Serena returns to her throne — Wimbledon
She and Venus still extending their legacy of competitive excellence
The U.S. Open may be the major tournament where Venus and Serena Williams both reached their first finals of a major, but the rock upon which their legend is built is about 3,500 miles away.
Since the turn of the century, the pristine grass of Wimbledon has served as the sisters’ playground, combining for 11 singles and five doubles titles. When you factor in London’s 2012 Olympics —where Serena won gold in singles and the pair collected their third gold together in doubles — you can see why many expect this to be the place where Serena stops the bleeding.
Since capturing her sixth title here a year ago, Serena has not been herself. Or at least not the version we have grown accustomed to seeing these past four years. There was the shocking defeat to Roberta Vinci in last year’s U.S. Open semifinal, which stopped her from becoming the first American to win all four majors in the same year. The loss to Angelique Kerber in Australia and Garbine Muguruza at the French Open marked the first time she had ever lost consecutive major finals. The biggest head-scratcher may have come in March when she only managed to win three games in the final two sets in an early-round loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Miami.
In 2016, she returns wounded, vulnerable and in danger of losing her No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than three years.
At the pre-tournament news conference, the first question asked was about the pressure. Her response: “I don’t feel any pressure.”
It’s a baller answer, but it registers as disingenuous. She has a terrible in-match poker face but that’s part of the reason that we love her so much. She shows us the nerves, the frustration, the drama. Her answer also ignores that this is her fourth attempt to win her 22nd major title, which would tie Steffi Graf for the most in the Open Era.
It ignores she’ll soon be 35 and that the window to break that record is closing. And it ignores that despite her recent struggles, she is expected to win.
Nothing breeds pressure like the cesspool of expectations.
“It’s important to learn from every loss that you have,” she said. “Throughout my whole career [I] have been able to, like, learn a lot … to come back a much better player.”
She also said she comes in inspired by Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James’ performance during this year’s NBA Finals. And when you think about it, the two do have some career parallels. It was June 2012 in which James finally won his first championship and Serena won her fifth Wimbledon trophy, which started a run of four of six majors, lifting her into the greatest of all time conversation. They both are besieged by critics who enjoy peppering social media with a toxic mixture of legitimate complaints, factual inaccuracies, and good ole-fashioned racism. If you have ever taken time out of your day to read some of the disgusting, sexist vitriol often directed at Serena via social media, it makes you wonder exactly what was going through her head as she came slinking down the spiral staircase in Beyoncé’s Sorry video.
Middle finger up
Put them hands high
Wave it in his face
Tell him, boy, bye …
I ain’t thinking ’bout you
Of course the most inspirational connection between the careers of LeBron and Serena is in some respect, neither were supposed to have them. Not when you consider James’ unstable childhood and Venus and Serena learning to play a game that once embodied white privilege on a battered court at the epicenter of black disenfranchisement. “Venus Williams Is Straight Outta Compton!” is what Richard, the sisters’ father and coach, wrote on a promo poster when the two were just starting out. Reportedly the Crips looked out for them while they practiced. Their parents taught them the game from reading books.
It’s been said before but can’t be said enough: They were not expected to be here.
And yet 16 years after Venus won her first Wimbledon title, they’re not only still here, they’re the highest-ranked Americans — male or female — in the draw.
This is Venus’ 19th Wimbledon and 71st major — both Open Era records. Last year, she was playing well but was defeated in the fourth round by a familiar foe: her sister. This year the two are on opposite sides of the draw and can only meet in the final.
If Serena does manage to win, it would be the third time she has defended her title here, the most of any of the majors. It would also put her in position to come to New York with a different shot at history: the most majors won in the Open Era — man or woman. It would be refreshing to scrub clean the disappointment of last year’s shocking loss that turned her would-be coronation into a bit of a funeral.
Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said she’s coming into the tournament more settled mentally than the previous three. He also said she’s feeling no pressure. That’s what she said: no pressure. Despite it all. Perhaps this is what happens when a queen returns to her castle to reclaim her throne.