“I didn't know what to do,” Martina Hingis said after Serena blasted her off the court in the title match. “I felt lost out there. I didn't know if Serena was going to hit to my forehand or backhand. I couldn’t read her game.”
“Coming in, people may have thought that this was our worst surface,” said Serena of the perception surrounding the Williams sisters and clay at Roland Garros, “but I think we showed that we can play as well on clay as on anything else.”
While Serena asserted after the tournament that her game and Venus’s are “so close right now,” it’s quite clear that the little sister has become the best player in women’s tennis.
“It’s not that I thought I could win all three [Grand Slam titles],” Serena said after the title match. “I just said, ‘I’m tired of losing. I’m not going to lose anymore.’ Life was passing me by.”
Despite the sisters’ similar games, Serena has a superior quotient of nasty. “Serena is meaner,” her father Richard put it years ago. This, as much as anything, was the difference in the Serena-Venus final.
“This is Wimbledon,” Serena said of her mindset while playing against her injured sister in the final. “God knows if I would get this opportunity again. If anything, I fought harder.”
Williams looked, for better and worse, every bit like the player who completed the Serena Slam two years ago. Her game is still mottled with unforced errors … but her basic strategy remains devastatingly effective.
Defeat is simply not a consideration for her; even in the most adverse conditions she projects an unshakable confidence. “Like I always say, when I’m playing well, it doesn’t matter who they are,” Serena says. “It’s difficult for anyone to beat me.”
The morning after the final Serena was back on the practice court—a veritable tennisy Williams. “I feel so young and energized, like I have a new career,” Serena says. “If I don’t practice, then it’s like my mind goes nuts.”
By the final Serena had “caught a gear,” as the Aussies say, dialing in her serve and finding the range on her ground strokes, particularly on service returns. Williams was so dominating that, Dinara Safina said, “I was just a ballboy on the court today [in the final].”
Serena may not sweat her results in Stuttgart or Strasbourg, but when the majors roll around, she plays as though losing takes its toll in blood. “[She’s] two completely different players,” says Elena Dementieva, “when she’s playing Grand Slams or she’s playing other tournaments.”
No one could come up with a single word that adequately captured Serena’s almost pathological refusal to lose. The fallback clichés—tenacious, persistent, dogged—don’t come close to doing it justice.
Serena demonstrated yet again that there has never been a better female player. Yes, that’s right. Strip away the nonsense and the breaches of etiquette and there’s only this: Serena Williams is the GOAT, the Greatest of All Time.
“I never dreamed of being here again,” Serena said, eyes filling with tears, of her Wimbledon triumph after two years of health emergencies and on-court self-immolations.
After rolling Victoria Azarenka in the first set of the weather-delayed U.S. Open final, Serena abruptly looked, well, old … Then she rose again. “I never, never quit,” Serena said.
In 2002, Serena won the French Open for the first time. She was 20 then. There was no Facebook, no iPhone. Eleven years later she is still ruling the game. “I can just relax,” she said after the victory, “and do what I want to do here.”
“If I never win another Grand Slam, I’m not going to be mad. I never thought I would win eight,” Serena says. “Now I’m at 17 and I’m, like, Wow. Everything—everything—is a bonus.”
It’s hard to describe a No. 1 as coming back from the dead. But you couldn’t be blamed, just two months ago, for wondering if Williams’s career was on life support. Then, once again, Williams clambered out of a hole.
The 2015 Australian Open was Serena-as-Boss. Early on, she looked sluggish. Then the Boss came to work. She has now been to six Australian Open finals. She has never been the runner-up.
“I was literally in my bed shaking,” Serena said of her battle with the flu during the tournament. No matter. Even at a compromised level, she is still able to beat the vast majority of her opponents.
Though never at her best, Serena did what was necessary to avoid the upset in the final. Finally, she could address this quest for the Grand Slam. “One more to go,” she told her entourage with a wink. “But I try to live in the moment, and I’m still very much here.”