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Sloane Stephens says Serena Williams uses mind games to intimidate foes

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Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens has lost in her opening round in four of seven events since the Australian Open. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

It seems Sloane Stephens can’t stop getting asked about Serena Williams, which means she can’t stop talking about Serena Williams.

In a story in this week’s issue of TIME magazine called Serena’s Heir: Sloane Stephens might be America’s next great tennis star, Stephens said Williams plays mind games to try to intimidate her opponents. Stephens referenced their first career meeting, in the Brisbane International quarterfinals in January, when Williams was demonstrably loud with her “come ons” and fist pumps. Stephens told TIME in late February that it’s all part of Williams’ intimidation strategy.

Stephens thought her Williams comments to ESPN were off the record

“That’s insane,” Stephens says. “Just intimidation. That’s just what happened. That’s what she does. She scares people.” At the press conference after Stephens dumped Williams out of the Oz [Australian Open], Williams referred to Stephens as “my opponent” and called her a “good player” but took no pains to praise her. Stephens calls such tactics mind games. “I would never do that to anyone,” she says. “So I don’t understand how some people do the things they do. That’s life. What can you do? You can’t change that. She is who she is, so you just move on.”

A Williams-Stephens rivalry could be captivating — a matchup of candid, powerful players. The “mind games” just add to the tension. Williams, 31 and the world No. 1, is doing her part. Stephens has a lot to prove, and even if she sharpens her focus, she is preaching patience. “When it’s supposed to happen, it will,” Stephens says while finishing her sushi. “You can’t rush it. You can’t rush Serena out.” She has one eye on her phone as she’s talking, itching to get out of there. An afternoon of training — and texting — beckons. “Just wait for it.”

Williams won the Brisbane quarterfinal 6-4, 6-3. During the match, Stephens told her coach, Troy Hahn, that the fist pumps and come-ons were “so disrespectful.” At the time, it seemed like an awkward joke to break the tension during a coaching timeout. As it turns out, it really did get under Stephens’ skin.

This week’s issue of TIME hits newsstands Friday. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

  • Published On May 23, 2013
  • 117 comments
    RaiderRow
    RaiderRow

    As an African American, I find this young woman's disdain towards Serena very disturbing. Serena doesn't shout "come on" nearly as much as Sharapova et al. She seems to have some "house slave - field slave" residual mentality. She'll never be as good as Serena so they need to throw this 'heir" thing out the window right away! She needs some help, don't like her anymore!

    tensf@n1
    tensf@n1

    Having read Courtney's articles on Serena it's quite obvious that she's not the biggest fan. Listening to her NCR podcast (which is quite good for the most part) and reading her blog she's only displayed begrudging respect if tinged with a little more obvious dissatisfaction with every victory.  Back during this period in 2010, Courtney seemed most comfortable seeing a struggling Serena, "aloof", "goofy", "delusional" and "entitled" girl who was having mental lapses during her matches.  This new resurgent, calm Serena is now "boring".  Come on, Courtney, I'm a big fan and I know you like drama, but we're interested in the tennis, not the " ranting monologues" and "infamous tirades."  You're not above  a few yourself.

     http://cowbell.typepad.com/forty_deuce/2009/03/air-quotes-serena-beingserena-insert-epic-eyeroll-here.html

     Read the comments below.   

     C.Note is Courtney btw.


    GinaArauz
    GinaArauz

    @danthony930
    Did you not READ the part where is says she's constantly asked about Serena specifically? Did you not notice the part where the mainstream WHITE media were comparing the two just because they're both black and American? You are delusional and dramatic. The only person who needs professional help is you.

    danthony930
    danthony930

    Why is it that she only comments about a black athlete Serena, when she mentions the "come on" yells? Why is she not mentioning Sharapova, Azarenka and others who do the same thing? I find it troubling that one black athlete has so much distain of another black athlete. I believe they wall that HATING now days. This young lady needs a psychologist plain and simple.

    commentator
    commentator

    Fist pumps have become very common in professional tennis; there is no reason to read so much into Serena Williams's fist pumps or to single her out as "intimidating." I find the shrieking and shouting of tennis players at every stroke far more distracting and unpleasant than the fist pumps. Federer sometimes pumps his fist after a point but never shrieks or shouts during a stroke--this would be a positive model. 

    DarrylPrice
    DarrylPrice

    Here's the thing.  Sloane Stephens is 20 years old.  Compared to Serena, she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.  Not only that, she didn't have to face half of the opposition, much of it racist, that Serena had to face.  By the time Serena was Sloane's current age, she'd won 4 grand slam double's titles, 1 grand slam's singles title and had reached the finals in another slam.  Sloane Stephens is simply grasping for excuses as to why she hasn't produced the kind of results Serena produced.  If she wants to truly be a rival of Serena and wants to be relevant she needs to just shut up, work hard and win.  If she doesn't she'll be a here today, gone tomorrow coulda been like Donald Young.

    Karimatou
    Karimatou

    What haven been said about tiger WOOD being the most hated golf player. but he steel standing tall. sloane have not win a single game against a top 10 before or after serena in Australia. She's 20 and think she still young and her time will come after serena retire or something but there is a lot of young girls ready to shine and she might just find out that her only goal in player tennis is to win against serena, that's a noble goal. Henin, Kim C, Davonport, Capriati and others never thought yelling come on to motivate yourself is disrespectful. Sloane is the new Diva of Tennis, the other players should watch out, donc disrespect the diva.

    twbbud
    twbbud

    A strong woman goes against culture stereotypes and they are often reviled.  Because she is so physical and can literally pound smaller, weaker opponents into submission with cannon shots, it seems unfair to the rest of the ladies.

    The day will come when she is unable to play due to age and injury no one will rise to the top.  Sometimes, having a dominant player is boring.  At least with the men's there's are 3 to 5 players who could win any one tournament, the ladies, it seems like it's Serena all the time.  IF she's healthy, she's almost unbeatable.

    mntiburon
    mntiburon

    Oh no fist pumps. The horror!

    JasonMacBride
    JasonMacBride

    Wow! An athlete using mind games to psyche out their opponent - that's never happened before.

    moorea537
    moorea537

    This just needs to be said at this point. As I read the comments I am starting to understand that some of the people who comment on these blogs don't really follow the sport of tennis. There is not one mature professional tennis players who would view come ons as disrespectful. It is actually the exact opposite. Players use that to pump them selves up. And it is a sign that they are clearly taking you seriously as a competitor. Serena had done come ons all her career. Rafa says vamos all the time. I don't think she felt disrespected at all to be honest. Serena was not the first player to yell come on to sloane at all, but she is the only one that sloane called out for it. I think it was at the moment that Serena really wanted to distance herself from sloane. And after Sloane beat Serena at the aussie open. Sloane said in her press conference that getting to the semis of her first major was not difficult. That did not make sense for a couple of reasons. Sloane could of easily loss her match to Serena who was injured and Sloane struggled to close that one out. Not to mention that sloane almost loss another match at the aussie open. It was nice to hear the commentators say that Sloane was absolutely wrong about calling Serena disrespectful for come ons. And Serena does not need to play minds games with anyone. She is better than they are. That is why she is number one and she has 15 slams and counting.

    jenesaisquoi
    jenesaisquoi

    Who is Sloane Stephens? Why does she not shut up and do all her talking with the racket? Serena may play mind games, but when she serves up a 130mph ace, or several for that matter, they are coming from her hard work and dedication to her craft. When you have accomplished next to nothing in competitive sports, you should really shut up and play first. I want to see Ms. Stephens succeed, but I wish she concentrates on her game. No, really.

    Tennisobserver
    Tennisobserver

    No one doubts Serena's ability or accomplishments. Its her on-court behavior that makes people root against her. For example, when yelled "come on" in the middle of Stosur's backswing. She was then penalized and then proceeded to tell the line judge that she would shove her racket down her f**ing throat. Real class right there. And when she told the chair umpire to " watch her back." This is thuggery unbecoming to those who still view tennis as a sport with at least a semblance of etiquette left. In stark contrast, her older sister Venus is a great champion but has never displayed the prima donna spoiled brat persona of her younger sister. I too cannot  remember Serena saying she was outplayed after one of her rare losses. Instead she always seems to have an excuse.

    miraclem29
    miraclem29

    ?!? Serena was allegedly "playing mind games" just for saying Sloane played well?!  Did Sloane fall and bump her head?  Did she hear what Azarenka said about the score being closer than it looked and Serena "just" won the big points?!  Now THAT'S an attempt at "mind games!"  Serena could have said in the interview that had she not been injured Sloane never would have won -- which would have been the TRUTH!  But Serena's too classy for that. Taking notes, Sloane?

    MrTemecula
    MrTemecula

    Sloan, if somebody is trying to intimidate you, you just stare them down and give your best shot right back at them. That's the way your idol Clister played Serena. Kim matched power for power and Serena soon lost her cool. You may not be able to do that, but you can sure run Serena off the court like Henin. 

    Sagging Bellyfat
    Sagging Bellyfat

    Bjorn Borg used to play mind games - by remaining absolutely silent and unemotional. Good calls, bad calls, wins, losses - they were all the same to Borg. No reaction.

     

    Those he slaughtered on the court never complained about it. On the contrary, they were in awe him.

    StingStungMe
    StingStungMe

    Where is the date on this article? For some reason, I'm not seeing a date. Maybe I am just scrolling too fast. Seems like this is old news.

    ThePublicBloggr
    ThePublicBloggr

    When you know your opponent is playing mind games, than it is your challenge if they still affect you. One day, my godson, his mother and I were watching a NFL game. A runner with the ball (can't quite remember his name) had long hair that draped out of and way passed the helmet. A defensive man, just doing his job, grabbed his hair and all but swung him to the ground. My godson said,  "Hey I can't believe he did that!" In unison, his mother and i said "This is football. He should have cut his hair." The moral to the story is, if its not against the rules, or the rules cannot be interpreted to have meant to include such an act OR there isn't an out-pour from fans and some insider demanding that the rules require updating, than its all part of the sport or in Serena's case, gamesmanship, which the inferior player is going to have to learn. - thepublicblogger

    msmill54
    msmill54

    Just play and stop getting drawn into the petty STUFF. 

    craig1
    craig1

    @RaiderRow  Who cares what you are - as a human being - I find you to be a complete moron. 

    RealTalk
    RealTalk

    @RaiderRow Not only does she have the house slave attitude, she is just a young woman with a nasty disposition in general.  I watched an after-match interview she did on ESPN with Crissie Everett and you could see how turned off Crissie and her co-host were at how curtly Sloan answered their questions and commented on her match.  Watch out, young lady, you're about to ruin your career before it takes off.

    danthony930
    danthony930

    @DarrylPrice Serena, had to take her bumps and bruises in her early years. Although. as oppose to Sloane the top players (women/men) knew that Serena was a fast learner.

    dianejholder2
    dianejholder2

    @twbbud  

    I keep hearing how big and powerful Serena is, so I did a little fact checking, so I don't share your view that because she works hard and plays well it is somehow, 'unfair' to the other players, there are many just as physical as she is.

    Serena williams H 5'9 W 150 lb

    Anna Ivancovic H 6'1 W 152 lb

    Mauresmo        H 5'9 W 152 lb

    Kerber              H 5'8 W 150 lb

    Safina              H 5'12 W 154 lb

    Sharapova       H 6' 2 W 130 lb

    Razzano           H5'9 W 148 lb


    Vici, Cirstea, Garcia are all much smaller, however Serena is pretty average in height and weight wehn you compare her to other tennis players, so why people keep talking like she is somehow bigger and taller than everyone else on tour is a mystery to me.


    Well it is not a mystery, but it is rather annoying :)

    However I agree with you, Serena's image problem has more to do with the fact that she is good, she knows it and she is unashamedly herself than anything else. 

    R8RBOB
    R8RBOB

     @JasonMacBride I can't use the Sloane is young and naive excuse anymore. She is silly and ignorant as to how all sports are played. Playing mind games is a tool needed to master your opponent. Don't believe me, ask the ghost of Vince Lombardi.

    danthony930
    danthony930

    @Tennisobserver Sam Stosur's game has tanked since she made that accusation. If she was really in the middle of her swing, then she should have just hit the ball anywhere on Serena's court. She would have won the point. 

    dianejholder2
    dianejholder2

     @Tennisobserver 

     

     

    Serena's comments after losing to Azarenka in Dubai

    "I always respect Victoria. I think she's a really good player. Obviously she's so consistent and she plays well,'' Williams said. "It's nice to always play someone that you go home and you're like, `OK, I didn't do great, but let me work harder'. She inspires a lot of people to work harder, and definitely me.''

     

    Serena's reply to Sloane's comments

    Q:  Recently Sloane Stephens made some comments about you.  I’m not sure if you’re aware.  If you are, what are your thoughts on them? Serena: Yeah, I think a lot of people are aware.  I don’t really know.  I don’t have many thoughts.  I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been.  I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world.  I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her. So I really just always wish her — and anyone, really, especially from America — the best.  We don’t have that many American players, so it’s always exciting to see so many young players doing so well.

     

    After her first round loss in the french open:

     

    "Williams entered Tuesday having won her previous 17 matches, all on clay. She withdrew before what would have been her most recent match, a semifinal at the Italian Open on May 19, citing a bad lower back, but said on Friday she was better, then refused to place blame on that injury after being beaten by Razzano.

    "No, no, no. I didn't feel anything abnormal," said Williams, who counts the 2002 French Open among her 13 Grand Slam singles trophies. "I was 100 percent healthy."

     

    "I tried. I kept going for my shots, which always works for me," Williams said. "It didn't work out today.

    "I never really feel anything slipping away or anything," Williams said. "I just felt I couldn't get a ball in play."

     

    Serena after losing the US open

     

    Said Serena, "Yeah, she played really, really well. It's good to see I tried my hardest, but she kept hitting winners.  (about Stosur)

     

    This was just after a few mins of googling.  Pretty sure I can find more :)

     

     

    Bahmama
    Bahmama

    If you're going to complain, at least get your facts right.  These two incidents did not happen in the same match, not even in the same year. But, people keep bringing them up as if they are the be-all and end-all of Serena's career.  Which of us haven't done something once or twice (or three times) in our lives that might have been unbecoming and that we regret? They happened, she was penalized for them and has done other commendable things before and after those incidents, as well as she's been on the receiving end of injustices that largely go unmentioned (see posts below).  Time to move on -  to GS win #16.

    SammerH
    SammerH

     @miraclem29 LOL, Serena is the biggest sore loser in women's tennis. It's always her mistakes that cost her the match, she has never said the other player played too good. Never!

    miraclem29
    miraclem29

     @MrTemecula,?!? Henin NEVER "ran" Serena "off the court!"  Even Venus leads Henin head-to-head 7-2!  Serena's lead over Henin would be as lopsided --or moreso -- if Serena had not been INJURED while playing Henin or Henin had not CHEATED with the aid of a rabid crowd and stubbornly harassing (of Serena) officials. Jeepers, Serena, on one leg and a hand (sprained thumb) practically tied behind her back, took Henin to three sets at Wimbledon!  And everytime Serena saw Clijsters she had to block out what happened at Indian Wells where new foreigner, Kim was on the other side of the net when rabid, booing, hissing, farting spectators in the crowd harassed teenaged Serena and booed even louder just because she hugged her own father and sister!

     

    T.W.17227
    T.W.17227

     @StingStungMe This comes from a larger interview done back in February. Sure, Sloane talked too much but has since stopped talking to the press, and what athlete doesn't intimidate another athlete? IF it was good enough for Jordan, Bird, Rose et al then it's damn sure good enough for Serena. Anyway, Sloane had bought this recent backlash all on herself by continuing to talk to the media about Serena negatively Fine if she doesn't like her, that's life, but Sloane is the one who came out looking petty, jealous and angry over Williams Success. However, The media surely wants to KEEP this going if they can by re-releasing it over and over again, but adding new bylines and asking hypothetical questions in between and after what Sloane said in February. Well, Serena's not let this affect her like it has Sloane's play on court. Serena's won 5 WTA titles and we're upon French Open in a few hours and Serena has a solid chance to win her 2nd FO title and make her slam count 16, which is 2 away from the 18 that Chris & Martina have. Yet, the media still won't stop going with this even though Sloane has been quiet for a while now, and said she and Serena have talked privately and they're "good now" in Sloane's own words. The media...*le sigh*

    danthony930
    danthony930

    @R8RBOB @JasonMacBride you can add the master of intimidation Muhammed Ali to that enormous list. It seems that Sloane is naive to recognize this skill is used in every profession on Earth.


    dianejholder2
    dianejholder2

     @SammerH  

    Actually she has, several times (see below)... but why let facts get in the way of good old bias :)

    MrTemecula
    MrTemecula

    @miraclem29 @MrTemecula Oh, wow, forgot to check on this comment. I'm a huge Serena fan. She's my favorite player even though she does try to intimidate other players, however, that's always been part of sports. Serena  was going to lose to Kim in N.Y. even before that line judge took that chance away from Kim. It doesn't say much of Serena's mental strength if every time she saw Kim, it affected her play because of Indian Wells. I don't believe that Serena, the greatest American champion of our generation, is that weak. 

    As for Henin, that's the way Henin beat Serena. She made Serena run...just like she made everybody else run. Yeah, Henin displayed poor sportsmanship in the F.O., but it's only one point. Henin was 6 wins and 8 losses against Serena. Henin was a great champion, just like Kim. That's the quality of player you need to be in order to compete with Serena. You had to stand up to Serena and not worry that she was playing mind games with you.

    SammerH
    SammerH

     @miraclem29  @MrTemecula Even her fans are excuse makers. LOL, she lost fair and square to Clijsters, Henin and Stosur. They dismantled and utterley destroyed her.

    N Hale
    N Hale

    @SammerH @dianejholder2 @Tennisobserver 

    Sammer, you are delusional. In most of those comments Serena clearly implied that her opponent outplayed her that day...but outplaying someone does not make you a better player. There is no woman playing tennis better than Serena Williams, but there are some who can still beat her on a given day...and on those days, she tends to admit she was outplayed and makes no excuses.

    dianejholder2
    dianejholder2

     @SammerH

     

    Said Serena, "Yeah, she played really, really well. It's good to see I tried my hardest, but she kept hitting winners."  After her loss to Stosur at the US open.

     

    If this does not qualify, then I am not sure anything will.

    SammerH
    SammerH

     @dianejholder2  I just proved to you by showing you from your OWN POSTS that she nevr, ever says the other player was better than her. "I just couldnt put the ball in play" <---- LOL!!!!!  No, she was better than you!!!!

    Smeefy
    Smeefy

    @SammerH @GWhiz_VI 

    We can all see that you want someone to agree with you here and tell you that Serena won't admit that another player is better than her.  I don't know why that matters to you so much, but you keep posting the same thing over and over again, so it must.

    I think you are right.  I think that Serena is the most dominant player in women's tennis for more than a decade because she does believe in herself and she believes that she could and should win all her matches if she plays her best.  She does not often give the impression of the humble loser in her interviews.

    That said, so what?

    There are literally hundreds of quotes from Serena complimenting her opponents and giving credit where credit is due.  "I respect Victoria. She's a really good player"  "I'm a huge Sloane Stephens fan. I think she can be the best in the world." "I tried my hardest, but [Stosur] kept hitting winners."

    And perhaps Henin and Cjlisters and Stosur have handed her some convincing defeats, but again, so what?  Serena has also handed them defeats.  No one is suggesting that other players can't beat Serena on any given day.  But over time, Serena has shown herself to be able to compete at the highest levels for far more years than any other player on tour.  Certainly her record is far more impressive than Henin, Cljisters or Stosur.



    SammerH
    SammerH

    @GWhiz_VI Actually Nadal ALWAYS says "I lost because he played better than me". He said it numerous time sin many interviews against many different opponents. Serena? NEVER. Not ONCE.

    GWhiz_VI
    GWhiz_VI

    Why should she say something that is not true. When Nadal lost to Soderling he did not say that Soderling was the better player or that Rosol was the better play. First he refused to comment and give excuses, then he talked about the umpire calls, the closing of the roof.

    SammerH
    SammerH

     @Lilly23 I stand by what I said. IT's always, I tried but it didnt work out for me, I couldnt put the ball in play, I kept making silly unforced errors. She ahs never once said she was the better player, she was better than me. That's the epitome of arrogance.

    dianejholder2
    dianejholder2

     @SammerH

    In response to "Just show me ONE instance where Serena said "I lost because she was too good"

     

    Well... I don't have one... I have a few :)

     

    Serena's comments after losing to Azarenka in Dubai

    "I always respect Victoria. I think she's a really good player. Obviously she's so consistent and she plays well,'' Williams said. "It's nice to always play someone that you go home and you're like, `OK, I didn't do great, but let me work harder'. She inspires a lot of people to work harder, and definitely me.''

     

    Serena's reply to Sloane's comments

    Q:  Recently Sloane Stephens made some comments about you.  I’m not sure if you’re aware.  If you are, what are your thoughts on them? Serena: Yeah, I think a lot of people are aware.  I don’t really know.  I don’t have many thoughts.  I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been.  I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world.  I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her. So I really just always wish her — and anyone, really, especially from America — the best.  We don’t have that many American players, so it’s always exciting to see so many young players doing so well.

     

    After her first round loss in the french open:

     

    "Williams entered Tuesday having won her previous 17 matches, all on clay. She withdrew before what would have been her most recent match, a semifinal at the Italian Open on May 19, citing a bad lower back, but said on Friday she was better, then refused to place blame on that injury after being beaten by Razzano.

    "No, no, no. I didn't feel anything abnormal," said Williams, who counts the 2002 French Open among her 13 Grand Slam singles trophies. "I was 100 percent healthy."

     

    "I tried. I kept going for my shots, which always works for me," Williams said. "It didn't work out today.

    "I never really feel anything slipping away or anything," Williams said. "I just felt I couldn't get a ball in play."

     

    Serena after losing the US open

     

    Said Serena, "Yeah, she played really, really well. It's good to see I tried my hardest, but she kept hitting winners.  (Regarding her loss to Stosur)

     

    This was just after a few mins of googling.  Pretty sure I can find more :)

    dianejholder2
    dianejholder2

     @Lilly23  @SammerH 

    It is amazing how many don't let something as trivial as reality or statistics stand in the way of their convictions.

     

    One minor addition to the discussion, Justine Henin cheated in the French Open final.  Any American that is cheering for someone who won over an American player by cheating... well that is just really sad.

    Lilly23
    Lilly23

     @SammerH 

    Wow, calm down. No need to be melodramatic. haha

    In Serena's first round loss in 2012 French Open, she praised Razzano and even told the reporters that her back was not bothering her during the match. In other words, she wasn't giving any excuses for that match anyway.

    I didn't follow Tennis a lot in the past so I wouldn't know of how Serena was when she was younger.

    Also, you're accusing Serena of being arrogant?

    Serena may not have the best attitude on the court but there's a reason why she's earned 15 Grand Slams, four gold medals, and the honor of being one of the greatest female tennis players ever. Some call how she acts arrogance, others call it the heart of a champion Everyone loses but she hates losing. That's what drives her to win.

    Lastly, Henin and Clijsters have always given Serena problems and have been great rivals so it's no surprise these women outplayed her in some matches and that Serena destroyed them in other matches.

    Even Stosur's win over her in 2011 US open was well deserved. No excuses.

    But Serena does still lead in their head to heads: 8-6, 6-2, and 6-3 respectively. Nothing will change that.

    I'm not a big fan of hers personally but she is and always will be a tennis legend.

    SammerH
    SammerH

     @BraxtonPope  @miraclem29  @MrTemecula LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!!!! Just show me ONE instance where Serena said "I lost because she was too good". ONE! LOL! Yes three women destroyed her by completely outplaying her. You are just as delusional and arrogant as Serena. They outplayed her and she was defeated. Get over it.

    BraxtonPope
    BraxtonPope

     @SammerH  @miraclem29  @MrTemecula Give it a break. All players give their opponents compliments after defeat including Serena. And all players also proceed to talk about what was lacking in their game during the match.  Serena always pays compliments to her opponents, but people like you who dislike her no matter what, will never see any good in anything that she does. And youre delusional to think that those 3 women destroyed her. Yeah, they may have a few wins over her but at the end of the day, who has 15 Grand Slams and counting??? 

    And to say Henin ran Serena off the court is delusional as well. There's no doubt that Justine was a fantastic player in my opinion but we all know that during her reign in tennis 2005-2008, Serena and Venus were not very active, dealing with personal issues, and had lost interest in the sport.