Paris.”
SIGN OF THE MONTH: Christopher Clarey reported that British World Cup fans held up a sign that read:
Flight to Brazil—2000 pounds.
Enjoying the ambiance—2000 pounds
Arriving after England was eliminated—Priceless.
FEEL-GOOD IMAGES: Twenty-five minutes after his devastating loss in the Wimbledon final, Federer laughing on the players’ lawn with his twin daughters … France’s Michael Llodra hugging his son after playing his last match at the French Open.
A ROOF’S RUMINATION: The Wimbledon roof tweeted: “Another quiet day in the sun … Could use some rain. I am out of practice. #rustyroof.”
OVERHEARD IN THE PRESS ROOM: “For years, I thought a hash tag was one of those labels I put on my drugs.”
SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FOURTH SET OF THE WIMBLEDON FINAL? “It wasn’t that the match caught alight,” wrote Simon Barnes. “It was already lit and burning well, but suddenly it became a blast furnace, a heretic-consuming inferno that fizzed and crackled to the sound of demented prayerful cheering as the finest arena in sport … went into spontaneous combustion … And Federer, yesterday’s man … the champion of champions now reduced to playing his endgame, his life now an elegant, elegiac prolonged farewell tour, was suddenly back in full, rampaging force … This wasn’t Federer as the purring, effortless winner with that ever-so-slightly smug expression: this was Federer recast as street fightin’ man.”
THE WHITE STUFF: Venus Williams said at Wimbledon, “Everyone just kind of glows in white.” But the usually traditional Roger Federer offered a surprisingly contrarian view, “White, white, full-on white … it’s very strict … I think it’s too strict.” Pat Cash couldn’t wear his iconic checkerboard headband—too much black. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova said, “It’s very weird [for authorities] to check under my skirt [to see] if I’m wearing white underwear.”
ONE WAY TO FIX THOSE COURTS: France’s Benoit Paire said, “I hate Wimbledon … The atmosphere displeases me greatly, and I am glad to leave as soon as possible … All they like is giving fines, maybe thanks to us they will be able to fix the courts.”
NOT A FAN OF MIXED DOUBLES (OR THE WORLD CUP): Columnist Ann Coulter claimed, “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.” She added, “No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.”
DESTINY DENIED: Serena and Sharapova were to meet in dream confrontations in the quarters of both the French Open and Wimbledon. Neither happened. BTW: When asked about playing against Serena, Sharapova said, “I haven’t had the best results against her.” Well, she’s lost the last 15 matches they’ve played.
AND WE THOUGHT BRITAIN WAS SUCH A GRACIOUS SPORTING NATION: It’s hard to find a Brit who fancies Serena. Is it because she’s polarizing, loud and demonstrative, black, American, in-your-face, a diva, or just wins too often? When she was in a daze on court before her Wimbledon doubles match, it wasn’t surprising that fans began to slow clap, to demand to get this thing going. But then they started a wave, that festive group indulgence, which flew in the face of an athlete struggling with a health issue. Serena’s mom Oracene stood dumbfounded. One sensed her rage. This was not Britain’s greatest sporting moment.
USEFUL AND NOT SO USEFUL STATS: The Big Four—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray have won 36 of the last 38 Slams … Three players born in the ’90s made it into the Wimbledon quarterfinals: Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov, and Milos Raonic … There were no bathroom breaks before ’83 … It took Coco Vandeweghe 13 match points to beat Garbine Muguruza, who double-faulted twice in a row to lose … Sloane Stephens is 17-15 this year …Novak Djokovic is now No. 1. Genie Bouchard is No. 7, and the only woman this year to reach the semis of the first three Slams … America has nine women in the top 60, and only one man … At the US Open, there were three women’s semifinalists over 30. At Wimbledon, Lucie Safarova was the only semifinalist born before 1990. More »
By Bill Simons
We media folk adore scoops. It makes us feel all puffy. So, here’s a dandy one from this correspondent.
Based on reliable sources, it’s safe to say that God—long ago out of the firmament, after he lit up the universe with lightness, crafted the depths of the oceans, shaped many a mountain, and had the guts to create that devilish character we know as man—had a brainstorm.
And thus God created Federer: that would be Roger Federer, aka The Mighty Fed, the Royal Raj, Mr. Perfect.
Immaculate, classy, impeccable—he is our knowing sage and sublime master of all things tennis, who moves to every corner on court with a dreamy athletic grace; whose backhand flicks wonders and drop shot beauties to create artistic pictures which delight fans from Dover to Devonshire, from Delhi to Detroit.
Truly, this is a man apart. It’s not only that he brushes his teeth three times a day and has been honored by kings and queens. It’s not just that Hollywood moguls and squealing kids alike all but fall to their knees to honor this man of grace, He’s mastered four languages, fathered a pair of twin girls, and then, just to have a little symmetry, evened things out with a set of twin boys. Goodness, this man is even better at reproduction than the rest of us.
Need we even note that the greatest man to ever lift a tennis racket has re-written the sport’s dusty stats book: 17 Grand Slam wins, 23 straight semifinals, 302 weeks at No. 1. But more than this, this super-father at times suggests that he has beaten father time. His wrinkles are modest, his legs are tireless, and now, at last, his back doesn’t ache.
While his contemporaries are either talking in broadcast studios (Andy Roddick) or recovering back home after first-round defeats (Lleyton Hewitt), old man Roger rolls on. Just a month shy of 33, he hoped to become the oldest man to win Wimbledon.
No wonder the world adores this athlete, perhaps the most beloved sportsman on the globe. Roger remains driven by a love of his sport.
Yes, the Swiss government regularly gives him cows and creates Roger stamps. He’s the international ambassador for fancy cars and nice watches, he’s won the Stefan Edberg sportsmanship award nine times, and he has a committed Africa charity. Plus, in this land where cheeks are rosy, children are dutiful, and royals are venerated, Roger is all but worshiped.
But more than anything, Roger himself still loves tennis. Despite the aches, the airport delays, the ill-conceived press questions, the man plays on. His game offers beauty, his face reveals just the slightest expression—a bemused smile.
So us normal folk are left to ask, what doesn’t Mr. Perfect do? Well, shock of shocks, with four nannies, Super Dad doesn’t change diapers. More to the point, he hadn’t won a Slam since Wimbledon in 2012. Last year, he got booted out of the Championships by a big-hitting Ukrainian. Going into this year’s tournament, he’d won only one title in 2014.
But now, certainly, he had a golden opportunity—perhaps his last “best” chance to win a Slam. After all, in the final, he’d be facing his old rival Novak Djokovic, in their 35th meeting. More »
By Bill Simons
Novak Djokovic‘s coach Boris Becker was elated after his man prevailed in one of the great Wimbledon finals of all time. Emerging from the Friends Box, near a descending Centre Court stairwell, he spoke with Inside Tennis publisher Bill Simons and the AP’s Sandra Harwitt:
What is the very best quality Novak has a tennis player?
He’s just such a competitor.
So, Boris, talk about that incredible fourth set.
It was 5-2, match point [at 5-4], but you couldn’t say really that he [Novak] played poorly. I thought Roger took his chances, went for his shots, wasn’t afraid to hit them, and they went in. As Novak said at the end, that’s the reason that he [Roger] has won so many Grand Slams, because he’s not afraid under pressure, and that’s what makes him so difficult.
What’s the experience been like for you working with Novak?
It’s been a great ride, and I’m enjoying myself a lot. It’s very easy to work with Novak because he’s so motivated. He wants to work every day. He plays to win. He’s not happy with a semifinal and final and it’s just a great honor for me to be part of his team. More »
By Bill Simons
For decades, the WTA brand was built on change; fresh flowers and teen darlings who blew kisses, blasted forehands, and charged (despite ample pimples) fearlessly into a dazzling world of possibilities. You know the poster girls—Chrissie, Tracy, Monica, Steffi, Martina H., Lindsay, Venus, Serena, Maria. So many blooms, a bouquet of delights!
So, as the river of generational change flowed fast and free, the tennis gods seemed to be whispering: renewal is everything, change matters. Don’t trust any baseliner over 30.
But even Madonna grows up and goes to PTA meetings. And within women’s tennis, there was a clogging of the arteries. The game got kind of gray.
Critics were whispering their complaint to the WTA: “You don’t send us flowers anymore.”
Battle-weary veteran Marion Bartoli won last summer’s Wimbledon, then promptly retired. The US Open was abuzz about, well, the fact that three semifinalists were thirtysomethings. That nice Chinese elder Li Na claimed the Aussie, and then the French Open—which featured twice as many thirtysomethings as teens—was won by Maria Sharapova, who has been blasting and shrieking for over a decade.
Enter Eugenie Bouchard. She’s young, she’s fearless, she’s named after a princess. At last, the Youth Genie was out of the bottle. More »
By Bill Simons
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”—Winston Churchill
We’re always told to appreciate what you have. Take advantage of every opportunity. Your treasure can go in a flash.
After all, on this blue-sky, breezy English afternoon, all seemed perfect for Novak Djokovic.
With a British Royal (Prince Michael), a tennis royal (Rod Laver), a golf royal (Jack Nicklaus), and a Russian princess (Maria Sharapova) looking on, the Serb quickly showed why he was the No. 1 seed and the favorite to win Wimbledon. He stepped out and schooled his young foe, Grigor Dimitrov, the 23-year old who doesn’t want to be known as “Baby Fed” or as Sharapova’s main squeeze. Dimitrov’s main concern was simple: reach the Wimbledon final.
But Djokovic, limber and loose, would have none of it. At first Novak’s considerable skill sets were on full display: running with ease, returning with confidence, serving well, and unleashing great defense. More »
By Bill Simons
Tuesday, July 1st was Canada Day, and it’s been Canada Week at Wimbledon, with Eugenie Bouchard marching to her first Slam final without dropping a set, and Milos Raonic advancing to the men’s semis. With all of that in mind, Inside Tennis recently spoke to Raonic about his adopted homeland:
Can you tell us about the pluses of your family’s Canadian experience, and how it’s helped you as an ATP player? Except, of course, for Air Canada losing your luggage, what has been the downside?
Have they lost my luggage?
They did when you came to San Jose.
That’s true. Usually I hold grudges about that kind of stuff, so I’m surprised I forgot.
My family came from a situation [in Montenegro] which gave us no option. My parents were both well-educated and had an opportunity to really start thinking of opportunities for myself, my brother, and my sister.
They both got jobs on the exact same day, pretty much the first day they applied. All of those things are very fortunate. I don’t know if that would have been possible in a lot of different places in the world. More »
AN INTERVIEW WITH GENIE BOUCHARD’S MOM, JULIE LECLAIR
By Bill Simons
What went through your head as your little girl was out there on the greatest court in the world?
It’s the temple of tennis. Obviously, I’m proud, and I was hoping she would hold her nerves and close it out. You know, it’s tough out there.
Does all this seem a little unreal to you?
In a way, yes, obviously, but she has been working on this since she was four-and-a-half years old. So she just goes out every day trying to be the best she can. She said it could happen six months ago, could happen next year, could happen in three years—who knows?
She just came out of the juniors [2013 was her first full year on tour], and she’s already reached two Slam semifinals and one final. Is it shocking that it’s happened so fast?
I’m happy for her, she worked so hard at it. It’s good success. But there is a lot she can’t control, [such as] how other players do, and she can only play who is across the net from her.
She doesn’t seem to get nervous, though.
That’s her quality. Most kids would be a little nervous here. More »