Wimbledon 2019

Serena still a big threat on grass

Despite tough draw and injury woes, former world No. 1 says she's 'doing good' as she eyes 24th singles Slam title

LONDON • Serena Williams has had to deal with all manner of challenges since returning as a new mother to the sport she once ruled.

Postpartum depression. Reinvigorated rivals. Next-generation threats. Code violations. A twisted ankle. Blown match points. Aching knees. Wounded pride.

Since her return to the WTA Tour in March 2018, after a year-long break to give birth to daughter Olympia, Williams has yet to win a title at any level and has been edgy in the most significant matches.

She has yet to reach so much as a semi-final this season, playing in only five tournaments and retiring or withdrawing from three of them.

And, with Williams seriously short on match fitness, the spinning wheel of tennis fortune has put her in the toughest corner of this year's Wimbledon draw.

Her quarter includes new world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, defending champion Angelique Kerber and former winners Garbine Muguruza and Maria Sharapova. "Serena's in the group of death, no question about it," said ESPN analyst and former WTA player Rennae Stubbs.

But Williams has rumbled through many a nasty draw on her way to 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

Serena Williams at a training session in Wimbledon on Friday. If she is healthy, she can pose a threat to any woman on grass, even as a 37-year-old seeking her first tournament title in 2½ years.
Serena Williams at a training session in Wimbledon on Friday. If she is healthy, she can pose a threat to any woman on grass, even as a 37-year-old seeking her first tournament title in 2½ years. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

If she is healthy, she can pose a threat to any woman on grass, even as a 37-year-old seeking her first tournament title in 21/2 years.

The seven-time Wimbledon winner reached last year's final before losing to Kerber.

Her serve, perhaps the most potent weapon in the history of women's tennis, also allows her to shorten points on grass more easily than on slower surfaces.

But is Williams genuinely fit?

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, has declared "Serena is finally injury-free", after seeking treatment in Paris for the persistent knee problems that forced her to withdraw from Miami and Rome.

Her movement also appeared constrained in her straight-sets loss to fellow American Sofia Kenin in the third round of the French Open - her earliest major exit since 2014.

During a news conference on Saturday, the former world No. 1, who has coped with knee tendinitis intermittently during her career, also confirmed she was "finally doing good".

She said: "I'm just going to do the best that I can now that I'm here. I know how to play tennis. I don't want to go back."

Another player who has had to deal with patchy form is Naomi Osaka. The Japanese lost her world No. 1 ranking to Barty last week and has not won an event since splitting with coach Sascha Bajin in the wake of her Australian Open triumph.

Osaka also has just one win on grass this year and her last two trips to the All England Club have ended in successive third-round losses.

While she is not "really that comfortable" on the surface, the two-time Major winner feels less pressured since being deposed by Barty.

Osaka believes she can now play her best tennis with the spotlight no longer squarely on her.

She said: "I don't have to think about defending the ranking or anything. Also, I'm really happy for Ashleigh. She's super amazing. Her whole story of how she quit and came back is super cool."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2019, with the headline 'Serena still a big threat on grass'. Print Edition | Subscribe