Venus will regret missed chances

Updated: June 26, 2004, 6:44 PM ET
By Mary Joe Fernandez | Special to ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Thursday's match between Venus Williams and Karolina Sprem was dramatic. Karolina Sprem hit the ball so hard -- taking it to Venus. Sprem saves set points in the first set. She takes the lead in the second set -- but Venus gets it back. And then in the deciding tiebreak, the chair umpire makes a huge mistake: He awards an extra point to Sprem.

The players were so confused that they went along with it. It's shocking that at Centre Court Wimbledon this can happen, and no one noticed it. You can understand that the players are focused and get confused. But for a linesman or tournament referee to not step up and say, "OK, wait a second" is surprising.

The chair umpire, Ted Watts of Britain, obviously didn't figure it out quickly enough. By now, he has.

At the French Open, Gaston Gaudio was serving to David Nalbandian in a second-set tiebreak. It was 5-2 and Gaudio served from the wrong side. Chair umpire Andreas Egli didn't notice until after the point, which then counted. Nalbandian argued but they played on with Gaudio serving again from the same side. Then Gaudio eventually won the title.

You can say one point shouldn't make a difference in a match -- and if Venus had won the second set, it wouldn't have. However, at a critical stage in the tiebreak, when you're trying to stay in the match, it does. In reality it was only 7-6 in the tiebreak when Sprem won the match.

Venus will probably be more upset that she had set points in the first and second sets and didn't win. She'll be upset that she let this girl control the points and didn't impose her own game.

Venus actually had a good serving day, but wasn't able to mix it up enough. She wasn't able to come to the net and, surprisingly, only had a few winners off the baseline. She's going to have to regroup. She's had a lot of injuries, so she now needs to work on her consistency. However, her biggest obstacle will be her confidence.

This wasn't just a lucky day for Sprem; we will see more of her. She's a talented athlete. She's quick, serves well and hits strongly from the forehand and the backhand. She has no fear. She almost beat Venus about a month ago in Berlin. In the past she's only been able to put together a couple of good points before succumbing to errors. But this time, every time she got tight, she stayed in there. This was the biggest match of her life. She just has to consolidate it. She definitely has the ability to be a top-15 player.

ESPN tennis analyst Mary Joe Fernandez became the youngest player to win a U.S. Open match in 1985. In doubles, she won the '91 Australian Open, the '92 Olympic gold and the '96 French Open.

Professional tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez serves as an analyst on women's tennis events for ESPN and ESPN2. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, Fernandez has enjoyed a successful career on the WTA Tour since 1985.

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