Saturday, July 11, 2015

Serena Williams redefines the term, "Plan B"

Today's Wimbledon final, featuring world number 1 Serena Williams and 20th Wimbldon seed Garbine Muguruza, turned out to be a microcosm of Williams' entire 2015 Wimbledon experience, which makes Williams' victory all the more amazing.

It was an unusually difficult tournament for the top seed. She struggled against the unknown Margarita Gasparyan in the first round. In the third round, Heather Watson, supported by an almost out-of-control British crowd, served for the match, coming dangerously close to taking Williams out of the tournament. Williams then had to play her sister, but there was no "rest" for her because next, she had to play her current most challenging opponent, Vika Azarenka.

The world number 1 had a routine win over Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, but was visibly nervous at the beginning of the final, double-faulting three times in the first game. Broken, she saw the break consolidated when Muguruza held. At 3-2, Muguruza saved two break points to go up 4-3, but was then broken the next time she served.

Serving behind for the first time, at 4-5, Muguruza hit an ace at 30-all, which looked like a very good sign for her, but it wasn't. Williams got a break point on her, and then--for the first time--the Spaniard double-faulted. The "oh my God I'm playing Serena in the Wimbledon final" moment had finally come, and with it came an entirely different Muguruza--a "nervious" (as she is prone to say) one.

Williams held and took the first set at 6-4. In the second set, she broke Muguruza at 1-2, and then the whole thing turned into the Serena Show--until it didn't.

But I digress. After that break, before you could say "Garbine Muguruza is finished," Williams went up 5-1 and served for the championship. Only Muguruza, exhibiting what I'll call a champion's mind in the making, would have none of it; she broke Williams at love, then efficiently held for 3-5.

So Williams served for the match a second time, and suddenly found herself down 0-40, when Muguruza hit a sharp, angled forehand on Williams' second serve. Williams then saved the three break points, getting the third save with an ace down the T. She followed that one with another ace, which gave her match point. Only Muguruza hit another stinging crosscourt forehand. The Spaniard next earned a break point, but Williams returned the game to deuce.

Surely Muguruza's powers had run their course. But they hadn't--not yet. What followed was a frenzied rally won by the 20th seed, who took her break point and went with it, bringing the set to 4-5.

Armed with comeback momentum rarely seen in a major final, and particularly against Serena Williams, Muguruza was now in a position to even the match and go for another break. But then something happened, something that seemed like a magic trick at the time. Williams broke Muguruza at love--just like that--and it was over. It happened so fast that even chair umpire Alison Hughes didn't appear to be able to keep up. "Game, set, match," she said, then hesitated, and finally, "Miss Williams."

Later, in her on-court interview, Williams would say "I didn't even know it was over...." It was, in the end, a very exciting contest, thanks to Muguruza's will to survive. And if Williams showed today that she will find a way, no matter how unexpected that way may be, Muguruza showed that she, too, is  made of "find a way" stuff. It didn't work for her this time, but she seems like a player who can only get better.

This is Williams' sixth Wimbledon title. She is the oldest woman to win a major in the Open Era, and she has now won the "Serena Slam" twice. The new title is also her 21st major singles championship. Much is being made of her needing to win more to "catch up" with Steffi Graf, but you won't get any of that here because--if you know anything about tennis history--you know that such comparisons are totally irrational.

Now all Williams has to do is win the U.S. Open and she will win the Grand Slam, something she has never done. (You also won't get the ridiculously incorrect "Calendar Slam" from me.) Will there be pressure? For sure. Today, we got a really good look at how Williams handles pressure, which leads me to believe that her chances of winning the Grand Slam are very, very good indeed.

The Season of Serena continues!

1 comment:

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