My mind was focused on Donald Young for my next blogpost until the other day when one of my hitting buddies posed a distracting question.
“So what’s up with Serena?” he asked, as we were about to thwock away on clay.
Initially, I dismissed it with a shrug, as I tend to do such questions about Serena. I mean how many times has she seemingly been on a slide only to bounce back and prove she still is the most dominant player on the Women’s Tennis Association tour?
But I couldn’t shake the question. And, the more I thought about it, the more I began to suspect there may be some anxiety building among Serena fans, especially after she pulled out of the Mutua Madrid Open last Friday.
Serena is 13-3 so far this year and has no titles. She lost just two out of 52 matches in 2015 and captured three of the four Grand Slam titles among the five championships she won overall.
She has not played a WTA match since her fourth-round loss at the Miami Open in March.
That’s not to say the top women’s tennis player in the world has been in seclusion. Quite the contrary. She recently appeared in Beyoncé’s viral video “Lemonade.” She revealed her spring fashion line on HSN, and she’s made TV appearances.
None of that, of course, has anything to do with getting match ready.
I sense Serena has not fully recovered from her semi-final loss in last year’s U.S. Open, and it is understandable. Remember, she had just completed another Serena Slam (holding all four Grand Slam titles at the same time without winning them in the same year) with her win at Wimbledon.
At the U.S. Open, she was vying for a calendar-year slam and a tie with Steffi Graf for the most slam titles in the women’s open era at 22. The last person to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year was Graf in 1988.
The crescendo of excitement and expectation deflated by her crushing loss had to be so emotionally draining that it was little surprise Serena took the rest of the year off.
Most tennis followers expected Serena to bounce back in 2016 and have another stellar year that would include rewriting the Grand Slam record book.
When you put it in perspective, Serena’s 13-3 start is pretty good. Her losses came in the final of the Australian Open, the final at Indian Wells and the fourth round in Miami. This at 34 years old!
And she has won $1.8 million in prize money already.
Scores of pro players never reach a Grand Slam or the final of a premiere event or earn $1 million in their entire career, let alone the first three months of a season.
Still, it’s a little disconcerting to see Serena skip most of the clay court tune-up to the French Open at Roland Garros beginning May 22. She said she was pulling out of Madrid, a mandatory event, because of the flu.
That leaves just one clay tournament — the Italian Open in Rome next week — for Serena to get some match play in before having to defend her French Open title.
Will that be enough? We’ll soon see. We’ve seen her win in the past when she’s appeared grossly out of shape after returning from injury or illness.
But you have to wonder if, at 34, Serena can continue to stoke the competitive fire needed to excel on short notice, so to speak.
And an even larger question may be whether Serena’s pilot light has gone out.