For a while, Serena Williams forgot how big of a champion she is. She forgot that she owned over 20 grand slam titles, 70 tournament titles, four Olympic gold medals, and an endless list of tennis records.
A heart-breaking loss in the US Open semi-finals to Roberta Vinci last September denied her a chance of completing a rare calendar-year Grand Slam and it took her nearly nine months to get her groove back.
“Definitely had some sleepless nights, if I’m just honest, with a lot of stuff, coming so close, feeling it, not being able to quite get there. My goal is to win always at least a slam a year. It was getting down to the pressure,” Serena admitted following her straight-sets win over Angelique Kerber to capture the Wimbledon title on Saturday.
“I put a lot of that pressure on myself. Obviously had some really tough losses, but if you look at the big picture, I was just thinking about getting to three finals, grand slam finals. In the past eight grand slams, I don’t know how many finals I’ve been in (seven). It’s pretty impressive.
“I had to start looking at positives, not focusing on that one loss per tournament which really isn’t bad, and for anyone else on this tour would be completely happy about it. Once I started focusing more on the positives, I realised that I’m pretty good. Then I started playing a little better.”
Serena said it was a “great relief” to finally capture the 22nd major title that saw her equal Steffi Graf’s Open Era record, but that it was also just exciting for her to win again.
Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, feels that Serena finally started being “herself” again after the French Open final defeat to Garbine Muguruza last month, and that she just needed time to get over last year’s disappointment.
“If I’m totally honest, I’m not relieved to have the 22nd, I’m relieved to have found back Serena. Everything depends on that,” said Mouratoglou.
“There was clearly something missing in the last eight months, and the thing that was missing was just Serena. The tennis player was there but Serena as a person was not really herself…
“I think we did not realise how much time she needed to recover from the disappointment of the loss of the US Open, so it took time.
“With time you can heal and she needed to heal.”
Mouratoglou hailed Serena’s serving as well as her play at the net, both of which were huge factors behind her victory on Saturday.
How she reacted to facing that one break point, hitting back-to-back aces to avoid falling behind, was a clear indication that Serena was “back” according to the Frenchman.
He was particularly pleased with the volley that saw Serena seal her win.
“The good thing, I liked it, is that she won that match with the same volley that made her lose the match in Melbourne on match point. The forehand volley that was too deep, she won on this one, I think it was a good symbol,” said Mouratoglou.
Commenting on Kerber’s level, he added: “Kerber played really good. Only three unforced errors in the first set, it’s not much – five because two in the last game, but she’s human.
“It’s difficult to hold your own serve when there’s so much pressure on you because you feel you can’t break the opponent. So at a certain point you’re going to make one or two mistakes and Serena did the job.
“The match was really tough. She’s very difficult to manipulate on the tennis court because she reads the game so well and because she has a good answer to all the problems. That’s one thing.
“The second thing is she’s a bit predictable, otherwise we’d be in trouble. But even though, when Serena serves like that, it’s difficult for anyone.”
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