Elusive search for 24… Is this end of road for scintillating Serena?
As millions of fans all over the world tuned in to watch what promised to be a blockbuster match on Thursday, February 18, between one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, many hoped against hope that Serena would come through this semi-final match for a place in the finals last Staurday.
Watching the 23 grand-slam champion in her one legged cat suit through the earlier rounds till Thursday’s semi finals, everyone agreed she had never looked better, moved better or played better than she was doing presently. The 39-year-old mother of one was poised to win the long awaited 24th slam that seems to have eluded her for so long.
The last time she won a slam was at the 2017 Australian Open, which she won while two months pregnant with her daughter. Since then, she has visibly struggled, losing at several semi-final and finals.
Unfortunately, for the second time in two consecutive hard court Grand Slam events, Serena Williams’s pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles titles ended in the semifinals at the hands of a former world No. 1, Naomi Osaka who swept her off the court in two straight sets much to the heartbreak of millions of people that wanted to see the Florida native win her 24th slam and finally tie Court’s all time record of slams. Osaka also denied her at the 2019 USO final in what was a controversial match.
Leaving Rod Laver Arena to a standing ovation from spectators who had gathered to see her soar, she paused before leaving the court and waved to the crowd in the stands. For a moment, she placed one hand over her heart, as the spectators applauded her.
It is no secret that Williams has been pursuing a 24th slam, though she has repeatedly tried to play it down over the years. While many think she is already the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT), some snidely insist that this title doesn’t belong to her yet, even though many of Court’s grand slam victories happened before the start of the Open Era.
Australian player Samantha Stosur, who defeated Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final for her only Grand Slam singles title, said that Williams doesn’t need to equal or surpass Court to cement her status as the greatest player in the history of the women’s game.
“I think many players would already think that and argue that fact regardless, whether she gets this 24th title or not,” Stosur said.
Speaking after the 6-3 6-4 loss at the post-match press conference, Serena was still visibly upset, with her eyes teary red. Asked if she was nervous during the match, she responded, “I wouldn’t say I was nervous at all.”
But Serena committed 24 unforced errors and did not produce a single forehand win throughout the first set, even though she took an initial 2-0 lead.
“The difference today was errors; I made so many errors. Honestly, there were opportunities where I could have been up 5-0 and I just made so many errors. It was a big error day for me today. During the warm-up, I was hitting the ball well throughout the tournament; I have been hitting the ball well. I had so many opportunities, but I made too many mistakes; easy mistakes. It was not like I was on the run.”
She continued: “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone. I don’t know. I’m done,” she declared.
This last message sent the tennis world and her fans into shock, wondering if this is the end of the road for the GOAT or if she was just reacting after a stinging loss. But this is not the first time a player would speak despondently after a loss, as ATP world No1, Novak Djokovic said he wasn’t going to play Wimbledon after a stinging quarterfinals loss at the 2018 French Open. He ended up playing and won his 13th slam there.
Going on Instagram to address her fans, she said, “Melbourne and my Australian fans, today was not an ideal outcome or performance but it happens. I am so honored to be able to play in front of you all. Your support -your cheers, I only wish I could have done better for you today. I am forever in debt and grateful to each and every single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you.”
Whether her tears were prompted by thoughts of ending her career before reaching that 24th title or simply due to an emotional defeat remains unknown. But one thing is sure, this is definitely not the end of Serena, as she has shown time and time again that she is one of the most resilient athletes in the world and this is only a temporary setback. Meanwhile, the search for 24 continues.