Before the eagerly awaited final between Wimbledon champion Serena Williams and French Open champion Maria Sharapova, NBC analyst Rennae Stubbs said, “It’s hard to believe Serena’s form here is even better than at Wimbledon. It’s been flawless.”
Who could argue? After trouncing Australian Open titlist and No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-2 in the semis, Serena had dropped only 16 games in five matches. Serving phenomenally, she belted 50 aces while only committing two double faults. Even more jaw-dropping, she hit 141 winners versus just 57 unforced errors. “She has what I call her old mojo back,” added Stubbs.
Indeed, receding in the rearview mirror were dismal showings at the Australian and French Opens. You may remember she was shocked 6-2, 6-3 by No. 56 Ekaterina Makarova in Melbourne. Even more puzzling was her emotional first-round meltdown against No. 111 Virginie Razzano in Paris. There she blew a 5-1 tiebreaker lead and cried after losing the second set en route to the huge 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 upset.
Super-charged to capture a singles gold medal, the only prestigious title missing from her glittering resume, Serena started the Olympics final with a bang—actually three bangs—three aces to hold serve at love. But this match was different from her three-set Wimbledon final against Agnieszska Radwanska, where she appeared mortal and would have to serve out of trouble.
Sure, she racked up a modest (for her) 10 aces while she overwhelmed the determined but outgunned Sharapova 6-0, 6-1. But every phase of Serena’s ferocious firepower was ruthlessly efficient. It seemed like she was combining John Isner’s serve with Roger Federer’s forehand and Novak Djokovic’s backhand. For good measure, she won 6 of 7 (86%) net points. All told, she whacked 24 winners, compared to only 6 for renowned power player Sharapova.
Even the notoriously self-critical Serena had to acknowledge, “I’ve never played better.” Besides annihilating her top two rivals in the medal rounds, Serena had crushed a tough draw that included former No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic, former No. 2 Vera Zvonareva and fast-improving No. 43 Ursula Radwanska. Serena’s domination extended to doubles where she and Venus, now 32, defeated the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 seeded teams to capture their third doubles gold medal without losing a set.
When asked to explain why she’s played such terrific tennis at nearly 31, the inimitable Serena, never at a loss for words, expounded, “I don’t know. I just always give all the glory to God. You know, lately I’ve just been focused only on tennis, nothing else, no distractions, no life. (Smiling) My life is practice in the morning, training in the afternoon. Wake up to practice in the morning, training. Definitely been spending a lot more time maybe on the tennis court.”
The revealing answer makes one wonder what Serena, who owns 14 Grand Slam singles titles, could have achieved had she “focused only on tennis” throughout her glorious but sometimes frustratingly erratic career. After she won Wimbledon, when asked if she could equal the 18 major singles titles amassed by legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Serena replied, “I don’t see why not.”
If Serena stays healthy and focused, it’s foolish to bet against her.
Paul Fein has received more than 30 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player and No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England.