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    Williamses return to tennis

    At Eastbourne, a grass court warmup before Wimbledon, and in her first match back on the WTA tour in ages, Venus Williams defeated world #11 Andrea Petkovic 7-5 5-7 6-3 - not a bad score against a healthy Venus on grass, but not a win, either. Nevertheless, in WTA World Changed in Williams Sisters' Absence, Peter Bodo tried to make a case that the current crop of players will be more troublesome for Venus and Serena than the ones that they were playing just last year.

    Still, as much attention as the Williams sisters command, and in spite of their proven ability to surpass expectations and silence critics, the women are returning to a different WTA world—one in which the quality of the game has visibily improved, even in the short period of their absence. The short version: more than ever, the WTA contenders are playing to win (rather than not to lose). Never before have so many women played such bold, positive tennis.

    Partly because of the Williamses' absence, the tour has developed a whole new set of players who are comfortable swinging freely and taking big cuts. Whether they will continue to be able to do that when facing either Serena or Venus is to be determined. I suppose the Williamses can take heart from the fact that Petkovic might have made the short list of anyone's set of newly-minted contenders, and we saw how it went for her. But there's a string of comparable opponents out there for what has to be the most dangerous brace of "floaters" (unseeded players) the WTA has produced in a long time.

    Bodo's been writing about tennis for decades, but I thought he was trying too hard to pump up the sport. My office tennis buddy thought Bodo was crazy. (He's a French-speaking African and very passionate about the game.) I looked up the results today - a day later than Bodo's article.

    Venus has been off the tour for four and a half months with a hip injury. She was scheduled to play another six-footer, Ana Ivanovic, in the second round. Ivanovic is a former #1, the 2008 French Open champion and currently is ranked #18. Venus routined her 6-3, 6-2. She'll play either Daniela Hantuchova or Li Na in the third round.

    With her foot lacerations and lung embolisms, Serena has been away for almost a year. In the first round she came back to beat Tatiana Pironkova 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 but lost in the second round, as Zvonereva beat her 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5. Zvonereva has beaten her only once before in seven matches - after Serena had been out injured for six months.

    I think these are the mostly the same women the Williamses beat up on before, except that Henin is gone and Clijsters isn't that motivated. Sharapova seems healthier, and many young players have gained valuable experience, but I believe the tour looks good to Bodo because there is more parity, not better players. I'd like to see these players step up and challenge - because a tour dominated by two players that only play sporadically is frustrating - but I have to see some convincing wins.



    Las Vegas odds makers agree with you, sorta. The Williams sisters are the favorites but they are both odds against favorites. That seems to indicate that it is a wide open tourney.  I believe the aggregate of opinions expressed by putting down dollars is the best predictor. Intrade so far does not list Wimbledon.
     I will be pulling for Li Na. I really enjoyed watching her play and the joy she expressed after a winning shot. That is opposed to Sharapova, for instance, another very pretty woman but one who looks like she is in  a mood to go after Mike Tyson after a hard fought point. I try to root for someone rather than against someone else but I have always enjoyed watching anyone beat either of the Williams sisters. That said, I would love to have one tenth of their game.

    The Williamses realize that most of the paying crowd wants them to lose, and enjoy doing exactly what they want and winning anyway. I think they could have been more popular trying to fit in, smiling more, wearing traditional clothing, but they didn't want to, and ultimately didn't have to.

    Wow, Daniela Hantuchova took out Li Na then Venus Williams. She must be playing well, but she's no young floater. I saw her among several matches at the Pilot Pen back in 2002:

    Amelie Mauresmo v Elena Bovina

    As we arrived, Mauresmo was serving to take a 6-5 lead in the third.  We sat down during the change.  My "box" seat was in the twenty-fifth row, but I soon moved down to join friends in the second row between the service and baseline.  They were guests of a company rep and had an extra seat.  I was close, but the lighting only allowed me to use 1/125 and f5, so I hope my pictures aren't blurred.

    Bovina evened up to 6-all, but fell behind in the tiebreak.  I don't think Elena made a single first serve in the tiebreak.  Twice she won the rally, getting the short ball.  One of those was below the net and she chipped a sitter that Mauresmo blew past her.  On another Mauresmo lunged and hit a short, high bouncing floater.  Bovina hit a loopy double-fisted backhand volley to the service line which Mauresmo blasted past her.  Soon she was down 0-5, won a point, then another, but Mauresmo served at 5-2 and
    won the match at about 7:15 PM.

    Daniela Hantuchova v Iva Majoli

    DH plays a Babolat racquet.  I never understood Broad's fascination with Majoli, but in person she is very attractive and has a great figure.  All the men watched Hantuchova, though.  She's essentially an enlarged waif; very thin with small breasts and long arms and legs, like a scaled-up twelve-year-old.

    Hantuchova started slowly and Majoli looked fabulous going ahead 5-1.  I remembered that I had promised to buy a T-Shirt.  When I got back, DH had begun to come back.  Majoli was serving at 5-4.  She did win the first set, 6-4.

    Hantuchova kept breaking and giving breaks back in the second, but did go ahead one service break.  She served at 5-3 but was broken again, then broke Majoli to win the set the hard way, 6-4.  DH was ahead all through the third set, winning 6-1 at about 9:30 PM. 

    There were some great rallies.  DH had the bigger serve and slightly flatter, deeper strokes.  Majoli hit some service winners, but double-faulted too often.

    There were some iffy calls and strange overrules, but I think some in the crowd thought they were at a baseball game.  All the people around me were openly criticising certain line judges all evening.

    Patty Schnyder v Martina Sucha

    Anne Worcester brought Dokic out in the center of the court before the next match and I thought, "A pre-match interview?  What would Lleyton do?"  But Worcester was clearly preparing us for bad news, saying that Dokic was pulling out with a hamstring injury.  They put in lucky loser Martina Sucha to play Schnyder, but the much of "substantive" crowd chose to leave.

    Schnyder wears Adidas shoes and clothing and plays a Head racquet.  I already liked Sucha and I was prepared to like Schnyder, but she was Miss Petulance last evening.  Schnyder may have expected that Sucha would be an easy win, but Sucha came to play and took the first set 6-2.  Schnyder questioned about every fifth call, smacked the hardcourt repeatedly and was eventually cited for an audible obscenity (sounded like "shot!").  Later on, the baseline judge walked over to talk to the umpire.  Schnyder had been complaining to him and mockingly applauded him as he sat down, saying "great job."

    But Schnyder did start to make great forehand winners and after holding for 2-all in the third, Sucha seemed to lose her way.  Sucha had the same problem as Bovina:  she would "win" a rally, but didn't take advantage of the short ball, either hitting a long topspin approach, or hitting a high ball into the net.  She hit a few overheads long, too.  And why, oh why, do they hit short, high, lazy lobs with a two-handed backhand overhead?  Move over and put the ball away!  Schnyder won 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 at about 11:15 PM.

    >How did you know that "All" the men watched Hantuchova? Did "All" mean "me and my buddies"? :)

    When the match started, I was up in my 25th row seat and the fellow next to me look through his opera glasses and told his wife, "Hantuchova's beautiful, but the other one's not much to look at."  After I moved closer, the company rep confided to me that he thought DH "had a great ass."  During her interview, the announcer said that the ballboys wanted to know if she had a boyfriend.  After her match, Daniela joined her Mom a few rows behind us.  The guys behind me went right over for her autograph.

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