Sport360° view: It may be the beginning of the end for Serena Williams

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Searching for form: Serena Williams has been some way short of her best tennis all season.

The No1 female player in the world has failed to reach the quarter-finals in any of the three grand slams this season.

Suddenly Serena Williams is not the reliable dominant force the WTA can depend on to banish previous criticisms directed towards top-ranked players who were underperforming at majors.

The 17-time grand slam champion is, this season, a major underperformer and while Williams chooses to see her early exits in Melbourne, Paris and Wimbledon as isolated incidents, one can’t help but visualise a common thread.

She may have been injured in Melbourne which contributed to her defeat to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round there, but in both her losses to Garbine Muguruza in Paris and Alize Cornet at Wimbledon on Saturday, Williams was out of solutions.

Once her serve stopped firing the way she wants it to, Williams was unable to come up with a plan to counter Muguruza’s aggression and Cornet’s variety.

Williams sounded frustrated when she said that players have been playing the matches of their lives against her, likening them to “ATP players” but Williams at her peak should be able to stand up to all of that. 

The fact is, Williams has not been at her peak all season and we could be witnessing the beginning of her decline.

Against Cornet, the American – who turns 33 in September – was completely passive in the final set.

She kept returning every ball in the middle of the court, directly to where the Frenchwoman was standing and barring a brief moment of fight when she was down and receiving at 2-5, there were no signs of the Williams from the past two seasons.

Players have been throwing everything at her from the day she became a household name in tennis, and the only reason it’s frustrating her now is because, for one reason or another, she just hasn’t been good enough in important moments this season.

It may be a lack of motivation, it may be that she’s getting older, or perhaps her incredible winning run from mid-2012 until the end of last season is finally catching up with her body.

It also appears that the magic of her partnership with Patrick Mouratoglou is wearing off. Williams was asked if she will consider doing things differently if the results continue going this way but she claims that whatever needs fixing is from within – it is not an external factor.

Whatever it is, we find ourselves in a second straight grand slam where Simona Halep is the highest seed remaining in the second week.

Once again, Maria Sharapova could benefit from all this with Williams now out of her quarter of the draw.

Eugenie Bouchard is the immediate beneficiary as her fourth round has gone from being a contest against a five-time Wimbledon champion like Williams to Cornet, who is making her second week debut at SW19.

As for Williams, we should expect her to stick around because it’s hard to imagine her retiring before she grabs that elusive 18th major so she can tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in second on the all-time list.

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Exclusive: Fernando Gonzalez enjoying return to tennis

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Fresh challenge: Fernando Gonzalez says he is enjoying his return to tennis two years after retirement

It seems tennis players who have recently retired just can’t stay away. Walking around Wimbledon, you see stars who not too long ago were battling on the courts are now back as coaches and commentators.

Marion Bartoli and Fabrice Santoro are both on media duty, Ivan Ljubicic is working with Milos Raonic, and Fernando Gonzalez is the latest to make a return as a coach, after he recently teamed up with Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo.

The Chilean former world No5, who had the most devastating forehand in tennis, is working part-time with the 35th-ranked Giraldo and took some time out at the All England Club to talk to Sport360° about his decision to come back to the sport just two years into retirement. 

Q What’s it like coming back to Wimbledon as a coach?

A When I used to play I said I would never do it because I travelled too much and I played too much and I pushed my body to the limit. But now I’m really happy I’m working with Santiago Giraldo. It’s interesting because you realise how much you’ve learnt during your career. Maybe sometimes when you’re playing you know a lot about the game but you don’t realise it. It used to be about you and now it’s about the game.

How did this come about?

Santiago called me a few months ago. He’s travelling with somebody else but he needed extra help. I said I could do it for 10 tournaments and ‘if that is good for you, let’s do it’ because I didn’t want to commit for 25 weeks and then in the middle of it say ‘I can’t do it anymore’. But it’s fun because he has many things to improve and now I’m watching tennis for a reason.

He’s still working with Felipe Beron full-time. How does it work when a player has two coaches?

It’s different when you're not involved full-time. You have fresh information for him because when you are with somebody every day sometimes you don’t listen that much. But the good thing is that I just retired two years ago and I have many fresh things to give him as a player. I played against many of the guys who are still playing, so it’s good.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

I think the challenge is to give the information in an easy way. If you play on the tour you know a lot about the game, but you have to use easy words, and sometimes one way doesn’t work and the same thing is working on a different side. 

The thing is you have to learn when you have to say something, when you have to be quiet. Because the players at this level they have a lot of pressure and they have a lot of stress, traveling, jet lag, everything… and always they’re tired so you have to be very careful in that thing.

Does it help that you’re not that much older than him – there’s only a seven-year age difference?

I have nothing to compare it to, but I think yes. We’ve practiced a few times in the past, we played an exhibition last year and I think yes, because I’m fresh.

When you see the likes of Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Tommy Haas competing at a high level well into their 30s, do you ever think you could come back?

No, no, I’m done because I have too many hours playing, my body didn’t respond like I wanted. It was a really nice part of my life and now I have different goals. Of course I would love to play this tournament again. But what do I have to do to play the tournament? I have to train and I have to do many things and I don’t feel like doing it 100 per cent again so it’s better to stay away.

Is it still stressful coming here, even though you’re not playing?

It’s different because normally you have to be ready to play, ready to hit, ready to train and now it’s a little bit more relaxed. Because you only have to be there a little bit in advance no matter if you warm up or not. But sometimes I hit with him and I still can hit and it’s fun.

So is your forehand still brutal?

Yes it is (laughs).

Now that you’ve retired, would you tell us how high you’d rank your forehand compared to your peers when you were playing?

I cannot compare because I never felt my forehand, but I know that I had a really good one.

So top-three?

Maybe (laughs).

Looking back at your career, which was your hardest moment and which was your proudest?

The hardest one was at the end of my career when I had to retire from a Davis Cup match. I got injured, at home, that was the toughest by far.

The best memories were at the Olympic Games, or when I played at home, or when I played finals at the Australian Open because I played my best tennis. But the Olympic Games, both, because I know what’s the feeling of the people at home. Because we don’t have that many medals back home and I took three so that’s very important for the history of my country.

You won three different Olympic medals, a gold, a silver and a bronze. How do you explain your success at the Games?

I just go there and I tried to play my best and you know that you might not have another one. I only played two Olympics and when I played the first one I said maybe it’s the only one and when I played the second one, maybe it’s the last one – and I wasn’t wrong because it was the last one. When you play for your country, especially our country, we’re really far away and we feel very proud when someone’s doing well, like I’m proud in this moment of my football team, so that’s the reason.

Of the younger players, who do you fancy having a real breakthrough?

I think (Grigor) Dimitrov, he’s a great player and he’s improving. He has great shots and he’s very good at the net. I haven’t watched (Dominic) Thiem that much but he’s another one.

Do you think the ‘Big Four’ domination will end soon?

It’s been the same for many years already. I think it’s going to stay like this for a couple of more years maybe. We have to see for how long Roger (Federer) can play, I think he can play at least three more years and he’ll always be dangerous.

Did you enjoy being part of that era or would you have preferred having slightly less tough opposition?

Both I think. Because I enjoyed being part of this era, because this era made me improve, made me a better tennis later, but maybe took away my best results. But I’m happy because sometimes I played really good tennis… well for sure I could have done much better if I didn’t play Roger many times or Rafa (Nadal).

Any regrets over a result?

Yes, the semi-final of the French Open against Soderling. I think that one, by far.

That moment when you wiped a mark on court using your bottom…

It’s not something that I’m proud of. I know that it made a lot of people laugh and some other not, but it’s not something that I’m proud of. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t realise that I am playing the semi-final of the French Open in that court with that kind of people watching on TV…

Have you watched it on YouTube since then?

Yes, I saw it a few times.

Who do you enjoy watching the most?

I like to watch David Ferrer a lot, because he runs like an animal. He’s a really good athlete, he’s been running forever. I like when he plays Roger maybe, because Roger always makes the right play and Ferrer keeps fighting.

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Serena promises to keep fighting after Wimbledon exit

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Not giving up: Serena Williams was dumped out of Wimbledon by Alize Cornet.

Serena Williams has vowed to work harder as she hopes to bounce back from yet another early defeat at a grand slam this season.

The American world No1 suffered a second consecutive defeat to French No25 seed Alize Cornet to make her earliest Wimbledon exit in nine years.

The loss comes close on the heels of a second round upset at the French Open last month and Williams admits she needs to make some changes.

“I worked really, really hard coming into this event. I’m going to have to keep working hard,” said the 32-year-old.

“Just because you lose a match doesn’t mean you stop. So I’ll just keep fighting, that’s all I can do really.

“The changes I need to make I think are mostly within. Just try to see why I am making some errors.“

Williams explained she draws motivation from the belief that she still has the game to remain at the summit of the rankings and that claiming an 18th grand slam to tie the tally of legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (second most on all-time list) remains a target.

“I know that I can do better. I know that I have potential to continue to be on top. So hopefully that’s what keeps me motivated,” said Williams.

“I think (winning an 18th major) is definitely pretty significant. It’s something I’m obviously going to keep going for and it’s definitely something in my mind.”

Williams will join her sister Venus in doubles today but the world No1 admits she’s not really up for it.

“I suck right now at doubles. I told Venus the other day, I don’t even want to play because I’m so bad right now. She should get a new partner,” said Serena.

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