Wimbledon: Wow, what a story it would be if Venus and Serena can win
There was a time when Richard Williams regularly brought his daughters to train with us at the IMG Academy in Florida. We loved having Venus and Serena there. My only problem was providing a steady flow of guys for them to hit with.
Venus and Serena would hit with my pros, but I would have to replace them every 20 minutes because they would get worn out in the face of the sisters’ relentless ball-striking. Holy cow, those girls hit that ball as if it was their worst enemy.
I can never remember Venus and Serena hitting with any of my other students, or indeed with any of their fellow players on the tour. They only ever practised with each other or with male hitting partners. That’s how they’ve always been. From their earliest days learning the game under the watchful eye of their father on public courts in Compton, California, the sisters have been inseparable and all but self-sufficient.
They still often hit with each other. I’ve even known them practise together the day before they’re playing one another. And when one sister beats the other I never detect even a hint of animosity or jealousy from the loser. Theirs is a very special relationship.
It’s very appropriate that both sisters are through to Thursday’s semi-finals. They will both be drawing inspiration from each other. Wow, what a story it would be if they made it to a fifth all-Williams Wimbledon final.
I certainly expect Serena to win her semi-final against Elena Vesnina, but I suspect Venus will have it all to do against Angelique Kerber, who is looking in excellent shape. The German hits great ground strokes and I love the way she throws drop shots into the mix. She’s also a great mover and gets so many balls back. Holy mackerel, it must be like playing a brick wall when you face her.
Williams beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round on Monday (Getty)
Kerber’s biggest problem could be her serve. Her second serve was poor against Simona Halep in the quarter-finals. If she feeds the same sort of balls to Venus she’ll find them whistling back past her ears.
If the rallies go long I would expect Kerber to win most of them. She’ll keep forcing Venus to hit the extra shot. Venus is still a wonderful athlete, but at 36 her legs aren’t what they used to be. I think she will have to gamble and come into the net more often. Venus is moving well again and can be effective from the baseline, but against Kerber I think she will have to try and keep the points shorter.
Vesnina has done remarkably well to get this far, but I can’t see her giving Serena too much trouble. The Russian is solid off both sides and has a decent first serve and a kick second serve. She’s a very good doubles player, so she won’t be afraid to come into the net, but look at her head-to-head record with Serena. She hasn’t won a set in four meetings
What Serena will need to do is get Vesnina out of her comfort zone and make her go for winners. Vesnina’s movement is a weakness, though I would advise Serena not to try to win every point with a single shot. She mustn’t get impatient if Vesnina is hitting junk balls at her. She might have to hit a couple of extra balls to win the rallies.
Venus Williams on her way to victory on day one of Wimbledon (Getty)
Serena served beautifully in her last match. She hit some double faults but I’m sure that Patrick Mouratoglou, her coach, won’t be too concerned about that, because they were aggressive double faults.
As a coach I’ve always felt that I can accept it if my player is double-faulting by going for too much on second serve and hitting the ball beyond the service line, because the only way you will improve your second serve is by going for it. If you hit long aggressively, eventually your second serve will improve.
What impressed me most about Serena’s serving was not the power but the way she picked the right serve for the right time. She came up with the big serves just when she needed them. It’s not the number of aces that you hit that’s important, it’s the ability to come up with them at the right time.
I said here yesterday what a special guy Roger Federer is and he showed it once again with his back-from-the-dead victory over Marin Cilic. He’ll be 35 next month and has had some major physical issues to deal with this year, but his movement in the fifth set was just sensational, as was his serving. Whenever he got into trouble it was usually his serve that dug him out of the hole.
Federer’s semi-final against Milos Raonic could be a cracker. We all know about the Canadian’s big serve, but what struck me most in his quarter-final win over Sam Querrey was the quality of his volleys. You could see the benefit of the work that John McEnroe has done with him in recent weeks.
Querrey should take heart from his fortnight here. The margins against Raonic were tight throughout, though one thing I felt Big Sam did not do enough was to commit sufficiently when he came into the net. It’s all very well to decide to come forward, but when you do so you must come all the way.
Each day this week I’m giving you a little tip on how to improve your own game. You’ll find plenty more like this on my website, www.nickbollettieri.com.
Today’s tip: how to shorten your backswing. If you have a big backswing it’s easy to get into trouble when your opponent ups the pace and gives you little time to play your shots. Here’s a drill that can help you to develop a shorter backswing.
Start hitting from 20ft behind the baseline. You’ll find you’ll have plenty of time to take a big swing at the ball. If you then move in 5ft you’ll probably still be OK with the same backswing, but by the time you’re 10ft from the baseline you’ll notice the difference. Move in another 5ft and you’ll be really struggling. When you start hitting from the baseline you’ll find it impossible to rally with a big backswing so you’ll have to shorten it. That’s a good habit to get into.