It has been seven weeks since anyone saw Serena Williams on a tennis court but, according to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, that is not because she is nursing a wounded ego, it because she is trying to save her career.
Williams was within touching distance of making history at the US Open – had she won the title there, she would have completed the calendar Grand Slam and become on the fourth woman in history to do so. But Roberta Vinci upended her in the semi-finals and since then, Williams has been in hiding. A couple of weeks later she announced that her season was over and she was taking a complete break from the sport.
According to Mouratoglou, Williams had lost to Vinci partly because the pressure was getting to her and partly because she was in agony due to a chronic condition in both knees.
“That was the first thing she said when she came to the court [to practise before the semi-final], ‘my knees hurt so much today’, so she was struggling for moving,” Mouratoglou said at the announcement of his new role as an ambassador for Maui Jim sunglasses.
“The [problem is the] same as for Rafa [Nadal]. It’s just playing for so many years, the cartilage is [gone]. Not all of it, but a big part so the bones just hit themselves. She has bone bruises and if you keep on playing with this for too long, too much, the next step is a stress fracture.
“Her knees needed rest. There was no other option and we knew that at some point we had to do it, she plays with pain all the time.
“The second thing is the injury can get really worse, and at her age her career could really be in danger if she went too far and got more injured like you know Rafa did it, for example, in the past. He kept on playing with the same problem and then it got worse and he had to stop for almost a year; we don’t want this to happen. She is 34, if she has to stop for a year then it is really bad for her future, especially now.”
It took Williams more than a fortnight before she could bring herself to speak to Mouratoglou after the loss but he was expecting an emotional reaction from his charge. He knew to let her be and he was always confident that she would come to terms with defeat and disappointment and be ready to fight again. The next question was when her body would be strong enough to let her work again. That, as it turned out, was sooner rather than later: Williams is now champing at the bit to get back to the practice courts and Mouratoglou is doing his best to keep her reined in. She has two months to prepare for her next match at the Hopman Cup in Australia in January.
“She doesn’t want to talk when she’s depressed,” he said. “She was depressed because she didn’t reach her goal. The reaction was quite strong. She does everything with 100 per cent of her heart so of course when you do so, you are more disappointed when you don’t reach your goal and plus she has a level of expectation that is much higher than anyone.
“And I feel that she’s already motivated for the new season and that she is ready too early actually, so I told her to calm down, because it’s too early; to go for practice at 100 per cent, it’s too early.”