Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

Is Serena Williams Headcase-y?

2013 French Open - Day Ten

A pout - it always begins with that pout. Slowly the pout morphs into a frown, which in turn makes way for the infamously melodramatic “crying face”. Before long, loud and pitifully desperate sound effects compliment her facial expression, and the alarm bells ring in Serena Williams’ head as she panics and descends in complete meltdown.

Despite the luxury of a 6-1 set under Williams’ belt, this is exactly what happened as Kuznetsova broke her serve in the opening game of their second set and toiled to finally make her presence known in the match. The same could be seen a round earlier as Sorana Cirstea merely found herself with two break points in the second second set. When Caroline Garcia simply held serve twice at the beginning of set two, Williams’ volume rose again as she painfully killed the match. Even in her first round against the lowly and laughably under-powered Anna Tatishvili, the one single competitive game in the second set was enough to send Serena into a tailspin.

So, what is the root of this bizarre behaviour from the world number one? Between last year’s full-scale meltdown and her countless infamous chokes at Roland Garros over the past decade, many believe her lack of composure is only natural. Others, of course, brand her actions arrogant and disrespectful to the opponents she has mostly demolished en-route to her first semi-final in a decade. Regardless, this behaviour appears to be symbolic of a fundamental flaw that has enveloped Serena’s game over the course of the last few years.

It’s easy to forget that long before the foot and health issues of 2010-2011, Serena saw constant criticism for her attitude towards competing. It was no secret that, to her, only the slams mattered. When she didn’t withdraw and actually bothered to show up at WTA events, it was clear that she simply didn’t care enough. However, the ends justified the means. She would arrive at the slams having suffered shameful defeats to the likes of Sybille Bammer just days before, only to snatch the big prizes with aplomb. When players did push her to the limit of her powers, despite not properly warming up her competitive juices up at the warm-up events, she would dig deep and showcase the supreme mental strength that has become synonymous with her success. Between her record in finals, her famous ability to launch roaring comebacks against the very best and the sheer clinical manner in which she peaked on the stage it most mattered, it fast became clear that Williams had become one of the most mentally supreme champions ever to play the game.

Since her return in 2011, things have have changed. Given her previous reputation, perhaps one of the most remarkable stats in recent history is that, excluding walkovers, Williams has won 12 of the 15 WTA non-slam events she has entered since Stanford 2011, with her total win-loss record in non-slam events standing at a breathtaking 85-3. By comparison, she managed only four WTA titles between 2007 and 2010 - a period that yielded 6 slam titles - with a 75-18 record at non-slam tournaments.

There has been constant talk about Williams’ domination during this period, and it is certainly true. Time and time again she has proved that the gulf between her and her rivals is greater than it has ever been, with her inflicting countless straight-sets dismissals on all her nearest opponents. It is interesting, however, to compare her performances across slam and non-slam events. Her shaky and unconvincing performances against Zheng, Shvedova, Azarenka and Radwanska at Wimbledon bear a stark contrast to her outlandish demolition of the field on the same courts three weeks later at the Olympics. The same was true of her near-bottling of the US Open final against Azarenka in comparison to her dominant performance at the Istanbul season-ending finale. Accompanying those unconvincing performances are a collection of embarrassing losses to the likes of Makarova, Stephens and Razzano.

Just two weeks ago in Rome, Williams looked supreme and calm as she eradicated the field once more. Though her level hasn’t dramatically suffered, that the hysterical reactions to any resistance have been a fixture since the early rounds is telling. In a way, she has become what she previously abhorred - from the player who rose dramatically when it mattered most, she now only plays her best tennis when the stakes are lower and suspiciously resembles a headcase when pressure is high. Serena’s form and results suggests that she remains the overwhelming favourite to finish the job and complete her two-fold Career Grand Slam, but will her mind follow or will she collapse once again with the trophy in sight?

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3 Responses to Is Serena Williams Headcase-y?

  1. Jose June 6, 2013 at 11:58 am


    • footfaulter June 6, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      You need a drink. Or meds. Or both simultaneously.

      I mean, did you even bother to read it? I did not write a single word against her. She has been incredible for the last 18 months and what she is achieving is unbelievable and will probably never happen again. All I’m asking is whether she is as mentally strong on the biggest stage as she used to be. It ain’t rocket science and you’re free to say yes.

      • wilkommenoskie June 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm

        Misleading headline for some who don’t bother reading!

        I’m glad that there is a great appreciation for her achievements because when all is said and done, I think she will be at the summit of women’s tennis history as the best, ever.

        I think she showed great resilience and mental strength in the French Open, considering the previous year’s result. She will show this once again in Wimbledon. Of course as a tennis fan, I’d like someone to show up and finally compete against her game, then she’ll prove her mentality in grand slams once more.

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