World No.1 on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Rankings, Premier titles in Rome and Miami, and around $2 million in prize money alone, it looks like Serena Williams’ 2014 is going pretty well. But there is one thing missing, three in fact, from that list of achievements, and those three things mean more to Serena Williams than Premier titles, weeks at the top of the rankings and money. Those missing things that Serena can never get enough of, things missing from that list are the three grand slams that have slipped from her grasp as the heavy favorite in each one, and unless Serena Williams ends 2014 with the final one of the season, the U.S Open, then 2014 will be considered by Williams, and by her fans and critics, as nothing less than a disaster.
Serena Williams has 17 of them already. But she is one shy of getting into the history books alongside Navratilova and Evert, and one shy of putting herself firmly in the Greatest of all Time Debate alongside those two, Graf and Court.
After a stellar, two slam winning, 11 title, year end No.1 finishing 2013, pundits predicted slam 18 would come in Melbourne, Australia. But a determined Ana Ivanovic woke up on the morning of their fourth round encounter with her forehand firmly in tact, and knocked Williams out in three sets.
Surely, it would happen at the French. Serena had revamped her game, after her first ever first round loss in a slam at Roland Garros ’12, with the help of Patrick Mouratoglou to focus more on point construction and it paid off as she captured her second French Open title in 2013. She had also won the Italian Open this season in fine form. But relative unknown unseeded Garbine Muguruza inflicted on her her worst ever defeat at a slam, thrashing her 6-2, 6-2 in a match during which many thought Williams looked as despondent and lost for shots as she had ever done in her career.
Then came the most shocking exit of all- her defeat at the hands of French woman Alize Cornet in the third round of Wimbledon. Williams had dominated the first set only to then be outwitted in the next two. But that was not the most dramatic episode in Williams’ SW19 exit. The world No.1 left the doubles the next day in tears after being unable to serve or stand up straight. Gossip did the rounds of why Serena had been so disoriented- the official word was a virus.
The rumors have not been helped much as Williams’ coach, Mouratoglou, has spoken out about his charge’s mental state, claiming she is going through a ‘difficult period.’ That period certainly will get even more difficult if another early exit at the year’s final slam occurs for as the slams roll by the chances of 32 year old Williams getting to 18 significantly decrease, a factor many speculate is behind her recent shocking losses. And as each loss mounts, so too does the belief in her opponents they can score a famous win, and with their increase in confidence, William’ own lessens, and she appears, as she has done in her three losses at the slams this season, a shadow of the woman who resurrected her career so impressively after that devastating 2012 Roland Garros loss.
So, with the season’s other three slams done, and with Williams suffering a little confidence-wise, the U.S Open Series, with its five week lead-up to the last slam salon for Williams has to be the time Williams turns her season round slam-wise. And if Williams should be confident anywhere, it is on the hard courts of her home country.
Williams won the U.S Open Series last year, winning in Toronto and making the Cincinnati final, and added a million dollar bonus to her 2.6 million dollar check for winning slam 17 on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. That was her tenth hard-court grand slam, too, with four other titles coming in N.Y.C, and five slams coming in Melbourne, placing her as the player with the most hard court slam titles in history.
The U.S Open though has not always been a happy hunting ground for Williams. Her demons have gotten the better of her a couple of times there, and if she is being particularly haunted by them now, then there is the chance she might fall prey once more. Flushing Meadows has been the scene of William’s career controversial moments- in 2009, she was defaulted after her tirade at a line judge, and in 2011, she was criticized for another outburst at an official, this time an umpire.
So with her having tasted both success and failure at the most extreme levels in the U.S, Williams’ fortunes at this year’s event could go either way. But motivated by her surprise losses this season, Williams is hard at work practicing in Croatia and will compete in the premier events in Stanford, Montreal and Cincinnati. And with her main hard-court rival, Vika Azarenka, having won only one match since Melbourne after being hit by injury, Williams’ chances should be good as she strives to break her own record of being the oldest female singles Slam champion in New York. But good will not be good enough for Williams. Only great will do, and great, in tennis, comes in the forms of Slams, and in the form of Serena Williams. The player, and her fans, will be hoping the two come together the first Sunday of September.
Tennis shots is the regular tennis column of the Guardian Liberty Voice.
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Commentary by Christian Deverille