Williams wel­comes ex­tra set as she looks for some rhythm

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Wimbledon - By Jeremy Wil­son at Wim­ble­don 2-6, 6-2, 6-4

“It’s a win-win – I could re­ally use the matches,” Ser­ena Williams said, when asked this week about the prospect of play­ing mixed dou­bles with Andy Mur­ray and, on this ev­i­dence, she was guilty only of un­der­state­ment.

Watched on No 1 Court by her friend the Duchess of Sus­sex, Wim­ble­don’s an­swer to roy­alty was pushed un­ex­pect­edly close to the limit by a Slove­nian qual­i­fier by the name of Kaja Ju­van who was not even born when she had won her first grand-slam ti­tle.

A cat­a­logue of un­forced er­rors left Williams trail­ing by three games within only nine min­utes against an 18-year-old op­po­nent who did also show con­sid­er­able prom­ise even amid the seven-time cham­pion’s wild in­con­sis­tency.

Williams had never pre­vi­ously lost to a qual­i­fier in any grand slam and, while an early break in the sec­ond set en­sured that record was al­ways kept out of Ju­van’s reach, the match evolved into an un­com­fort­able but nec­es­sary ex­er­cise in shift­ing rust.

Sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment will still be needed if Williams can progress to a point of se­ri­ously con­tend­ing next week for that record­e­qualling 24th grand slam sin­gles ti­tle, but there were signs af­ter 94 min­utes on court of her find­ing some rhythm. This, af­ter all, was only her 14th match of the year and she does be­lieve that she is be­gin­ning to rediscover both her move­ment and range with her first serve. That was most ev­i­dent in how Williams de­liv­ered five of her six aces dur­ing the de­cid­ing third set. “I just have to re­mem­ber that I’m best at clos­ing matches – I have to kind of just shut my eyes and get there,” she said.

Williams is also con­fi­dent that the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing dou­bles with Mur­ray, which will start this evening, will ac­cel­er­ate her path back to form. “It was def­i­nitely com­ing to­gether as the match went on – I’m just low on matches and I could feel it,” Williams said. “I have to take ev­ery match as five matches and re­ally learn from ev­ery sin­gle point. In the past two years I haven’t played a lot of matches. Usu­ally when I play dou­bles, it helps my sin­gles game.”

There is also a wider sense that play­ing along­side Mur­ray in front of a fer­vent Wim­ble­don crowd can be mu­tu­ally in­spir­ing. “I’m cu­ri­ous, too,” she said. “It’s go­ing to be re­ally cool. I think Andy is men­tally one of the tough­est play­ers and it’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing to hear what other cham­pi­ons think – how you can add that to your game. I would like to add some pos­i­tiv­ity to him, too. His work ethic is off the charts. There’s so many things to be ad­mired. He re­ally speaks up about women’s is­sues, no mat­ter what. You can tell he has a re­ally strong woman in his life. I think above all that is just fan­tas­tic. I am re­ally look­ing for­ward to it – we both love Wim­ble­don.”

Williams’s lib­eral use of the word “love” was es­pe­cially in­struc­tive in the con­text of her longevity. Hav­ing given birth in 2017 to her daugh­ter, Alexis Olympia, she could at 37 be­come the old­est women’s sin­gles fi­nal­ist next Satur­day and yet she de­scribes her pas­sion for ten­nis as only in­ten­si­fy­ing. “I’m kind of the vin­tage gen­er­a­tion that’s turn­ing to dust. I’m try­ing to fig­ure out, ‘Why do I still have pres­sure, you know?’ ” And what of the pres­ence yes­ter­day among her sup­port­ers of the Duchess of Sus­sex, whose baby Archie will be chris­tened to­mor­row? “It’s al­ways ex­cit­ing when she comes out to watch and sup­port the ten­nis,” Williams said. And might there be any ten­nis tips for Archie? “I’m ac­tu­ally work­ing on Olympia’s game,” she said. “Maybe she can give tips to him. She’ll be like his older sis­ter.” Williams was among the guests at the royal wedding last year but she was giv­ing noth­ing away amid the mys­tery of Archie’s fu­ture god­par­ents. “No, I’m work­ing on Satur­day,” Williams said.

She is, and Ju­lia Gorges, the world No18 whom she beat in last year’s semi-fi­nal, will rep­re­sent a se­ri­ous threat.

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