“I believe we’re watching the greatest female player that’s ever played this game.” – John McEnroe on Serena Williams’ 5th Wimbledon Championship.
This is what one of the greatest players of his time had to say about Serena on Saturday when she won the Women’s Singles Championship at Wimbledon. It was an important day in the world of tennis, one that is worth noting for the history books. McEnroe’s comment negated the conversation from several months before of Serena’s better days being behind her when she lost in the first round of the French Open. A look at the match will reveal why his comment was largely right, and what her victory means for her in the short and long term:
– Serena finished the tournament with 108 aces. Who came in next on the women’s side? Sabine Lisicki with 34. Want to know the men’s side? Andy Murray had 74 and Roger Federer 59 before the final match.
– Having turned 30 last year, Serena showed that she still has the athleticism that many expected would’ve faded at her age. I am referring to that specifically because during the match she not only outplayed her opponent, but also had better footwork and chased down every ball like she would a decade ago. In sports 30 is often seen as being the equivalent of 80 years of age, so for Serena to still be playing on the same level that she was during her Grand Slam streak days is very noteworthy. Not since Martina Navratilova in 1990 had someone of Serena’s age won a grand slam on the females side, and Federer’s win made it so that they were both the first two people in their 30s to win a major tournament since Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King did in 1975.
– Serena overcame a major problem in her career today. When she dropped the second set after having easily taken the first, in her career she lost the previous two times when faced with this situation in a final. She managed to regain composure and fight back for the third set. This is a sign of how much she has grown as a player. Which also illustrates something:
– Her victories boil down to her confidence and mental dexterity. When she started stacking up some of the 34 unforced errors she had during the match, it was during a rain intermission which caused her to loose her rhythm and her opponent find hers. Many feared that this would lead to a collapse on her end.
But through what sounded like in her post-game interview a new resolve after her injuries and medical scares, Serena found it in herself to hit a reset button in her mind and regained her composure. She said that the experience showed her how important it was for her to continue to play tennis, and that her hunger to win again pushes her. It is usually these moments that make people realize what matters, and has transformed other greats in the sport like Andre Agassi before. There are only a few players who can deter this mindset of hers and/or have a solid enough game to push her to the limit. And there are even fewer when facing a rough spot that can hang in there long enough to find a second wind.
– This win was crucial for Serena’s bid at a gold medal in the upcoming Olympics in London. She now has the reassurance that she could take it all and pass her previous rank of semi-finalist. Her determination to win this year is further fueled by something she mentioned today:
– “I’ve always wanted everything Venus had.” And Venus has 5 Wimbledon championships. Now Serena does too. Venus has a gold medal at the Olympics. Serena does not. The sibling rivalry will certainly motivate Serena to go for it all this year.
– What’s also worth nothing is Serena won later on in the day with her sister Venus in women’s doubles, showing that her sister is still a threat. Venus has struggled for a while to win a championship and critics were saying that she would never get another one. She still has problems with her wrists and now her immune system, but as Saturday showed these things can be managed. This win should make many revise their statements and think about when will she gain her final grand slam victory.
In the immediate future the only challenge I see for Serena is if she wants to go for a win at the US Open as well this year. Although she plays many tournaments year round, preparing for the grand slam ones takes time and energy. If she wins at the Olympics, this would give her little time to rest and adjust to playing in New York shortly after. What would be favorable for her is if she gets easy wins early on at the Open so she can conserve her energy and not have to worry about finding her rhythm. Winning both back-to-back would be tough for any player of any gender and age, but this is Serena we are talking about so it is possible. Or maybe she should let her sister reclaim it, to keep things in the family.
They both have much to look forward to over the next five years, but now is also a good time to ask if they both rank among the greatest players of all time in tennis. So do they? The answer is yes, but I will save that analysis for another time.