From 1999 to 2015, when Serena Williams was part of a Grand Slam draw, there could only be one winner – Serena Williams. Or one loser – Serena Williams. And the only one who could beat Serena Williams was Serena Williams herself.
Her record in Major finals during that period was an incredible 21-4; a record which more than anything showed how she would raise her game to match the occasion.
Her killer instinct was always on display in those matches. She was as clutch as clutch could get. She even triumphed at the Australian Open without dropping a set while pregnant. There would be the initial nerves but once she found her rhythm, there would be no stopping her. The opponent, it would seem, was often there just to make up the numbers. These performances gave her an aura and a bullet-proof belief in her powers.
It also gave everyone else the belief that her march to Margaret Court’s record of most singles Grand Slam titles was a mere formality. She just needed to step back on court and her experience would do the rest; her power would do the rest; her killer instinct would be enough.
But as she succumbed to her fourth successive defeat in a Grand Slam final, there was a question on everyone’s mind: where is that Serena?
Serena Williams in Grand Slam finals
|Win||1999||US Open||Hard||Martina Hingis||6–3, 7–6(7–4)|
|Loss||2001||US Open||Hard||Venus Williams||2–6, 4–6|
|Win||2002||French Open||Clay||Venus Williams||7–5, 6–3|
|Win||2002||Wimbledon||Grass||Venus Williams||7–6(7–4), 6–3|
|Win||2002||US Open||Hard||Venus Williams||6–4, 6–3|
|Win||2003||Australian Open||Hard||Venus Williams||7–6(7–4), 3–6, 6–4|
|Win||2003||Wimbledon||Grass||Venus Williams||4–6, 6–4, 6–2|
|Loss||2004||Wimbledon||Grass||Maria Sharapova||1–6, 4–6|
|Win||2005||Australian Open||Hard||Lindsay Davenport||2–6, 6–3, 6–0|
|Win||2007||Australian Open||Hard||Maria Sharapova||6–1, 6–2|
|Loss||2008||Wimbledon||Grass||Venus Williams||5–7, 4–6|
|Win||2008||US Open||Hard||Jelena Janković||6–4, 7–5|
|Win||2009||Australian Open||Hard||Dinara Safina||6–0, 6–3|
|Win||2009||Wimbledon||Grass||Venus Williams||7–6(7–3), 6–2|
|Win||2010||Australian Open||Hard||Justine Henin||6–4, 3–6, 6–2|
|Win||2010||Wimbledon||Grass||Vera Zvonareva||6–3, 6–2|
|Loss||2011||US Open||Hard||Samantha Stosur||2–6, 3–6|
|Win||2012||Wimbledon||Grass||Agnieszka Radwańska||6–1, 5–7, 6–2|
|Win||2012||US Open||Hard||Victoria Azarenka||6–2, 2–6, 7–5|
|Win||2013||French Open||Clay||Maria Sharapova||6–4, 6–4|
|Win||2013||US Open||Hard||Victoria Azarenka||7–5, 6–7(6–8), 6–1|
|Win||2014||US Open||Hard||Caroline Wozniacki||6–3, 6–3|
|Win||2015||Australian Open||Hard||Maria Sharapova||6–3, 7–6(7–5)|
|Win||2015||French Open||Clay||Lucie Šafářová||6–3, 6–7(2–7), 6–2|
|Win||2015||Wimbledon||Grass||Garbiñe Muguruza||6–4, 6–4|
|Loss||2016||Australian Open||Hard||Angelique Kerber||4–6, 6–3, 4–6|
|Loss||2016||French Open||Clay||Garbiñe Muguruza||5–7, 4–6|
|Win||2016||Wimbledon||Grass||Angelique Kerber||7–5, 6–3|
|Win||2017||Australian Open||Hard||Venus Williams||6–4, 6–4|
|Loss||2018||Wimbledon||Grass||Angelique Kerber||3–6, 3–6|
|Loss||2018||US Open||Hard||Naomi Osaka||2–6, 4–6|
|Loss||2019||Wimbledon||Grass||Simona Halep||2–6, 2–6|
|Loss||2019||US Open||Hard||Bianca Andreescu||3–6, 5–7|
Age catches up with everyone. The great champions become a step slower, the younger ones become more adventurous. But when it comes to sheer shot-making ability, Serena is still able to match the best in the game. Physically, she seems to be back at her best but mentally, she seems to have hit an insurmountable hurdle for now.
She’s not just lost matches… she has failed to win a single set in any of the four finals. It seems almost impossible to believe given that the mental game was perhaps her strongest point.
“I believe I could have played better,” Serena said after the match. “I believe I could have done more today. I believe I could have just been more Serena today.”
She added: “I honestly don’t think Serena showed up. I have to kind of figure out how to get her to show up in Grand Slams final.”
|PLAYER||WEEKS at NO. 1|
A mind game
Serena Williams’ mental fragility shows us once why sport is a mind game and how it doesn’t take much to derail an athlete. Sometimes, it could be the lifestyle. Sometimes, it could be a coaching change. Sometimes, it could be something someone said. Sometimes, it could be a particular opponent. Sometimes, it could be the wind. Sometimes, it could be the referee. It can be anything. It is a fine, fine line.
If anything, her losses in these four finals only highlight how difficult it is to stay at the top of the pyramid for an extended period of time and perhaps how it is even more difficult to find your way back to top if even one thing falls out of sync. She has spent a total of 319 weeks as world No 1 – only Martina Navratilova (332) and Steffi Graf (377) have spent more time at the top spot.
Serena lived her life – fashion and activism mixed with her love for tennis – but her focus on the game never wavered. She would keep adding elements to her game and somehow, keep getting better. But now, she’s hit a road bump unlike any she in her career and for once, she has not arrived at the answer yet.
“All of it honestly, truly is super frustrating,” Serena told the press. “I’m, like, so close, so close, so close, yet so far away. I don’t know what to say.
She added: “I guess I got to keep going if I want to be a professional tennis player. And I just got to just keep fighting through it.”
At various points in the last few months, Serena has mentioned that she the historic 24th Grand Slam title isn’t something she is spending too much time thinking about. But certainly, it seems to be part of the problem. The feat has been on her mind ever since made her comeback but with each Grand Slam, it seems to move a little farther away from her. Winning now would perhaps mean more to her than at any other point in her career and knowing that makes it tougher.
She is playing better, she is looking better but before she beats anyone else in a final, she will have to once again beat her own mind. In a way, despite the quality of her opponents, to everyone watching... it is still Serena vs Serena.
If Serena turns up in mind, body and spirit, there will be no stopping her. At the moment, though, it is a very big ‘if’.