Serena Williams…A big masquerade battling for survival
The month of May is upon us and the second quarter of 2016 tennis season is on its way out. The tennis calendar has swung to the fields of clay, regarded as one of the toughest surfaces to play on. And many pundits and followers of the game are asking: “what will be the fate of one of the greatest tennis players ever, World No1, Serena Williams?
Since her shocking loss to Roberta Vinci at last year’s US Open- one of the most shocking defeats ever, Serena has struggled consistently to regain form. She has not defended her title in a single tournament from last year’s massive success.
The 34-year-old American has played only a paltry three tournaments (compared to the rest of the field) since September, a space of almost eight months. Looking very rusty and out of sorts, Serena lost the Australian Open final in Melbourne in January to German, Angelique Kerber in three sets.
If not that the rest of the field has been equally poor, Serena might have lost her No1 ranking, but she is barely hanging on. Her poor results continue and she has withdrawn from several tournaments already, citing injuries.
It would be unfair to write off Serena completely as she has shown time and time again that she is the queen of comebacks.
Who would have predicted a season such as last year for the American and at her age? She won the “Serena Slam” and if not for that terrible defeat at Flushing Meadows, Serena would have gone on to complete the career slam, a feat that would have cemented her status as one of the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT).
Williams’ early season form has been difficult to define really. Vulnerability may not necessarily mean big trouble, but recent losses and unexplained withdrawals are sending pundits into frenzy.
Beijing and Singapore are two mandatory WTA tournaments she skipped at the end of last season. Miami Open, where she was the defending champion, did not end well for her as she was bundled out in the fourth round by Svetslana Kuznetsova. It was her earliest loss at Key Biscayne since 2000.
Cincinnati 2015 was the last tournament Serena won, an alarming fact, considering she has a lot of points to defend from last year.
Already, she is the oldest player to hold the No1 ranking in WTA history, many industry watchers had predicted at the end of last year that it would be a difficult task for Serena to replicate her amazing 2015 season. But no one might have thought it would be this poor.
One of the most mentally tough players on tour, the American had been chasing Steffi Graf’s open era record of 22 slams and probably Margaret Court’s all time record of 24 slams.
Serena is in a race against time and it is obvious she is hungry to tie Graf’s record even though she insists it is not her ultimate goal but her actions give lie to her words.
Patrick Mouratoglou who has coached her since June 2012 insists Serena is not suffering from last year’s shock defeat and is in perfect health even though she has withdrawn from some tournaments already, citing knee and wrist issues.
If indeed she has these problems, clay is certainly not the surface for her to regain the desired momentum. Asides being her least favourite surface, it is punishing on the body and anything less than 100 percent fitness would result in early exists, a situation she can least afford as she needs the points to retain her spot at the top of the rankings.
The French Open would take place next month and Serena is the defending champion. Before that, there are two thousand points up for grabs in both Madrid and Rome and she would need to win the trophy in at least one of them.
Sadly, Serena withdrew from the Madrid Open yesterday, citing ‘illness.’ This would have helped to solidify her ranking and gives her needed confidence going into Roland Garros later next month. With this withdrawal, Serena will lose 600 points, while the winner will get 1000 points.
Her serve has been below average in recent months, and if she is to make another of her famous comebacks, Serena would need to fine tune it properly before French Open.
She is already fourth place in the Race to Singapore, which is the Tennis World Cup for the best eight players in a season. She is down a place from third last week and is in danger of dropping even more, especially with her withdrawal from the Madrid Open. This is a stark contrast to last year when she qualified for the race early in the year and was first place all through till the end of the year.
Angelique Kerber has proven to be Williams’ fiercest rival this year, handing the American the first of several painful defeats already, as Maria Sharapova is embroiled with drug related problems and is observing a suspension from the sport.
This would have been the perfect opportunity for Serena to rejuvenate and make a claim for her 22nd slam and possibly, tie Margaret Court. She is not getting younger and the rest of the field is yapping at her heels like a pack of hungry wolves. This may be unknown to the American.
This is an Olympic year and Serena had declared last year that one of her goals was to win the gold medal again but recent tournaments have weakened the possibility of this happening, if at all.
Already, rumours of retirement have started to surface but the twenty-one grand slam champion has made no reference that she may retire any time soon.
Her exit from the stage however, would leave a gaping hole in the tour as no single player has shown that she is capable of stepping into Serena’s shoes. The women’s tour is presently littered with 1 and 2 slam wonders, who always finds it difficult to back up victories consistently, year after year.
Some experts have argued that Serena’s presence has prevented other contenders from winning slams. But this has proven to be untrue because the so-called contenders hardly make it to the final themselves.
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