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12:22PM

Federer, Venus keep beating time Father Time — and opponents

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — It’s the old guy who’s taking the beating. Not Roger Federer. Not, on the ladies side, Venus Williams. It’s Father Time — Mother Time, if you will — getting smacked around like one of those official Slazenger balls they use at Wimbledon.

We keep hearing about the next generation, about the youth movement, about the future of tennis. So far this Wimbledon, future is very much of the past, of two players who, as Federer’s former coach Paul Annacone said about his onetime pupil, “wrestled Father Time to a stalemate.”

Federer did better than that against Marin Cilic, Thumped him but good. Came from two sets down in their quarter-final Wednesday, came from a situation where we were hoping Federer, a month from his 35th birthday, wouldn’t be embarrassed by Marin Cilic.

But it was Cilic who was not so much embarrassed as stunned. Federer saved three match points, beat Cilic 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, and now will face the Canadian Milos Raonic in one of Friday’s semis.

Venus, of course, advanced Tuesday. Her semi is Thursday against Angelique Kerber, and because Kerber — the Australian Open champion who beat Venus’ sister Serena in the final in January — is eight years younger than 36-year-old Venus, you’d think Kerber would win.

But we also thought Cilic, after winning the first two sets, would win. Especially because we thought Federer was too old. On the contrary, he’s too good. Maybe he doesn’t win an eighth Wimbledon. Maybe he doesn’t win an 18th Grand Slam. What he’s done is enough. Now and forever.

Federer saved seven breakpoints out of eight. Three of those were match points. Against Cilic, who won the U.S. Open in 2014, against a man with a huge serve and a big forehand. Against a player who had Federer off balance and out of sorts.

“Yeah, I mean I remember just being in trouble the whole time,” agreed Federer.

What others will remember is that Roger Federer somehow won a match even he was unsure he could win. “It’s not like, ‘Oh my God,’ all of a sudden there’s match point, all of a sudden there’s a breakpoint to save," he said. "It just was continuous, for an hour or two. After I lost the second set, anything you touch and do is crucial.

“You always know at that point, as well, he’s going to have his chances.”

Chances mean little unless they can be used to one’s advantage. “Huge disappointment for me losing this way,” said Cilic. How many times do you think that thought has appeared after matches against Federer? You have him beat. Then you don’t. All the magic without a rabbit or a hat.

“I managed to hit pretty good shots,” said Cilic, “but he ended up hitting great passes. Nothing that I could do there.”

In another semi, Raonic made Sam Querrey feel much the same. Querrey, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, was the first American male to get to the Wimbledon quarters since Mardy Fish in 2011. Querrey had upset top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the third round. Against Raonic, he was always trailing — other than the third set.

“I felt like I had some momentum there,” said Querrey. “Had a breakpoint the first game of the fourth set. If I can somehow get that point, it might change the match around, move it more to 50-50. He threw in a good kick serve as a first serve, which he hadn’t done. Then I was back on my heels a little bit, kind of always playing catch up.”

Then Raonic was headed for a 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 victory and a battle against Federer. “I’m happy to have another shot at him,” said Raonic. So, of course, was Cilic.

“He plays at a great level most of the time,” said Cilic of Federer. “His physique allows him to play an aggressive game. From the back court, players can’t hurt him.

“He’s not superhuman. But I don’t believe he’s slowing down. He possesses great speed. That’s something you’re born with.”

Whether he was born with a fighting spirit doesn’t matter. He has it. So does Venus Williams. They keep beating the old guy.

9:13AM

S.F. Examiner: No Slam talk: Serena shuts it down after beating Venus

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

WIMBLEDON, England — Time had stopped, more accurately gone backward. The Williams sisters were at it once more, powering serves, ripping forehands, making us feel young again, making us feel part of an era when women’s tennis was distilled down to two names, Venus and Serena.

“Come on Williams!” a voice shouted during the first set of their Wimbledon fourth-rounder, and laughter rippled around Centre Court. Yeah, come on Williams, because out there in the sunshine and history, reprising an act that never gets boring, a Williams would succeed.

Read the full story here.

©2015 The San Francisco Examiner

9:42AM

S.F. Examiner: No black bras, green headbands at 21st-century Wimbledon

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

WIMBLEDON, England — The authorities are making underwear checks at Wimbledon. But only for the women, of course. “It’s creepy,” said Caroline Wozniacki, one of the top female players and social media targets. The ladies get equal pay at The Championships, but very unequal scrutiny.

It’s still the 19th Century around here. Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian, reportedly was fined the other day for wearing a black bra under the obligatory white blouse, causing Claire Cohen of the Telegraph to write, “It’s 2015 and we’re still discussing female tennis players’ lingerie over their performance on court.”

Read the full story here.

©2015 The San Francisco Examiner

1:58PM

Venus: ‘I can look back with no regrets’

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — She won a match Wednesday, beat a woman, Kurumi Nara, even lower in the rankings than she is. Venus Williams kept herself in Wimbledon and kept the doubters at a distance, neither of which is a small task.

Williams was 34 a few days ago. That’s ancient in tennis. Her 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory in a match that began just after 11:30 a.m. put her into the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2013 Australian Open, a span of six events.

She still can bring it, but probably against women who never brought it.

These are strange times for Venus, who sits at No. 31 in the WTA standings — sister Serena is first — and is beset by an autoimmune disorder, Sjogren’s syndrome, that causes fatigue.

She keeps playing competitively, which is both admirable and perplexing. Watching her get bumped out of the Australian Open in the first round or the French Open in the second becomes unsettling.

We remember the way it was and cringe at the way it is.

Not that Venus or any other athlete is required to please us, if she can please herself.

Chris Evert, as the years grew and her placement in the rankings declined, asked rhetorically what was wrong with just reaching the semifinals or the quarters. All Evert knew was tennis. All Venus knows is tennis.

A week ago, the concern in sports was Lucy Li. Some insisted the 11-year-old from Northern California was too young to play in the U.S. Women’s Open golf championship. Now we worry about Venus Williams being too old to play tennis.

Venus called her victory “a step in the right direction,” although her game, a victim of time and Sjogren’s, has been going in the wrong direction.

Twenty years she’s been at it, reaching the summit, winning the titles. A long time, a far distance, reasons to remember the past more than to consider the future.

It was a cool evening in Oakland, almost 20 years ago, Halloween night 1994, when a 14-year-old from Compton with beads in her hair faced pros from the WTA in her debut. Venus beat Shaun Stafford, who predicted, “She’s going to be great for women’s tennis.” That Williams lost the next match to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario didn’t matter a bit.

So many possibilities. So much excitement. Now, so many questions, most dismissed by Venus, who at times acts and talks as if nothing has changed from the golden era of victories at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.

Asked if she even considered the match against Nara could be her last singles ever at Wimbledon, Williams was perturbed. “No,” she said, “I definitely don’t think that way. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”

An odd phrase, in a way, when she will not agree to a summing up of her career.

Derek Jeter can take his victory lap. Venus Williams is taking her time, lingering as long as possible in the only world she has known since a teenager.

It’s basically one Williams in the spotlight, Serena, who is 32 but the tournament’s No. 1 seed. Venus is out there on the fringe, being questioned on what it’s like when she and Serena both are in the second week of major championship, as once they were.

“I think we motivate each other,” said Venus. “We want to see each other win. I guess I haven’t held up my end of the bargain. I tried. I just haven’t had the luck I wanted.”

Without the Sjogren’s, for which she was diagnosed in 2011, she’s a better player. However, tennis is a sport of the young, and healthy or not, a 34-year-old is at a disadvantage. The kid across the net has the reflexes you used to have. Perception is no substitute for reaction.

“Wisdom has served me well,” countered Venus when reminded of her age. “I’ve worn my sunscreen, so I haven’t aged terribly. My knees are very tight, not saggy. And the crow’s feet have been kept at bay. So I’ll give myself an A-plus.”

She looks fine. It’s her tennis that’s saggy, not the knees. Still, she’s not prepared to surrender to any opponent, including Father Time.  

“I don’t like watching it on TV,” she said when asked what keeps her going. “I want to be out there. I’m not about the easy thing. Life is a challenge. For me, when I leave tennis, I want it to be on my own terms.

“I want to look back with no regrets. So far in my career I can do that. Everyone messes up. Everyone chokes. Everyone gets tight. Everyone loses matches they should have won. But as long as you walked out there and gave it your all, you can look back with no regrets.”

Yes, wisdom has served her well. Very well.

9:34AM

RealClearSports: 'Tough-as-Nails' Venus Out in 1st Round

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com

WIMBLEDON, England — The response was a fusion of philosophy and defiance. A champion never concedes, which is why she is a champion. For a decade, Venus Williams, a queen here in a land of royalty, unquestionably was a champion of grace and grandeur.

Now, in one of those awful twists of fate, Venus has been stricken by an autoimmune disease named Sjogren's Syndrome, which has sapped her strength and stolen her brilliance.

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2012

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