Story of a fighter extraordinary
Serena’s nearly all-conquering summer has been a tale of grit
In search of the appropriate karaoke song for her latest after-midnight Grand Slam victory party, Serena Williams settled on “I Will Survive.” “I really, really felt those words,” Williams said after winning the US Open.
She arrived looking even more imposing than usual in a form-fitting white dress, abundant jewelry and a pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos that pushed the 5-foot-9 Williams well above 6 feet.
But then, why shouldn’t she be walking particularly tall at this stage of her career? Traditional rivals like Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin and now Kim Clijsters have faded and retired.
Her good friend Andy Roddick, the biggest US men’s star and a fellow 30-year-old, just played his final tournament, too. “I’ve seen too many people retire in my career,” Williams said. Yet she survives and, more surprisingly, thrives.
The comeback has become such a tennis plot staple that it verges on cliche. But Williams, one of the most ferocious competitors in tennis’ lengthy history, has elevated the comeback to a higher art form: a tribute to her enduring drive and enduring edge in power in a sport where other champions have been caught from behind, but where she just won her 15th Grand Slam singles title.
Last year, she was fearing for her life as she had emergency treatment for blood clots in her lungs. This year, she has put together one of her finest seasons: compiling a 53-4 record and winning Wimbledon, two Olympic gold medals and, the US Open with an error-filled, winner-filled, drama-filled victory over Victoria Azarenka that might have been the best theater of all of Williams’ 15 victories in Grand Slam finals.
Williams quibbled with that, putting her three-set win over her sister Venus at the 2003 Australian Open at the top of the list.
New York was the city where she broke through at age 17 to win her first major singles title. It is also the city where her temperamental outbursts over officials’ calls in 2009 and 2011 have deepened the ambivalence she has long generated amid US and global audiences. Even before then, she was a divisive figure, perhaps because, for all her vulnerability off court, she has long projected so little of it between the lines.
“It’s been a love and then hate, hate, hate, hate, hate relationship,” Williams said. “I don’t feel completely comfortable still. You never know what’s going to happen, but I do feel much better about the place. I love the crowd. Especially last year, the crowd was so supportive and this year was incredibly supportive.
I loved that. But the officials... .” She is unquestionably the greatest player of her generation, just as her father, Richard Williams, once suspected she would be despite the talent and achievements of her older sister Venus, who won the last of her seven major singles titles in 2008 at Wimbledon.
But Serena, like Roger Federer before her, is in strong position to encroach on previous generations and is now the first woman in the Open era to have won a Grand Slam singles title 13 years after winning her first.
For now, she has a new and excited coach in her corner: Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou, who in June was still dreaming of working with a Grand Slam champion but now has two major titles and two gold medals on his resume after serving as a consultant for Williams at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.
She has yet to lose a match with him in her box. Their connection, at least from Williams’ perspective, was happenstance. She was in Paris in May, depressed after losing in the first round of the French Open.
Mouratoglou was an acquaintance, and when she called him to ask if he could send her a practice partner, he invited her to his academy in the suburbs instead.
The change of rhythm and routine clearly have played a role in her just-about-all-conquering summer, in which her only loss came in Ohio against German player Angelique Kerber.
Although Williams will play exhibitions this year, she plans to play only two more tournaments: the Tier One event in Beijing and the year-end tour championships in Istanbul.
Although she remains No 4 in the rankings, in part because of her limited playing schedule and that first-round loss in Paris, there can be no doubt about who has been No. 1 of late