*Cincinnati, OH – Just like pressure building in a pressure cooker, at some point it has to blow. And though she may not admit it, in like fashion the pressure that had been building in Serena Williams (already notorious for her tempestuous emotions) had to blow at some point.
And what better time than at a tune up tournament leading up to one last chance at fine-tuning her game in Cincinnati this week, then her biggest stage yet (due to what’s on the line), the US Open.
If Serena were a shrinking violet, her fans would have reason to worry about her chances in Flushing Meadows and her peers and colleague whose record she’s chasing, Steffi Graf, would have reason to breathe a sigh of relief.
But she isn’t and has never been that, which is why she finds herself in such a pressurized situation of history one win away in the first place.
“Pressure is a privilege,” the 21-time Slam champion often quotes from legend Billie Jean King (whose record she bested 8 Grand Slams ago), which has seen her through some otherwise crippling do or die moments in her illustrious career.
Many would argue that since she crossed the threshold of 18 Slams won she hasn’t played her best tennis. She’s obviously still been dominant, but each Slam win since then has been a virtual dog fight from beginning to end; not the usual road to hoisting the hardware for the current WTA world no. 1. And Toronto wasn’t a Slam, but it was a premier event that she won last year … and quite frankly was expected to win again this year – especially given most of the top seeds had been prematurely upset. Instead, the defending champion was upset herself by precocious teen and eventual Toronto champion, Belinda Bencic.
The unseeded Bencic lost the first set, but drew from her tournament momentum and confidence, taking down her former idol 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. She was obviously in good form and became the “giant slayer” on her way to edging out a discombobulated Serena and winning the title. Along with Serena, the Swiss 18-year-old miraculously took out Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic, and a hobbled Simona Halep (final) during her run, but of them, I’d venture to say that Serena shouldn’t have lost. She had the match on her racquet.
She didn’t at all play like she was aware of that fact, however; it was a comedy of errors on her part.
Serena started strong, according to the first-set scoreline of 6-3, but whatever the tempest was that was raging on the inside of her (which was the Calendar Slam and winning-streak pressure, in my opinion), she never quite looked emotionally settled. Sure she’s always demonstrative, but during the semi against Bencic, the little engine that could, she was … well, extra even for her. That set the stage for a massive number of unforced errors, numerous botched returns at critical moments and an a-typical number of double faults, all rarely characteristic of her “ala Moratagou ‘2.0’” game that’s kept her at No. 1 for 131 weeks.
All that being said, the bad news is that she lost, broke her streak and didn’t defend her Toronto title (after missing Stanford and thus not defending there). Ironically, though, thats the good news, too.
Let me explain.
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