By Dr. Sam Doku
Serena Williams, currently operating as the most dominant athlete in any sport, saw her patented dominance eviscerate in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Saturday.
Serena’s opponent on that occasion was an 18-year-old upstart from Switzerland, Belinda Bencic.
Bencic outlasted Williams 3-6, 7-5, and 6-4 in one of the semi-final match-ups in which the latter coasted to take a 5-1 lead in the first set before winning it. Bencic went on to win her third tournament, two singles and one doubles, in as many weeks by defeating Halep in the finals.
In defeating Williams, Bencic seemingly adopted Williams’s own trickery in overcoming arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time. Williams has the tendency of hitting returnable balls and returning the favor by hitting the ball behind her opponents.
It is an excellent strategy that Bencic quickly learned to become successful on Saturday against Williams, whom she had, hitherto, never defeated.
Williams became a gracious loser by admitting that she was quite quotidian in the match. “. . . I think I played crappy today. Actually, I played a couple of matches like the one I played today, but I was able to get through them. But, against better players, you don’t have to play like this. I just really didn’t play up to par today. To be honest, I played like an amateur,” said Williams after the match.
Williams’s self-critique is a motivation barometer that will guide her preparation and readiness for the U.S. Open, scheduled to take off on August 31. Against Bencic, Williams had her left middle finger wrapped, so obviously, that took some of the power away from her serves. No wonder, she made only 50 percent of her first serves while committing a dozen double faults, although she hit 16 aces.
“Maybe I’m a little stressed out. Maybe I need to give myself a hug,” Williams said later. The personal hug she is referring to is borne out of the fact that after losing to her sister, Venus at the same stage of the Rogers Cup last year, she went on to win the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon to complete a non-standard golden grand slam triumph.
However, Williams will complete the standard golden grand slam if she wins the 2015 U.S. Open, which will see her tying Steffi Graf for most grand slam wins in the modern era at 22. Margaret Court of Australia has the most wins with 24.
At 33, Williams is not getting any younger, but currently, she is the only U.S. tennis player, who has dislocated the Eastern European juggernaut in the female division. Williams has to hold on until young prospects like Sloan Stephens, who won her first singles title in 85 attempts at the Citi Open in D.C. last week and Madison Keys crack the top ten.
From that perspective, Williams must hold on until at least next year, no matter how unmotivated she feels. Tying Graf is certain because she still has tremendous energy, but what is not certain is if she can catch up with Court and even surpass her.
Toward that end, expect a vivacious, a battle-ready, an aplomb, and an ingenious Serena Williams in the U.S. Open to unfold her characteristically invincible and indomitable tennis mien to soar in the realm of tennis lore with her 22nd grand slam win.