The sand is pouring out of the hourglass on Serena Williams’ career, but Wimbledon marks a “golden opportunity” for the 39-year-old legend to win her record-tying 24th Grand Slam title.
Serena has won seven of her 23 majors on the lawns of The All-England Club and reached the finals in her last two appearances — in 2018 and ‘19. The tournament was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
“Serena’s best chance is on the grass obviously because of all the Grand Slams because of her power, because of her big serve, the first strike of the ball, shorter rallies,” 18-time Grand Slam champion Chrissie Evert said this week on the ESPN conference call. “She’s won the most of any current player on grass. She has had the most experience and wisdom and instincts on the grass courts of any current player.
“In saying that, I also have to say that if ever the field was at its most vulnerable, I would think it would be this year with the injuries, with the lack of grass court practice. This is to me her golden opportunity.”
Serena is ranked No. 8 in the world entering the start of Wimbledon on Monday, and Evert correctly pointed out that several of her top challengers are either not in top form or not playing the tournament. World No. 2 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the event and is looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics.
“When you look at [world No. 1] Ash Barty, she is not playing a warmup tournament,” Evert said. “She’s been injured. Naomi Osaka, Serena’s big competitor, is not playing. Simona Halep who beat her two years ago is coming off an injury, is also not playing any warmup tournaments.
“You look at the threats: [Aryna] Sabalenka, [Sofia] Kenin, [Bianca] Andreescu, [Barbora] Krejcikova, [Karolina] Pliskova, they’ve never established themselves to be great grass court players, nor have they had tremendous success.”
One young player to keep an eye on is 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who had the best showing of any American man or woman at the French Open when she reached the quarterfinals.
“She has I think developed her skill set even to another level during the clay court season,” Evert said of Gauff, now ranked No. 23 in the world. “She got better and better with each tournament. I think if her serve is on, she could very well get to the second week, even make a quarter or a semi, very possible at Wimbledon.”
Serena, who has career prize money in excess of $94 million, is 12-4 in 2021 and hasn’t won a title. She lost in the fourth-round of the French Open to 21-year-old Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan.
“I got some good matches in here,” Williams told reporters then. “I did not have the best clay-court season, but it was good to finally get some wins on clay.”
“It was definitely close,” Williams said, regarding her match against Rybakina. “There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match. I’m not winning those points. That literally could just change everything.”
Grass, of course, is a different story and Serena’s huge serve and attacking style are better suited to the faster surface.
After last winning the title in 2016, she marched all the way to the finals in 2018 but lost in straight sets to Angelique Kerber and then was crushed in the 2019 final by Halep.
“The big challenge for her in my mind will be stringing together seven matches where she plays at a high level mentally and physically,” Evert said. “That’s always, for the aging athlete, the big thousand-dollar question: Can they string together seven high-quality matches? It’s physically, mentally staying healthy, staying involved with each match, staying present with each match.”
Serena turns 40 in September and will only have so many more opportunities to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors — and possibly pass her.
This fortnight could be her golden opportunity.
“If there was ever a year that has looked good in the last few years, if there ever was a Grand Slam she is capable, more than capable, of winning,” Evert said, “you can never count her out anyway, but it would be this year’s Wimbledon to me.”