Common wisdom dictates that if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it. But this is the Olympics and while nothing is actually broke, nothing is actually the same.
Just three weeks ago, Serena Williams was merrily winning Wimbledon and collecting her fifth gleaming trophy from the All England Club vaults. An old hand at winning on the grass of SW19, she knows her way around the place and, as an AELTC member, she is familiar with its atmosphere. But what have here this week is not Wimbledon; this is a foreign event in familiar surroundings. So, what to do?
Williams usually eases her way into The Championships and if she looks a little untidy in the first week, she cares not a jot. The aim is to get herself into week two; once there, she can open the throttle and roar through the rounds. But at the Olympics, she has only six rounds to play, not seven, but, then again, those rounds are squeezed into nine days rather than 13. So, does she go for broke from the start or does she follow the old familiar path that has led to her such success in the past?
As it turned out, Williams opted to a bit of both. She clumped Urszula Radwanska 6-2, 6-3 all right but she was not at her blistering best as she did so. Yes, there were winners (26 in all) but there were too many fluffs and flubs for comfort (34 in all, both forced and unforced). It was enough to get her into the third round but now may be the time to put the pedal to the metal and rev up her best form.
Next in line for the world No.4 is Vera Zvonareva who also knows her way around the courts in these parts. She reached the Wimbledon final two years ago where, oddly enough, she ran into Williams and took a bit of a pasting. But the Russian is the world No.13 so she will still take some beating.
“I think I played okay today,” Williams said. “I was excited to be out there, to play solid. I don't think I played bad. Obviously, I have to believe I can play better but, you know, for early rounds, I think I'm playing pretty good.
“Playing Vera, it’s a good matchup for us both. Wimbledon final rematch. Tough match for me. She's playing so well, moving well, doing everything great. So, you know, it's not an easy tournament. You have to get out there. Playing someone tough so soon, it's going to be a good challenge for me.”
The other major difference about playing this week rather than in the usual Wimbledon routines is that everything happens at once. Normally, Serena and her sister have time to support each other while their friends and family pack the players’ box at the courtside; normally everything and everyone is in its place. But at the Olympics, both sisters are hard at work, the support crew are split between courts and then there is the doubles to prepare for. A tennis star’s work is never done.
“The Olympics are so quick,” Serena sighed, “so you have to play your matches. Everyone is playing every day. You never know. It's really such a great experience. I can tell when Venus is playing because the box isn't totally full, you know, so you always know that if her match is over, you can see people coming in.”
But some things never change. Given half a chance to give the world’s media the run around – in the nicest possible way, of course – the Wimbledon champion grabs it with both hands. So: will she or won’t she? And if she does, who will she do it with? (We are discussing mixed doubles here and whether she will play with Andy Roddick or one of the Bryan brothers, if at all). The sign-in deadline is at 11am on Tuesday. What will she do?
“We'll see 11 a.m. tomorrow,” she said coyly. “I'll keep you guys on your toes.”
Her ability to wind up the press certainly ain’t broke and she clearly has no intention of mending it, Olympics or no Olympics.