For most people who reached the finals in three of Four Grand Slam events, and the semifinals in the other, 2016 would be viewed as a great year. But for Serena Williams, whose standards are far higher, that wasn’t the case, even though she did win her 22nd major title at Wimbledon and tied Steffie Graf for second place among women on the all time title list and only two away from Margaret Court’s total record.
“For me, it wasn’t a great season,” Williams told USA Today last week. “I think for other people it would have been wonderful. It was what it was.” She also was unseated as the number one player in the world by Angelique Kerber, who defeated her in the Australian Open final. Garbine Muguruza beat Williams in the French Open final, and Karolina Pliskova upset her in the U,S, Open semifinals,
Williams ended her 2016 season early, citing the need to rest an injured knee. Then her 2017 season got off to a rocky start. She was defeated 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 in the second round of a warmup tournament at Auckland by Madison Brengle two weeks ago. There are now rumblings that at 35 her days of domination are over. Some observers think her impending marriage to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian will be a season-long distraction. The announcement of their recent engagement was a major story on both the sports and pop gossip pages, as was a lengthy interview with Common for the ESPN website “The Undefeated,” where among many other things Williams said “If I were a man, there would be no question that I am the greatest player of all time.”
Williams now looks toward the Australian Open, where she has a first round match this week with Belinda Bencic. They have split two prior meetings. Williams can reclaim the number one ranking if she can win the title and Kerber stumbles and misses the Round of 16. But Williams sent a message to all competitors that they are making a mistake if they underrate her or think she is finished as a dominating player.
“I didn’t come here to lose in the first round, or the second round, or at all,” Williams said. She also dismissed the notion that her engagement and pending marriage might take her attention away from winning,
“Now I’m on the road, already back at work. I don’t want to get too happy because I want to stay focused.”
Competitors underrate her at their own risk.