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5:33PM

CBSSports.com: Venus, Serena support for each other will take Saturday off

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Still the big sister. Venus Williams made that clear. As before, she made clear how overwhelming she can be on the lawns of Wimbledon, her little Edens in the chaos of big-time tennis.

She's back, like the shark in Jaws. Venus is back, in the final once more, playing Serena Williams once more Saturday, the Fourth of July, perfect for two Americans.

Almost as perfect as Venus was in destroying the player seeded first, the player first in the women's rankings, dumbfounded Dinara Safina.

"I think," sighed Safina, "she's just too good on grass. She gave me a pretty good lesson today."

Venus needed only 51 minutes for what was less a match than a mismatch in one of Thursday's two semifinals.

Serena didn't have it quite as easy or swift. She was one shot away from losing to Elena Dementieva, who like Safina is Russian. But Dementieva couldn't make that shot, a cross-court backhand, in the 10th game of the third set, and Serena finished a 6-7, 7-5, 8-6 winner.

The shortest set in that one was only a minute less than Venus' entire match. In the end, Serena and Dementieva, who was more aggressive, hitting better forehands, but couldn't hang on, played 2 hours, 49 minutes, the longest women's semi in Wimbledon's records.

So it is Venus, trying for a sixth championship and third in a row, against Serena, who lost to her in the final last year but won a couple of Wimbledon titles herself in 2002 and 2003.

Sibling against sibling, Williams against Williams, for the fourth time in a Wimbledon final, the 21st time overall. Each has 10 victories. Each feels compassion toward the other. Each desperately wants the trophy, interestingly named the Venus Rosewater Dish.

"It is different," Venus said of playing Serena, "because I'm happy for her to be in the final, but I have to face her and defeat her. I don't necessarily want her to lose, but for sure I want me to win.

"Maybe that doesn't make sense, but when I'm playing someone else, I want them to lose. I don't like to ever see her disappointed in any way. But at the same time, I don't want to see myself disappointed."

Venus is 29 and more protective than 27-year-old Serena, who, with her Twitter and Facebook, is considerably more outspoken. Venus is cautious in her remarks. Serena can be outrageous.

"But, you know," a candid Venus said, "I need to get my titles, too. I'm still the big sister."

The first few times the Williamses met, in the U.S. Open at the beginning of the decade, at Wimbledon, there were suggestions their father Richard decided who would be the winner before they took the court.

Whether that was legitimate speculation or stupid contemplation, their early matches seemed to lack emotion.

But over the years any hesitancy has disappeared. They charge and slug and chase down balls against each other as they would against anyone else.

Venus wanted Serena to win Thursday. "It's like, if she didn't win, the dream doesn't come true that we're playing in the final."

Serena wanted Venus to win. "It was like, great going." Now they don't want the other to win.

Venus has to be favored, not only after her clubbing of Safina but because Venus has won 20 consecutive matches at Wimbledon, and 34 sets.

"I feel going into this final," said Serena, "I have nothing to lose. Obviously she's playing the best tennis at this tournament. Start with that and just keep positive."

Serena very well could have lost, maybe should have lost. She challenged a couple of calls that originally went Dementieva's way but that the instant-replay review, Hawk-Eye, verified were incorrect. By fractions of an inch.

But Serena refused to concede she was lucky. "I don't think there was too much luck involved," she said.

Not when Serena was serving. She had 20 aces.

"I definitely owe this one to my serve," she agreed.

Her usually strong forehand was nonexistent. "He didn't show up today," she cracked. "I think he went to Hawaii. But I've called him ... er, her, and asked her to come back for the final. Hopefully she'll come back."

No question Venus has come back. Someone whose English carried a strong Eastern Europe accent told Venus that the score of her match, Safina winning one pathetic game, "is very strange."

Not to Venus.

"I like the score," she said with a smile. "Be honest about that. I think the score just showed my level of play. I was just dictating every point. I felt like my performance has been building each round, better and better."

And only one person can stop her: little sister.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/11917043
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
9:38AM

CBSSports.com: Venus, Serena again in Wimbledon class of their own

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- There's a new musical in London, Sister Act, based on the movie of the same name. There's an old tennis routine at Wimbledon, sister act, based on a history of similar results. No dancing in this one, just advancing.

Venus and Serena Williams are at it once more. In the semifinals once more. One win from the final once more.

"That would be fantastic," said Venus. "It's what Serena and I are hoping for, but we still would have to play well."

They hardly can play better than they have been. It was 90 degrees in the shade Tuesday, and there isn't much shade at the All England Club except for some of the seat holders on Centre Court and Court One.

No time to dawdle. The heat was on. So were Venus and Serena.

Venus needed a mere 68 minutes to squash Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-1, 6-2, in one of the quarterfinals. Serena took 73 minutes to gain revenge, 6-2, 6-3 against Victoria Azarenka, who had beaten Serena in Miami in the spring.

In the Thursday semis, Venus, trying for a sixth Wimbledon singles championship and third in a row, faces No. 1 seed Dinara Safina, a 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 winner over Sabine Lisicki, while Serena plays Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, who in the other quarter defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-2.

This in an affirmation of those who arrange the seedings. The final four are the top four seeds, Safina (1), Serena (2), Venus (3) and Dementieva (4). If form didn't exactly follow function, there wasn't much deviation.

There hasn't been any deviation in Venus' purposeful march. She has won 19 straight matches at Wimbledon, 32 consecutive sets. "Her tennis is so powerful," Radwanska said of Venus, "She's playing so flat (with no spin and little bounce to the ball), and it's hard to do anything."

Azarenka was no less impressed with Serena: "She was striking the ball so hard and good, she really showed the unbeatable Serena today."

Sister act. One Williams or the other has won seven of the last nine Wimbledon women's titles, Venus in 2000, '01, '05, '07 and '08; Serena in '02 and '03. Last year Venus beat Serena in the final; in '02 and '03, Serena beat Venus in the final.

"Do I feel invincible?" 29-year-old Venus Williams asked rhetorically. "I'd like to say yes, but I really do work at it."

Someone wondered what it would be like for Venus to play Venus. "I have no idea," Serena answered, "but I guess the same way I feel when I have to face Venus. You can't give an inch. You have to be on your best game and hopefully she might not be on her best game."

Both the Williams ladies appear on their best game, a game no one else seems to possess.

"I don't know," Serena responded when asked what sets them apart. "We have a great game. We have strong serves. I think we have pretty good returns. Just solid all-around court players. I think we move pretty well. And honestly, I feel lucky and blessed to have had such a good coach in my dad, and my mom, to have taught us the game."

Some, perhaps out of jealousy, say the sisters simply were born great, tremendous athletes -- which they are -- but refuse to acknowledge the sweat and thought that has gone into making them successful.

"If it was that easy," said Venus, "we'd win everything. But it's not that easy. Still, I think we definitely are the front-runners as far as being some of the best players out there. ... I think the style of the game Serena and I play, we play better than the other women."

The Wimbledon style, matches before dark, changed Monday night when the new roof was closed, on the excuse of a brief shower, and Andy Murray took five sets to beat Stanislas Wawrinka, the final point coming at 10:38 p.m. local time.

Murray, the Scot, grumbled about the lack of notice he was given about playing indoors and the amount of humidity despite air conditioning. The BBC attracted 12.6 million viewers for the match, and there was a debate whether the broadcast network persuaded Wimbledon to close the roof and hold the Murray match last on the schedule, after many commuters had arrived home.

Venus, for her part, watched on TV long after finishing a fourth-round match. "It was exciting," she said. "The lighting, from the TV at least, it looked like daylight instead of playing under lights. But I haven't played under the roof, so I don't know what it's like."

What Wimbledon has been like is an old routine with new questions for the participants, such as the one to Serena, who has a total 10 Grand Slam victories, about whether she contemplates her achievements.

"Some of my trophies," she pointed out in denial, "I use for makeup brushes. Maybe I'll just take a step back and take all the brushes out and appreciate every title and every trophy."

But not after she tries to keep stepping forward at Wimbledon toward a probable rematch in the final against her sister.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/11909419
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
4:33PM

CBSSports.com: Serena's win secondary to remembering Michael Jackson

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Serena Williams handled herself beautifully on the court and no less elegantly in the post-match interview Friday. On an afternoon when even at Wimbledon tennis seemed less important than a day earlier, her words were as impressive as her shots.

The news was unavoidable. In Britain, Michael Jackson was even larger than in the United States. He was to appear in a 50-show run at London's 02 Arena starting July 13, for which $85 million in tickets had been sold.

Nine of the first 11 pages in the Times of London dealt with Jackson's death. The headline in three-inch high letters in the 3.5-million circulation Sun proclaimed 'JACKO DEAD.' It was impossible not to know.

And Serena knew.

"I'm always online," she said."I'm always looking at the latest news until I fall asleep. So I saw it fairly early."

What we saw Friday on another warm, clear afternoon -- one that again mocked the idea of building a roof over Centre Court -- was Serena at her workmanlike best out on Court 2. She was a deliberate third-round winner over Roberta Vinci, 6-3, 6-4.

Then, hit by questions no one might have imagined at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, she provided answers both heartfelt and insightful.

Not that Serena, ever conscious of the commercial world and her endorsements, didn't take advantage of her presence. She sat down at the desk where the microphones sit and adroitly plunked down a squeeze bottle with a Gatorade label quite visible.

"What did Michael Jackson mean to you personally?" was the first query. Nothing about forehands or foresight. Only about a nearly mythic entertainer. "Would you think about dedicating today's victory, perhaps?"

Serena was prepared. She knows Wimbledon. She knows she's a celebrity, even if she tries to deny it.

"No," was her response, meaning the dedication. "I mean, he was a great guy, a complete icon. Words can't express my shock and horror. Just thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. It's just a terrible, terrible thing."

Williams met Jackson some time ago. She reacted the way others react to her, emotional, uncontrolled.

"I think he was the ultimate celebrity," she said. "I think any celebrity who met Michael Jackson was completely in awe. I know I was. I kept thinking, 'Oh my God, oh my God. It's him, it's him. So for me, he was the celebrity of all celebrities."

And then the silly stuff. Not from Serena, who has won this event twice and has been runner-up twice, including last year when she was beaten by older sister Venus. From the media, which was looking for any angle.

"Can you moonwalk?" someone wondered. Her quick answer was in the negative.

It was another walk that almost threw Serena. There's a new Court 2 at Wimbledon. This one is farther away from Centre Court grandstand and locker rooms. The other, nicknamed "The Graveyard of Champions," because of all the upsets, was noisy and cramped for the fans.

Serena was six minutes late for the scheduled 1 p.m. start. She was waiting for the normal escort, and it never arrived.

"Well, I thought someone was gonna come get me," was her explanation. "Then I figured, well, maybe I just have to report. I didn't know what to do. So I was waiting, warming up. Waiting and waiting.

"Finally, I said, I'm just going to go out. I'm used to someone coming and saying, 'OK, let's go.'"

Serena is the No. 2 seed, but there have been times when Roger Federer, a five-time champion, has had to play on Court 2. He didn't like it, felt it was beneath him. Serena, on the other hand, didn't care. Although she said, "I don't think I played great today," it took only 1 hour, 7 minutes to move to the second week.

"It's not a court for Roger," she said of Court 2, "but it's definitely a court for me. But I haven't won Wimbledon five times. I really enjoyed the court. It had the challenge system [an instant-replay camera]. It worked for me. I actually really liked it."

The atmosphere is different. Those are the fans who queue to enter, the ones who have only grounds passes. "It's a big difference," she affirmed. "The fans are more involved. It seems more verbal. And it's fun."

The fun ended with talk about Michael Jackson, a sobering dialogue.

"Well, I think everyone listens to his music," he said. "It's like you think of the Beatles, you think of Elvis Presley, you think of Michael Jackson. Those are lifetime icons that I've never forgotten.

"I've been following him. He's not been well, from what I read. He's been in and out of the hospital. So I wasn't super shocked. But it's Michael Jackson. He's the greatest entertainer, for me, of all time."

Spoken by surely one of the great women's tennis players of all time.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/11896933
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
9:22AM

RealClearSports: Wimbledon Is In a 'Grass' by Itself

WIMBLEDON, England -- It's different here, even if the language is the same. Forget that idea the Brits are charming, diplomatic if you will. This is the original place where people tell it like it is, and no apologies to Howard Cosell -- or at least, how they think it is.

It was the third day of Wimbledon, the oldest of sporting competitions, going back to the 1870s, and the sun was shining -- that new roof over Centre Court still is unused -- and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club grounds were chock-a-block with fans, more than 40,000 of them.


Roger Federer and Serena Williams, as expected, won their second-round matches on this fine Wednesday and Maria Sharapova, still working her way back from that shoulder injury, lost hers.

Tennis on grass courts. A festival more than a sporting event.

The desire is to get tickets for the semifinals or finals, still more than a week away, but the best of Wimbledon is found in the early rounds, when the weather is fine and matches literally are taking place at every one of the 19 courts. It's a show worthy of anything on the stages of the West End theaters.

It's different here. The ad for Sure deodorant on the car of the District Line train shows a woman with an upraised arm, clutching a pole with the words, "...twice the protection against sweat." Not perspiration. Not wetness. Sweat.

They don't sweat the use of prepositions. The sign at an intersection near the tennis complex tells motorists there is "No waiting in Bathgate Road," while another nearby warns "No alcohol on the stands.''

If baseball were popular here, would a walk would mean putting a runner "in" first base?

What we call an ATM, they call a cash machine, not to be confused with Pat Cash, who was a machine of sorts when he won men's singles in 1987. What we describe as a cell phone, they list as mobile phone. A seafood market remains a fishmonger.

And what would some states' beverage control units think of giving away small cups of beer, "Honey Dew, the United Kingdom's organic beer," to people walking the mile from the Southfields station to the Wimbledon grounds?

Serena Williams drinks something else. At least in public. Gatorade, or as promoted in those new commercials, "G." When Serena, the No. 2 seed, sat down for an interview after an easy, 6-2, 6-1, triumph over Jarmila Groth, she was wearing an orange T-shirt with a Nike swoosh logo large enough to cover Texas.

Then from her gym bag she lifted a bottle of "G" and placed it near the microphone, as to be better seen on television.

The sports drink is distributed in Britain, but not as widely as, say, Twinings tea.

At age 27, winner of 10 Grand Slam championships, Serena is creating a television script of her life. "I call it 'my treatment,' so I'm working on my treatment now," she said. "I was going to do it Tuesday, but I started watching 'Dexter' and got sidetracked."

She's missed a few forehands in her life, now Serena has to worry about missing deadlines?

What Wimbledon has been missing early on is compelling stories. The roof has been a non-issue. Except for Sharapova, the favorites won. Maybe that's why in this country of legalized gambling an unfounded report a match may have been fixed took on a life of its own.

An Austrian named Jurgen Melzer defeated Wayne Odesnik, an American, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, which, since Melzer is seeded, if at No. 26, and Odesnik is not, shouldn't have been terribly surprising.

But just before the match began, the bookmaker Betfair said it received more than six times as many wagers as it normally would, and Betfair spokesman Mark Davies said the odds on Melzer "shortened significantly."

There was a simple explanation. One of the television commentators, apparently for the BBC, pointed out before the first shot that Odesnik had a thigh injury. You can just picture the gamblers in the pubs or at home rubbing their hands today and greedily laying down a few quid on Melzer.

Betfair received about $980,000 in wagers on the match, Davies said; the average for a first-round match at Wimbledon is less than $163,000.

"It's being reported as potential corruption, but I don't see it that way at all," Davies told The Associated Press. "I doubt that there was any wrongdoing."

But there was plenty of hyperventilating, worry if you will. Or as it's described in England, people getting a twist in their knickers. Maybe Serena could work it into her script.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/24/wimbledon_is_in_a_grass_by_itself_96408.html
© RealClearSports 2009
10:48PM

Magic, Serena are in and Cavs are way out

The Magic is in, and the Cavs are way out. Serena is in, meaning her usual controversy as well as the fourth round of the French Open. And Venus is out. Interesting enough weekend for you?

The Lakers had to love it. Without Phil Jackson voicing a single complaint, they now have the home-court advantage for the NBA finals.

ABC-TV has to rue it. Kobe vs. LeBron is simply another failed dream.

Tennis has to appreciate it. Serena Williams is what America finds irresistible, an unending drama, the true reality show.

LeBron James is a great basketball player. If he weren’t, the Cavaliers would have been swept by the Orlando Magic, instead of losing the Eastern Conference finals in six games.

What Nike’s going to do now with that commercial of Muppet-like characters representing a dueling LeBron and Kobe is anyone’s guess. What Cleveland’s going to do now that its team, which had the best record of the regular season, laid a dinosaur-sized egg is everyone’s guess.

LeBron leaves for the Knicks when his contract is up in another year. You want to hang around a team that isn’t a team, but just one magnificent player who virtually by himself could win two games in the playoffs but found it impossible to win four?

Venus Williams played, well, about as poorly as the Cavs, losing on Friday to someone you’ve never heard of, Agnes Szavay, 6-0, 6-4. Yes the multiple Grand Slam winner, the No. 3 seed, got bageled, which is what some of the tennis folk call a shutout. Only the 14th time in 662 matches Venus was blanked in a set.

But Serena wasn’t to put up with that nonsense. She not only rumbled back from her usual slow start on Saturday, over there on the clay in Paris, to beat Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 (don’t they have a limit of three names in tennis?), Serena accused Martinez Sanchez of cheating.

Now, there’s a lady you have to like. Enough of this etiquette stuff.

In the first set, Serena smashed a ball at Sanchez, and most people, including Williams but not her opponent, thought the ball never touched Sanchez’s racket but instead banged off her right arm and dropped on Williams side of the net.

Sanchez won the point, even though the rules dictate that if the ball hit her body, the point belonged to Serena.

Serena first apologized for driving the ball at Sanchez, the normal procedure, but then added about the apparent cheating, “I’m going to get you in the locker room for that. You don’t know me.’’

The rest of us do. Serena has the toughness needed to be a champion, the toughness the Cavaliers only wish they had.

The Orlando Magic aren’t a lot of frauds, not with people such as Dwight Howard or Rashard Lewis. But neither are they supposed to be facing the Lakers.

The script was LeBron against Kobe, this year’s MVP against last year’s MVP. Nice try.

Some of the people out there, the reasonable thinkers, had the smarts to point out that teams with one superstar never win championships, that Michael had Scottie, that Kobe had Shaq. LeBron’s cast didn’t provide that balance.

Amazing didn’t happen in Cleveland. Orlando happened in Cleveland. And to Cleveland. Orlando, in truth, was relentless. If it wasn’t for LeBron’s ridiculous shot with no time on the clock in game two, the Magic would have taken four straight games.

The Lakers will not take four straight from Orlando, but they will win another title. After its inability to show anything resembling Serena Williams’ gutsy style in the first few games against the Nuggets, L.A. came through with a vengeance to take the conference title.

You have to believe that the Lakers finally have figured out what is required. And, even with their sometimes listless play against Houston and then Denver, the Lakers did end up winners, which is all that matters.

Kobe seems particularly focused. He’s the man now. Considerable help from Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza, but Kobe Bryant controls the game. He doesn’t need to share the basketball and for certain he won’t have to share attention.

No LeBron. But a very enticing NBA final. And should Serena continue another few matches, the final of the French Open could be just as enticing.