Tennis Prose



Serena’s Struggles Continue

Serena Williams is not Serena Williams, or at least her recent results suggest something is amiss with the legendary champion.

Serena fell to Shelby Rogers in Kentucky and yesterday crashed out at the Cincinnati Open in New York to Maria Sakkari, in three sets, blowing a 7-5 and 4-1 advantage in the second set tiebreaker.

In control of the match and in the winning position, Serena, possibly the greatest champion in female sports history squandered the tiebreak 7-5 with passive play. Sakkari did enough to win 6-1 in the third but her performance was not exactly sensational or spectacular.

The question begs: Has Serena hit the wall and at 38 can no longer finish off matches she used to win routinely?

I remember seeing Michael Chang at the end of his career, like Serena he was in the winning position but suddenly, inexplicably could not close out these matches anymore. In his final year on the ATP Tour in 2003, Chang blew several of these matches, several which were televised. One was in Cincinnati, as a wildcard ranked 217 at age 31, Chang was playing Hicham Arazi and he won the first set 64. Then the 1989 Roland Garros champ blew a few match points in the second and eventually the second set tiebreaker 9-7. Chang got rolled in the third by a bagel.

Chang’s last match as a pro was at US Open against 15th ranked Fernando Gonzalez. The Chilean won 63 75 57 64. Chang won 662 matches in the ATP and 34 singles titles but in 2003 Chang won a grand total of two ATP main draw matches (2-10).

Serena seems to be Changing right before our eyes. While her body looks as fit and lean as ever, her shots no longer have the same sting. Her movement is far from Federesque. Her breathing and stamina after long points are suspect. She’s serving well, 118 to 120, but only in spurts.

There may be other factors involved in Serena’s faltering play. The absence of a live crowd was an advantage Serena always enjoyed, especially in America, but the support and sometimes intimidation from frenzied American cheering, is gone now and Serena is on her own.

TV commentator Rennae Stubbs even went so far to imply that her long time coach Patrick Mouratoglu has provided insufficient coaching advice and direction for his charge and also he’s come up short in giving Serena positive energy and support.

Has the time come for Serena to add a new member to her coaching staff, or perhaps to replace Mouratoglu, who is busy with his involvement in the Tsitsipas and Gauff camps? Would a fresh voice and input from someone like John McEnroe or even Marat Safin or Monica Seles bolster Serena with the additional impact her game and spirit need?

As Williams continues her passionate, desperate, urgent pursuit of that ever-elusive 24th Grand Slam singles title, the tennis world wonders with intrigue if Serena can summon one last surge of greatness?

Or are Father Time, a virus and an array of young, strong, talented, driven aspirants conspiring to rob this American icon of the final puzzle piece of her illustrious career?

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