Williams welcomes extra set as she looks for some rhythm
“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.