After falling in the Australian Open semifinal against Naomi Osaka (6-3, 6-4), Serena Williams stopped on her way to the locker room to say goodbye to the public, who were returning to the Rod Laver Arena after five days of confinement. The defeat meant that not even the great performance of these two weeks, the best in a long time, had been enough to beat Osaka, the new face of women’s tennis. That he has not conquered a great one for four years and that, near the age of 40, he is running out of time to hunt down Margaret Court’s record. Williams’ overwhelming record boasts 23 titles and 39 Grand Slam semifinals in four different decades. It is the best testimony of his reign.
How far it has come and how far it has spread. But he hasn’t played metal for four years. The last one was precisely an Australian Open, in 2017 and against his sister Venus. Later she would confess that she played the final two months pregnant. And that is where the gap opens. Williams has won 23 of her first 29 Grand Slam finals and since her return, she has lost all four she has played. Two at Wimbledon and two at Roland Garros. Two against former number one (Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep) and two against rivals who were not even born when she raised her first big, Bianca Andreescu, and Osaka herself. Two in 2018. Two in 2019. None since.
“VERY, VERY EASY ERRORS”
All of that was seething under Williams’ skin when he went to a press conference after the loss to Osaka. Nervous? “No, I wouldn’t say she was nervous.” And what has been the difference then? “The mistakes. Too many mistakes.” Up to 10 with the right in the first set and no winner with a hit that has given him so much. What has been the key? “Too many mistakes, easy mistakes. Very, very easy mistakes.” In case it was not clear.
Polite questions until a journalist changed the ball for height “It was emotional when you left with a standing ovation and put your hand on your heart. What’s going on in your head?” “I don’t know. The Australian crowd is amazing. It was nice.” “People are wondering if this was goodbye.” And there the first nervous laugh, the first broken word. “I don’t know. And if I fired, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Williams said, looking down and passing
And while Serena was looking up, narrowing her eyes, stuck on that question, and looking for the bottle of water on the ground, another journalist went online. “With how well you played to get here, why do you think you made so many mistakes? A bad day?” And there something broke inside. Williams swallowed, lowered his head and when he raised it again, he could only say an “I don’t know” broken through tears. Even that striking uniform that he has premiered at this Australian Open speaks of the difficulties he has had in recent years. It was not a mere tribute to Florence Griffith, but a compression suit – she already wore a similar one at Roland Garros 2018, her first big return – to treat the circulation problems that she has been dragging since she gave birth in 2017 in a very complicated delivery. As he confessed months later, he suffered a pulmonary embolism that could cost him his life.
YOU NOTE IT ON THE SHOULDERS
Serena Williams fights against much more than history, although that, Novak Djokovic knows well, also weighs. The Serbian will play this Sunday’s final against Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas in search of an 18th Grand Slam title that will bring him closer to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is a lot of weight and a lot of pressure. And it doesn’t matter what experience you have, what you feel on your shoulders. I can understand what you are going through. But she is a great champion who inspires many athletes, men and women around the world, and what she is doing at her age is extraordinary, “confessed the Serbian, who referred to as one of the great athletes in history. Whether or not he wins that elusive 24th Grand Slam, though he’ll exhaust all his bullets to do so.