Venus can learn from loss

Updated: January 24, 2004, 1:14 AM ET
By Pam Shriver | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- An awful start for No. 3 Venus Williams led to an awful finish, as she fell to No. 25 Lisa Raymond 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the third round on Saturday.

Williams' serve broke down early with lots of double faults. Right away, Raymond forged ahead with confidence as she had two breaks under her belt. Then, thanks to brave play -- big forehands, coming to the net with efficiency and attacking up the center to really go after Williams' second serve -- Raymond beat Williams for the first time ever.

Raymond pushed Williams around the court. It was shocking, really, that Williams seemed to let Raymond dictate play.

The first two matches here turned out to be false security on Williams' readiness to play. When you look at it, though, from July to January, three matches of competitive tennis and two exhibition matches are just not enough to make you match tough. When she was tested for the first time, she couldn't consistently raise her level. You need match play to be able to do that -- even if you're Venus Williams.

In the second set against Raymond, Williams' second serve was good enough to send her to a possible third set, but her ground strokes couldn't back it up. She just couldn't put her game together all at once. Sometimes when you don't play for a while, you don't think through the problems as they are happening on the court. It seemed like that might have been the case for Williams here. Plus, because she started off serving so poorly, it put her out-of-sorts.

Venus Williams
Venus Williams lost to Lisa Raymond for the first time ever in the third round Saturday.

And Raymond was waiting for that opportunity. She was in place and prepared for the forehand on the returns. Raymond played the best match of her career. She held herself together and maintained a confidence as if she had beaten Venus before, when in fact she'd never even won a set.

It seems that doubles partner Martina Navratilova's influence is only positive for Raymond, who has struggled staying upbeat on court. There's no one more positive, who would make sure you turn over every stone to play your best, then Martina Navratilova. Some of that will rub off on Raymond, even at age 30.

Where does Williams go from here? It would have been good if she could have played a bit more tennis before this event. She needs more match play, although she was trying not to injury herself by playing too much before this event.

Still, it's a victory if she's able to play three matches injury-free. She even served one in at 120 mph in this match, something she's been unable to do since first suffering this abdominal injury. It's her job, now, to get as many positives out of this experience as she can.

She can still have a good season, but there are holes in her game that she needs to work on. Her second serve isn't any better under pressure; it's flawed technically. There's no way an athlete like Williams should have her head going off to the left during her service motion. Sometimes she's not even looking at the ball when she strikes it. It allows opponents to really attack her second serve.

Also, Venus Williams might never again have that aura about her. It's something every champion risks losing. That Raymond came on court without intimidation indicates that the whole locker room no longer feels in awe. And you win a lot of matches through bluff and intimidation.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.

A top player on the women's tennis tour more than 15 years, Pam Shriver hosts ESPN's women's tennis telecasts. She also appears as a sideline reporter on select men's matches.

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