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Friday, July 4, 2008
Three reasons Venus will win

It's time to lay to rest the idea that Venus and Serena Williams are either unable or unwilling to produce a no-holds-barred, drag-out-every-cliché barn burner of a match when they play each other.

For one thing, they're no longer laboring with the kinds of typical teenage insecurities or conflicts that might have put a damper on the meetings they had years ago -- and keep in mind that their head-to-head record goes back over a full decade and 15 matches. It includes five three-set battles. That's the same percentage of three-setters we've witnessed in the past 15 finals of the Australian Open. And the U.S. Open has had just two three-setters in the past 15 years.

Still, this notion that Venus and Serena are too much of a family enterprise to go at it with the requisite ferocity is one of those absurd convictions to which some people cling only because it's what they want to believe. To paraphrase the late New York Sen. Daniel P Moynihan: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

To quote that other master of the sound bite, Serena Williams: "We're good at this now. We just leave everything out on the court. This is the final of Wimbledon. Who doesn't want it?"

That's good enough for me. However, I feel that we still might be in for a short (disappointing, if you insist on clinging to the old meme) final, because Venus Williams -- the defending champion and a four-time winner here -- has a game that is better-suited to grass than that of her kid sister. Here are the three reasons why I think Venus will win:

1. Venus' superior athleticism: Wimbledon champions are not easily typed by style, despite all those now-outdated theories that you can serve your way to the title or that playing an attacking style on grass gives you a whopping advantage.

The big winners at Wimbledon -- Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Venus -- have had two things in common: the ability to move superbly and the flexibility to make all the minute adjustments demanded by low, skidding balls and balls that pull you way wide or forward.

In recent years, Serena has added power to her game, and she's improved her always-spectacular shot-making abilities. She is also a nonpareil competitor, which counts for a lot when there are outright winners to be hit in difficult situations.

But those assets will carry you only so far on grass, unless you catch a day when everything you touch sends the chalk dust flying or lands for a winning placement. Serena doesn't move as well as she did a few years ago, and it will show.

2. Venus' superior defense: Jelena Jankovic is the only woman on the WTA Tour who can cover the court as well as Venus. Those long legs of Venus' eat up the turf, and her ability to absorb Serena's heaviest thunder and stay in points will prove frustrating to Serena. It may cause her to go for too much over the long haul.

3. Venus' superior stamina: Put it down to body type or put it down to fitness, the bottom line is that Venus is better-equipped to survive a long grind. I think turning the match into a track meet will be part of Venus' strategy.

What do you get when you combine superior athleticism with great defense and awesome stamina? You get a Federer, a Borg, a Nadal. You get a surpassing Wimbledon champion, which is what I expect Venus to become -- for the fifth time -- on Saturday.