The women’s singles at the Australian Open has produced a new champion in the German Angelique Kerber. Yet, inevitably, the post-match questions were all about the beaten finalist, and particularly, what will Serena Williams do next?
After her preparations shuddered to a painful halt at the Hopman Cup with knee inflammation, there were pre-tournament concerns about whether she would be able to begin a new quest for a career Slam. But such was the perception of Serena’s dominance of the women’s game that her route surely led to a final against spirited adversary and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.
Instead it was Kerber who prevented Serena equalling Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, and in one of the most competitive finals seen in the women’s game.
The famous Williams intensity, the volume, the raucous yells and the squeals of indignation, were all present and correct. But as her final forehand sailed long, and her opponent dropped to the ground in disbelief, Williams walked around the net to congratulate her, and remained dignified and sporting in the most painful part of defeat – the runner’s up speech.
When asked if, because it was a great final, it made it easier to absorb the loss, Williams gave a rare insight into the isolation at the very top of the game. She said: “It’s interesting. I mean, every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life. As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not. But, you know, I do the best that I can. I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can’t do it. Maybe someone else can, but I wasn’t able to do it.”
During the two weeks of the opening Grand Slam of 2016, Serena also revealed her sense of isolation has intensified in Melbourne. After her quarter-final against Maria Sharapova, she talked about her more contemplative side. “I have been spending a lot of time learning about myself this trip,” she said. “It’s been kind of sad. I have been alone a lot. It’s been kind of boring. I think I hate being by myself. As much as I always am, like, “I want to be alone”, I don’t think I like it so much. It’s just been [so] long. I feel like I have been here for three months.”
The question is whether this bout of self-reflection, or self-analysis, marks the crossroads between the desire to continue chasing elusive dreams, or to accept that she is coming to the end of a magnificent career.
Serena said: “I told myself that I’m here to have fun now. I’ve done everything that I wanted to do, you know. I didn’t think I would have done as well as I have. Everything from here on out, every match, is a bonus for me. I don’t have to win this tournament or any other tournament for as long as I live. I really want to enjoy being a professional tennis player and playing on Grand Slam courts, moments like this.”
She has nothing more to prove. She has held all four titles at the same time twice, has four Olympic Gold medals (three doubles, one singles). What more is there to aim for? It is time for Williams to reset. Another ‘Serena Slam’ is gone for this year. She is still a Grand Slam win behind Graf’s 22, and three adrift of Margaret Court’s all-time record. They remain in her sights, as well as another shot at Olympic glory, and maybe even a Fed Cup title.
Whatever, it has been a golden age of women’s tennis. Once both Williams sisters step down, it is unlikely there will be such a combined dominant force for a long time. Enjoy it while it lasts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ros Satar qualified as a journalist at News Associates, and has been working as a freelance tennis and sports writer since 2013. She co-founded Britwatch Sports with a fellow graduate, looking to give new journalists a platform, when not following the tennis tours around the world, she follows Athletics, Rugby & Formula 1, and her golf handicap is currently her bag of clubs. Ros’s latest articles.