She’s just a few Grand Slam steps away from reaching “greatest of all time” numbers in the sport, which makes recording her exploits all the more important for the sake of capturing black history in the making.
Matching and now exceeding her 18+ year career best winning streak of 22 matches straight, Williams just claimed her 51st tour title – jubilantly twirling her way to the net to shake hands – to win the Italian Open in Rome and 24th consecutive match win. She convincingly snuffed out the flame of feisty world no. 3 and rival, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 6-1, 6-3, to achieve the feat.
This is the fourth consecutive championship (Miami, Charleston, Madrid, Rome) for the 15-time GS power-hitting champion in the short span of only 8 weeks and on arguably her worst surface for three of them, the power-muting red clay. The tournaments are considered tune-ups leading up to Roland Garros, aka the French Open, which is played on the tricky surface.
Roland Garros remains the one tournament that Serena just can’t seem to find any consistency with. She won it back in 2002, but since then she’s struggled mightily, even last year losing in the first round of the tourney for the first time in a grand slam in her entire career. She seemed poised last year to finally conquer her clay demons as she won 2 clay court tournaments (Charleston, Madrid) leading up to the prestigious, but grueling event, but she experienced a now infamous meltdown after losing her enormous lead in the 2nd set tiebreaker and ultimately the 1R match to much lower ranked Virginnie Razzano. Many thought it was the beginning of the end of her illustrious career.The devastation of leaving the tournament not only empty handed, but so embarrassingly early led her to seek out assistance from now coach and boyfriend, Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou. Since his addition to her team, she not only has a more sound clay court strategy, utilizing more topspin, devastating angles, and tricky drop shots to get the job done, yielding jaw dropping results against her bewildered colleagues, but she’s also now playing what analysts say is the best tennis of her career (won Wimbledon, US Open, Year-end Championship and Olympic Gold). Also, if you’re superstitious, adding Rome to the 2 clay-court titles (Charleston, Madrid) she won last year around this same time is a good omen considering when she won Roland Garros in 02 – the year of the Serena Slam, she had also taken Rome just the week before.
Williams, now 31-years-of-age, confidently, and some would say predictably, took out loaded fields during all four of her recent victories, including the relentless power hitter, Maria Sharapova (2); the all-court phenom Victoria Azarenka (3); the ball-thumping Li Na (6); the tennis-magician Agnieszka Radwanska (4); the hit-a-winner-from-anywhere Petra Kvitova (8); clay-court specialist Sara Errani (5) and more, validating her world no. 1 status and sending an emphatic message that 31 is the new ball crushing, ace-serving, all court moving 20.
Life after 30 is usually spent “out to pasture” for most tennis players, but the phenomenal career of Serena Williams has led may to challenge that notion. The oldest world no. 1 in history shows no signs of slowing and is just 2 Grand Slam titles away from matching those they call “the greats.”
Roland Garros runs May 26 and through June 9 and the ball is in her court.