She’s taken home the title 3 times from the unique-in-atmosphere Grand Slam held on US soil – but, shockingly, given her immense talent, not since 2008. Beset by health issues and bouts of spontaneous anger possibly brought on by the pressure of performing in front of her home crowd and despite being pegged as the favorite, she’s gotten very close (finalist in 2011), but hasn’t been able to seal the deal in the past several years.
Does she, in fact, succumb to the pressure?
“You’ve got to embrace it whether you’re the favorite or the one to beat or whether you are not. And I embrace it. In Wimbledon I wasn’t the favorite; I embraced that. Hopefully I can propel and do my best here,” when asked the question during a press conference at Billie Jean King tennis center.
If you look back at the 2011 tennis season leading up to that year’s US Open, Serena had a dominant summer, as has been the case this summer, claiming the title of US Open Series champion (winning Stanford and Rogers Cup), which guaranteed her a $1million bonus if she prevailed as the winner New York, but she fell short. In an upset, Samantha Stosur of Australia played the match of her life – also capitalizing on Serena’s mid-match meltdown – and won her first Grand Slam prize.
“I think it’s definitely up there with one of the best ones given the court we’re on, the stage, the final at the US Open against Serena, 9/11. All those things combined and the way that I played is definitely one of the best matches I have played,” Sam said, regarding the win.
Even she, the defending champion, considers Serena the favorite: “I think Serena is probably the favorite coming in given her recent form. No matter who you are, I don’t think you can really deny that,” Stosur said.
But, with 14 majors under Serena’s belt, putting her within striking distance of some of the on-record all-time greats, it remains to be seen whether all the momentum she gained this summer by taking home the Wimbledon trophy as well as handily brushing aside all the top players in the field to win the Olympic gold medal in both singles and doubles (with Venus) will help her win the battle against her at-times-frayed emotions and break her US Open title drought.
“The only person who can stop Serena is Serena … she’s the best player to ever pick up a tennis racquet,” said tennis legend John McEnroe of her chances and talent.
With peers such as fellow champions Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova (albeit begrudgingly), recently conceding that she’s quite possibly the best to ever play the game and her renewed determination, it’s difficult to conceive of Serena not finally conquering her US Open demons and walking away with this year’s title – even at close to 31 years of age.
To achieve the level of success that she has, which is unparalleled among active players, means to possess tools that her peers simply don’t. Along with having near mastery over the techniques of the sport – as many professional players do, there has to be something extra that she possesses. Besides her intimidating physique and athletic prowess, analysts have concluded that it’s the fire that burns deep within her for winning. That fire exists in other players, but seemingly not to the degree that Serena Wiliams’ burns, which could explain the explosive moments that make her the polarizing figure that she is. As a prime example and though not on court this time, she unleashed a bit of fury regarding the now-infamous “Crip Walk” on a provocative reporter during a recent US Open pre-tournament press conference.
The encounter went as follows:
Q: Going back to the first question that was asked, you of all people know that the Crip walk is not just a dance. I was wondering, do you have any regrets doing it in front of everyone?
SERENA WILLIAMS: “First of all, it was just a dance. I didn’t know that’s what it was called. Second, why are you asking me that? Like that’s so ‑‑ I mean, if anything you should be trying to ask me questions to lift me up not bring such things. … I’m done with that question.”
Unapologetic in expressing her angst, it was easy to see the parallels between her off-court steely demeanor and her on-court ferocity.
Not many other players come off the way Serena Williams does in pressrooms, but with that, not many … well no other current players have her awe-inspiring resume. She can almost be likened to the genius who nearly has to sacrifice sanity for the sake of expression of his or her genius, wherein she sacrifices decorum and protocol for the sake of stoking the blazing fire that has seen her to 14 Grand Slams and when you throw in the recent Olympic gold medal, a career Golden Slam.
No matter what you think of Serena Williams, her name is forever etched in tennis history and this week’s US Open provided for her the opportunity to put a cherry on top.
Will she win? In the grand scheme, she already has.
*The US Open, the highest attended sporting event in the US, kicks off today, Monday, August 27, at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York. Check here for tickets and draw information.