US Open: Serena has come a long way
When women’s tennis was a mere appendage to the men’s tour; featuring mainly at the four major tournaments, Billie Jean Moffit (later Billie Jean King) and others pushed for the Ladies Professional Tour.
Virginia Slims brand of cigarettes came up to sponsor the first Ladies Professional Tour, with their slogan “You’ve come a long way Baby.” These words aptly apply to Serena Williams, as she seeks to make history when the 2015 US Open Tennis Championships starts today at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, Corona Park, Queens New York City.
The younger of the Williams sisters could join the elite group of male and female players, who won all the four major (Grand Slam) tournaments in one calendar year.
In the Men’s Tournament, Novak Djokovic would also have been chasing a calendar Grand Slam had he not lost to Swiss Stan Wawrinka at the French Open in Stade Roland Garros in June. Past achievers of this feat were American Don Budge, Australian Rod Laver (1969); Margaret (Smith) Court and German Steffi Graff in 1988. A victory at the US Open would also give Serena a tie with Steffi Graff of 22 Grand Slam Titles.
Venus was the first to hit the limelight when she raced to the Finals of her debut at the 1997 US Open, in which she lost to Martina Hingis; while Serena was still waiting to fulfill the age requirement for turning professional, by the age requirement. There was an incident in Venus’ match against Spirlea. At a changeover, ladies almost collided; as Venus was so keyed into the match she did not notice that her opponent was at the net post before her. In the media hullaballoo that followed; Venus said that the lady was lucky it was not her younger sister, Serena, who would have just walked through her. As at that time, Richard, their father, quipped that Serena would go further than Venus.
Tennis watchers have always commented that Serena was technically sounder; with no flaws in any stroke, though both of them had the best serve in women’s tennis.
History has proved the veracity of the projections. Serena has won six Australian, three French, six Wimbledon, US Open titles: for a tally of 21, going into this year’s tournament. Serena was the first of the two sisters to win a major tournament when she took the 1999 US Open Championships in her second year as a professional. Within minutes of her victory, President Bill Clinton called from New Zealand to congratulate her and he also invited her and family to visit the White House.
The only request Serena had for the President was that the United States government should reduce the tax payable on Prize Money! Venus and Serena have won a total of 28 Grand Slam Singles titles, 13 Grand Slam Doubles titles and 4 Olympic God medals.
The Men’s championships trophy points at a Djokovic-Federer showdown. Federer, winner at the warm up Southern and Western Tournament, always felt that he ought to have won Wimbledon. He has the game to beat the world number 1. Roger is seeded second in the US Open; his likely semifinal opponent is number three seed, Andy Murray; while Djokovic could end up facing last year’s finalist, Kei Nishikori of Japan.
When Venus made history in 1997, it was the year that the Main Bowl of the National Tennis |Centre was named after Arthur Ashe, the first black player to win the Australian, Wimbledon and US Championships. As her sister aims to make history this year, it also marks the commissioning of a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium. Fittingly, Venus would play a match before her superstar sister; after Anna Ivanovic of Serbia and opponent Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia would have completed their match.
Venus would take on Monica Puig of Puerto Rico (ranked 85 in the world). Unlike Wimbledon, the US Open does not have the tradition of the defending champion playing the Opening Match. In New York, with the focus on Corporate America, the formal Opening Ceremony is slated for the evening. After all the colourful parade and the singing of and the Star-Spangled Banner, Serena would begin her quest by taking on Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia.
Their match will be followed by 8th seeded Rafael Nadal playing against Bornia Coria of Croatia.
A friend of Nigeria, Bud Collins, of The Boston Globe, will be honoured for his contribution to the sport. Bud was one of the journalists who covered the 1975 World Championship Tennis Tournament in Nigeria, which featured the top 32 male tennis players in the world at the time. The Tournament ended abruptly in the wake of the Coup d’état that toppled the administration of General Yakubu Gowon. Bud Collins always seizes any opportunity to say “O se pupo” whenever he meets any Nigerian anywhere in the world.