Four times in the past 14 months, Serena Williams, the greatest tennis player of all time and the most famous working mom in sports, has entered a Grand Slam final with the chance to tie history. All four times, inexplicably and almost unbelievably, she could not close the deal when it mattered most.
Saturday evening, it was another straight-set loss, this time 6-3, 7-5 to Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu, who wasn’t even ranked in the top 200 when Serena started what is proving to be quixotic quest to reach Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles last summer.
Serena Williams reacts after a miss vs. Bianca Andreescu to whom she lost in the U.S. Open final on Saturday. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)
This is as good a time as any to ask the obvious question: What in the world in going on?
Now nearly 38, does Serena want her historic 24th Grand Slam title too much? Almost certainly. Is she thinking about it too much? Absolutely. Is she letting her nerves get to her? It appears so.
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And, perhaps as important, is it also possible that an entire generation or two of young tennis players has learned how to win with ferocity and confidence by watching none other than Serena Williams over these past 20-some years? Without a doubt. In fact, they’ve learned so well that they then walk out onto the court and crush her dream.
One of the great joys of covering and watching Serena for more than 20 years is knowing that this extraordinary tennis player also is a real person: fascinating, funny, whimsical. She has shared more of her life with us than most great athletes ever do. And now we’re seeing that this epic athlete is encountering some significant trouble in one specific area of her life: winning that elusive 24th major title.
Coming back to the elite level of a sport after giving birth is never easy — while working hard to be a worthy and earnest role model for mothers worldwide — but the fact is Serena has been back for awhile now. It has been two years since her daughter was born.
She said she was healthy and felt great throughout this U.S. Open. After stumbles in the 2018 Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, and at this year’s Wimbledon final, Serena appeared happy and trouble free.
“Is this the best opportunity?” she said before the final. “I don’t know. I literally haven’t thought about it this tournament. I’ve been way too chill.”
She is too good, too tough and too strong to have this happen four times in a row. But it just did happen for the fourth consecutive time. It’s confounding. It’s infuriating. It’s downright weird. Then again, we watch sports for just this reason.
Serena’s next chance to win No. 24 now will be the 2020 Australian Open, coming exactly three years after her last Grand Slam title, accomplished when she was pregnant. This is the longest Grand Slam title drought of her legendary career. How long will it last? Clearly, Serena has no idea.
“There’s so many different emotions in finals,” Williams said after her semifinal victory Thursday. “It just brings out so many highs and lows, nerves and expectations. It’s a lot.”
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