Ser­ena’s in­vin­ci­bil­ity aura wanes

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

NEW YORK — Ser­ena Wil­liams faces a chal­leng­ing new land­scape in her con­tin­ued pur­suit of Grand Slam his­tory thanks to the rise of a clutch of tal­ented and fear­less ri­vals led by new num­ber one An­gelique Kerber.

Kerber (28) set the tone with her vic­tory over Wil­liams in the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary.

And Wil­liams’s aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity was fur­ther eroded with a French Open fi­nal de­feat by 22-year-old Spa­niard Gar­bine Mugu­ruza, a Rio Olympics third-round exit at the hands of 21-year-old Ukrainian Elina Svi­tolina, and her semi-fi­nal loss at the US Open to 24-year-old Czech Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova’s vic­tory en­sured Kerber, snap­ping for weeks at Wil­liams’s heels, would rise to num­ber one — a feat she marked with her sec­ond Grand Slam ti­tle of the sea­son at Flush­ing Mead­ows.

With her plans for the rest of 2016 up in the air, Wil­liams’s coach Pa­trick Mouratoglou ac­knowl­edged that a sea­son with just two ti­tles — even if one of them was Wim­ble­don —wasn’t up to the Amer­i­can’s stan­dards.

“This year was not good enough,” he said. “Only one Slam. For Ser­ena it’s not good enough, for sure.”

It may be the look of the fu­ture, how­ever, as Wil­liams’s path beyond her cur­rent 22 Grand Slams — tied with St­effi Graf for most in the Open Era and two shy of Mar­garet Court’s all-time mark of 24 — grows ever more com­pli­cated.

“I don’t think Ser­ena is go­ing any­where,” said US Fed Cup cap­tain Mary Joe Fer­nan­dez.

“I think she is go­ing to win more and break St­effi’s record. But it’s go­ing to get tougher.

“It gets harder the older you get and the young ones com­ing up.”

Com­pared to Ser­ena, who turns 35 later this month, Kerber is among those young ones, although at 28 she’s the old­est woman to as­cend to num­ber one for the first time.

She’s just the sec­ond woman, af­ter China’s Li Na, to win her first two Grand Slam ti­tles af­ter turn­ing 28, and the Ger­man who has qui­etly worked on im­prov­ing her game will now op­er­ate in the harsh glare of the spot­light the num­ber one rank­ing brings.

“You have to em­brace it,” Fer­nan­dez said. “If you’re go­ing to be a cham­pion you want the pres­sure. The bet­ter you get, the more pres­sure there is.”

Dur­ing her lat­est stretch of 186 weeks atop the rank­ings — a span that equaled an­other Graf record — Wil­liams won seven Grand Slams and 24 ti­tles over­all.

But Wil­liams must in­creas­ingly pick and choose her tour­na­ments to pre­serve her body for the Grand Slams that are her pri­or­ity.

“We know that had Ser­ena played a full sched­ule, most likely she would not have lost that num­ber one rank­ing,” said 18-time Grand Slam cham­pion Martina Navratilova.

“Amaz­ing that she was still num­ber one hav­ing only played eight tour­na­ments.

“So there is a whole bunch of stuff go­ing on, but the younger gen­er­a­tion is def­i­nitely com­ing up.”

That younger gen­er­a­tion, Navratilova said, was gal­va­nized by Kerber’s vic­tory over Wil­liams in Mel­bourne, which was enough to spark a “col­lec­tive con­fi­dence” among play­ers long con­di­tioned to think of Wil­liams as un­beat­able.

“I think Kerber set it up,” she said. “Once she beat Ser­ena there ev­ery­body thought ‘Oh, we have a chance.’“— AFP

For Ser­ena Wil­liams, the wait for Grand Slam ti­tle No. 23 will have to wait un­til next year.

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