x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Tennis' young brigade lose the plot

Even with their hectic lives outside tennis, the Williams sisters are keeping the teens in their place at the French Open.

Serena Williams hits a forehand against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova yesterday.
Serena Williams hits a forehand against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova yesterday.

Not so long ago, women's tennis seemed to be the exclusive domain of a brash new brigade of talented teenagers. Justin Henin had left the stage to find herself, Kim Clijsters had gone away to raise a family, Maria Sharapova was struggling to stay fit and the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, had cultivated many new interests to distract them from their day job.

The Ivanovics and Jankovics had stepped into the void and a whole bunch of teenage prodigies seemed to be following them. It was a false dawn, though. The past masters are back and there is just one teenager in the top 25 of women's tennis - Caroline Wozniacki at No3. Venus, less than 20 days away from her 30th birthday, is No2 and there are 10 others in that group who are within a year or two of their third decade.

Serena, now 28, is top of the rankings and looks as invincible as she ever has done in her 15 years on the tour. Few gave her any chance of regaining that position after developing many varied interests through the years, but she was determined to prove them wrong. "When I first found out we'll [she and Venus] be No1 and 2 again it was cool, because some people said we would never be No1 and 2 again, and I was like, in your face," Serena said on the French Open website.

"Not only that, but we're doing so well in doubles. We have a couple of checks off that list, too. We're having so much fun at this time of my career, and you know, we just feel good. Feel like, 'OK, this is good.' We're doing the best we can, and we're enjoying every moment." And she is having fun off the court, too. A regular on the celebrity circuit, fashion is big on Serena's list and the sisters have their own brand. She has featured in music videos and swimsuit specials, done reality television and voice-overs. She has penned a script for a TV show and is at the forefront of many charitable causes and social awareness programmes.

Last year, she and Venus became part-owners of the Miami Dolphins - the first African-American franchisees in the National Football League. Still, Serena does manage to find time for some sublime tennis, especially on the big stage. Of the last four grand slams, she has won three to take her tally to 12. And she does look good to add a second French Open to the list. After needing just 55 minutes and 14 games to blitz past Julia Goerges in the second round, Serena was taken to three sets by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, before prevailing 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 in 108 minutes yesterday. Serena, perhaps, went off the boil after cruising through the first set. She committed six double-faults and 27 unforced errors in the match, but hit 34 blistering winners as well, almost at will. And that will surely be of concern for those left in the draw.

Serena will obviously be determined to make up for her relative lack of success in the city of haute couture, where she owns an apartment. But there will be no tears if she fails. There are plenty of other things that need attending to, including her venture to open a school every year in Africa. "We just opened our second school in two years [in Kenya]," she said. "That was my goal, to just create something where I can help someone, you know, be better.

"I feel that maybe I was given a talent to be a good tennis player so I can open doors for others. I've kind of really embraced that, and I really enjoy it. "There's nothing like seeing these kids who have less than nothing and have an opportunity to get an education, which they would have never had, and seeing a computer that they've never seen before. "That is what really matters. It really just brings a smile, not only on my face, but deep inside, as well."

Can tennis really have the same impact on her after 15 years of it? Perhaps not. But to her fans it can, and that could be the reason she chooses to go on ? putting the teen brigade in the shade. @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae