It was a good old-fashioned mugging. Defending champion Serena Williams jumped world No. 1 and last year's runner-up Justine Henin and never let her get up. The champion surrendered a mere two games, ushered her nemesis out of the tournament with a hot steamy bagel, and held her arms aloft. It was the kind of performance that elicits applause from Serena's biggest fans and strongest critics alike.
I need to watch it again so I can see more clearly what happened. It was all a blur. More later after the day's play is complete.
So I watched the Serena/Justine quarterfinal again, but before I go there, can someone tell me how the hell tennis can regain any popularity in this country if the fifth Slam isn't televised? We've got Tennis Channel, but it has shown one live match so far. We've got Fox/Comcast sports, but it only shows a live match or two a day, if that. We've got ESPN, but it only shows tape delayed matches. If you can't afford to buy ATP Masters Series TV or don't have a bandwidth big enough to watch some of the matches on free Internet live feed, you don't get to see most of this event.
Serena won so comprehensively because her return of serve was lethal. In her previous three losses, for all sorts of reasons, she never got her return game going. But not yesterday. Justine's serve has always been overrated by my observation and most of her opponents refuse to camp out on the T and take Justine's favorite serve away from her. The thing is, Justine doesn't have anywhere else to go. When under pressure, she's simply too short to serve out wide with any consistency.
Serena must've watched a few tapes of her losses and realized that she had forgotten all of this. If Serena is in control of her return game, she's unbeatable. Quiet as it's kept, her game is more centered around her return than her serve. Sure her serve remains the best on the tour, but in her quarterfinal, she didn't go for aces unless she had to. She simply used her first serve to set up the point and beat Justine from all parts of the court. Anyone who continues to believe that Serena is all power and no variety didn't see her slices, angles, lobs, serve-and-volleys, opportunistic net rushes, and counterpunching.
Signature Serena. That's what we saw. And if she continues with this form, the rest of 2008 will be very good to her.