Opinion: Serena Williams is back at Wimbledon – and few will be brave enough to write off her chances
Since Serena Williams announced she would be making her comeback at Wimbledon this year, there has been a fresh buzz around both the tournament and the WTA Tour in general says Lynsey Thompson, Tennishead.net Editor
Neither of those two entities are lacking in prestige, so it can only possibly speak for the sheer gravitas Serena commands.
Once that initial excitement subsided, though, one obvious question remained: Is this just a nice nostalgia act or is Serena a genuine contender to win what would be an eighth crown at Wimbledon and a record-equalling 24th major?
Serena Williams is one of those sporting names that seems to transcend all logic. Take away that name for a moment and ask yourself what your Wimbledon expectations would be of a 40-year-old who has not played for a whole year.
Just think too, of how angry many of us tennis traditionalists would be at the thought of someone thinking they can just decide at the last minute to waltz into Wimbledon without any tangible preparation and think they deserve to play.
We are not talking about anyone, though, are we? We are talking about Serena Williams. We are not the only ones either. Other players are too, top players no less, and they are scared.
“I’m sure that everyone wants to avoid her, especially if she wins a few matches,” said world number five Maria Sakkari. “She will start feeling good about her game and she is Serena Williams.”
Meanwhile, the world number four, Paula Badosa, said she would be literally praying to avoid playing Serena Williams at Wimbledon this year.
“Of course I don’t want to play against her,” Badosa said. “I hope the draw goes for another player, because of course no one wants to play against Serena and less on grass. So let’s pray for that.”
The real question, though, is are these players respectful of something real, or are they just frightened of the ghost of what Serena Williams used to be? Perhaps it’s both.
The truth is that none of us, not even Serena herself, have any idea about what she is able to produce at Wimbledon.
After a year on the shelf, there are no metrics for whether she has the fitness or conditioning to sustain a challenge for two weeks. How deep is the tank? We don’t even know whether she has the fitness to stay the course in single match at this point.
What we do know, though, because we have seen it in action in Eastbourne, is that that serve is still there. For all tennis is resplendent with debate, opinion and counter-opinion, one thing we can surely all agree upon is that Serena Williams is the greatest server in history of the women’s game.
That was always the bedrock of her success and it was never really more influential than in was one the quick and zippy courts of Wimbledon.
“I feel like I have been serving well so that’s been really good,” Williams observed after her second doubles match at Eastbourne. “[I’ve been] working really hard on that.
“I have had some really good training leading up to Wimbledon and up to this tournament, really hitting the ball well and just working out. It’s been working and it’s just been connecting.”
If that serve is still connecting when she arrives at Wimbledon, it could once again be a game-changer for her. Not only will it win her lots of points, but it will also shorten a lot of them too, essentially negating much of the disadvantage she has in terms of her fitness.
Much will depend on the draw, too, of course. Wimbledon has abandoned its old ‘grass court formula’ for deciding its seeds based upon proven pedigree in lawn tennis, and that means she will not be seeded.
It’s possible, albeit unlikely, that Serena Williams could run into Iga Swiatek in the first or second round, and that would obviously make it a lot tougher to go deep.
Then again, even if such a scenario played out and the draw delivered a Serena vs Swiatek first round blockbuster, how many of us would be brave enough to bet against the American?
The influence of the Covid-19 pandemic has largely diminished from tennis now, but one thing it has done has left a shroud over grasscourt tennis concealing what we feel we should be able to assume.
There was no grass tennis in 2020 and a much-shortened season in 2021 due to the clay season encroaching upon it on the calendar. That has left us struggling to know what to expect from a lot of players this summer, Swiatek included.
Swiatek, for example, who will start the tournament the big favourite in the women’s draw, has not played a match on grass since last year, and last year’s Wimbledon was just her second career appearance at the tournament.
In that regard, you could argue that in terms of Wimbledon and grasscourt tennis, there are no more unanswered questions about Serena right now than there are most of the other women in the draw. Yes, the questions are different, but not more numerous.
Perhaps, then, it’s better instead to focus on what we do know about Serena heading into Wimbledon. We know she has a huge grasscourt game, we know she has unrivalled Grand Slam pedigree, we know she can handle the pressures of the tournament, we know she is serving well right now and we know that at least two of the top five players in the world are terrified of her.
Serena Williams is the world number 1204 that absolutely no one wants to play and some a literally praying to avoid. So while it remains to be seen what she can actually deliver at Wimbledon, we can certainly say with absolutely confidence that she has already made her presence felt.
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