Is Serena Williams Declining?

3 Events in 2016 and No Titles

It is risky business predicting Serena’s future as she has had any number of pendulum swings in her illustrious career.  Serena did not play another tour level match until 2016 after a shocking US Open loss impacted in no small part from the mounting pressure of pursuing a calendar year Grand Slam.  Angelique Kerber beat Serena in a 3 set thriller to claim the Australian Open title.  Prior to that exciting championship match, Serena trounced Maria Sharapova and Agniezska Radwanska making concerns of decline seem silly.  Serena again reached the Indian Wells championship round beating tough opposition along the way.  Serena was beaten by Victoria Azarenka in straight sets in the Indian Wells final, but the scores were not one-sided as each set went to Vika 6-4.  Finally, Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Serena Williams in Miami today 6-7, 6-1, 6-2.

Serena Sick?

Of Serena’s 3 losses in 2016, her loss to Kuznetsova is the most concerning.  Miami has seen a lot of players struggle with heat and humidity.  Serena had not played Indian Wells prior to Miami for over a decade so becoming acclimated to Miami’s weather was a bigger challenge in 2016 than in previous years.  Also, illnesses have been making there way through the players’ lounge.  Was Serena under the weather and ran out of steam after a tough first set?  Perhaps.

Speed, Power, and Close Matches

Serena’s post-match comments conveyed that she felt physically fine but felt she did not move well.  Serena’s 3 losses have come against players whom I consider to be excellent athletes.  Kerber and Azarenka are both powerful and fast.  Kuznetsova is older than both of Serena’s other 2016 conquerors, but Kuznetsova has always had a knack for getting the ball back into play when on the defensive while also being able to hit a pretty big ball when dictating play.

Serena won a lot of close matches in 2015 including multiple 3 set wins over Azarenka.  She has beaten Radwanska twice in 2016 and dominated Sharapova in their lone 2016 match. These wins featured Serena beating either a player with consistency, but a lack of power or a power player who cannot transition to defensive tennis.  Her 3 losses have come against players who move well enough to play defensive tennis when needed, but these three players can all attack Serena at times during a match as well.  Serena is still likely to win at least one of the three remaining majors of 2016 as well as winning another medal in singles.  She may very well sweep the final 3 majors and win a gold medal in singles although this seems less likely than it did on January 1st.

Serena’s victories in 2016 will depend upon how well she handles opponents who can play both defense and offense on court.  Serena is as good as any player at going from defense to offense in a match or during a point.  She has to beat players trying to play her brand of tennis.  I like her chances more often than not against players of this sort.  Mainly, I think Serena’s mechanics are underrated and often quite a bit better than the other mobile power players on tour.

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2 Comments

  1. I deeply hope Serena is just feeling a little under the weather or is not yet acclimated to the heat and humidity because pondering even the possibility of her decline gives me chest pain. I’m not that concerned about her her loss to Svetlana though. Sveta has always been a warrior. She is capable of beating anyone when firing on all cylinders, and she is still exceptionally fit. That said, I do wonder about two things with regard to Serena.
    One, I’m not sure that she’s as fit as she was all last year. She isn’t as quick off the mark in her movement, and I think dropping a little weight could help that. I’ve never been anything but amazed at her strength and athleticism, and think she is beautiful just as she is, so this isn’t about curvy versus thin versus bulky, and what’s more feminine, etc. I’m just wondering if a little less bulk might improve her quickness.
    Two, I love the gracious in defeat Serena, who compliments and encourages her opponents in triumph or defeat, and who even walks around the net and past the service box to hug a teary-eyed Angelique Kerber after match point at the Aussie Open. I truly love this attitude but I’m not sure if it’s good for her tennis. It has got to be a lot easier emotionally to be able to accept defeat but does she need to go back to positively hating to lose in order to bring home more trophies? I remember when she could barely speak in post match press conferences after a loss. I don’t want her to be feeling that way again but I do want to see her winning more titles. Is a happy medium possible?
    In any case, she’ll probably resolve any questions anyone has when she easily dominates every opponent in her next tournament. So, here’s hoping my questions turn out to be idiotic!

    1. Her losses in Australia and Miami both came with “I played as well as I could today” so I get what you are saying. I think not playing Indian Wells and being in Miami early is a lot different than playing IW to the final and then heading to Miami. Serena has been used to being able to point toward Miami due to not playing IW. I think this is likely not a harbinger of doom for her career, but I do think her movement and stamina need a little uptick before Roland Garros.

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