Serena Williams - queen of all she surveys
There appeared to be a few upstarts prepared to threaten her throne in 2010.
The popular Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who turned 20 just this week; the charismatic Frenchwoman Aravan Rezai, who beat Venus Williams to take the Madrid title and, last week, the Bastad title; and Maria Sharapova, still only 23, who was bidding to repeat her feat of 2004 and beat the champion to the title.
There have been comebacks from former champions who retired from the tour, returned, and yet are still her junior: Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
There has even been a wave of women maturing late into their best form, taking their first WTA titles and thrilling new audiences with their refreshing games: Sam Stosur, Francesca Schiavone, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
But in the end, no one came up to the ‘Serena standard.’ The world No1 was crowned queen at the All England Club in the first weekend of July, just as she was at the same time last year, and just as she has been in 11 more Grand Slams.
The remarkable Serena Williams had played just five tournaments ahead of Wimbledon 2010, yet she stood head and shoulders above the competition in the rankings.
Since winning the Australian Open, she had wrestled with injury, coming into the major clay events with no tournament practice. Yet she reached the semis in Rome and the quarters at the French Open.
The big question, arriving at Wimbledon as defending champion, was whether she could, much as she had done in Melbourne, turn up and knock the socks off everyone else with no preparation on grass at all.
The answer was a resounding “yes,” She delivered a ‘bagel’ to her first three opponents, dropping just 10 games in all. Her progress was -simply -serene.
But things looked more threatening in a fourth round that pitched her against the very woman who burst onto the scene -aged just 17 -to beat Williams in that 2004 Wimbledon final: Sharapova.
Since those heady days, the Russian has faced shoulder surgery, but ahead of Wimbledon, she was beginning to show her old form. She won in Strasbourg and was a finalist in the grass warm-up event in Birmingham just a fortnight earlier.
And sure enough, Sharapova came out matching Williams blow-for-blow all the way to a first set tie-breaker.
Their difference, however, was captured as they stood at 9-9: Sharapova double faulted, Williams then aced, her 13th of the set.Ã¢â‚¬Â¨Ã¢â‚¬Â¨ From that point on, Sharapova struggled to stay with the Williams pace and power. It was another straight sets win for Serena in a championship display full of guts and focus.
In the following rounds, order was quickly restored. On paper, Williams’s quarter-final match against the ever-improving Chinese woman, Na Li, looked a challenge. It wasn’t.
Against the unseeded and spirited giant-killer, Petra Kvitova, it was a similar story. Despite a strong challenge from the world No62, whose left-handed serve and volleying pushed Williams to a first set tie-break, the strength and fitness of the champion sealed the second set with relative ease.
The resistance of Williams’s final opponent, Vera Zvonareva, proved to be even less, and Serena won her fourth Wimbledon title without dropping a set. In the process, she hit a record 89 aces (Venus was second with just 30). And Serena permitted Zvonareva not a single break point.
Serena has now overtaken the iconic Billie Jean King in the list of women’s Slam winners at 13 titles. She has also equaled her sister’s 199 Grand Slam match wins -so roll on Flushing Meadows to see who comes out on top of that sibling competition.
But such is Serena’s superiority, her strength, and her desire to win, and so perfect is the timing of her preparation every time a Slam looms, it is hard to see anyone denying her when she arrives in New York, has the hard court beneath her feet, and the home crowd behind her.
Her next target is 18: the number of singles Slams won by Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. If Serena stays as hungry as she is now, that must be entirely within the reach of the most outstanding woman tennis player of the decade.