Steely Ser­ena prom­ises more Ma­jors

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — Ser­ena Wil­liams could iden­tify pre­cisely the mo­ment when she was ready to win a sev­enth Wim­ble­don. It was just be­fore the tour­na­ment, in the wake of a scald­ing de­feat to Gar­biñe Mugu­ruza in Paris, that she de­cided in an in­stant to cast all stress and melo­drama aside.

“I woke up one day and I just felt dif­fer­ent,” she said. “I felt a re­lief.

“I made my mind up that I was not go­ing to worry about any­one or any­thing – about what peo­ple said or didn’t say – that I was just go­ing to worry about tennis.”

She sent a mes­sage to her coach, Pa­trick Mouratoglou, telling him of the overnight trans­for­ma­tion. He replied, crisply enough: “The real Ser­ena is back.”

We had bet­ter be­lieve it, on the ev­i­dence of a grand slam dis­play as dom­i­nant and steely as any that Wil­liams has yet pro­duced. An­gelique Ker­ber de­served all the plau­dits for her role in the finest Wim­ble­don ladies’ fi­nal for a decade, but on the one break point that she carved out, she did not even have a hit, so pow­er­less was the Ger­man against that rocket-launcher of a Ser­ena serve.

Wil­liams un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of this 7-5, 6-3 vic­tory keenly, flex­ing two fingers on each hand to rep­re­sent her em­u­la­tion of St­effi Graf’s 22 ma­jor ti­tles. She ex­changed a pro­longed em­brace with Mouratoglou in the cor­ri­dors of Cen­tre Court after­wards, in recog­ni­tion of a pact that they had made at Wim­ble­don four years ear­lier, when she had been low on con­fi­dence and had asked him to help steer her to one more slam.

Brush­ing off such talk, the French­man re­fused to coun­te­nance such a mod­est am­bi­tion, claim­ing that she was ca­pa­ble of win­ning another 10.

Stag­ger­ingly, Wil­liams is nine-tenths of the way to ful­fill­ing her side of the bar­gain. At the US Open in Septem­ber, she stands poised to seize a 10th cham­pi­onship since turn­ing 30, two more than Jimmy Con­nors, Ivan Lendl or An­dre Agassi man­aged in their en­tire ca­reers. The only fig­ure ahead of her in the his­tor­i­cal reck­on­ing is Margaret Court, the Aus­tralian whose play­ing days strad­dled both the am­a­teur and Open eras, and who ob­served Ser­ena’s lat­est mile­stone on Satur­day from the royal box.

Even­tu­ally, or per­haps as soon as next sum­mer’s Wim­ble­don, even Court, with 24 ma­jors overall, could be left in Wil­liams’s con­trails. The most press­ing ques­tion is how long Wil­liams, who had pur­sued this corona­tion with a rav­en­ous ap­petite piqued by losses in her last two slam fi­nals, in­tends to con­tinue. One brake on her longevity could be the re­tire­ment of sis­ter Venus, who turns 37 next year. To­gether they won a 14th ma­jor dou­bles tro­phy here, but one of sport’s most en­dur­ing dou­ble acts is near­ing its fi­nal chap­ter.

“It would be hard,” she said, when asked if she dared to think about car­ry­ing on with­out her el­der sib­ling. “She has been my back­bone on this jour­ney, which we have been on for such a long time. I just hope that she won’t be re­tir­ing any time soon.”

Wreathed in smiles, she could scarcely have ap­peared more con­tent, and yet Ser­ena re­mains prone to an in­som­nia that hints at her ex­tremes of per­fec­tion­ism. “My sleep­less nights usu­ally come after the tour­na­ment,” she said. “I med­i­tate, go­ing over things, see­ing where I can im­prove. I’m think­ing, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ I’m al­ways some­body who is look­ing to im­prove, no mat­ter what.”

There was a mo­ment last year when one sensed that her fa­mous re­solve might be weak­en­ing. She has re­called how, in the af­ter­math of a shat­ter­ing de­feat by Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-fi­nals that de­nied her a first cal­en­dar grand slam in tennis since 1988, she hid un­der her bed cov­ers for days, lament­ing the missed op­por­tu­nity. Only the prospect of her show at New York Fashion Week suc­ceeded in snap­ping her out of her de­spair.

The man­ner of her fight­back in reach­ing ev­ery ma­jor fi­nal since then is a tes­ta­ment to her in­de­struc­tible edge. “I have al­ways known I was a big fighter, that I would never give up,” she re­flected. “But I have re­ally put it on dis­play lately. I have not let any­thing get me down.”

It is a tenac­ity that prom­ises to take her to heights once thought out of reach in this sport. She writes her own rules with ev­ery fresh record she sets.

Ser­ena Wil­liams plays a pow­er­ful fore­hand dur­ing the Ladies Sin­gles Fi­nal against an­gelique Ker­ber of Ger­many last Satur­day.

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