ESPN Magazine, May 2002, The Speed Issue
Mach V: As these five stars demostrate, it’s not all about the wheels
Why does Venus Williams smile so easily? Simple. All of her competitors—you know, the ones ranked lower than No. 1—have to worry about speed. Venus doesn’t. She’s 6’1”, has the reach of a condor and, in the words of tennis scribe Bud Collins, “can change directions like Tom and Jerry.” She covers so much ground, it’s as if she never has to hurry.
And that’s just the point. “If you’re rushing too much, you can’t make your shots,” Williams says. “So I’m going to take my time, see the ball and slow things down in my mind.” Rarely does Venus get skittish about conditions or fans or her opponent’s strategy. She just plays. “Keep you knees bent,” she tells herself. “If you don’t hit the ball, she can’t hit the ball.” Not exactly racket science. In fact, Williams sometimes goes days at a time without even thinking about tennis.
While Venus is clearing her head, her foes are busy using time and brain space to figure out how to beat a taller, stronger opponent. “That makes Venus seem faster than she is,” Collins says. “It’s intimidation. She makes you try to hit too good a shot.” Which brings us back to that smile—the only strategy she really needs. As Pam Shriver puts it, “If you are very positive, as well as very competitive, that whole attitude feeds into better movement.”
Ask Martina or Lindsay how to slow the game down, and they might offer a million answers. But ask Venus, and she just flashes that Cheshire grin: “Lobs.”---Eric Adelson