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Williams ready to serve up fifth Wimbledon title

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Ben Dirs | 12:11 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2012

It is often noted that the mark of a great champion is the ability to adapt and modify as existing parts of their games begin to creak and let them down.

When the old legs began to go, Ryan Giggs went from flying winger to linking frontman to controlling midfielder. When Steve Waugh finally realised dashing only gets you so far - usually out - he scaled down his batsmanship and evolved into a limpet.

When Muhammad Ali returned from enforced exile, he parked his bike and gambled it on heart. And so it is with Serena Williams, although the fine-tuning has been less technical, more of the mind.

Telling a woman that she plays tennis like a man might not sound like the height of chivalry, but it is the greatest compliment you could pay Williams at this year's Wimbledon Championships: a record-breaking 24 aces in her semi-final victory over Victoria Azarenka made it 85 for the tournament, meaning only Philipp Kohlschreiber (98) has delivered more.

Williams is such a potent on-court presence it is easy to forget she has been creaking for an awful long time now. As far back as 2004, a knee injury forced Williams out of the sport for eight months. The following year she finished out of the top 10 for the first time since 1998, the year before she won the US Open for her first Grand Slam singles title.

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Hawkish observers suggested her heart - and mind - were elsewhere: designing outfits, on the catwalk, writing self-help manuals with sister Venus, anywhere but the court.

In January this year, Williams claimed that not only had the cynics been right all along, but that her heart, if not her mind, had never been in tennis in the first place. "It's not that I've fallen out of love [with tennis]," said the four-time Wimbledon champion, who plays Agnieszka Radwanska in the final on Saturday. "I've actually never liked sports."

Williams's announcement didn't exactly go down a bomb with those who had never really taken to a woman who always dared to be different, from playing at the US Open in a lycra catsuit to letting line judges and umpires know exactly what she was thinking. She was accused of complacency and ingratitude, of being scornful of her privilege.

But her performances at this year's Wimbledon suggest she was being economical with the truth, wilfully or not: that much aggression and that much focus is generated by an awful lot of work and an awful lot of pride, which in turn is generated by an awful lot of love.

"Serena is fitter than she has been in the past and she's playing with a much better attitude," says BBC pundit and 1977 champion Virginia Wade. "In the past she thought she could beat everybody without working too hard. Now she realises she has to make an effort all the time. She's an outgoing girl and likes to do other things but at this stage in her career I think she's really anxious to get the most out of herself."

The latest coming of Williams, the first 30-year-old to reach the women's final since Steffi Graf in 1999, is made all the more remarkable by the fact she spent almost a year on the sidelines in 2010-2011 after stepping on some glass outside a Munich restaurant.

The glass sliced a tendon before a clot travelled up her leg, forming a pulmonary embolism, a blockage in the main artery of the lung. If it sounds serious, that's because it was. "It could have been career-ending, but for the grace of God," said Williams. "I've missed tennis so much. If tennis has missed me half as much as I have missed tennis, we're in a good place."

Serena Williams

Serena Williams celebrates reaching the 2012 Wimbledon final. Photo: Getty.

Tennis did miss Williams, a 13-time Grand Slam singles champion whose last victory at a major was at SW19 in 2010. In her absence, Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki rose to the top of the rankings and remained there for all but one week between October 2010 and January 2012. It's not that Wozniacki was a bad player, it's just there was always a sense she was keeping the throne warm while the rightful queen was stricken.

"I'm so happy to be playing," said Williams after her straight sets defeat of Azarenka. "I'm so happy to be on the court. I feel like this is where I belong. Maybe I don't belong in a relationship. But I know for a fact I do belong on this tennis court."

Good news for tennis, bad news for Radwanska. If Williams's serve is on song - and it hasn't looked like malfunctioning thus far - it will be a case of the tank against the epee and a fifth singles title will be hers, 10 years after her first. Centre Court will be where she belongs and Centre Court will belong to her.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'll take up knitting if she doesn't win in the final. That is a not bad thing, though.

  • Comment number 2.

    Both Finals this year will be one-sided as The Fed racks up his 7th title equalling Sampras and Serena racks up her 5th title equalling her older sister !

    You heard it here first !

  • Comment number 3.

    Serena is a force of nature. Her execution sometimes defies belief. The completely shambolic state of Women's tennis during her enforced absence brought into sharp relief how much she matters on the tour. She has set a benchmark against which others will be judged for generations.

  • Comment number 4.

    Now all the ladies on tour will realise that they have to work harder on their serves. A very good serve will always help you out when your back is against the wall.

  • Comment number 5.

    Just a shame she is such a bad loser and always has an array of excuses for losing, refusing to praise her opponent. That's how I will remember her, not for being a great champion.

  • Comment number 6.

    agree with thecatalyst, i hope radwanska wins, serena is so sure of herself it became annoying. serena is big and strong but i love cleverness of radwanska! its so fun to watch. maybe because im quite wimpy i always admire brains more over robustness;):)

  • Comment number 7.

    As a man lacking body and head for a game of tennis that I so love, I am saddened when I see a rare talent, like the Williams sister, squander such a gift of sound mind and body for tennis that could bring greaness. Instead, they dabble in favor of triffle interests that could easily be delayed for another carreer. Tennis is a young man's/woman's sport. The average top 10 player only has about 7 years to remain at the top, and even less to dominate.

    if Serena had focused so much on achieving in tennis, I am certain she could have broken many records, including scoring multiple Grand Slams in a calendar year, to become the greatest player that played tennis. Instead, it was sad, and at times pathetic to see her spend her energy on such interests as acting and fasion designing, which she has little talent for. Thus, we see her come back time and again to tennis after falling off a wagon to pursue those trifle interests. Tennis is where she makes the most money and garner the most attenton, which her narcisist self craves.

    Well, she is at the twilight of her carreer now. Whatever time she has left, she better use it good and remain in tennis lest she risks being at the fringe of the greatest players that every played the game of tennis.

  • Comment number 8.

    That's my girls. Knew they could do it in such style and grace and love them for that. The greatest entertainment on a tennis court for me. Best of luck on Sunday, girls in both singles and doubles. I miss them when they don't play and so do many fans out there.

  • Comment number 9.

    Fair play to Serena after what she has been through the last year 2 years to comeback and make a Wimbledon final is a great achievement and she seems to be playing her Tennis with more of a smile and joy now. Sometimes you have to go though bad times to make you better person. Fair play to her.

  • Comment number 10.

    I don't understand the comments about Serena never praising her opponents, she said this yesterday:

    "Radwanska has been playing well. She won Miami. She's been consistent this year, more consistent than me. That already tells me from the beginning I really need to go out there and be ready to hit a lot of shots and be ready to play hard. She has great hands and does everything so well"

    And this:

    "She's proven herself. She's proven herself to be the No.1 player in the world," Williams said of Radwanska. "I'm still getting there, you know. I'll be there."

    You shouldn't make comments like that based upon your own personal dislike for a play, Serena has always been a very fair player. I'm always amazed that she and Venus don't get more praise for winning 9 of the last 11 Wimbledons between them. Probably going to add one more to that tomorrow, unless Radwanska can get around Serena's serve. If she can do that she more than deserves to win, no one else has managed it so far.

  • Comment number 11.

    sorry, 9 of the last 12

  • Comment number 12.

    Serena certainly deserves a lot more respect than she actually gets. Sure, she has her moments when she perhaps lets herself down, but how boring tennis would be if she was simply yet another cookie-cutter model pro, who comes and and plays their matches then delivers exactly the same interview about working hard and respecting their opponents.

    Also considering the farce that reigned in womens tennis for most of 2010-11 with non-slam winning world number ones, any real tennis fan should learn to treasure Serena. It's only a great pity that various injuries have meant that we didnt really get to see a Serena/Sharapova rivalry develop over a longer period of time.

  • Comment number 13.

    Watching the joy at which the Williams sisters were playing their doubles matches, you realise that Wimbledon means more to them than any other Grand Slam including their own. i support British tennis but i can also appreciate the talents of other players and people who go on about Serena and just having the serve.Well if it is that easy why dont the LTA go and pick up 3 or 4 muscly women off the street and give them a tennis racket and see if they can do it.

  • Comment number 14.

    Serena has been phenomenal and mostly clinical in her out-thinking and outduelling her opponents throughout her prolific career.She has shown us dazzling heights of performance and some very mediocre stuff. But on the whole she has written her name indelibly on metal after metal to the joy of many and the consternation of some.
    She will account for her life's work one day and thus she does what she thinks is best for her whether to solely concentrate on tennis or other pursuits.
    However,I am thankful that I was able to witness her greatness and the name she's made for herself coming from a rather 'different' background than most of her peers.I am thankful that her tennis prodigy and deftness with the raquet and unquestioned mental toughness saw her through many a battle.
    Indeed,she would be remembered for her records which may eventually place her among the top 5 EVER or the greatest. Iam certain we've not seen the last of her yet.
    It does not matter if she's given due praise or not,many know in their hearts the truth but fail to acknowledge it due to the fear of what the truth might mean. But like the Scriptures say precious things are often hidden in unimpressive vessels.It usually takes a wise and honest person to notice or even acknowledge it. So here is to Serena... do what you were sent here to do.

  • Comment number 15.

    Great player but to me she has an advantage before she even starts. She's twice the size of the other ladies!! Her muscles put lots of men to shame. For that reason I don't enjoy the women's game as there is no finesse. They're either massive (Serena) or noisey (Maria).

  • Comment number 16.

    Agree with meansofbeams,...

  • Comment number 17.

    Serena and Venus will continue to polarize opinion between those who look at their achievements objectively and those who have made up their minds not to appreciate their worth. What they have achieved takes skill, strength and courage beyond the ordinary. They are the defining players of their era like it or not.

    As always some of the negative postings here smell of jim crow-ism...

  • Comment number 18.

    So, Nadal is allowed to be aggressive and argue with judges (French Open 2012 and 2010, also US Open 2010, to name a few) yet Serena is unpopular because she voices her opinion?

    I won't even mention how he practically bullied the umpire in his 2010 match against Berdych, o wait....

    Funny how it's okay for some people but not others to eh?! Bottom line is, love her of loath her, she is a fantastic tennis player.

  • Comment number 19.

    Sorry, meant US Open 2011. It was in the final.

  • Comment number 20.

    I suspect people who dont like womens Tennis on here probably wont enjoy until one of our Brits wins it. I also suspect some posters on her would have wanted Serena sending to Death Row if she had done what Nalbandian did at Queens.Fingers crossed for Murray Sunday

  • Comment number 21.

    For those who think Serena has an advantage in size well.. She did not ask to be made that way. Perhaps other players could ask to be reborn or remade? We are made the way we are for a reason. Perhaps to give us comparative advantage over others the person with one talent,the next one with three und so weiter.
    However,the advantage is in how you use what you have else big guys like Rusedski, Ilsner,Tsonga and others would be Grandslammers too. But see its just a matter of not wanting to see the other person's talent but rather to see their so called faults. As they say it is what it is!

  • Comment number 22.

    Ive seen plenty of women Serena Williams size does that mean if i give them a tennis raquet they will smash loads of aces and win Grand Slams ?? Of course they wont. Jealous sour grapes thats all it is.

  • Comment number 23.

    The thing that I am happiest about, is that now that Serena has modified her noise on court (don't let me down, Serena), we will be spared a shriek-fest. I for one would not have bothered to watch a Sharapova /Azarenka final. Same thing applies to the quiet men's final, too, I guess, just the glorious noise of the crack of the ball.

  • Comment number 24.

    Of course she did not ask to be "made that way" The bottom line is she is what she is, which is a fantastic tennis player. Top 5 in my opinion but, she has a size and power advantage to start with. This leads to her incredible serve, which on grass (although not as fast as it used to be) plays a very big part.

    I am not trying to take anything away from her, she is an immense talent. I like her as a player and she seems to be pleasant enough, I just yearn for the finesse of Graf, Henin et al.

    Each to their own.

    Also like to say well done to Andy Murray.

  • Comment number 25.

    Serena looks very dangerous again. She may well have another two or three Wimbledon titles left in her although Radwanska is sure to be a very worthy opponent in what will be a great final. I still do not like the way Williams goes about her game sometimes though. She seems to occasionally disrespect her opponents and complains way too much for my liking. However I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's encounter.

  • Comment number 26.

    What i don't like about most people is when they don't like you they say all sort of hate words for people to dislike you,for example if this Serena we 're talking about happens to be their own sister do you think they will be complaining of size and she serves like man and stuff like that,NO!!! they would be proud of her,and for those of you who always say hate words corncernig Serena my advice for you is better to keep quite,for me she is specially made and for the fact that she is more than order girls on the court ,i will call her SUPERWOMAN

  • Comment number 27.

    #26 Francis

    What are you on about mate?
    I suspect you can't write English properly therefore cannot read English properly.

    I for one use no "hate words" I just point out the advantage she has.
    Are people not allowed their own opinions? After all that's what this page is about isn't it?

    To make it clear..... Serena is a fantastic player and deserves all of the praise she gets.
    I just yearn for more finesse.
    Is that so wrong?

  • Comment number 28.

    I do think Serena has shown a lot of respect for her opponents in these championships and noticably since she came back form her life threatening illness, but i suppose it i easier to bring up the past misdemeanours when you dont like/hate someone. All those that said they hated Murray for his football comment (which is so childish by so called fans) are now jumping on the bandwagon because he has made a Wimbledon final. I hope he wins but not for the plastic fans sake.

  • Comment number 29.

    I agree with thecatalyst's post at 16:13. Both serena and Venus have been very ungracious in the past saying things like 'I wasn't on my game today' when they lost rather than 'she played really well'. Not very endearing.
    Serena's serve will hopefully raise the bar for other players' serves and, more importantly, returns. We want rallies, don't we? Not just boom boom.

  • Comment number 30.

    There are a surprising number of errors in this piece e.g Serena cut her foot in Munich and her last grand slam was wimbledon 2010 etc

  • Comment number 31.

    The accident where she cut her foot happened in Munich not LA.

  • Comment number 32.

    Going by the pre-match commentaries and the comments here you'd think that the match today will be:

    S. Williams vs A.N. Other

    We can read all about Serena's favourite shoes, fashion predilections, etc but Radwanska is made out to be some non-entity who is just there to make up the numbers for the inevitable coronation of Serena Williams to greatness.

  • Comment number 33.

    I love most sports tennis included but until he WTA do something about the grunting and other noises players make, regrettably mainly the women, I can't watch or take them seriously.

  • Comment number 34.

    I think one might say that when the Williams sisters were at their best, they were virtually impossible to beat by most other players on the women's tour. So remarking after a loss that they "hadn't played their best" in those days was an observation of the truth, not a matter of misplaced boasting. They would always compliment their opponent at the same time, too. I do believe that deep down many tennis lovers actually resent them because of their skin colour and because they're not from a bourgeois tennis background. They can't say that, of course, so they complain about their - non-existing - lack of sportsmanship.

  • Comment number 35.

    I've no doubt she's a fine player, but I won't be watching the women's final. I have no interest in watching her bludgeon Radwanska into the ground with all the subtlety of a battle tank fighting off a man with a bow and arrow. All accompanied by grunts and screams more suitable to a bout of all-in wrestling. No thank you. I prefer to watch tennis.

  • Comment number 36.

    Serena is a great champion. Gracious in victory and defeat, coming back time and again after serious injury: and most of all, multi-dimensional. She shows us that life has more to it than the pursuit of one object.

  • Comment number 37.

    33. SafeHaven

    At least the men's final should be safe for you to watch. Federer doesn't grunt, and Murray only very rarely.

  • Comment number 38.

    Martijin, I couldn't agree with you more. For most of the past decade womens' tennis has been the Williams sisters...and everyone else, just as the Fed Express dominated the mens' game for some years. Is there any more clearer example as evidence of this than 9 out of 12 Wimbledon titles? I am proud they have defied the boundaries to success the world often presents like the colour of your skin and 'which Williams are you? [background], to serve as role models to so many around the world that, in Serena's own words " If you just keep believing, you can do it". She is one of the greatest the game has seen, we can never rewrite history.

  • Comment number 39.

    Soon we will all say, Serena is one of the greatest players to grace the game. Many of you never even understood tennis till she arrived on the scene. She is a superstar, just give her credit. It takes more than robustness to be where she is today. Stop judging, cos even with all the other extras, she is still where she is, give her the credit!

  • Comment number 40.

    'Gracious in victory and defeat'? I'm not too sure that the lineswoman whom she abused so threateningly a couple of years back when she disagreed with a call would agree with that.

  • Comment number 41.

    It was a mistake. Don't we all make mistakes? Come on!

  • Comment number 42.

    I'm sure it was. And yes, we do. But if the grace had extended to her 'apology' - grudging, and extracted by the insistence of others, rather like David Nalbandian at Queens a few weeks ago - it might have generated a little more sympathy. John McEnroe was an equally fine player, but I could never enjoy his tennis either, and that was also because of his loudmouthed, cocky, arrogant conduct on the court. Sorry, it's just not for me, mistake or not.

    To each his own! :)

  • Comment number 43.

    32.At 10:03 7th Jul 2012, yaktamer wrote:
    Going by the pre-match commentaries and the comments here you'd think that the match today will be:

    S. Williams vs A.N. Other

    We can read all about Serena's favourite shoes, fashion predilections, etc but Radwanska is made out to be some non-entity who is just there to make up the numbers for the inevitable coronation of Serena Williams to greatness.

    6-1 in the first set before the rains come down. You were saying?

  • Comment number 44.

    Rosemary i bet you wouldnt say that if it was one of our Brits in the final serving and grunting. Your not interested in the final, but feel the need to post negative comments about Serena. Embarrasing

  • Comment number 45.

    Serena is being so un-gracious to Radwanska its shocking

  • Comment number 46.

    Rosemary, your views are fine. I would say a couple of things. First of all, in competitive sports being a good loser is not a virtue. Someone once said 'show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser'. Great champions win a lot because they literally hate to lose. Connors, McEnroe, Federer, Borg: all at one time or other tantrum and racquet throwers. I just enjoy their skills and forget the rest. Everyone thinks Federer is such a gentleman, but I have heard him say some appallingly self-absorbed things in interviews. Secondly, Serena is an American. I think part of the way she comes across is a cultural difference to us Brits. I have often thought we would have much more sporting success if we stopped teaching our sports men and women that it's OK to lose.

  • Comment number 47.

    Well played Serena Williams.
    Brilliant article Ben.
    Objective and kind.
    Nice read. Thanks.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 48.

    Re: first post - no knitting for me. Well played, both ladies.


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