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Serena Williams remains No. 2 in women's tennis

Despite winning Wimbledon and holding three of the four Grand Slam titles, Williams is second behind Dinara Safina, according to computer ranking systems.

July 05, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — The eternal wrangling between aloof, know-it-all computers and the noble human species that created them has found its latest hearing in the case of Serena Williams, the alleged No. 2 women's tennis player in the world.

After Williams willfully arranged on Saturday that she will hold three of the four Grand Slam titles all the way through the summer to Flushing Meadow, she signed on to the commonly held belief that computers, in addition to proving poor at turning on and off with any dispatch, cannot seem to rank tennis players with any lucidity.

"I think if you hold three Grand Slam titles," Williams said, "maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour obviously, so . . . "

After the room of listeners finished laughing, she dipped into her reservoir of wryness and said, "You know, my motivation is maybe just to win another Grand Slam and stay No. 2, I guess."

While Serena remains No. 2 even after her 7-6 (3), 6-2 win over Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final on a blustery, sunny Saturday afternoon on Centre Court, the woman Venus clobbered in a go-to-the-loo-and-miss-it semifinal, Dinara Safina, remains No. 1 based on the 12-month ranking system.

Even though Serena actually routed Safina, 6-3, 6-2, in a U.S. Open semifinal last September, and 6-0, 6-3 in an Australian Open final in January, before Venus added garnish with the 6-1, 6-0 pasting of No. 1 in the 51-minute Wimbledon semifinal -- the worst loss ever for a No. 1 player, according to tour records -- the computer studied all that and harrumphed, possibly because it spends so much of its life indoors.

"It's a result of tournament by tournament, day to day that you play," Safina said Friday evening in self-defense, a defense echoed by Venus when she quibbled with a British reporter and said she "respects Dinara Safina immensely."

Continued Safina: "I won Rome. I won Madrid. I've been in the final, French Open."

Rolling with a guffawing audience by Saturday afternoon, Serena said, "I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1; she won Rome and Madrid," but then could not resist busting into a scoffing laugh.

This bolstered her statement at the French Open about the women's tour being more entertaining than the men's because, well, "It's way cattier."

To the computer, which does seem to love the Mediterranean as does everyone else, Rome and Madrid matter. Safina's titles there raked her 800 and 1,000 points, respectively, while Serena's first-match exits afforded her one point and five points. In fact, given the computer's 12-month brain, Safina's lead will widen after Wimbledon, because she improved from the third round to the semifinals here while Serena improved from finalist to champion.

"I would go crazy just thinking about it" if she tended to think about it, Serena said. "I think anyone really could. That's just shocking. But whatever. It is what it is. I'd rather definitely be No. 2 and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be No. 1 and not have any."

Safina has none, but she does have five semifinal-or-final berths in the last six majors, including a French Open final that very well might have included Serena had she weathered her taut 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5 quarterfinal against eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"I should have won the French Open, or at least I should have had a chance," Serena reiterated Saturday, but the reality places her at a Serena Near-Slam at 27, six years after her Serena Slam at 21. Beginning with Wimbledon 2008, she has gone 31-2 in the majors, a surge she said gained propulsion from the 7-5, 6-4 loss to Venus in the Wimbledon final that left Serena brooding.

Before she could claim her third Wimbledon title and her 11th Grand Slam singles title, one behind Billie Jean King in seventh place, though, she walked out to Centre Court with her sister together for the fourth time as they carried purple bouquets on another banner Williams day, and she walked out in underdog mode.

Venus had won two straight titles, 20 consecutive Wimbledon matches, 34 consecutive sets. "Actually," Serena said, "this is one of the few times I didn't expect to come out with the win today."

As she played without burden, her game grew more airtight than in her riveting, two-hour 49-minute semifinal with Elena Dementieva, during which she stared down a match point. Her unforced errors wound up at a paltry 12 to her sister's 18, her serve shone with 12 aces to her sister's two, and her winners totaled 25 to her sister's 14.

Venus' game, meanwhile, dipped from its marvel through the fortnight such that witnesses wondered if her bandaged left knee bothered her, while she refused to stoop to that, saying, "Everybody has something they're dealing with."

In fact, she had two break points for a 5-3 lead in the first set, potentially remaking the day, but on the second one she narrowly missed a curling forehand passing shot to an open court that sailed just long. "Yeah, I went for too much," Venus said.

To the tiebreaker they went, just as they had in their stirring 2008 U.S. Open quarterfinal, when Serena edged Venus, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7), and, this time, Serena blasted a service winner, a forehand winner and a clinching backhand lob among her superior play.

By the time of the fourth match point half an hour later, as Venus' last backhand screamed into the net and Serena fell to the grass behind the baseline, a Thursday and Saturday at Wimbledon had revealed her as the world's big-point maestro, not least her rapacious charge to the net for a backhand volley that ticked the tape and continued on her match point against Dementieva.

Noting that she tends to go "kamikaze" when cornered, she said, "I just love, you know, the opportunity to be pressured," a trait certainly a prerequisite for being the best player in the world to the human eye.






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