Tennis players don’t have to let their rackets do all the talking. In fact tennis writers prefer that they don’t. Tennis writers are writers too, so they only thing they like better than good tennis is good copy. Some tennis players are only too willing to provide it. In women’s tennis the “real No. 1” in that department has to be Serena Williams.
When second-seeded Serena and seventh-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova face off in the quarterfinals of the French Open on Wednesday, June 3, the only two past Grand-Slam winners remaining in the women’s draw will surely try to get their points across using their rackets.
Yet those of us who prefer words need not fret, because they’ve had lots to say using those as well. Adjectives used to describe these two don’t often include ‘shy’ or ‘concise’, so their post-match interviews can be entertaining.
Perhaps partly because Serena’s on-court clothing selection over the years has ranged from a tad surprising to totally crazy, journalists are keen to get her thoughts on fashion matters, no matter how small. One journalist asked whether her dress was orange and gray. Serena clarified that it was orange and “charcoal.” So now we know.
Since this is unofficially the Nadal Open (Rafael Nadal has rightfully been the main story before and after his loss), many women players were asked about him. “You know I'm a big fan of Roger,” Svetlana said, when asked pre-Robin Soderling whether anybody could beat Nadal.
She suspected Rafa would win though: “This guy is great. I don't wish him to lose. I wish him to win. But if somebody will beat him, I wish it would be Roger.”
By her next post-match interview Nadal was out of the French Open, the world was a different place and Svetlana thought better of making a prediction in the midst of such chaos. “Um, I don't know,” she said. “I better not do this, because it all comes up opposite.”
Serena saved some of her best stuff—at least off the court—for a post-match interview after a contentious third-round win over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Serena hit a shot at net that likely touched Martinez Sanchez’s arm and her racket before bouncing back to Serena’s side of the court.
The rules of tennis say a player loses the point if the ball touches her. In a display of poor sportsmanship—at best—Martinez Sanchez didn’t fess up despite Serena asking her and the umpire about it. Martinez Sanchez was awarded that point and so won that game.
During the changeover Serena warned that her opponent “better not come to net again”. Asked about that comment later she said, “Well, you know, I am from Compton.” Even Serena had to laugh at that one.
This wasn’t the first time something newsworthy has happened during a Serena match, and that wasn’t lost on her. “I'm like drama, and I don't want to be drama,” Serena said. “I'm like one of those girls on a reality show that has all the drama, and everyone in the house hates them because no matter what they do, like, drama follows them. I don't want to be that girl.”
If a tennis player lost every match on clay courts that year but was still picked as a favorite to win the most famous clay court tournament in the world, you’d laugh—unless that player was Serena Williams.
Right now it is. Her lack of clay court success may explain why she played what she called “junior tennis or even worse” in her first-round match against unseeded Klara Zakopalova, who she barely beat.
But don’t let her performance this year fool you—Serena likes the dirty stuff. “I grew up on the clay. I actually love it...because I love to slide, and I think it's so fun,” she said.
That doesn’t mean Serena will have an easy time against Svetlana, who’s known for her clay court prowess. Her recent clay-court results have been great and she acknowledged that: “I love to play on clay. I feel a little bit...more comfortable on clay than her.”
Svetlana knows better than most though that surfaces and recent results mean nothing when Serena’s on the other side of the net. Serena has a 5-1 head-to-head record against Svetlana and beat her in the quarterfinals of this year’s previous Grand Slam, the Australian Open, after losing the first set.
Maybe she didn't do well [on clay], but you cannot discount her,” said Svetlana. “She's big champion, she's great player. She won here, and definitely she knows how to play on clay.”
Serena described Svetlana as “a great clay court player who moves extremely well and doesn't do anything bad", so the admiration is mutual. As is the insistence on managing expectations, a favorite pastime of tennis players. Whether the player is No. 1 or No. 100 she’ll be happy to tell you—in fact she’ll insist on it—that she has “nothing to lose.”
Interestingly these two are relatively friendly off the court. Svetlana reportedly took Serena to a dance club during a tournament in Russia. They continue at the very least a digital friendship. “Outside of the courts, she has great personality,” said Svetlana. “We text on BlackBerry. We have similar interests. We laugh a lot, you know.”