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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Venus aims for three-peat

Photo Titled Venus Williams
Venus Williams
Venus Williams is a big game hunter. When the WTA released its Tour Roadmap for 2009 to give players a longer break between tournaments and reduce their commitments, Venus saw it through the prism of titles. "We [Venus and Serena] both hope it will help us to be hunting the titles, not be No1," Venus said. "That's not what we do. We're about quality not quantity."

There are ranking points available at every tournament and decent prize money on offer, but that has never driven the Williams sisters. Rankings points come and go, and with £13m in the bank from prize money alone there is little financial incentive. But Grand Slams endure.

To have her name written on the roll of honour, that is what drives Venus and victory at the All England Club this year will bring her a sixth title – level with Suzanne Lenglen and Billie Jean King, one short of Steffi Graf and three short of leading lady Martina Navratilova.

If Venus is chasing glory, her record suggests it will be realised on grass. It has been eight years since Venus won a non-Wimbledon Grand Slam – the 2001 US Open – and her best performances otherwise were a semi-final in New York in 2007 and the final in Melbourne 2003. Her early exit at the French Open came as no surprise. Venus lost in the third round at Roland Garros in each of the last three years – and ominously for her opponents – went on to win Wimbledon.

It also is no surprise that Venus has enjoyed such success here, on a surface that rewards a massive serve like no other, because hers is a massive serve like no other. At Wimbledon last year Williams served 38 aces in seven matches, including one that equalled her record for the fastest serve on the women's tour of 129mph. In five of those matches her average first serve speed was 110mph or faster. To put that in context, the average speed of Rafael Nadal's first serve in the men's final was 112mph. She won 73% of the points on her first serve.

That is not to suggest the Venus Williams' game is one dimensional. She is powerful from the baseline and on the occasions she comes to the net she wins 75% of the points (85/113 in 2008).

After her victory last year, Venus was asked about overhauling Navratilova's record of nine single's titles. "That would be the ultimate," she replied. "That's not easy. Her career also spanned three decades, so I'm not sure if I have that much time. If I did, I think I would definitely dream of that. Tennis is so much different now, tennis is a big business. All the tournaments, the draws, and the players, it's just so different that the pressures are different."

On 17 June Venus will be 29. She turned professional in 1994; made her first appearance at Wimbledon in 1997 and won her first title here in 2000. Since then she has reached seven finals and won five. Navratilova was 33 when she won her final singles title. That gives Venus five years to win three titles, an achievement that would represent quality and quantity.

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