Cue Jim Morrison to Sing The End?
When Do Questions Start?
As a champion declines, there are always points when questions about his or her future move from the subconscious to the conscious to the public. Pete Sampras’ loss to Marat Safin at the 2000 US Open was not the start of this talk as he had just won Wimbledon 2000. However, by US Open 2001 questions and talk about Sampras’ future were a constant topic in the tennis world. Andre Agassi’s long-term future in tennis was a topic of great scrutiny throughout his career as his results fluctuated a great deal from year to year prior to his rededication to tennis in 1998/1999. Steffi Graf’s start to 1997 and subsequent knee surgery brought a lot of doubts, including those of Martina Hingis, to the forefront. Roger Federer’s losses to Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the first 3 majors of 2008 led to Federer’s first tennis obituaries being penned. Even Rafael Nadal is not immune as his losses in 2014, especially those on clay, have a few wondering out loud if his days of dominance are over even as he holds the #1 ranking and is the reigning champion at two Grand Slam events.
What about Serena?
If Agassi had a career with many ups and downs, Serena seems to have done him one or two better. She has had horrible personal tragedies, fluke injuries and a few other things cause her game to dip or disappear at times. She has also roared back to command the entire tour. Roland Garros has been one tournament that has not always been within Serena’s grasp. She has two titles in Paris. Her 2013 win at Roland Garros and 2014 title in Rome may have given Serena an aura of invincibility, but historically she has not performed as well in Paris as compared to the other majors. Serena entered the Australian Open as a heavy favorite as well and left Melbourne before the final weekend. Is this enough for musing about her demise to being?
Serena will still enter Wimbledon as the favorite. If she wins Wimbledon, it may seem like business as usual heading into the US Open Series. If she does not win Wimbledon, won’t Serena still be seen as a favorite in New York? Serena is one major title away from equaling Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert’s mark of 18 majors. She may never catch Steffi Graf or Margaret Court, but I think Serena getting to 18 or more is nearly assured.
Why so Confident?
My first section looked at the origin of doubts for other great champions. In every case I mentioned (other than Rafa’s)*, the champion being questioned had at least one last moment of greatness. Obituaries in tennis tend to be written too soon. The WTA Tour is not exactly a shark tank of consistent performers just waiting to push Serena out the door either. Serena did not win in Melbourne or Paris despite being a big favorite. She also lost at Wimbledon 2013 despite 2012 Wimbledon and Olympic titles on grass. Does that mean the end is near? Hardly.
* – Rafa has had injury based doubts thrown at him and always responded. Also, these recent performance based doubts should not alarm his fans as Sampras, Agassi and Federer all out performed their projected shelf lives.