Serena Williams is on the verge of making history as she heads towards her 22nd major title at this year’s U.S. Open and in even bigger news, winning a calendar slam. The calendar slam, which is winning all four grand slam events in a calendar year, has not been done since 1988, when Stefi Graf accomplished that mission by winning every major title.
With those high stakes, it seems sometimes that the pressure may simply be getting to Williams, at least temporarily. Serena, 33 has had to fight her way to a win in almost every match that she has played in this year’s U.S. Open. Her latest struggle was last night’s match against fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It was the first time since 2005 that Serena has lost a set to another American, and she came painfully close to losing more than just the set, winning the match at 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 and keeping her grand slam hopes alive. However, with the way she’s playing, it is not as inevitable as a lot of her past matches have felt.
“It’s almost like she needs to feel backed into a corner to fight her way out. Serena generally finds her way through those traumatic situations. Sometimes she adds complexity to things, but in the biggest moments, she is able to simplify and play her best. That’s not easy to do.”
Justin Gimelstob, a Tennis Channel analyst and coach had to say about Williams’ method in an ESPN interview. Serena has lost the first set in eight of the 24 Grand Slam matches she’s played and won this year. But history repeats itself in her exuberant comeback as she not only wins, but does so with a flair. Just as the third and final set was won last night with a 6-0 victory, she pulled the same upset against Flavia Pennetta in her first match at Toronto earlier last month. An interview after that particular close call sought to answer the question if it was anger or frustration that helped her to find her footing and win that match.
“I think it’s a little bit of both. I was really frustrated with how I was playing. I was making so many errors. And then I got really angry. And then – and that frustration just kind of was like, ‘OK, just try something different, just keep going.’
“And then I felt like I was actually a little too frustrated and I was a little too down on myself, so I said, ‘Serena, you’re going to have to be positive and be good to yourself out here.’ And then once I started being more positive, I started actually playing better, too.”
In the 27 years since Graf accomplished the calendar slam, no other tennis player has come as close as Serena is right now. Prior to Graf’s achievement the only other players to do it were Margaret Smith Court in 1970 and Rod Laver’s epic grand slams in 1962 and 1969. Serena has been called the greatest female player in history and many insist that with so much on the line, the star is sure to pull it together for the remaining matches. Serena is well aware of her spotty playing and that close match last night had some very disheartening statistics with 28 unforced errors in total, but only four in the final set.
“I just made a lot of errors. Had to play myself in after that… but I knew this wasn’t my best game. So I guess knowing that always helps me really play better. I just know usually when I’m down, I mean, I feel like if I’m not playing well, I know I can take it to another level. I just try to tap into the energy and I try to play better.”
The pressure is only going to turn up for Williams as she heads deeper into the U.S. Open, and thus far she’s just barely managing to get out of her own way. Hopefully, the tennis superstar can cease to be her own obstacle and tap into that energy a lot faster as the matches continue. Sports enthusiasts all around the world wait with bated breaths to see Serena Williams accomplish the first calendar slam in 27 years, it will arguably be one of the biggest stories in sports this year.
[Photo Courtesy of Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images]