Wimbledon 2015 & Serena Slam 2.0: Is the Face of American Tennis Playing Better than Ever?

If you’ve watched any coverage of the first three days of Wimbledon, you’ve heard about the chance of another “Serena Slam.” Serena Williams has won the last three majors, so with a victory at Wimbledon, she would own all four major tennis championships at once. Amazingly, she has done this before. Like Tiger Woods did in golf some years ago, Serena ripped off a streak of four consecutive major wins beginning with the 2002 French Open. Though this was not the conventional Grand Slam, which would be all four slams in a calendar year, it was still a feat worthy of recognition, and so tennis pundits invented the “Serena Slam” to signify the impressive achievement. What’s more, Serena is still in the running to win the actual Grand Slam in 2015. Serena has already won the Australian and French Opens this year and is favored in both remaining majors.

Before Wimbledon began, Serena tried deflect the talk about history, saying in an interview “I don’t think [winning a Grand Slam]’s going to define my career or make or break it… I don’t know how this sounds, but [winning a Grand Slam]’s not on top of my list.”1 Yesterday, the Williams sisters withdrew from doubles at Wimbledon citing Serena’s soreness.  She contradicted herself in a later statement, however, saying “I feel it would be best for me to concentrate on singles here at Wimbledon.”2 So which is it? It’s pretty clear to me that Serena feels some pressure to win the Grand Slam. She alludes frequently in her press conferences to the idea that pressure is a privilege, something, she says, that Billie Jean King taught her. There is pressure to win day in and day out, but Serena plays her best when she’s able to swing freely, uninhibited by expectations. So, maybe she was trying to deflect the extra attention and make Wimbledon 2015 seem like any other major. Ultimately, and perhaps unfairly, it would be a disappointment if she were to lose Wimbledon. Were she to win, it would be a disappointment if she didn’t go on to win the Grand Slam. She is favored to win in every match-up, every scenario regardless of the circumstances. It seems like winning is no longer enough for her critics and the media, which has only added to Serena’s frustration. At her worst, last year, after bowing out in the third round at Wimbledon, she exclaimed that “I think everyone in general plays the match of their lives against me. So I’m pretty sure that the next match, it won’t be the same… So I just have to be a hundred times better. If I’m not, then I’m in trouble.”3

Serena is the most interesting, if not the greatest, athlete of our time. Her fans have taken her dominance for granted because Serena continues to deliver it so consistently. She is still performing at historic levels, already holding the record for slams won after the age of 30. Serena’s also one of only two players to win slams after the age of 32 (along with Martina Navratilova) and could become the oldest woman to win a slam if she takes home the Venus Rosewater Dish at the end of the fortnight.4 Serena is expected to be the best, and she so often is that, as fans, we forget how difficult it actually is to maintain that kind of dominance in any sport. Her success at this stage of her career is, in a word, unprecedented. As I said, though, these achievements have placed extremely unrealistic expectations on her shoulders: whenever she doesn’t win, it’s an upset.

As a tennis fan, I was actually looking forward to watching the Williams sisters play doubles again, especially considering the form Venus showed in her 6-0 6-0 first round thrashing of American Madison Brengle. What I forgot, though, is that Serena ended her last Wimbledon by falling to a weird bout of dizziness or sickness so severe that she couldn’t even serve a ball over the net. Unfortunately, this has been Serena’s trend. Before this year’s French Open, her performances were all or nothing. Serena either dominated or crashed out in uncharacteristic style or high drama. At the French Open this year, Serena showed a new strength. She fought to win five of her seven matches in three sets, rallying from a set down in four of them. As tennis players age, it gets more and more difficult to consistently perform at such a high level, so it’s paramount for them to find ways to win when they’re struggling. Recently, Serena has proved resilient at doing so. If Serena can continue her form from the French, staying dominant yet finding ways to win when sick or playing poorly, she’s hard to bet against on her road to the Grand Slam in 2015. This begs the question: can anyone hang around long enough to beat her?

Predicted Semifinalists:
1st Quarter of the Draw: Serena Williams.

Serena could actually face a couple of tough tests before reaching the semifinals. In the fourth round, she could meet her sister, Venus, who, as mentioned, outplayed expectations in her first round match. Whether Venus can maintain that form remains to be seen. Although Venus has had her best success at Wimbledon, she has had trouble maintaining a high level of play and stringing together quality victories since her Sjögren’s syndrome diagnosis. Furthermore Serena could face Victoria Azarenka again in the quarterfinals after a third round comeback victory in the French Open. Regardless, I still see Serena making it out of this quarter.

2nd Quarter of the Draw: Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova could face a test from Andrea Petkovic in the fourth round, as Petkovic has been working to recover her best form. Otherwise, Sharapova has been playing well, and Safarova did not show a particularly strong game against Allison Riske and so shouldn’t pose a huge threat to Maria’s chances. I see Sharapova getting through this section easily with a possible challenge from Sam Stosur in the quarterfinals.

3rd Quarter of the Draw: Caroline Wozniacki.

Since I wasn’t able to write this post before the first round, this quarter’s highest seed, Simona Halep, has already been upset. This wouldn’t have affected my pick (or so I tell myself), as Halep’s play has been trending down of late, leaving the section open to Wozniacki. Wozniacki will face a pretty tough road to the semis, with potential challenges from Angelique Kerber, a flat and hard-hitting lefty (in the fourth round), and Sabine Lisicki, the big server who’s had success on grass (in the quarterfinals). After making the US Open finals last year though, Wozniacki has increased her level of play and is ready to make more consistent pushes into the later rounds of majors.

4th Quarter of the Draw: Petra Kvitova.

Many analysts have highlighted Kvitova as a favorite. As a hard-hitting lefty who holds two Wimbledon championships, she should certainly contend. For some reason, though, Kvitova just seems too shaky. Her results are wildly inconsistent. I think Petra will make it to the semis because Jelena Jankovic and Agnieszka Radwanska are playing below their potentials, but I don’t see her hoisting the Wimbledon trophy this year.

Semifinal Picks:
1st Semifinal: Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova.

These two great players have a long history, and it’s really lopsided. Sharapova hasn’t beaten Serena since 2004. That’s sixteen straight victories for Serena, against only 3 sets for Sharapova. One of Sharapova’s two wins over Serena did come in a Wimbledon final, but that win, eleven years ago, is so far in the past that I doubt it will influence this outcome.

2nd Semifinal: Caroline Wozniacki d. Petra Kvitova.

This may be a risky choice considering Kvitova’s strength on grass, but Wozniacki has won their last two matches and, like I said, seems to be a growing threat to win majors.

Serena Williams d. Caroline Wozniacki.

This would be a fun match considering these two are best friends (just check out Serena’s instagram), but Caroline hasn’t had much success against Williams. She’s only beaten Serena once back in 2012. Otherwise, Serena owns seven straight victories over Caroline, including last year’s US Open final. I see Serena continuing her quest for the Grand Slam and completing the Serena Slam 2.0 at the end of these two weeks.

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