Serena Williams at Wimbledon: Making History Is Part of Her Story
On Saturday, Serena Williams defeated Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-4 to win her sixth Wimbledon title. With the victory, Williams now holds all four of tennis’ Grand Slam titles at once – completing the second Serena Slam of her career – and if she wins the US Open in September, she’ll become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to sweep all four majors in the same season.
Here’s our look at what was on the line when she began play at the All England Club a fortnight ago.
Right after Serena Williams won her 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open a little over three weeks ago, she was asked who she favored in the upcoming men’s final. Serena said that even though she’s friends with Stan Wawrinka, she’d rather have Novak Djokovic win, since then both she and the Serb would arrive at Wimbledon facing the same questions about a potential Calendar Slam – the tennis Holy Grail of winning all four Majors in one season.
Serena didn’t get her wish: Stan pulled off the upset, so the dream of a Calendar Slam died for the men for the 46th consecutive year. Rod Laver, the last man to pull off the feat, might have popped a bottle of champagne somewhere in Australia, Miami Dolphins-style.
But the dream is alive for the women. Serena is unquestionably the dominant story in the sport right now, and all eyes will remain fixed on her every step during next two weeks at SW19. And undoubtedly aware of that, Williams struggled in the opening match of her 2015 Wimbledon campaign, starting slowly against little-known Russian Margarita Gasparyan before finally overwhelming her 6-4, 6-1. The first hurdle was cleared, and six remain.
But all the talk about Serena’s potential Calendar Slam obscures a bigger story: a triumph at Wimbledon would complete a second Serena Slam. And don’t think Serena isn’t aware of this, either; she pointed out the odd choice in narratives during this exchange of her post-French Open final presser:
Q. You’re halfway on the Grand Slam. Everyone will start talking about it.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Three-quarters of the way to a Serena Slam [laughter].
For some strange reason, the “Your-Name-Here” Slam, has far less caché in the tennis world than the Calendar Slam. Conceptually, the goal is the same: to hold all four major-tournament titles at once. It is such an insane achievement that it has happened once since 1968 (the beginning of the Open Era) on the men’s tour, and just five times for the women.
It would be one thing if tennis had a coherent, compressed schedule. Then it would be natural to obsess about nabbing all four Majors in one calendar year, since enough time would actually pass between seasons as to make a difference. But as it is, the tennis schedule for the women comprises almost ten-and-a-half months. The sport seems to run on a continuum rather than in neatly packaged seasons. To make the absurd more evident: there’s roughly the same amount of days between the end of this year’s Australian Open and the start of the recently concluded French Open (114 days) as there was between last year’s US Open and the aforementioned Australian Open (134 days). Just 20 measly days.
It’s indicative of the tennis mindset that, though everyone knows Steffi Graf put together the gold standard for excellence in a tennis season in 1988 – where she completed the Calendar Slam with the added bonus of winning the Olympic gold medal – few mention the fact that, not five-and-a-half years later, she completed a Steffi Slam when she won the Australian Open. Both the achievement, and its routine omission from the narrative, are crazy.
There would be a nice symmetry between the two greatest CVs in tennis history if Serena matches Graf’s Open Era record of holding all four Majors at the same time on two separate occasions. What would be remarkable is the time between each feat for both women. Graf’s immortal 1988 season started when the German was just 18 years old. The Steffi Slam came as Graf turned 24. Serena completed her Serena Slam at age 22, but a potential second Serena Slam would come two months before her 34th birthday. Eleven years often marks the beginning and the end of a professional tennis career. For Serena to bookend her illustrious run (which doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, either) with Serena Slams would be absolutely bonkers. Yet, this is Serena Williams we’re talking about: nothing is ever out of her reach.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Williams still has six more matches to go before she can complete that incredible second Serena Slam. And it’s not like Wimbledon is automatic for her, either: she last won it in 2012, faltered in the fourth round in 2013 and in the third round last year. The grass might have that air of tranquility and timelessness, but that hides its treacherous nature. Defending is harder on grass, and a hot-streak by any decent player out there could spell serious danger for anyone – even Serena Williams.
In terms of the draw, Serena could meet none other than her sister Venus, a five-time champion on the Wimbledon lawn, in the fourth round. The pair has played at SW19 five times before, all from 2000 to 2009. Serena has won three of the five meetings, but Venus actually won the last match the two played on tour, a semifinal on Canadian hard courts last summer. Should Serena vanquish her older sister, she could then face either Victoria Azarenka or Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals, both dangerous opponents. Her semifinal foe could be Maria Sharapova, but given that the last time the two played on grass Serena surrendered all of one game, that shouldn’t be that tall of a hurdle.
The final, however, could present the most dangerous opponent yet. Reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has a very accessible path to the title match, though anyone who’s followed the erratic Czech’s career can easily tell you that favorable draws don’t matter one bit for Kvitova. Most of us have learned not to project Petra further than her next immediate match. However, if the two-time Wimbledon champion gets it together for a fortnight, she could put more than just a scare in Serena. In a way, Kvitova could be the perfect spoiler: talented enough to punish any hesitation, far from a newbie in the biggest stage and well aware of the fact that all of the pressure would be squarely on Serena’s shoulders. Oh, and then there’s this little detail: Kvitova is responsible for Serena’s lone on-court loss in 2015.
It will be fascinating to see Serena navigate the next two weeks. As even her opener showed, every match is a potential pitfall, and every press conference will add to the overwhelming theme of inevitable history-in-the-making. Fortunately, Serena seems to be diffusing the pressure well. Take, for example, her self-proclaimed Wimbledon preparation:
Pre Wimbledon training pic.twitter.com/m4rqZGB4KI
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) June 20, 2015
And, was Serena agonizing this week about the draw and all the talk of what she can achieve this fortnight? Nah. She was just hanging out with Taylor Swift.
Such is the benefit of facing such a momentous occasion at age 33. Serena has been here before. And as we learned during that final presser in Paris, she’s quite cognizant that the Calendar Slam is still quite far away. This Wimbledon isn’t about that. It’s about a potential second Serena Slam, and just how remarkable that would be.