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.
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.