Ms. Williams has won the last four Grand Slam singles titles. Dating back to the 2014 U.S. Open 12 months ago, then to the Australian Open last January, then to Paris when she won the French Open in June, and to the greenest and grandest stage in tennis, Wimbledon, she won that, too, completing an unbeaten run of 33 matches won in Grand Slam play.
That’s called a “Serena Slam.” The only problem is, it’s not in the same calendar year. That one’s called “The Grand Slam.” And, after losing yesterday to a netter whose ranking is 42 spots lower than hers, Serena lost that bid to become only the seventh person ever to with The Slam.
Serena was poised to win. Her record against Roberta Vinci was spotless. The Italian had never won a set, not even reached a tiebreaker, against the American. And after Serena routinely won the first set in their semifinal yesterday, 6-2, you’d think it was another one of those walk-in-the-Flushing-Meadows-park type of days for the younger sister of Venus.
But Vinci won the second set. No problem for SW. In two of her previous three matches at the U.S. Open, Serena had lost a set; but she’d always win the third. And, against Vinci, she led the third set 2-0 and was up 40-30 to take a commanding 3-0 lead. But Vinci, who stands only 5-foot-4 and was the world No.1 ranked doubles player early this season, wasn’t about to book a Sunday flight to her hometown of Palermo, Italy. Instead, she booked a trip to the finals.
And so, on an unforgettable “9/11” in New York, sadness once again fell on the Americans at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Serena is 33 years old. She won’t get this chance again. Very, very, very few individuals get to be so close — winning the first three majors and the first five matches only to lose in the second-to-the-very-last match.
What happened? I did not get to watch the game. It was dawn, Philippine time, and, based on my readings, it was all about one word: pressure. Surprisingly, the 21-time major champion denies it. “No, I told you guys I don’t feel pressure,” said Williams. “I never felt pressure. I don’t know. I never felt that pressure to win here. I said that from the beginning.”
Not true. Chris Evert, a six-time U.S. Open champ, said, “I saw a frozen Serena Williams. I saw a paralysed Serena Williams. She succumbed to the nerves. She is human.” On ESPN, Evert added: “It was apparent to all of us who have watched her for 20 years that she was nervous today.”
This moment was such a disappointment for Serena because the draw aligned for her expected victory. Against Vinci, she sported a 4-0 record; against the finalist at the opposite end, Flavia Pennetta, seeded a lowly 26, Serena has faced her seven times and won all seven.
“This is monumental. It’s a shocker,” Tracy Austin said. “This is one of the biggest upsets in the history of tennis, because of what was on the line.”
I agree. We’ve witnessed Rafa lose before or Roger get beaten by a 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in Wimbledon. But nothing like this. Serena had won 26 straight GS matches this year and was two supposedly-easy wins away from the record — only to get upset.
And it’s not like Serena played too badly. Based on numbers, she recorded a high 50 winners (versus only 19 from Vinci). This, however, was negated by her mistakes: 40 unforced errors. Serena also recorded 16 aces, against only one from Vinci. And, in total points won, she scored 93 — higher than the 85 of her opponent.
But, in tennis, it’s not “total points won” that matters most, unlike basketball or football. It’s a game that says, whoever-wins-the-very-last-point-wins.
“The toll of this journey she was on was too much for her today,” said Sky Sports TV host Leif Shiras. “She was trying to dig deep and the way to generate energy for her is to get that passion out. But I think that can tire her; there is an element of fatigue that plays into this story. She was at a breaking point; she was boiling. And Vinci was drawing that out of her. It was amazing drama.”