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On the Brink of History: Serena Williams Has Grand Slam in Her Sights at the U.S. Open

29 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis's Grand Slam.  She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams is one U.S. Open win  from tennis’s Grand Slam. She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

If you want to see someone attempt to accomplish a pretty major athletic milestone, might I suggest that you walk away from that National Football League preseason game and focus your attention on Flushing Meadows, New York?
You see, Serena Williams will be on the court attempting to make history, and you don’t want to miss it.

With the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon titles already in hand, Williams has her sights set on becoming the first tennis player since Steffi Graf to win all four of tennis’s Grand Slam titles in the same season by winning the U.S. Open. She’s already made history this year by being the oldest female tennis player to win a Grand Slam event at the ripe “old” age of 33.

Suffice it to say, Williams is looking forward to coming to New York and the adventure of adding another chapter to her brilliant legacy as the one of the best women’s tennis players of all-time.

“Yeah, I’m ready. I don’t care if I win or lose or break even,” she said. “I’m ready to start it, get it over with, and be done and go on to the next event. But I’m so ready for New York. Let’s go, right?”

Dating back to the 2014 U.S. Open, Williams has won the last four Grand-Slam events. If she does win the U.S. Open, it will be her 22nd major title, which would tie her with Graf for the most major titles since the Open Era began in 1968. Margaret Court holds the all-time record for Grand Slam titles with 24.

Williams will be getting everybody’s best shot as she has during her last three Grand Slam events. In the third round at Wimbledon, Britain’s Heather Watson had her at match point in the third set, but Williams rallied to win. In the quarterfinals, Williams dropped the first set against Victoria Azarenka, but then came back to win the next two sets.

At the Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month, Williams suffered her second loss of 2015 against Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic in the semifinals of that tournament. She had won 14 matches in a row before that match.

But as is her fashion, Williams bounced back from that defeat two weeks later to win the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, a key U.S. Open tune-up. While the pressure to win the U.S. Open is especially intense with the Grand Slam on the line, it’s something Williams embraces.

“I’ve decided I prefer to have that pressure than the pressure of not winning,” Williams said. “Not everyone can handle that pressure, but I’m okay with it. I would rather be to this position than another one.”

Throughout all her Grand-Slam matches, Williams has been dominant at times and quite vulnerable at others. She seems to have developed an ability to focus even harder when she is staring defeat in the face.

Williams reminds me of some of those great boxers who seem to find a deeper resolve once they’ve been hit or knocked down. Cats like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and others who seem to be at their best when things look the worse.
“Yeah, in the end it’s pretty tough to play against Serena. She’s more motivated I think,” said Simona Halep, who lost to Williams in the finals of Western and Southern Tournament. “More focused and into the tournament. Yeah, she feels the game and she feels everything and she gets more stronger.”
Williams’ run to the Grand Slam hasn’t been easy, which is why it’s been so interesting to watch. Williams’ matches have probably had more twists and turns than an episode of “Scandal”. To tell you the truth, I don’t think Shonda Rhimes could craft a script with this many twists and turns in it.
No matter how she gets it done, Williams has developed a mentality made famous by late Oakland Raiders Al Davis… Just win baby.
‘It’s all up to me. If I decide to play right, it’ll be great,” she said.

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Serena Williams Wimbledon Triumph Puts Her One Step Closer to Tennis Grand-Slam

12 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Serena Williams Wins her sixth Wimbledon singles title and her 21st overall. Footage courtesy of ESPN.

Serena Williams Wins her sixth Wimbledon singles title and her 21st overall. Footage courtesy of ESPN. Photo by Chris Murray.

PHILADELPHIA—Serena Williams didn’t play her best match against Garbine Muguruza in the Ladies Singles Final at Wimbledon. She lost the first two games of the first set, had eight double faults and withstood the storm of tumultuous rally by her Spanish opponent.

Throughout the fortnight at Wimbledon, Williams has overcome losing the first set in matches and even survived an opponent’s match point in the quarterfinals. But fighting through those obstacles further magnified her legend as one of the greatest tennis players of all-time—man or woman.

In the end, Williams was the only one left standing and came away with a 6-4, 6-4 win over the game 21-year-old Muguruza. The win puts Williams one step closer to the calendar year Grand-Slam. It was her sixth singles titles at Wimbledon. At 33-years-old, Williams is the oldest winner of a Grand-Slam title and has 28 Grand-Slam matches in a row.

If she wins the U.S. Open in September, Williams will be the first single-season Grand-Slam winner since Steffi Graf did it in 1988. For the second time in her career, the 33-year-old Williams holds all four Grand-Slam titles at once. The last time she did it was back in 2002-2003. This latest run on Grand Slam titles dates back to September when she won the 2014 U.S. Open.

Williams latest Grand-Slam singles title pushed her career total to 21, one behind Graf, who has 22 (the most in the Open era) and three behind Margaret Court, who has 24.

Somehow for all the attention that was focused on a lackluster fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, LeBron James quest to take an average Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, and the recent triumph of the U.S. Women’s soccer team at the World Cup, Williams quest to win the Grand Slam has seemingly been on the periphery of events.

Maybe it’s because Williams has been such a dominant force in tennis that it’s become routine and so boring that some may feel she’s winning too much. After all, she doesn’t have a main rival that Martina Navaratilova had in Chris Evert.

The closest thing to a rivalry for Williams has been her sister Venus and Maria Sharapova, whom she’s beaten 18 straight times. All Williams does is beat whoever they put in front of her.

To be honest, I think if Williams was a slender blond, white American woman with all her accomplishments, she would be a media darling and the whole country would be following her quest for tennis immortality in the same way the country embraced the U.S. women’s soccer team at the World Cup.

On social media and even in the mainstream media the focus has been on whether or not her body is too masculine. Williams’ body type clashes with classic notions of Western beauty and she often gets her share of vilification for it.

Maybe that’s an explanation for why Sharapova makes more money in commercial endorsements off the tennis court than Williams. She’s an assertive Black woman who is comfortable with herself and is not the self-effacing “mammy” type who goes out of her way to seek the acceptance of white people.

Whether folks like it or not, Williams is the greatest tennis player of her generation and arguably the greatest of all time. She’s got the trophies to prove it.

If you’re eyes aren’t focused on Williams now, they should be now because she is on the verge of accomplishing a rare feat in sports that’s only been accomplished just three times in the last 46 years-and just once by the men.

What will make Williams run to history compelling is that it won’t be easy, especially considering some of the tough matches she’s had at Wimbledon and the French Open. Williams has perilously come close to losing matches the closer she gets to pulling off a major milestone.

At this year’s French Open, Williams was involved in three-set matches five times, four came after she lost the first set.

In the third round at Wimbledon this year, Britain’s Heather Watson won the first three games of the third set, was up 5-4, and had Williams at match point. The young Brit was on the verge of a historic upset. But a fired-up Williams stormed back to win the last three games to close out the match.

Then Serena had to take on her sister Venus in a tough emotional match in the round of 16. In the quarterfinal against Victoria Azarenka, Williams dropped the first set and came back to win the next two sets.

And so the stage for the 2015 U.S. Open is set, Serena will be battling to add another chapter to her legend as one of the greatest-if not the greatest tennis players of all time.

So grab your popcorn and your favorite beverage, but please leave your racism and sexism outside and enjoy Williams’ quest for tennis immortality.

Forty Years After Arthur Ashe’s Milestone Win at Wimbledon, Serena Williams Looks to Add to Her Legacy

25 Jun

By Chris Murray

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis's Grand Slam.  She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis’s Grand Slam. She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—This year’s Wimbledon Championships will spotlight the both the 40th anniversary of a significant milestone in the tournament’s history and a player’s attempt to achieve a rare feat in the history of tennis.
In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first African-American male tennis player to win a professional singles title when he came away with a four-set victory over Jimmy Connors, at that time the world’s No. 1 player. It was a crowning achievement for Ashe, who went on to become as recognized for his leadership in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa, and his advocacy for more research dollars for HIV/AIDS research.

Arthur Ashe was the first Black male tennis player to win a Wimbledon singles title.

Arthur Ashe was the first Black male tennis player to win a Wimbledon singles title.

Now, 40 years after Ashe’s triumphant, color-line breaking win at Wimbledon, another African-American tennis player, Serena Williams, is looking to accomplish a rare feat that would make her one of the greatest female tennis players of all-time without question.
Williams is trying to become first tennis player since Steffi Graff to win the game’s Grand Slam– the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open—in a single season. So far, she’s won the Australian and the French. Because she ended 2014 with a win at the U.S. Open, a win at Wimbledon would give Williams a calendar year Grand-Slam.

But while winning a calendar year Grand Slam may take doing, winning a single season Grand Slam is a lot easier said than done, even for someone with Williams’s talent. To give some perspective on how difficult a task she faces, you need only look at the numbers.

Since the start of the Open Era in 1968, only three people have ever won it. Australian Rod Laver, who won all four events in 1969, is the last male tennis player to accomplish the feat. Considering that a whole raft of tennis greats such as Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have all stints where they were the most dominant players in the sport, and yet none of them was able to do it, that’s significant.

On the women’s side, Margaret Court was the first to do it in 1970. It took another 18 years before Steffi Graf won the Grand Slam and no one else has done it since. Jennifer Capriati came close, winning the Australian and French Opens in 2001, but by winning Wimbledon that year, Venus Williams stopped her from accomplishing the milestone.

Right now, no one in the world is playing better than Serena Williams and that’s why some tennis experts believe that the Grand Slam is within her grasp. In an article on Wimbledon.com, former women’s tennis star and ESPN tennis analyst Chris Evert said she likes Williams’ chances to pull it off.

“When she is at her best she is better than anybody,” Evert said. “She’s got a great shot. To me her game is better suited to the grass courts than it is to the clay… But her game, just because of her serve, she’s going to get free aces. … It should be one of the easier Grand Slams for her.”

Williams would probably tell you herself that it’s not going to be easy at all. Even though she came away victorious in Paris, Williams had a tough time at Roland Garros, battling the flu and opponents Timea Bacsinszky and Lucie Safarova.

Still, despite looking like she was ready to pass out, using cold compresses during the changeovers, and guzzling water to stay hydrated, Williams managed to win the French Open and serve notice that she’s better than much of the women’s draw even when she’s sick.

With the win at the French, Williams has won 20 major singles, two away from Steffi Graff (22) and four away from Margaret Court who has 24. She has won 21 straight matches and is on the verge of making history as the fortnight at Wimbledon begins.
Like Arthur Ashe, Serena Williams learned how to play tennis on public courts in the inner city.

When he won the All-England title 40 years ago, Ashe made history.

Williams manages to get one step closer to winning the Grand Slam by winning the Wimbledon title, she stands a chance of making history as well.

And somewhere, Arthur Ashe will be smiling.

Serena Williams’ Drive to Immortality in Women’s Tennis

2 Feb

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Serena Williams holds the 2015 Australia Open Trophy. Photo by Yahoo.com

Serena Williams holds the 2015 Australia Open Trophy. Photo by Yahoo.com.

As the rest of the world was sleeping with visions of Seahawks and Patriots dancing in their heads, Serena Williams was in Melbourne, Australia moving closer and closer to tennis immortality with yet another dominant performance in a Grand-Slam event.

In a sport where you’re considered elderly in your late 20s, the 33-year-old Williams became the oldest female tennis player to win the Australian Open with her victory over an overmatched, but game Maria Sharapova in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6.

Williams won her 19th Grand-Slam singles title, the second most in the Open-era behind Steffi Graf who won 22. She moved past Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who both have 18. If she keeps playing at this high level, the she could do it this year—which means Williams would win the tennis Grand-Slam, something that hasn’t happened since Graf did it in 1988. Since turning 30, Williams has won six Grand-Slam singles titles.

Williams said while the goal to catch Graf is within reach, she’s just focused on winning her next Grand-Slam event, which doesn’t take place until May at the French Open.

“I would love to get to 22. I mean 19 was very difficult to get to,” said Williams, who won her first major single title in 1999 when she was 17. “But I have to get to 20 first and then I have to get to 21. It will be a very big task.”

Serena Williams and her sister Venus (seven Grand-Slam singles titles) have dominated the tennis scene so much over the last 15 years that you expect to see one of them in a Grand-Slam singles final whether it’s the French Open, the U.S Open  or Wimbledon. The sisters are considered to be one of the greatest doubles-tandems ever with 13 titles. They have never lost in a major final.

After the match, ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver said Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time when you consider those 13 doubles titles she won playing with Venus.

“It’s the complete package of an all-time great tennis player,” Shriver said.

But wouldn’t it be great to see Williams catch up with Graf and win the Grand Slam in the process? To be sure, it’s going to be tough given her age and the youth of her competition. I’d like to see her go after it and become the greatest women’s test player ever in spectacular fashion.

As long as Williams stays healthy and keeps that blistering serve, she has a good shot at running the table with wins in the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S Open.

From what I saw in Williams match against Sharapova on Saturday, it could definitely happen. Fighting through the match with a respiratory illness, Williams powerful serve kept Sharapova off balance throughout the match.

Williams had 18 aces in the match, including 15 in a tough, second- set tiebreaker in which both she and Sharapova held serve. Williams ended the match with a powerful ace to put her name in the record books.

If she were to retire today, Serena Williams with her 19 singles titles and 13 doubles crowns would definitely go down as one of the all-time greats in tennis or arguably the best ever. Not bad for a young woman who first learned her tennis, not in some stuffy, rich country club, but on the public courts in the poor Los Angeles suburb of Compton.

I don’t know how much Williams has left in the tank in her quest to catch up to and eventually pass Graf, but I would tell you to take every opportunity to see her try with her blistering serves and overall power because athletes like Williams don’t come along too often.

The Chris Murray Report’s Athlete of the Year 2012: Serena Williams

28 Dec

By Chris Murray

Overcoming injuries and illness, Serena Williams left competitors in the dust in 2012.

Overcoming injuries and illness, Serena Williams left competitors in the dust in 2012.

For the Chris Murray Report

After thoroughly dominating Maria Sharapova in the gold medal singles final at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, an overjoyed Serena Williams celebrated her win by doing a little dance.

But it wasn’t just any dance. Williams did the Crip Walk, a dance that was often done by the Los Angeles street gang the Crips as they committed acts of violence.

Of course, the  level of misplaced moral outrage in the blogosphere and in the world of Social Media damn near went through the roof. Facebook and Twitter were lit up with people expressing outrage.

Some of the nation’s most prominent sports writers roundly criticized Williams for doing that particular dance because of its association with gang violence. Never mind that the C-Walk is as embedded in pop and rap culture, a culture that also includes demeaning women and using the N-word to the point that you feel like you’re in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

But there was something that got lost through all the overly dramatic sermons admonishing Williams for her apparent petulance and immaturity.

Serena Williams was simply the most dominant athlete in her sport in 2012. Period.  Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open and several other tournaments might as well have been called “The Serena Williams Invitational.”  Last month, the Women’s Tennis Association named Williams as their Player-of-the-Year.

Out of all the athletic performances this calendar year in both team and individual sports, no one was more dominant at their craft than the 31-year-old Williams. From April to October, Williams won 48 of her 50 matches en route to capturing Wimbledon, the Olympic Gold medal and the U.S. Open singles titles.

That’s why we at the Chris Murray Report have named Serena Williams our inaugural Athlete-of-the-Year.  She may not be your personal cup of tea, but when it comes to performance on the field, which is what we measure here, Williams kicked ass where it counted in 2012.

Nearly two years after getting two operations on her right foot, having blood clots in her lungs and blood in the skin of her stomach, Williams won the ladies single title at Wimbledon by defeating Agnieszka Radwanksa in three sets for her first Grand Slam title in two years. Williams at 30-years-old became the oldest women’s tennis player since Martina Navratilova to win a grand-slam title.

And by the way, Serena and her sister Venus also won the Wimbledon Doubles title.

At the Olympic Games in London, Williams ran through the field with relative ease and lost just 17 games in six matches. In the gold medal match Williams defeated Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in a little over an hour. She also added a gold medal in women’s doubles to her trophy case.

Williams became the third women’s tennis player to win the gold medal and all four Grand Slam tournaments in her career, a feat accomplished by only two other women: Steffi Graff and her sister Venus.

At the U.S. Open, Williams was down 5-4 to Victoria Azarenka, who was serving for the match. But Williams rallied to win the next three games and the match. She capped her 2012 season by winning the WTA Championships in Istanbul.

In a sports calendar year that included Gabby Douglass winning two gold medals in gymnastics, Usain Bolt dominating the Olympic sprint events, LeBron James leading the Miami Heat to an NBA title and Miguel Cabrera winning the American League Triple Crown, something that hasn’t happened since 1967, we thought the way Williams dominated women’s tennis stood a little bit higher than those other outstanding performances.

While folks may find Williams personality a bit off-putting and are not happy with her little dance at the Olympics, the only thing that matters in sports is what an athlete does in the field of play.

During 2012, Williams handled her business.