Serena Williams has withdrawn from next week’s China Open, bringing to an end her 2018 campaign.
Having returned to the tour in March after a 14-month layoff following the birth of her first child, the 23-time Grand Slam champion endured a rollercoaster 2018 that saw the American reach two Grand Slam finals.
Williams made her comeback to the WTA circuit at Indian Wells where her sister Venus got the better of her in the third round. It was evident that Serena’s game wasn’t where it needed to be to challenge the best in the world and to her own admission, she knew she had a long way to go in order to find her best form.
“I have a lot to improve on, it’s good that I don’t have to say that this is the best tennis I have ever played and I lost. My room for improvement is incredible,” she said following her loss to Venus.
“So I have just got to keep saying each tournament my goal is just to be better than the last. I definitely don’t want to go backwards. I just want to continue to go forwards.”
The Miami Open was Serena’s next stop – a tournament that she has won on eight occasions but unfortunately for her she was about to run into the hottest player on tour at that time in Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
Osaka was coming off her incredible title win at Indian Wells the week prior and on this occasion she comfortably beat her idol Serena 6-3 6-2 in the first round. These two would meet again later in the season where the stakes would be even higher.
Opting not to play any tournaments on the road to the French Open, Serena took to Philippe Chatrier court and turned heads by debuting her Black Panther-inspired bodysuit. “I always wanted to be a superhero and it’s kind of my way of being a superhero,” Serena said.
On the court, Serena was scheduled to face rival Maria Sharapova in a much-anticipated fourth round encounter but was forced to withdraw before their clash due to a pectoral injury.
French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli announced in August that Serena was banned from wearing her bodysuit at the French Open due to new dress code rules.
Going for her seventh title at Wimbledon, Serena’s game came together on the hallowed grounds of SW19. Brushing the likes of Kristina Mladenovic, Camila Giorgi, and Julia Goerges en route to her 10th Wimbledon final, the final hurdle proved a step too far for Serena as she was powerless to the outstanding performance of German Angelique Kerber.
The German claimed her first Wimbledon title by defeating Serena in straight sets 6-3 6-3. Serena would remain on 23 Grand Slam titles, one short of the all-time record of Margaret Court.
“It is obviously a disappointment but I can’t be disappointed. I’m literally getting started,” Serena said following the defeat to Kerber.
“To the other mums out there I was playing for you today and I tried. But Angelique played really well. I look forward to continuing to be out there and do what I do best.”
Back on American hard courts, Serena suffered the worst defeat of her career at the hands of Britain’s Jo Konta in the second round of the Silicon Valley Classic. Making a total of 25 unforced errors, Serena was destroyed by Konta 6-1 6-0 in just under an hour.
It was later revealed that prior to her second round meeting with Konta, Serena was informed that the man convicted of killing her half-sister in 2003 had been released on parole.
In a contender for match of the year, Serena was beaten 6-3 2-6 6-3 by Petra Kvitova in a highly competitive three-set battle in the second round at Cincinnati.
Serena went into the final Grand Slam event of the year at the US Open aiming to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles once again.
Serena was seeded #17 for the US open – nine spots higher than her ranking of No. 26 at the time. She would get revenge on her sister Venus in the third round in comprehensive fashion 6-1 6-2 under the New York lights.
In the quarters, Serena navigated her way past the ever-dangerous big serving Czech, Karolina Pliskova, before booking her spot in her 9th US Open final by defeating Anastasija Sevastova in the semi-finals. Serena was once again one match away from history.
Playing in her first Grand Slam final, Naomi Osaka was bidding to become Japan’s first ever Grand Slam singles champion and was once again staring across the court to her idol that was also chasing history of her own.
In one of the most heated and controversial matches in recent history, Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams 6-2 6-4 to win her first Grand Slam title, but by the end of the night this would only be a subplot.
Serena received a code violation for coaching, a point penalty for racket abuse and finally a game penalty for calling umpire Carlos Ramos a “liar and a thief,” all in the space of an extraordinary 20 minutes midway in the second set.
In Serena’s post match press conference the 23-time Grand Slam champion accused Ramos of sexism and claimed should it have been a man in her position the outcome would have been different.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things and I am here fighting for women’s rights and women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff and for me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game it made me feel like to was a sexist remark,” said an emotional Williams.
Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou admitted after the final to ESPN that he did in fact coach Williams, which led to her first code violation.
“I’m honest, I was coaching. I don’t think she looked at me so that’s why she didn’t even think I was,” he told ESPN.
This sensational fiasco marred what was set to be an incredible US Open final but unfortunately was discussed for all the wrong reasons.
The wait goes on for Serena to equal Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record in a season that has been full of ups and downs for the 23-time Grand Slam champion. Serena didn’t win a title in 2018 and ends her campaign with an 18/6 win-loss record, having only played seven tournaments this year.
At 37, time might not be on Serena’s side with the 2019 season possibly being her last season on tour, but we have heard that story many times before. With the emergence of Naomi Osaka on the Grand Slam stage, the consistency and dominance of Simona Halep, and the many other talented rising stars waiting to break through on the WTA tour, it certainly won’t be easy for Serena to dominate the game like she has countless times in years gone by. She’s Serena, though, so that means you can never count her out either.