TO Just hours after Serena Williams left the Rod Laver Arena, defeated once again in the closing stages of a Grand Slam tournament, the Eurosport team had gathered in front of the cameras to discuss the day’s game. There was Barbara Schett, last active 15 years ago, who played Williams three times, and via video, Williams’ former rival, Justine Henin, who retired in Melbourne 10 years ago. Henin is a year younger than Williams, now a mother of two, and when asked if she saw herself competing like Williams again, her answer was simple: “No way, no chance.”
As Williams competes against players like Naomi Osaka, it’s easy to forget that her true contemporaries are women like Schett and Henin. Most of them have been retired for a long time, live a full life and enjoy the fruits of their work on the field in peace. Meanwhile, Williams has just competed in her 77th grand slam tournament, which puts her second on the all-time list after her sister, Venus, who played at her 88th place last week.
This longevity is clearly no comfort to Williams. The last image of her at the tournament was of her abruptly leaving her press conference in tears. There are already discussions about her future, about the precise meaning of her greeting as she leaves the court, but she is also allowed to be frustrated with how things continue to work out. Since returning from pregnancy, she has consistently put herself in a position to win. When his performances in four Grand Slam finals weren’t enough, he left and worked harder.
Over the last month in Australia, Williams has moved better than at any time in the last four years. While opponents like Simona Halep immediately pointed out the difference between then and now, she too was clearly happy and hopeful for her progress. When asked before his semi-final when he last moved as well as he is, he replied: “It’s definitely been a minute. It was a length minute, ”he said. “I think 19 … 1926, the summer of 1926 I think was the last time I felt that.”
However, none of that worked. Williams’ biggest problem is not her game, but how she has come to lose the killer instinct that defined her for so long. Consider some of his exploits alone at Rod Laver Arena: In 2003, he rallied 2-5 down against Kim Clijsters to win his Serena Slam. In the 2005 semi-final she saved three match points in the semi-final to beat Maria Sharapova. Two years later, she won everything while in 81st position. In 2017, she was pregnant and easily fatigued, so she conserved energy by beating everyone in straight sets.
By 2015, Williams’ record in Grand Slam finals was 21-4. She was the great seamer. His ability to excel in the most difficult moments was so common that it was easy for people to forget how difficult it is to even win a title. Now we know. Since Williams fell to Roberta Vinci at the 2015 US Open while chasing the grand slam, her highest final record is 2-6, and she has lost in more semi-finals (4) since then than in the rest of her career.
You have reached the part of your career where experience can be detrimental. He knows too much: he understands exactly what it means to win a Grand Slam title, that this will all end soon, and that every failure is a wasted opportunity. Winning is very difficult in these circumstances.
Meanwhile, Osaka represents part of the freedom and strength it has lost. He first refused to commit a single unforced error in the last 22 points of his fourth-round comeback against Garbiñe Muguruza from a 3-5 15-40 deficit, then responded by losing serve with three double faults for 6-3 4 -4. against Williams by winning the last eight points and the match. He is now chasing a 4-0 record in Grand Slam finals.
It remains to be seen whether Williams will be able to play freely enough to compete for his 24th Grand Slam title. Whether you do it or not, rather than failure, this period is rather the context of what it really took to achieve all you have.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism