Bible and shopping

Venus Williams is in great touch, says S. V. Sriram, who had been to the season-opening WTA tournament in Hong Kong.

“What is your new year resolution?” was the question.

Pat came the reply, “Shop less and read the Bible more.”

And if the form that Venus Williams showed at the JB Group Classic exhibition tennis tournament is anything to go by, the senior Williams sister will have all the time in the world to read her Bible, having disposed of her rivals in super quick time.

As for the shopping, consider this. Along with the trophy she got for winning the tournament, Venus also left Hong Kong’s Victoria Park with a glittering gold racquet presented to her by Bhupen Surani, the chairman of the JB Group, title sponsors for the event. Now why would she want to shop after that!

Venus’ opponents of course would be very much happy if she just stuck to reading the Bible or shopping.

Serving a clear and immediate warning to her rivals, Venus said, “This is a perfect launch for the Australian Open. The field here is very deep. I had an opportunity to play against a good player like Maria (Sharapova). I was really hitting the ball deep, doing everything well.

“I am feeling really good now. My confidence is really up now, especially after a long layoff. It felt good to be back in competitive tennis,” added Venus.

Having been to this season opener on seven previous occasions since 1999, Venus has great affinity to the tournament. “I like to play matches in this week. Also this is not a five-round tournament. So it eases you into the season.

“No player likes to lose, even in an exhibition tournament. So the competition is of high quality,” added Venus alluding to the stature of the tournament.

On her plans for the year ahead Venus said, “I definitely would like to play in the Fed Cup. Of course I am not sure that I will be picked for the team. The Olympics will also be exciting. It is always a pleasure to play in them and I am going to work on my game to achieve that medal.”

And if the threat of Venus wasn’t enough, she even had a few words to say about little sister Serena, “If we can just stay healthy and keep practising and get the work done off the court before we come to the tournaments, it makes a world of a difference.”

While Venus jived and bogeyed to the music being played at the venue, her title-round opponent Maria Sharapova made for a glum picture. A three-time finalist in Hong Kong, it has been a heart-break for the Russian each time around. Known for her serves and big forehands, the World No. 5 and tournament second-seed was found wanting on both counts. With a woefully low-percentage of first serves, Sharapova was no match for the American world No. 8.

Things came to such a pass that after her error-prone semifinal win over fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze, Sharapova dryly remarked, “It was more a case of a sloppy service game from both us rather than the other winning points.

“It becomes very difficult when your opponent is serving big and consistently well. I did try to take my chances on her second serve. But I gave away too many easy balls,” said Sharapova of her loss to Venus.

The year 2007 was a troubled one for Sharapova and she will be banking on her title-round showing in Hong Kong to get her out of the blues.

“It has been probably the best off-season of my career. The string of injuries had really frustrated me. It was as if there was a big stop sign in front of me.

“I worked on my game during that period. Not so much the fitness part as just being on the court and playing, hitting shots. It was also a time when a tragedy put things in perspective. My coach’s mom, whom I was very close to, died of cancer. It was a very traumatic experience. Made me realise the importance of life,” added Sharapova.

For a tournament boasting five out of the top 10 players in the world, it was ultimately reduced to a two-horse race between Sharapova and Venus. Much was expected of top-seed and World No. 4 Ana Ivanovic. But the Serb flattered to deceive, losing both her matches to make an unceremonious exit.

Of the others Chakvetadze, who along with Ivanovic had a breakthrough year in 2007, managed a decent show before capitulating to Sharapova. Local girl Peng Shuai had a creditable showing. She not only matched Venus in power and precision in their first round game, but also bested Caroline Wozniacki, an up and coming player from Denmark, to win the Silver Group title.

Wozniacki, in fact, also impressed Venus, her doubles partner in this tournament. “I think she is a very good player. I have played with her and I can see that she has the goods. Especially in our doubles matches, I know that even if I leave the ball, Caroline will make the shot.” Inspiring words indeed for the young Dane. No tournament featuring two fashion conscious players can be complete without questions relating to their wardrobe.

The year gone by has seen Venus launch her own line, called EleVen. “I will definitely be wearing my own line this year. After all EleVen is better than 10 (the tag line for the brand).”

When posed with the same question, Sharapova giggled and said, “How can you even think that I will not have a new outfit at the Australian Open. It will be a cream colour one. With the extreme heat there I will go for the lightest colour, just short of dressing in white and with pleats on the front and back. I always sit down with the people at Nike and work on my outfits.”

Wardrobe in place, all that Sharapova has to do is hit the courts and get her game back in gear. And if the others also up the ante, both in terms of fashion and sport, 2008 promises to be a really eventful year.