Williams sisters are playing more, but also must add to arsenal

Looks like tennis’ Sisters Act finally has made a serious commitment to focus on its best paying job. That, of course, is good for U.S. tennis, which has only four stars – Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick and James Blake – in the top 10.

On Monday, Australian Open champion Serena became the fifth player to qualify for the season-ending $3 million Sony Ericsson Championships, which features the top eight women singles players and top four doubles teams. Serena’s sister, Venus, the Wimbledon champion, currently is in seventh place with only two weeks left before the Nov. 6-11 women’s showdown in Madrid. (See leaders graphic below).

Since the U.S. Open, Serena and Venus have played in several separate events in Europe and Asia. Serena played in major events in Stuttgart and Zurich, while Venus earned much needed additional points, competing in minor events in Asia. She won a title in Korea and was a finalist in Tokyo. Keeping their hearts and minds on the game year-round ought to prove to be a good thing.

In recent years, they have skipped – or played sparingly – in the fall. Both sisters now seem determined to reclaim their previous role as the tour’s dynamic duo, and are on course to be match-tough and in top form for the Australian Open which kicks off the 2008 season in January. Also, a segment of the sisters’ layoff after the Madrid season finale ought to be spent working on improving – among other things – play at the net. Though it might be difficult for some to believe, even winners of Grand Slam titles still can improve aspects of their games. Former champions who believe that bringing their ‘A’ game is all they need to win major titles often times discover that the next generation of young pros are armed with ‘A+ games.

Two flaws in the sisters’ games that should be addressed:
(1) They should include the punch volley in their repertoires. I know the swinging volley is what they’re accustom to, but it requires too many steps and little margin of error on the backswing. The punch volley is better for short angles to either side and it wins points more efficiently than power-packed swinging volleys, which occasionally misfire during tense exchanges.
(2) Don’t move to the net behind topspin approach shots! They should use heavy slice. High bouncing topspin gives opponents a bit more time to reach the ball and the option of driving it down-the-line or crosscourt. They should take the time to review films during tournament play and count the points they’ve lost when coming in behind topspin approach shots. Not many, I assure you.
Heavy slice, on the other hand, keeps the ball low and forces the opponent to hit under it to insure that it clears the net. Thus, it allows the attacker that a bit more time to move in for the put-away.

Whether they liked it or not, most past champions recognized the need to make subtle and not so subtle shifts in tactics and strategies to stay competitive. Many of them did. It’s time for the sisters to do the same.

SONY ERICSSON CHAMPIONSHIPS RACE POINTS STANDINGS LEADERS
(as of the week of October 15, 2007)
SINGLES DOUBLES
PLAYER POINTS RACE STANDING
(as of 10/15) TEAM POINTS RACE STANDING
(as of 10/15)
Justine Henin** 4,975+ 1 Cara Black & Liezel Huber** 6,180+ 1
Jelena Jankovic** 4,096+ 2 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur** 3,628 2
Svetlana Kuznetsova** 3,581+ 3 Chia-Jung Chuang & Yung-Jan Chan 3,036+ 3
Ana Ivanovic** 2,972+ 4 Katarina Srebotnik & Ai Sugiyama 2,512+ 4
Serena Williams** 2,766+ 5 Kveta Peschke & Rennae Stubbs 2,107+ 5
Anna Chakvetadze 2,628 6 Alicia Molik & Mara Santangelo 2,086+ 6
Venus Williams 2,470 7 Yan Zi & Zheng Jie 1,527 7
Maria Sharapova 2,431 8 Agnes Szavay & Vladimira Uhlirova 1,697 8
Daniela Hantuchova 2,096+ 9
Elena Dementieva 2,022+ 10
Marion Bartoli 1,989+ 11
Dinara Safina 1,902+ 12
Nadia Petrova 1,864+ 13
Shahar Peer 1,698+ 14
Patty Schnyder 1,686+ 15

+ Can accrue additional points by advancing further at the tournament she’s playing this week
** denotes player/team has already qualified
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