Has Serena’s spark been extinguished?

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?

 

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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.

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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.

Really?!

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.

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3 thoughts on “Has Serena’s spark been extinguished?

  1. The only thing that matters to Serena now are more slam victories. Miami, Madrid, Indian Wells and any of the other titles don’t motivate her. She had another slam on her strings in January, but she let herself down and it slipped away. The way 2015 ended was a big let down and I believe it affected her performance at the start of this year. I feel she was still mourning what could have been last year. Imagine, she lost to one of the weakest players on the tour at the U.S. Open, a player she had never lost to before. Serena beat herself. She could not admit it to herself or the fans. That press conference after the loss to Vinci was remarkable by what Serena said. Personally, I did not see Vinci playing out of her mind. She just played her usual game and allowed Serena to make the mistakes, and she did. She gave the match away. The U.S. Open was tailor made for her and she couldn’t control her emotions or the ball. She would have won that tournament easily over the two Italian women, but the pressure of the moment got the best of her. If there was some way she could win another French, which is wishful thinking, she might have a better season ahead going into Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. . She needs confidence, but the only thing that will give her a shot of adrenaline is a slam. These little titles have mean nothing to a body which has worn itself down over the last eighteen or so years.

    Serena is 35 years old this year and her body is running out of time. I sure hope she is training on some secret court preparing herself for the battle she will be up against at the French. These girls are not afraid of her now and she can’t take too many more 3 set matches that go the brink of defeat. Azarenka is back and she is scary good since she is showing the fitness and confidence of a couple years ago. Don’t be surprised if the tennis gods let Sharapova back in the mix even though she was clearly cheating in January. There are so many girls who are not threatened by Serena anymore.

    The real question is how much gas remains in her “mental tank?” How much mental work is she willing to put into tennis as she looks at the fall of her career? Does she really need more slams or has she done enough already? She definitely wants more, the motivation is there, but the head and the heart have to answer these questions. She has been in this position before, self-doubt and all that goes with it. I am looking for answers at the French. No three setters Serena, please!

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  2. I think Serena is getting older as the days are passing just like Roger Federer. We can clearly see that she is not playing to her potential. I would love to see her playing at her best in the upcoming French Open. Maybe this might be the last time she will play French Open.

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