Serena Williams won her twenty-third Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open. Not losing a set in the whole tournament, she defeated her sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 to surpass Steffi Graf’s record of Majors won in the Open Era (1969-). Just one Slam more was needed to tie the all-time highest tally of 24, belonging to Margaret Court. Over two and a half years later, the American dominator still lacks that elusive twenty-fourth victory. She will get another shot on Saturday, when she faces maiden Grand Slam finalist Bianca Andreescu.
As it later turned out, Serena was eight weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open. The maternity leave and post-childbirth complications forced her to pull out of the next four Grand Slam tournaments.
She was finally back at the French Open, where she wore a black catsuit. It was ordered by a doctor to boost blood circulation as Serena had post-natal pulmonary embolism. The organizers called it disrespectful and later banned using such clothes on their courts.
Serena faced the toughest of draws, having to beat the next year’s champion, Ashleigh Barty and Julia Goerges early on. Maria Sharapova was supposed to be her fourth round opponent but the American was forced to withdraw before the match. She got a pectoral muscle injury the day before, playing doubles with her sister Venus. One might wonder why Serena played that competition in the first place. The American took her lesson, as of today not entering any more Grand Slam doubles draws.
The first final
Wimbledon 2018 was a completely different scenario. She was seeded 25th there by the All England Club despite being ranked no. 181 in the world – a decision that was heavily criticized. Dominika Cibulkova was left unseeded with no option to fight back. Players like Victoria Azarenka complained about not getting such privileges when they were getting back from a maternity leave.
Serena quickly silenced the haters and stormed to the final with a loss of just one set. She became the lowest-ranked Wimbledon semifinalist ever. After a dominant performance against Goerges in the semifinals, the American was everyone’s favorite in a rematch of the 2016 final against Angelique Kerber. It was the first time when Serena showed how much this 24th Slam means to her. She played tentatively, sprayed errors and was outplayed after Kerber performed great to win 6-3, 6-3.
The infamous incident
She came into the 2018 US Open following a tough period of post-natal depression. A man who shot her half-sister back in 2003 was released on parole. The USTA decided to seed her 17th in spite of her ranking of world no. 26.
Serena showed she is a different opponent at Slams and advanced to yet another final. On the way, Williams scored her first top 10 win in over a year and a half against Karolina Pliskova. Once again a favorite in the final against Naomi Osaka, she seemed tense from the very beginning. The 23-time Grand Slam champion lost the first set two games to six. What happened later, is history.
To make a long story short – In the second game of the second set, Williams got a warning for coaching when Patrick Mouratoglou was spotted gesturing to her during a game. Three games later she got called out for racket abuse and the umpire Carlos Ramos gave her a point penalty. Not happy with that coaching warning she got, she started talking to Ramos at every possible moment, claiming that she has never cheated in her life and wouldn’t do that because she is a mother.
The umpire didn’t want to revoke the warning and Serena ultimately called him a “thief” and a “liar.” Ramos rightfully interpreted it as verbal abuse and third strike meant game penalty for Williams. In a talk with the supervisor, Serena claimed this has happened too many times to her and that it only does because she is a woman. Osaka didn’t blink and served out the match to win 6-2 6-4. As of today, Carlos Ramos hasn’t umpired any of Serena’s matches after the incident.
The breakdown of the body and the mind
Not playing another match in 2018, she arrived at the Australian Open once again looking sharp. Serena managed to overcome the world no. 1 Simona Halep in the fourth round and was up 5-1 in the third set against Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals. In a stunning twist, the American blew four match points, losing six straight games.
Fighting knee issues and various illnesses, she couldn’t properly train until after the French Open. Her Paris campaign was stopped in the third round with a 2-6, 5-7 loss to Sofia Kenin.
Slowly playing herself into form, Serena was able to go deep once more at 2019 Wimbledon. Dropping a set to Kaja Juvan in the second round was the lowlight of the campaign. The 23-time Grand Slam champion only got better and better as the tournament went on. Beating Barbora Strycova in the semifinals, she became the oldest Grand Slam finalist in the Open Era.
Third time was supposed to be the charm for the American. Yet again a favorite coming into the final, on her favorite surface, Williams played Simona Halep. On the biggest stage, in a tournament she’s won seven times, the pressure of tying the record got to her again. Halep played a brilliant match, getting to very ball and committing just three unforced errors. But it was Serena who disappointed with terrible timing and visibly hampered movement. Unable to overpower the Romanian, Williams looked done as soon as she got a break down in the second set.
Coming into this year’s US Open, Serena was once again a question mark with an injury concern. In her only appearance since Wimbledon, she retired down 1-3 in the final to Bianca Andreescu with back spasms. No one could be quite sure which Serena we’ll see at the 2019 edition of the tournament.
It won’t come easy
The past two or three years taught us something about the legends of the game such as Williams or the men’s Big 3. No matter how many times we say they’re done and dusted and will win nothing anymore, they always come back. It’s not over till they say it’s over.
Serena will once again be the favorite on Saturday. However, the 19-year-old Canadian sensation will not hand the title to her on a silver platter. Andreescu was out of the top 100 at the start of the year. No matter the result of the final, she will debut in the top 10 on Monday. This is a meteoric rise, especially if you consider that in the period between April and July, she played just one match. The Canadian has all the shots in the book and showed she is not afraid of anything this fortnight. If Serena comes out flat yet again, she will be there to capitalize.