Is she the greatest female tennis player of all time? Or of her time? Analysts can debate, but what I saw in Serena Williams as she won her fourth U.S. Open singles title (and 15th Grand Slam championship) over the weekend were qualities that transcend any time. One may tire of the phrase “heart of a champion,” but, boy, was it appropriate here.
The match was remarkable on many levels: the longest women’s final at Flushing Meadow since 1981; the first women’s three-setter final since 1995; Williams the first female since Martina Navratilova to win as a 30-year-old, which the latter did in 1987.
Seeded fourth in the tournament, Williams was coming off a spectacular summer that saw her winning a fifth Wimbledon and grabbing the gold at the London Olympics. Facing the number-one player in the world, Victoria Azarenka (who, like fellow Eastern European Maria Sharapova, produces cringe-inducing squeals that make you jump for the mute on the remote), Williams came out of the gate like a Mack truck, with 120 mph serves and whammos off both forehand and backhand sides that made her opponent, 23, look like a junior and not the top women’s player on the planet.
And then, collapse. After winning the first set easily, the tables turned; spraying shots left and right, her colossal serve failing her, and the young Belarusian demonstrating exactly why she is ranked first in the game, it was Williams who looked like the amateur. I stopped taking notes, reminded of her dismal loss in the first round of the French Open earlier this year. Continue reading