SHE is two matches away from winning the Serena Slam. She is two major titles away from completing the Grand Slam. And the silence is deafening.
Serena Williams had banned all mention of her two potential slams. Like every player ever born, she is trying to plot her route to the final “one match at a time” but that has proved difficult when the world and his wife is assuming that she will win her next nine matches at the major tournaments and rewrite the history books.
“I told you guys: no slam,” she joked with the BBC interviewer immediately after she beat Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and reached the semi-finals. “No! No! No!” But she meant it, all the same.
Williams, despite her 20 major titles and unassailable position at the top of the rankings, is human just like the rest of us. She is a champion and a fighter through and through but she still has doubts. When Heather Watson pushed her to the limit and stood two points from victory, Williams was downcast. Since then, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou has been trying to convince her that her ability to come back from the brink is one of her strengths; she still believes that she should be nowhere near the brink in the first place.
When she left SW19 last year, beaten in the third round by Alize Cornet, she had not reached so much as a grand slam quarter-final all year. Chasing Martina Navratilova’s and Chris Evert’s target of 18 major trophies, she seemed felled by nerves and fears. But then she won the US Open, joined the “18 Club” and announced that by equalling the living legends, she need never win another grand slam championship again. Relieved of her anxieties, she promptly won the next two majors only to run straight into the media hype of the Serena Slam.
If she wins here, she will hold all four majors at once, something she last achieved back in 2003. But if she wins here and then wins in New York, she will complete the calendar Grand Slam, something that has not been done since 1988 when Steffi Graf was in her all-conquering pomp. It is no wonder, then, that Williams wants a little hush. Peace and quiet is hard to find when you are chasing history.
Still, she fights on. And, against Azarenka, she faced her toughest challenge yet. It was the best match of the women’s tournament by far – two grand slam champions hitting like heavyweights from the baseline, both bringing the absolute best from the other. But Azarenka’s best is not quite as good as Williams’ and, once the world No 1 had claimed the first break of serve in the second set, she left Azarenka to eat her dust.
Williams has not been at her absolute and blistering best in every match here but she has always been able to raise her game when she has needed to. The serve has dug her out of trouble – and she delivered 17 aces yesterday – while her utter determination not to be beaten brings out the champion in her no matter what the circumstance. Azarenka pushed her hard but Williams pushed back and flattened the Belarusian. At times it was brutal but this was Williams doing what no other woman on the planet can do. Williams is the best in the world and no one comes close to touching her.
Maria Sharapova is the next woman tasked with trying to stop the world No 1 but she faces an uphill struggle. Like Williams, she takes no prisoners but she had to use every ounce of strength and nous to get the better of Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 yesterday. Her problem now is trying to find a way to hurt the top seed – she has not beaten Williams since 2004 and trails 17-2 in their career rivalry.
“She’s such a fighter and it’s good to see her doing well,” Williams gushed. “We haven’t played each other in Wimbledon in a while – I look forward to it. I really don’t have anything to lose. I’m just going out there and try to win a match and, if I don’t, then there’s always next time.”
She smiled as she spoke and absolutely no one believed her. She is two matches away writing another chapter in the history book and nine matches away from rewriting the history book entirely. And she might just do it, too, provided no mentions the word “slam” to her, be it Serena or Grand.