Serena Williams vowed to keep “soldiering on” in a bid to reach 24 Grand Slam titles, admitting her game needed work after an unfortunate collapse in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
The 37-year-old American rallied back from a set down against Karolina Pliskova and was leading 5-1 in the final set when she rolled her ankle on match point. But she refused to blame it for what happened afterwards, where she failed to win another point on serve in the match, before losing six games in a row to crash out 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
She said the big-serving Czech seventh seed was simply too good on the crunch points and she had learned lessons from the experience.
It was a cruel blow for Serena who has been chasing Margaret Court’s 24 Slams since winning in Melbourne in 2017 while pregnant, then taking time off to have a baby before returning to Grand Slam action at the French Open last year.
Serena admitted that having a year off and then returning to high-level tennis had not been easy for someone who expected to bounce straight back to her old winning ways. She said she has had to temper her expectations.
Here’s the full text of her post-match press conference:-
How is your ankle? What happened at match point 5-1 up?
Serena Williams: My ankle seems to be fine. I usually don’t know until the next day, so...
I think she just played lights out on match point, literally, hitting lines. Just went for – just went crazy on match point. So I don’t think –- she just played unbelievable on match point.
Why didn’t you ask for a trainer on that changeover after turning your ankle?
I really hate calling the trainer out, to be honest. And at that point I didn’t feel like I needed it or I didn’t feel like it would be a big deal. So I just kept going.
You just like to soldier on without help? Is that why you don’t like trainers?
Yeah, you know, I like to just kind of tough it out, so to say. But, yeah, it was fine.
You’d been serving really well, then didn’t win a point on serve after that point. Was it uncomfortable landing on it? Did it put a bit of doubt in your mind?
No, I think she just played well on my serve after that point. I think she just kind of started playing really, really good. I don’t think it had anything to do with my ankle, per se. I just think she was just nailing and hitting shots.
Obviously I made some mistakes, but she played really well after that.
Do you have any idea what your schedule is going to be after here?
I don’t know. I got an email that I was entered in Indian Wells, so... I guess that’s what I’m entered in. I guess you’re automatically entered with your ranking, so...
5-1, 5-2, 5-3, 5-4, what’s going on in your mind? She came out on the court 5-1 pretty much giving up.
I don’t think she gave up at all. Literally, I think honestly she didn’t start playing until she was down match point. I think she really gave it her all at that point. I don’t think giving up was an option for her.
At that point I’m just trying to think, Okay, win some points, win this game. Then I had a couple more match points on her serve. Naturally I thought, alright, here we go, you’re going to win one of these.
That clearly didn’t happen, but I was just trying at that point.
Putting things a little bit in perspective, you’ve had a very incredible comeback, but have as yet to really reach the summit and win a Slam. Could you talk about the big picture since you’ve come back, falling a little short.
Yeah, I guess, I mean, the big picture for me is always winning. I’m not going to sit here and lie about that. But it hasn’t happened yet, but I feel like it’s going to happen. Just keep taking it one match at a time, just keep soldiering on, I guess.
You still have the fire?
Out of thousands of matches you have played, is this one of the most painful? I don’t think you can remember them all, wins and losses, but is this the most unexpected or not?
It’s kind of hard to say because, there’s nothing I did wrong on those match points. I didn’t do anything wrong. I stayed aggressive. She just literally hit the lines on some of them.
One she hit an ace, unreturnable serve. Like I literally did everything I could on those match points. It’s not like – yeah, I can’t say that I choked on those match points. She literally played her best tennis ever on those shots.
I can’t really say that it’s incredibly painful as opposed to what can I do better, you know, yeah.
Just back to your schedule. I wonder if you and Patrick have discussed about trying to play a few more tournaments than you played recently just to get more sort of matches under your belt month to month, so to speak?
We haven’t really discussed our tournament schedule, to be honest. So, I mean, maybe that’s something we should discuss. But, yeah, we haven’t really. We’re kind of just going with the flow, what we’ve played throughout the years, not really changing too much of that.
I’m sure throughout your career you’re always used to planning ahead, asked to enter tournaments early, commitments. How different is it for you now going with the flow like that? Do you think throughout the year you’re going to be doing that or maybe start looking two, three months ahead?
No, no, no. I misspoke. But you have to enter tournaments a year in advance, you kind of know your schedule. Based on your ranking, some tournaments you’re automatically entered into, so I do know my schedule for the rest of the year. I’m not really going with the flow, but I kind of know what’s next.
Patrick said the other day that you can’t hurry time. When you’re coming back from a year off, having a baby, as much as you want to be back and be the Serena of old, that’s the one thing you cannot hurry. How tough is that for you? Are you developing more patience? Are you starting to become frustrated because of what your expectations are?
Yeah, it’s definitely not easy for me. From day one, I expect to go out and, quite frankly, to win. That hasn’t happened. But I do like my attitude. I like that I don’t want to go out here and say, I expect to lose because I had a year off, I’ve been playing for 10 months. I’m not supposed to win. I don’t have that attitude.
I have the attitude of, like, I’ve only been playing ten months, but I expect to win, and if I don’t, it’s disappointing. I rather think of it that way and know that it’s going to happen sooner or later than making an excuse for myself. I don’t like making excuses.
That 24th Grand Slam is agonisingly close. Do you retain the belief you can achieve that at some stage? If so, where do you think is the best chance to get that record?
Right now would be Roland Garros because that’s the next one, the next Grand Slam for me. But, yeah, I mean, 22 is close, 23 wasn’t close, but 22 was close for a long time. 18 was close forever. Yeah, we’ll see.
You’re 10 months into your comeback now. How close do you feel you are to where you wanted to be, to where you aimed to be when you started that comeback?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say because, like I said, from the first tournament I’m thinking that I should win, which is not practical. But I know there’s a lot of things that I need to do, a lot of things I need to do to get better, a lot of maybe more just matches. I don’t know. Whatever.
I just feel like as close as I want to say that I’m there, I know that there’s a lot more that I need to do to kind of get there. 10 months, soon to be 11 months, soon it will be 12 months. It just takes time.
Is it a little easier to get over these losses now that you have kind of like more of a home life, a family, going back and seeing Olympia maybe smile, whatever? Or that’s not even...
I don’t think it’s any easier. I mean, I don’t really take losses well. But, like I said, Karolina literally played lights out starting 5-1, 40-30. Literally I’ve never seen anything like it. If anything, I think that’s a little bit easier to know, Okay, next time I’m up 5-1 against anybody, whether it’s her or anyone, I just need to make sure I play lights out when I have match points.
It’s little things like that that I used to do, always do, that I need matches to know that this is when you go psycho, when you have match point (smiling).
It’s a good learning experience to know the next time that I have match point, like go bananas on it.