Thursday, July 14, 2016

22!




The fourth time was a charm for Serena in reaching the magic number of 22.  She is now tied with Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam victories in the modern era.  I was beginning to worry that Serena no longer had the staying power to compete through an entire tournament, having dropped the last three grand slams in the finals and semi-finals to relatively unknown opponents.  However, grass suits her style of play very well, having won six previous Wimbledons, and she was able to overcome Angelique Kerber in a hard fought match.  She had lost to Kerber earlier this year in the Australian Open.

It doesn't really matter whether Serena builds on this number, which she probably will, as many leading tennis figures already consider her the greatest of all time given the span in which she accomplished this incredible feat.  Her first grand slam victory came in 1999, when she beat Martina Hingis at the US Open.  She had followed on the heels of her sister, Venus, who had won the tournament two years before.  The two quickly became the dominant force in women's tennis, much to the chagrin of Lindsey Davenport and a resurgent Jennifer Capriati, who found themselves reduced to the second tier.

No two players have had such a great impact on tennis as have the Williams sisters.  They appeared out of nowhere in the mid-90s, initially coached by their father on the public courts of Los Angeles, to become major stars that decade.  Their athleticism is what set them apart from the rest of the field.  In so doing, they set a new standard for the game that now sees far more athletic players than any time in women's tennis.

We forget now, but the Williams sisters faced a lot of scrutiny in the press throughout late 90s and early 2000s for what was seen as their haughty nature.  The media quickly fell in love with the two rising Belgian players, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, who would win several Grand Slams of their own.  Then came the wave of Russian and Eastern European beauties who took the tennis world by storm.  Through it all, Serena persevered, overcoming personal troubles and media body shaming to achieve this monumental goal.  

Many sports pundits felt it was a record that wouldn't be tied or broken because Steffi had been so dominant in her day, with many feeling she had retired too early.  Graf had hung up her racket at age 30.  Serena has won 9 grand slam titles since she turned 30 in September, 2011.  Her longevity has not been seen since Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon at 34, and it looks like Serena still has two or three good years left in her.

Women's tennis has always been a young person's game.  Stars break on the scene early and usually go into nova well before turning 30.  Justine Henin inexplicably retired in 2008, at age 26.  She had won 7 grand slam titles, on par with Serena at that stage of her career.  Only a handful of women tennis players remain competitive past 30, which is what makes Serena's accomplishment all the more remarkable.

One can argue that she doesn't face as tough competition today as she did a decade ago, but she had a very hard time with Kerber and Garbine Muguruza, who beat her in the French Open final.  These much younger players were able to wear down Serena after a long fortnight of matches.  One forgets just how grueling 7 matches stretched out over 14 days can be, especially in the middle of summer.

What made Wimbledon even more sweet for Serena is that she was able to share the doubles victory with Venus.  It was the first time these two had teamed up for a grand slam doubles championship in four years.  Together they have now won 14 grand slam doubles titles.  Venus also made it to the semi-finals in singles, dropping her match to Kerber.  So, it seems Venus has found her groove again, which Serena said gave her additional motivation.

No comments:

Post a Comment