Wil­liams run­ning out of time af­ter Andreescu up­set

Tear­ful Amer­i­can vows to equal Court’s record Cana­dian teenager caps rapid rise this sea­son

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Rugby Union - By Si­mon Briggs TEN­NIS COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Flush­ing Mead­ows

Af­ter los­ing a fourth straight ma­jor fi­nal, will Serena Wil­liams ever make it to her stated goal of 24 grand-slam ti­tles? The ques­tion car­ries a weight that ex­tends be­yond the Amer­i­can player’s per­sonal am­bi­tions.

Many would like to see the name of Mar­garet Court – now a Pen­te­costal pas­tor with ex­tremely il­lib­eral views – knocked off the top of the ta­ble.

On Satur­day night, as the match ebbed away from Wil­liams, it was no­tice­able that Bil­lie Jean King’s part­ner, Ilana Kloss, had her head in her hands at the side of the court.

Wil­liams in­sisted af­ter­wards that the quest would go on. But there was a Ground­hog Day feel­ing on Arthur Ashe Sta­dium, as the fi­nal con­tin­ued the pat­tern of Wil­liams’s three pre­vi­ous tro­phy matches. While her 19-year-old op­po­nent, Bianca Andreescu, de­liv­ered a ma­jes­tic per­for­mance, it was equally true that she was heavy­footed and in­de­ci­sive.

At one point, she pulled out of a back­hand mid-swing, al­low­ing the ball to bounce up higher be­fore tak­ing a sec­ond at­tempt at the shot. It was the sort of nervy re­cal­cu­la­tion you would ex­pect to see from a week­end player on a park court, not an all-time le­gend whose co­terie in­cluded the Duchess of Sus­sex.

By con­trast with last year’s de­fi­ant post-match press con­fer­ence – when Wil­liams had ac­cused chair um­pire Car­los Ramos of sex­ism – she was tear­ful and un­usu­ally con­tem­pla­tive in the in­ter­view room af­ter her 6-3, 7-5 de­feat.

“I love Bianca,” Wil­liams said. “I think she’s a great girl. But I think this was the worst match I’ve played all tour­na­ment. It truly is su­per frus­trat­ing. I’m, like, so close, so close, so close, yet so far away. I guess I got to keep go­ing if I want to be a pro­fes­sional ten­nis player.”

Speak­ing to re­porters on Satur­day night, Wil­liams’s coach, Pa­trick Mouratoglo­u, did not deny ru­mours that his charge would sit out the rest of the sea­son, only re­turn­ing to the court in time for Jan­uary’s Aus­tralian Open.

“We didn’t de­cide yet,” he said. “I don’t know if she will be at the WTA Fi­nals [the sea­son-end­ing tour­na­ment which fin­ishes on Nov 3].”

But Mouratoglo­u was bullish about Wil­liams’s prospects of even­tu­ally equalling Court’s record. “She is not a quit­ter. Yes it’s tough, but be­ing a cham­pion is not giv­ing up when it’s tough. We are go­ing to make this 24 or 25.

“The thing we need most is time,” he added. “She is com­ing back not from an in­jury but be­ing a mother. It’s a huge trans­for­ma­tion both for the body and the mind and at her age [Wil­liams turns 38 this month] it takes even more time.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mouratoglo­u, Wil­liams’s job has been made harder by the fact that her op­po­nents in all four fi­nals “had zero pres­sure”. Yet it is hard to see that chang­ing.

Wil­liams al­ready tow­ers over the sport like the Statue of Lib­erty over the Hud­son River, and all the ex­pec­ta­tion and at­ten­tion is nat­u­rally drawn to­wards her. With ev­ery tour­na­ment, too, the sense of time run­ning out be­comes more acute.

What a con­trast, then, with new cham­pion Andreescu. Not only does this be­guil­ing player have decades in front of her, she also makes this whole ten­nis lark – which re­duces many as­pir­ing cham­pi­ons to de­spair – seem be­wil­der­ingly easy and stress-free. Ad­mit­tedly, Andreescu had one tear­ful mo­ment of her own in her post-match press con­fer­ence, when she ex­plained that “I’ve been dream­ing of this mo­ment for the long­est time”. For a few sec­onds, she held her hands over her face and sobbed. But when an of­fi­cial asked her whether she needed a break to com­pose her­self, she straight­ened up, grinned and replied: “I’m good. Con­tinue.”

Andreescu’s el­e­va­tion has come so quickly that, even at the start of this sea­son, many ten­nis in­sid­ers had no idea who she was. She has skipped an en­tire stage of devel­op­ment, like a but­ter­fly who some­how never had to be a cater­pil­lar.

There is an echo of Mon­ica Se­les, who also won the fourth ma­jor she en­tered: the French Open of 1990. Ex­cept that Se­les was only 16, and had reached the semi-fi­nal of Roland Gar­ros a year ear­lier, so she was hardly an un­known quan­tity.

In Andreescu’s case, she was just an­other promis­ing teenager train­ing at the IMG Academy in Florida dur­ing the off-sea­son. In fact, she spent a lot of time with the Bri­tish party posted out to Braden­ton by the Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion, be­com­ing friendly with the likes of Katie Boul­ter and Cameron Nor­rie.

Since then, though, she has gone through the gears at speed, first reach­ing the fi­nal of Auck­land in Jan­uary and then lift­ing sig­nif­i­cant ti­tles in In­dian Wells and her home city of Toronto. Now ranked world No 5, Andreescu has just be­come the first Cana­dian to win a ma­jor.

Af­ter her press con­fer­ence, Andreescu’s un­der­stated coach, Sylvain Bruneau, was pre­sented with a tro­phy of his own. “I’m not used to this,” he said, try­ing to find a com­fort­able way to pose for the cam­eras. His young client grinned. “We’ll get used to it,” she said.

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