Wimbledon: Serena Williams bounces back to reach the last 16
IT’S a hard job remaining inconspicuous throughout the whole first week of Wimbledon when you’re a statuesque black American with big hair, bigger jewellery and four singles titles to your name, but Serena Williams just about managed it. For a while yesterday she looked like leaving the tournament as quietly as she had come into it, but in the end the No 6 seed had just too much power for Zheng Jie, and made it into the last 16 with a 6-7, 6-2, 9-7 win.
There are several reasons why the champion of 2002, ’03, ’09 and ’10 no longer makes quite the same impact at these championships. Sheer familiarity is part of it – this is her 13th appearance here. So too is the British mania for Andy Murray, which in recent years has had the effect of lowering the attention paid to the women’s singles in general.
And there is also a widespread feeling that the Williams era is over; that Serena and her older sister Venus are no longer the dominant figures on the tour. The last of the four finals in which they met was only three years ago, but that is long enough to allow many observers to feel that the game has moved on.
Others would retort by asking: has it moved on, or merely regressed? Venus and Serena had such a stranglehold on the sport that at times it threatened to kill off interest, but more recently the lack of a single recognised top player has had a similar effect. The fact that so many players have so briefly been No 1 then swiftly slipped down the rankings does suggest there is a lack of consistency at the top of the women’s game.
In 2008 and ’09 Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina all sat in that throne only to quickly vacate it. Recently, Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka and currently and most credibly, Maria Sharapova, have all had a go, yet also been unable to settle.
So this is definitely an interregnum, and, with Serena now almost 30 and Venus 32, it is surely too late for the family firm to regain its monopoly. But that does not mean that a temporary return to the top is out of the question, at least for the younger sibling, Venus having been knocked out in the first round this year.
Indeed, given the grit she displayed against Zheng on a windswept Centre Court, the question should perhaps be not can Serena do it, but can anyone stop her? Her opponent in tomorrow’s fourth round, Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, will certainly have a go. A convincing 6-0, 6-4 winner over No 10 seed Sara Errani, Shvedova enjoyed a perfect set, winning 24 points without reply in that opener before the Italian eventually got off the mark.
Serena’s poor returning against Zheng will certainly convince Shvedova that she has a chance, but on the other hand the American served so well that she established a new record for aces. And, as always, she was unfazed by the news of how well her next opponent had played, calmly making light of that “golden set”, as it is called.
“I never knew that existed,” she said at her post-match press conference. “I was like: What does that mean?
“I immediately thought: she won all four [slams] in a row and the Olympics? I thought that wasn’t possible. That’s the only golden thing I know of.”
As put-downs go, that one was polite and mildly self-deprecating. When the conversation turned to the issue of equal pay, however, Serena was more forthright in her treatment of Gilles Simon, the Frenchman who tried to reignite the old debate last week by claiming that men deserved more because they played for more sets.
“I deserve to get paid the same amount,” was Serena’s response. “I don’t deserve less ’cause I have boobs and they don’t. That’s definitely not the case. I worked just as hard since I was three. I think they worked hard since they were three, four, two, whatever the case is.
“Actually I have a picture when I’m on the court and I’m in a stroller, so even longer than that. I definitely know my whole life has been dedicated toward being a top athlete, and I shouldn’t get paid less because of my sex. The conversation’s totally over for me. That was so 2000; this is 2012.
“Who is still thinking like that, like honestly? Get with the programme.”
During those periods when she has been injured, or disenchanted with the sport, or both, it has been tempting to think something similar of Serena. That she is so 2000; that this is 2012; that the programme is about someone else these days.
After her unobtrusive but increasingly impressive progress through the first three rounds, however, it is looking a lot more likely that we will have to think again.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
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