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Classic Near Misses: Venus Williams at 2008 U.S. Open

Posted on December 02, 2009 by Claudia Celestial Girl
In the 2008 U.S. Open, Venus couldn't capitalize on 10 set point opportunities in losing to eventually Champion Serena in the Quarterfinals.

In the 2008 U.S. Open, Venus couldn't capitalize on 10 set point opportunities in losing to eventually Champion Serena in the Quarterfinals.

There’s a certain commercial for the 2009 US Open—one where Serena Williams has two dolls in her lap.

“I’m gonna beat you, Venus,” Serena says, marching one doll over her knee into the other one’s face.

“No, you not,” replies the second doll in an elevated, falsetto voice.

Near Misses: the canvas on which is painted ugly, bitter things, the scope of which contains hidden beauty that lingers in the mind like the aftertaste of a fine, aged Scotch.

The subject of this series is not the winner, but the so-called “loser,” the one whose exit is at first bitter and burning like the first note of a 30-year-old Glenmorangie, but for whom the second note is sweet, nuanced, and lasting, just like said 30-year-old Scotch.

Richard Williams, their notorious, old father and coach, announced, when Venus won her first title, that his two daughter’s would ultimately find that their greatest rival would be each other.

Such was his confidence in the talents of both of his offspring.

How bitter then, must it be, to realize that of all the finals played against your sister, if not for her, the title might have been yours (other rivals having been beaten).

How burning after all the years growing up with her stealing your toys, taking the last flakes of cereal from the box at breakfast, hogging the bathroom and the phone, that she won’t go away in humble defeat and leave you the field.

Venus has not won a Grand Slam title other than Wimbledon since 2001.

Venus has not won a Grand Slam title other than Wimbledon since 2001.

Sweet. When you go out and defeat the rivals from other countries and even those from other regions of the US who you know from the locker room.

Nuanced. When you have to play her instead.

Lasting. How much longer can you last?  This would be your seventh US Open campaign. You’re not getting any younger.

In 2008, Venus was arguably at the height of her career—experienced, battling injury before coming back to top form; Wimbledon Champion; 27 years of age.  But she had neither won the Open since 2001, the day before 9/11, nor won any other major besides Wimbledon since, where she was a five-time defending champion.

At the 2008 US Open, Venus stormed through the draw up until this point.  Serena looked sharp as well.

Ten set points.

1. 1st Set [(6-6) 6-4].  It’s the tiebreak, and you’ve arrived a set point.  You’ve got two set points, actually.  You’ve led through the match so far with an early break, but it’s been a tough match with a lot of deuce games.  You skid and slip on the DecoTurf and miss the forehand, but it’s no big deal.  You’ve still got a set point, though it’s her serve now.

2. 1st Set [(6-6) 6-5].  Oh, bad.  Serena gets out of that one with a forehand winner.  The stats for this match are so close between the two of you, like playing a clone of yourself.

3. 2nd Set [(5-3) 40-0].   You’ve arrived at three set points this time.  You leaped out in front through the second set with two breaks, and Serena has been hard to put away, saving more break points with hammer forehand winners—clocking 109 mph and such.  But you’ve arrived at the finish line, you just have to serve it out.  OK, well, a forehand error.  On to the next set point.

4. 2nd Set [(5-3) 40-15].  Another forehand error.

5. 2nd Set [(5-3) 40-30].  Yet another forehand error after a nine-stroke rally.  The completely sold out stadium is quiet.  Your body language is starting to droop.  You’ve lost the last three points.  But you are too classy to smash your racket to the ground.

6. 2nd Set [(6-5) 40-30].  OK, now you’ve got her.  The match has reached the two-hour mark and with a break you can drive this to a third set.  But yet again you put too much into that forehand, after a seven-stroke rally, and we’re at deuce.

7. 2nd Set [(6-6) 6-3].  That last game went to five deuces! Back and forth, back and forth—a ten minute game.  And now we’re in another tiebreak.  You got a standing ovation from playing a phenomenal point at 4-2 in the tiebreak, then, like an idiot, you missed an easy put away on the next point.  But now you’re here again.  Three set points.  Yet another phenomenal rally—this one characterized by a lob from Serena that floated in the air like a hot air balloon.  Only, doggone it, you overcooked the reply with another forehand error.

8. 2nd Set [(6-6) 6-4].  A glance at Serena across the net shows her intensity is keyed-in.  One of those close-up photographs of her winning a point in this tiebreak, in her red dress, fist clenched, mouth wide open, is going to be a classic shot of quintessential Serena.

9. 2nd Set [(6-6) 6-5].  You miss the line with the overhead smash, and you are so flustered that you forget to change ends.  The crowd cannot believe the call is out.

10. 2nd Set [(6-6) 7-6].  This is a phenomenal tiebreak. Been going on for 12 minutes.  You’ve got the 8th set point of this second set.  Serena comes in for a crosscourt-smashing passing shot that is phenomenal in its beauty, power, and elegance.  A truly brilliant shot.  Why is she so hard to put away?

The final score: [6-7(6); 6-7(7)].  Serena has only one set point and one match point in this contest.

After defeating her sister, Serena Williams went on to win the 2008 U.S. Open title.

After defeating her sister, Serena Williams went on to win the 2008 U.S. Open title.

Burning.  When you have to shake her hand at the net. No hugs this time.

Bitter. When you could be packed up and headed home but instead have to hang around and smile and support your sister’s success (Serena would go on to win the tournament).

Sweet. The acknowledgement of appreciative fans for one of the classiest matches you have ever played.

Nuanced. How it must feel to be on the losing end of a contest that is a contribution to the legendary matches of the sport.

A lasting memory for this tennis narrator.

Here is the video of Serena’s commercial with the dolls, and here is Venus’ reply, which is essentially, if you want to have friends on the tennis tour…get a dog.


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