Don't bet against Serena

Despite injury and lack of practice, Williams will be a threat at Wimbledon, say analysts

LONDON • Serena Williams will bring her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title to Wimbledon where she will try to shake off a nagging knee injury and show the world that her window of opportunity is still open.

The former world No. 1 has been stuck on 23 Slams, one behind the all-time record held by Australian Margaret Court, for over two years - she took a year off to give birth - and has shown little evidence of late she will be able to snap that drought at the All England Club next week.

However, ESPN analyst and tennis great John McEnroe believes it would be folly to dismiss Williams as an also-ran at Wimbledon where she has lifted seven titles, insisting that "as long as she's playing, she's going to be a threat to win anything".

He said: "But it's just now there's more things that can go wrong, I suppose, like more days where she might not have it and other days where players won't give in as easily. So that just makes it more difficult."

The 37-year-old Williams' time on court has been limited to a handful of matches since the Australian Open in January, owing in part to a knee injury that kept the American from competing in a tune-up event ahead of Wimbledon.

After losing in the third round at the French Open, she did not sound her typical confident self when asked if she would have enough time to get into optimal shape for the third Grand Slam of the year.

When Williams was at the peak of her career, she was so far above the competition that she could barrel her way through the draw even if she was having an off day.

Injuries, a limited playing schedule and an increased standard of women's tennis over the past few years have left many to question whether she can win again.

But another tennis great, 18-time Slam winner Chris Evert, also finds it hard to "bet against Serena".

She said: "Look what happened last year - two finals in Grand Slams. The one difference I see in Serena is since she's come back, she's been one or two steps slower than normal. That's a little bit of fitness, a little bit of match play, a little bit of confidence."

Healthy legs are key to any player's game but even more vital for someone like Williams, who relies heavily on her physicality and court coverage to set up big shots.

She has been unable to deliver her trademark big serves on a consistent basis of late, but will likely take comfort in the friendly confines of the All England Club, given she is most effective on grass.

But, unlike in her prime, her rivals know she is not the same player she once was and do not walk onto the court nearly as intimidated as they once were when facing one of the game's all-time greats, although she remains an imposing figure on Centre Court.

"There's so many things that may be going against Serena, she thrives on that and loves that, that's when she comes through," said Evert.

"I would have said in January if there was any Grand Slam she was going to win, it would probably be Wimbledon... and if her serve is on, she's going to be tough to beat."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2019, with the headline 'Don't bet against Serena'. Print Edition | Subscribe