Without wishing to terrify the rest of the field, it has to be said that when Serena Williams has taken an unexpected spanking anywhere in the world, she tends to come back better, stronger and fiercer than ever before. And she took a spanking at Roland Garros a few weeks back.
As the defending French Open champion, she was sent packing in two swift sets by Garbine Muguruza in the second round – and she was not happy. She was still growling about it when she got to SW19 two weeks later. When someone dared ask her how long she had taken to get over the loss in France, she shot straight back: “Who says I was over it?” Clearly not, then. And if the intrepid reporter wanted any further proof, he just needed to watch Serena’s 6-1, 6-2, 61-minute pounding of Anna Tatishvili on Tuesday.
Tatishvili was as confident and as aggressive as a world No.113 could be. And Serena was utterly ruthless.
The last time she got clumped in Paris back in 2012 (it was in the first round, to boot), Serena set off on a sensational run by way of compensation. She lost just three matches in the next 12 months as she swept back to the top of the rankings and collected Grand Slam titles like they were going out of fashion.
It may be expecting a lot to ask her to repeat a season like that but Serena certainly had her game face on when she began her campaign on Centre Court. She meant business from the start.
For 10 whole minutes, Tatishvili was in with a chance. She applied the thumbscrews to Serena’s opening service game; she had a handful of break points on her racket strings. And then Serena held and the former champion’s minor crisis was over. Five minutes later, Tatishvili was still throwing everything but the kitchen sink at her ferocious rival but she was 3-0 down and her chance had gone.
During these opening exchanges, Serena found herself in an unusual position: miles behind the baseline and running around like a headless chicken. When she slipped and landed with an almighty thump on her posterior, she decided to try a new tack. Fortunately, nothing but her pride was injured in the fall but that was enough.
From now on, she would plant her feet securely and absolutely welt the ball. One winner was released not with a grunt but with a roar of outright aggression. And when Tatishvili had the temerity to take a swing at a Serena serve – a cracking return, it was, too – the world No.1 let rip with an ace. Return that, if you dare.
All the while Tatishvili’s father and coach, Dimitry, took copious notes. Presumably the first point read: “Do not play Serena again”. In the three matches they have now played, Dimitry’s daughter has managed to glean just nine games. Best avoid Serena in the future, then.
Still, our heroine with the wounded pride was taking nothing for granted. She knows from experience that Tatishvili has talent – she just refuses to let her younger rival use it.
“The last time I played her, she ended really strong,” an extremely happy Serena said. “Today, she started where she left off last time. She can hit the ball really, really hard.”
But not as hard as Serena, not when Serena is still smarting from a frustrating defeat. The younger women may think that at 32 the old champion is coming to the end of her career but she shows no sign of slowing down. When she is fit, focused and hungry for the fight, there is no stopping Serena in her pursuit of another Grand Slam title.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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