HOLD­ING COURT

No. 1- ranked Ser­ena Wil­liams gives the U. S. a rea­son to re­main ex­cited about ten­nis, but af­ter her, it’s no Amer­i­can pa­rade

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL DWYRE

LON­DON — The United States Ten­nis Assn. should be thank­ing its lucky stars for Ser­ena Wil­liams.

It should be eter­nally grate­ful that Richard Wil­liams dragged his two lit­tle girls out to the ten­nis courts of Comp­ton some 25 years ago, that he got them in­ter­ested in the sport that younger sis­ter Ser­ena now dom­i­nates.

“I re­mem­ber them, just cute lit­tle kids in pig­tails,” says Wayne Bryan. “Their dad would put them in the car and drive them up the coast to my ten­nis club. They’d run around, hit some balls, just have fun. I al­ways gave them cheese­burg­ers. I thought they were com­ing just for the cheese­burg­ers.”

Bryan, of Ca­mar­illo, knows about get­ting chil­dren in­ter­ested in ten­nis. His twin sons, Bob and Mike, have dom­i­nated the men’s pro­fes­sional dou­bles cir­cuit since the early 2000s.

At the mo­ment, that is the sum to­tal of U. S. pro­vin­cial ex­cite­ment about ten­nis: Ser­ena Wil­liams and, to a lesser de­gree her sis­ter Venus, plus the Bryan twins.

The last U. S. male to win a ma­jor was Andy Rod­dick at the U. S. Open in 2003, a 12- year drought. And we think Cal­i­for­nia is in bad shape.

John Is­ner is the high­est rank­ing U. S. male at No. 17, and he is ba­si­cally known, and likely al­ways will be, for

play­ing the long­est match in Wim­ble­don history a few years ago. Only one other of his coun­try­men, Jack Sock at No. 31, is even seeded.

Af­ter Ser­ena and Venus, seeded No. 1 and 16, re­spec­tively, the high­est seeded U. S. fe­male player is Madi­son Keys at No. 21.

The USTA runs an an­nual soiree that gen­er­ates more than enough money for use in in­spir­ing youth to buy a racket and wan­der over to the park. It is called the U. S. Open. Fi­nanced in­spi­ra­tion from that has failed.

Pete Sam­pras, Jim Courier, An­dre Agassi and Michael Chang are long gone. The USTA de­vel­oped Don­ald Young, and is still de­vel­op­ing him. He’ll be 26 in late July. It de­vel­oped Sam Quer­rey, who got to the fi­nal of a Wim­ble­don tuneup event at Not­ting­ham on Satur­day and lost, to vaunted Dennis Is­tomin.

It is easy to ra­tio­nal­ize that Amer­ica’s sports- hun­gry young­sters are now em­u­lat­ing Mike Trout’s swing and Steph Curry’s jump shot. It is also easy to con­clude that what­ever ap­proach the USTA is tak­ing to pro­duce ten­nis em­u­la­tion is a bust.

There are plenty of U. S. ten­nis stars here at Wim­ble­don. But they are all be­hind mi­cro­phones: John McEn­roe, Lind­say Davenport, Tracy Austin, Pam Shriver, Chris Evert, etc.

Is that our an­swer? No play­ers, so we be­come the coun­try of best talk­ers?

Which brings us to Ser­ena Wil­liams, the last Amer­i­can sin­gles star stand­ing. Should we nick­name her Davy Crockett, or just Alamo?

The big deal here, and rightly so, is that she has a chance to win the third leg of a cal­en­dar Grand Slam. Part of the dis­cus­sion is not only the rar­ity of such an achieve­ment, but the rar­ity of even hav­ing a shot at her age. She will be 34 in Septem­ber.

Lost in that media frenzy for age hy­per­bole is that she has won seven ma­jors since she turned 30. She lives in Florida now and per­haps found that foun­tain of youth that Ponce de Leon was look­ing for cen­turies ago.

Two men and three women have com­pleted a cal­en­dar Slam. Don Budge did it in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and ’ 69. Lit­tle Mo Con­nolly did it in ’ 53, Mar­garet Court in ’ 70 and St­effi Graf in ’ 88. Graf also won the Olympic gold in Seoul that year for her “Golden Slam.”

It is a mon­u­men­tal achieve­ment, and Wil­liams her­self seems to have it in the best per­spec­tive.

Asked about it in her pre- Wim­ble­don news con­fer­ence, she said, “I don’t feel any pres­sure to win all four. ... Maybe if I would hap­pen to win here, then maybe I’d start feel­ing it af­ter that.”

“Af­ter that” would be the U. S. Open.

For the mo­ment, the pres­sure seems to be on the media to squeeze in all the su­perla­tives.

When she fin­ishes here, win or lose, she will en­ter week No. 248 at No. 1 in the world. This is the third of her long runs at the top, to­tal­ing that 248, and this one started Feb. 18, 2013, or 124 weeks ago. She is the old­est woman to be No. 1 since ten­nis started its com­puter rank­ings in 1976.

Be­sides another step to­ward the cal­en­dar Slam, she would take her 21st ma­jor ti­tle, one be­hind Graf and three be­hind Court. Wil­liams will open play here Mon­day af­ter­noon, against a 20- yearold Rus­sian qual­i­fier, Mar­garita Gas­paryan, ranked 113th.

Last year’s Wim­ble­don was a night­mare for Wil­liams. She lost in the third round to France’s Al­ize Cor­net, suc­cumb­ing to a bar­rage of drop shots. Then she took the court a few days later for dou­bles with Venus, but looked like a zom­bie in warmups and, in the match, hit eight suc­ces­sive serves ei­ther into the net or bounc­ing to it.

She left af­ter that, es­corted by medics, and the WTA re­leased a to­tally in­suf­fi­cient state­ment hours later, say­ing she hadn’t felt well.

With Wil­liams, there of­ten is a hint of mys­tery. Her U. S. Open rant at the lines per­son a few years ago was un­ex­plain­able and, in the long run, un­ex­plained. Her in­juries and ab­sences are al­ways de­scribed in brief, in­ad­e­quate terms.

But there is no mis­tak­ing her abil­ity to play ten­nis.

Said fourth- seeded Maria Shara­pova, “She’s the one to beat.” Shara­pova usu­ally doesn’t.

Said last year’s cham­pion, sec­ond- seeded Pe­tra Kvi­tova, “Ser­ena is one of the play­ers you can beat, but not ev­ery day.” Kvi­tova has beaten Wil­liams once.

Said de­fend­ing men’s cham­pion Novak Djokovic, “She keeps on go­ing. Doesn’t look like any­where near the end for her.”

Colum­nist Filip Bondy of the New York Post wrote it best Sun­day, siz­ing up both Wil­liams and her place in the cur­rent state of U. S. ten­nis: “If you weren’t root­ing for — or were root­ing against — Ser­ena, there re­ally wasn’t much rea­son to re­main pas­sion­ate about the sport in this coun­try.”

Pa­trick Kovarik AFP/ Getty I mages

SER­ENA WIL­LIAMS won the 2015 French Open for her 20th Grand Slam ten­nis ti­tle. Wil­liams also won the 2015 Aus­tralian Open and is half­way through a cal­en­dar Grand Slam go­ing into Wim­ble­don.

Jan Kruger Getty I mages

SAM QUER­REY of the U. S. is in ac­tion against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay dur­ing the Ae­gon Open at Not­ting­ham. Quer­rey lost to Dennis Is­tomin in the f inal.

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