REPUTATIONS only count for something if the person on the other side of the net is cowed by them.
Serena Williams is the current world No.1 and as a five-time winner of the Venus Rosewater dish she was also top seed in the Wimbledon women’s draw but none of that mattered to Alize Cornet. The Frenchwoman took two hours and four minutes to upset the tournament standings and defeat Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, defying status as well as the odds.
It is becoming a common issue for Williams, who says every other player raises their game against her. Maintaining she is a better player than she was when she was dominating women’s tennis, the American said the only reason she was not continuing to rack up the major titles was because her opponents were using her as their motivation, saving their best tennis and toughest mind games for when they faced up to her.
“Everyone, in general, plays the match of their lives against me. Every time I step on to the court I need to be 100 times better and if I’m not, then I’m in trouble. At the Australian Open I basically couldn’t play, in Paris I thought I played well and here I thought I was doing pretty decent. I’m going to need to watch the film and see what I can do better and what went wrong.
“I worked really, really hard coming into this event and now I’m going to have to keep working hard. Just because you lose a match you don’t stop, you keep going. I’ll keep fighting. That’s all I can do.”
In the immediate aftermath of the match she still couldn’t get her head around what that was. She accepted that the aces had deserted her and her serving percentages were down. She also credited Cornet with bringing her A-game.
Just as it had been when they had met in Dubai before, the Frenchwoman troubled Williams with drop shots and the kind of finesse the hard-hitting American cannot always count on. It was those drop shots that gave her the victory. Having lost the first set, Cornet bounced back with a 6-3 win in the second. In the third she was leading 5-2 but Williams came back at her. It wasn’t enough, though, and with two final drop shots, both prompting a Williams effort into the net, Cornet progressed to the last 16, where she will now meet Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard.
It left Williams soured and with some soul searching to do. She maintains she is still as motivated as ever and determined to add more grand slam titles to her CV but now that they have sniffed blood, she knows the other women are circling her, no longer cowed by her clout or her career wins. “The changes I need to make are mostly within. It’s difficult. If I’m not playing a great match these girls start playing like they are on the [men’s] ATP Tour. But I know I can do better and I know I have the potential to continue to be on the top and that’s what keeps me motivated. As time goes on you become a better player mentally or physically or a little bit of both. I think I’m both. I think I am a better player but I think the others are better against me.
“But I know that so I have no excuse. If they want to play well it gives me great competition and makes for a great match.”
It also leads to more defeats than she has been used to. Especially when she has been as focused and working as hard as she claims.
Cornet beat her in Dubai but Williams said that while that might have inspired her opponent, giving her the belief that she could repeat the feat, it had not played on her mind. She said she had still been confident. “I felt like it was a completely different match. I felt in much better form, better shape and I knew I was an all-round different player than I was in Dubai so right now I don’t really know what I did wrong.
“I thought I was swinging freely but obviously I wasn’t. I thought I was hitting pretty hard but she kept her unforced errors really low and I made a few errors too many. She played really well.”