Tennis

Serena battles history and ... Murray?

Columnist Greg Couch breaks down Day 4 at Wimbledon.
Columnist Greg Couch breaks down Day 4 at Wimbledon.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

We have now come up with two opponents who can beat Serena Williams: Andy Murray and 21-year-old Serena Williams. That’s where the discussion went Thursday after Williams clobbered Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-2 in the second round at Wimbledon.

Responding to a tweet from a reader, Murray wrote in a column in a London newspaper that he would love to challenge Serena and suggested Las Vegas as a possible site. And apparently Martina Navratilova said on The Tennis Channel that Williams is so amazing at 31 that she would beat Williams at 21.

No, she wouldn’t. And Murray would win easily, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s just filler conversation. This is crickets-chirping time in the women’s draw, as everyone is just waiting for Williams to finish off her last five matches. By everyone, I mean the other players.

At this point, Williams’ opponents are Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. She is competing against history for label of best ever.

But what about Serena vs. Murray?

“That would be fine,” she said. “I get (to hit in doubles) alleys. He gets no serves. I get alleys on my serves, too. He gets no legs, yeah . . . I doubt I’d win a point.’”

Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka were the only ones who could even talk themselves into pretending that they could beat Williams. And they both are out now. So the search has gone silly just to find someone who can challenge her, or something to talk about.

On the men’s side, some guys named Steve Darcis and Sergiy Stakhovsky have sent a message that there are more than the Big Four in tennis. They beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and even Federer pointed out how things are changing.

Serena Williams

WINNING WAYS

Serena Williams knows championships. Take a look back at her 17 Grand Slam singles titles.

“There was a time where some players didn’t believe they could beat the top guys,” he said. “So maybe there’s a little bit of a thing happening at the moment. It’s very important, that belief.”

Stakhovsky admitted that his belief wavered at times as he got close to beating Federer on Wednesday: “It's just psychology. You cannot run from it. It's just how it happens. When I was a break up in the fourth, you think about it.

'Really, is it happening?' ”

Nobody is even asking that on the women’s side. Williams’ next match will be against 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, who retired from tennis for a generation and then came back. At least Date-Krumm will put up a reasonable fight. A smart fight. She’ll be crushed, but at least she’ll do something.

Most everyone on the women’s tour plays the exact same style. Bash away. They learned it from the Williams sisters and figured they were in an arms race.

You should have seen her Thursday. When Garcia would hit a second serve, Williams would stand a few steps inside the baseline, ready to pound the ball for an easy winner. Most women just keep trying to bash back and forth with her, which might be the dumbest thing possible.

They should try floating shots into Williams’ feet. Make her move out of the way of the ball instead of generating momentum into it. Try slicing an underhand serve that won’t bounce up into her strike zone. Or just hit two first serves.

Anything.

I watched Date-Krumm practice the other day at Wimbledon, and she takes no backswing on her backhand and then just scoops the ball over, deep. It’s almost as if she catches the ball on her racquet and flings it over.

But it’s a telling thing that Williams will play her at all. A tiny, 42-year-old woman in the third round of Wimbledon? Tennis people love Date-Krumm’s story, but actually it’s an insult to women’s tennis. It goes to show how little depth there is in the women’s game now. And that takes me back to the 31-year-old Serena vs. 21-year-old Serena question.

“I always ask myself that question,” Williams said. “I think either way it would be a super, super tough match. I wouldn’t want to play me at 21 or 31.”

When she was 21, she won the Australian Open by beating Kim Clijsters and then a 22-year-old Venus Williams. She lost in the semis of the French Open in a tight match to Justine Henin, maybe the best clay-courter in history. She then won Wimbledon, beating Jennifer Capriati, Henin and a young Venus again.

Know this: Every single one of those players is better than anyone Serena faces now.

As for the Murray match, I’m not a fan of the Battle of the Sexes. True, when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs 40 years ago, it sparked the game. But Riggs was 55. Jimmy Connors played Navratilova once, and he was given one serve and she could hit into the doubles alley. Connors won.

"Maybe I can get a game,” Williams said. "I'm not sure, but I think I can get a game.”

It would not be a good look for women’s sports. And it's absolutely not something young girls need to see.

The better message from Williams is how dominant she is at her age, but that’s only half about her. It’s also half about her opponents. Someone asked Williams about playing a 42-year-old. Does Serena see herself playing at 42?
“I didn’t see myself playing at 31,” she said. “I definitely do not see myself playing at 42.”

Why not? There is nothing to stop her.

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