So I was reading my Australian Women's Weekly yesterday - only for the recipes! - when, to my surprise, I came across a five page story about Serena Williams.
As I often lament, tennis is not really a big sport in Australia due to the fact we don't have any major stars in it at the moment, so I was pretty surprised - though I suppose if you're going to write a story about a tennis player, an Australian magazine is going to write a story about an English speaking one... and a big name who's been around virtually forever.
Because that's what I took away from it, really. Serena - both the Williams sisters, really - have been around for ages, and I've known, but never really realised, if that makes sense. Venus reached the final of the US Open when she was 17. When Serena was 17, she won it. How many seventeen year olds do you see winning Slams these days? The one exception I can think of is Maria Sharapova, and even that was five years ago.
We've always known the Williams sisters were special - particularly now, when the rest of the field is largely so insipid - but I don't think I ever realised how unusual their upbringing was. I'm not just talking about their dad and his determination that they would learn tennis, and their first games in the gang-infested streets of Compton, but from a game perspective.
They never played juniors. Their dad only let them play adults, and only when he thought they were ready. This meant, in effect, that the tennis world never saw them coming. I can't think of any other WTA player that's done anything like that. There was no Bollettierri academy for them, none of that living in a dorm and drilling every day (though apparently there were only four beds for the five Williams sisters, which meant Serena, the youngest, had to pick a different sister to curl up with every day. Thanks, AWW!) Their tennis lives are completely dissimilar to those lived by other players, their tennis experience so difference.
So is this a key factor of their success? Not that there's anything flawed about the current juniors process, but when two of the biggest champions of the decade have come from this kind of background, is there merit to alternative methods of coaching juniors? It's something I'd certainly like to think about...
3 weeks ago