Maria Sharapova won the French Open to complete her career Slam set. Victoria Azarenka took the tour by storm – plus the Australian Open title and top ranking in the process – in early 2012.
Petra Kvitova is many people’s pick to become the dominant champion of her generation following her Wimbledon triumph in 2011. Yet none of these fabulous players can match the might of Serena Williams when the American is playing her best.
Though soon to turn 31, Williams’ authoritative display in winning this year’s Wimbledon title proves she has no intention of slowing down. She hit a women’s record of 102 aces on her way to hoisting the Venus Rosewater Dish, conquering Kvitova and Azarenka before upending new world No.2 Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.
An impressive element in her win was the mental strength she displayed. Shaken by a shock first round defeat at Roland Garros just weeks earlier, and having scraped through several tense matches in the first week at SW19, she lifted her game when the stakes were highest and was ultimately rewarded.
There were also the physical travails she had to overcome. She spent a year out of the game following her 2010 Wimbledon win, first due to foot surgery and then hospitalisation to treat life-threatening blood clots in her lungs. Her triumph following such stressful circumstances made it all the more sweet.
“There was a moment I just remember I was on the couch and I didn't leave the whole day, for two days. I was just over it. I was praying, like I can't take any more … I just felt down, the lowest of lows,” she recalled.
“Coming here and winning [at Wimbledon] is amazing because literally last year I was ranked almost 200. It's been an unbelievable journey for me.”
Two things are different about the latest incarnation of Serena Williams. The first is her health – after a career characterised by frequent injury and later illness, she reported feeling great physically during the Wimbledon fortnight.
Secondly, the American has displayed a renewed dedication to tennis following her year on the sidelines. Williams’ primary goal has always been, understandably, to win majors. But her previous lack of interest and intensity at regular tour events, plus her selective scheduling, grated with fans and tour officials. Many questioned her commitment to the game.
There’s no questioning it now. Since her comeback in June 2011, Williams has won six tournaments, five of which – Stanford and Toronto in 2011, Charleston, Madrid and Stanford again in 2012 – have been WTA events. She’s playing regularly, her game is grooved, she’s winning on all surfaces, and she’s healthy and happy. It’s a combination that spells trouble for her younger rivals.
“I think it's definitely the beginning of something great. I hope it is,” she enthused.
Next on the agenda for the world No.4 is the Olympics, also held at the All England Club where she is now a five-time Wimbledon champion. Like men’s winner Roger Federer, the only thing missing from Williams’ bulging trophy cabinet is an Olympic singles gold medal. Twice she has won doubles gold with sister Venus, but the prospect of singles glory is proving a big motivator.
“I can’t wait to go for gold in London,” she declared.
“I can't lay all my hopes and dreams on just that [an individual gold medal], but it would mean a lot. I would like to try to get one.”
It’s a realistic attitude, given tennis offers a wealth of prizes beyond the highest Olympic honour. There’s always a chance to add to her tally of 14 major titles, starting at the US Open, which comes less than four weeks after the Olympics. Williams will be keen to make amends for her shock loss to Sam Stosur in last year’s final, and erase memories of her embarrassing outburst directed at the chair umpire after she was docked a penalty point for intentionally hindering the Australian.
Nobody doubts her ability to bounce back. Williams is among the most enduring champions in tennis history, having risen to the challenge presented by each generation of rivals. She outmuscled Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in the late 1990s, thwarted many a Grand Slam campaign for Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport, saw off the challenge of Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, and now, as her latest Wimbledon triumph attests, is handling everything thrown at her by the current crop of young stars.
“Are you kidding?” she replied when a reporter asked if anything could top her 2012 Wimbledon win.
“The US Open, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon 2013, The Championships.”