Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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It was not that she was actively in trouble at any time; indeed, from 15-40 in the opener, she reeled off 13 straight points to go 3-0 up, a gap Sadikovic could not close. But the Swiss stayed with her for much of the second set, succeeding in breaking serve courtesy of her own court craft and a clutch of Williams errors. At times there seemed an air of unusual stress in the American’s demeanour.
Serena herself saw it otherwise, telling the BBC when she came off court: “I’m always shouting at myself. It’s absolutely nothing different.” But while she’s right that of course she can often be heard urging herself on, according to such wise heads as Lindsay Davenport and John McEnroe, this first round discomfiture was unmistakeably something else. The 1999 Ladies’ champion pointed out Serena’s “anxiety and tension”, before adding with characteristic courtesy: “There is no question she has room to improve.”
Yet whatever strain may have been visible on court, there was no doubting it was a super relaxed Serena who arrived for her post-match press conference, smiling frequently and batting back questions with good humour.
“It was a solid start in the right direction,” she said of the match, before rebutting Davenport’s observation of “anxiety and tension” with a calm: “No. I mean, for a first round, no. I felt I was where I needed to be. I needed to be pumped for the match. I needed to be intense. I needed to show a lot and feel a lot on the court. That's typically how I play. I needed to do that.”
Sadikovic, now 27, had little reason to give Serena’s anxiety or lack of it any thought.
She retired from the game at 25 in early 2014 and was coaching at a Basel tennis club that year when she saw Eugenie Bouchard on television in the Wimbledon final. It rankled because she had defeated the Canadian for the loss of two games in 2011. Besides, the routine of normal daily life was boring her, and she was nagged by the memory of “how nice the life of a tennis player really is”.
With encouragement from compatriot Timea Bacsinszky, after a mere 13 months away she came back with a new fearlessness which has earned her a current ranking of 148, fully 30 places above her previous career high.
That will of course bounce still further when the new rankings are released after Wimbledon.
Having qualified to reach her first Grand Slam main draw here, she found herself facing the greatest female player the game has known, on the most legendary stage of all. She pronounced herself delighted, and pledged to make the 21-time Grand Slam champion work for every point. In the event, the 6ft 1in Macedonian-born Swiss could not make that literally true, but what Serena later called Sadikovic’s “old school grass court game” crafted some tennis she can be proud of.
Not every story requires a fairytale Hollywood outcome to be thoroughly satisfying, and many a higher-ranked player has suffered way more grievously at Serena’s hands. On this occasion, even well below her best, Williams was of course too strong and she took the win in 73 minutes.