Last year, the world got to watch Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time, complete an epic sports season. She tore through the tennis world on her historic quest to win all four major tennis tournaments in a year, known in tennis as a calendar year Grand Slam. She ended up winnng three, losing the US Open at the end of the year, and finished 2015 with a 53-3 overall record. She also got her second “Serena Slam,” winning the four major championships consecutively, though not in the same year (’14 US Open, 2015 Australian Open, French Open, & Wimbledon). With a new year comes a new tennis season, and another chance to watch greatness in action and history unfold. Here are six reasons 2016 could be a bigger year for Serena Williams:
1. It’s an Olympic year
What’s better than completing a calendar year Grand Slam? Getting a Golden Slam during an Olympic season. It hasn’t been done since Steffi Graf completed the feat in 1988, winning all four major grand slam tournaments, and a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics. As a matter of fact, Graf is the only person to accomplish this. Serena, once again, has a chance to make history by becoming just the second tennis player to get a Golden Slam.
It won’t be easy, though. Serena is the greatest tennis player to ever play the sport, and she had a difficult time pulling off the Grand Slam last year, finishing with three of the four major titles. Her 2012 Olympic gold medal was her first as a singles champion and she’ll have stiff competition as she tries to defend it this year in Rio. Still, my motto is always this: Serena will win until she actually doesn’t.
2. She can surpass the (open era) title record
Even if Serena doesn’t pull off the Golden Slam, she can still add a line under her name in the history books as having the most major titles in the tennis open era. That current distinction is held, again, by Graf who has 22 major titles. With 21 already in Serena’s trophy closet, it’s hard to fathom that she won’t get to 23 this year. Winning four major tournaments is difficult, but winning two is almost a given for Serena Williams.
3. There’s less pressure
The only thing people talked about last year was whether Serena could get the calendar Grand Slam. And all year, Serena said she wasn’t worried about it, only to reveal after the US Open that she, indeed, felt a lot of pressure to win all four. One could argue that the same pressure might follow Serena into this season, but I believe this year will be different for two reasons.
First, Serena finished 2015 losing. While that might throw the average tennis player’s game off, any fan of Serena will tell you that losing is her greatest motivation. She becomes a whole other beast after a loss, set on perfecting whatever part of her game she deems deficient. Once Serena finds the weakness, much like a white blood cell, she isolates and attacks it, and you rarely see that weakness again, if ever. All the while, her other strengths stay constant. What results is prolonged period of dominance where Serena blazes through opponents, matches, and tournaments like she’s on a mission to prove everyone wrong. That’s how she’s starting the 2016 season.
Finally, Serena has “been there, done that” when it comes to trying to complete a Grand Slam. So, I think she’s entering 2016 with a better understanding of the media circus surrounding the “elusive Grand Slam” storyline, as well as her own thoughts and emotions. I think she’ll set all that aside and focus solely on her game this time around.
4. Venus could win a championship
This is cheating a little bit, but I couldn’t talk about Serena without mentioning big sis, Venus Williams. Don’t look now, but Venus has quietly entered into the WTA top 10 rankings again, finishing 2015 at #7. You would think that’s easy for a Williams sister, but this is Venus’ first top 10 season since 2010, and she had to fight 12 spots from her #19 ranking in 2014 to get there. Venus, like her sister, is showing no signs of stopping, even at the “old” age of 35. She had a stellar 2015, winning various WTA titles, and pushing to later rounds of the major tournaments.
What does this have to do with Serena? Well, for starters, if Venus grabs a major tourney this year, that’s obviously one less championship for Serena. But the larger picture here is that Venus’ success is also motivation for her little sister. Serena has explicitly stated as much on numerous occasions. I often imagine that Serena and Venus really forget every other WTA player, and just try to “one-up” each other as sisters. Oh, you got that #1 spot now Serena, but I’m coming for you, girl. You better believe Serena will try to keep the upper hand on Venus, but whoever is on top, ultimately they’re both winning.
5. She’s healthy
Although it was suspected throughout 2015, at the end of the season, Serena revealed that it wasn’t a tournament she played in where she wasn’t sick. It was more evident during the French Open and Wimbledon, but Serena battled illness all year, which makes her three championships and 53 wins even more epic. After the US Open, Serena ended her tennis season early, skipping the WTA Finals and other smaller tournaments to get healthy, both mentally and physically. If 2015 happened when Serena was sick, 2016 is shaping up to be a cakewalk.
6. She knows her opponents better than they know her
Serena Williams is NOT invincible. Is does not pain me, as a stan, to make that observation. And as a sports fan, I know better than to rely solely on statistics. I could tell you that Serena is 77-17 against the top 10 WTA players going into the 2016 season. Even better, she’s 125-21 against the top 20 in the world! I could say, based on those numbers, that the odds of Serena losing are very slim. But then, I’d be surprised when random players like Roberta Vinci beat her in the US Open semifinals.
Yes, Serena can be beaten but the problem for other players is that she can’t be beaten consistently. Let’s look at her 125-21 record against the top 20 players…11 of those losses came at the hands of none other than Venus Williams (why I still get nervous when they play). Maria Sharapova managed to beat her twice, but that was in the yesteryear of 2004 (lololol). Other than those two, NOT ONE PLAYER HAS DEFEATED SERENA MORE THAN ONCE. Serena does a great job at studying her competition but they don’t afford her the same courtesy. A mistake, obviously. Roberta Vinci got her first win against Serena at the US Open, stopping Williams’ historic Grand Slam run. You don’t think Serena remembers that? You don’t think she is studying the film of that match, and every other match Vinci has played in, to know Vinci’s game so Serena won’t be beaten by her again?
I feel a little bad for Roberta because she most likely won’t beat Serena ever again. But if she ever needs advice on how to cope with that, she can always talk to Maria Sharapova…
BWAAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I’m sorry, I had to.