Andy Murray, a former world number one, left the Australian Open in tears in 2019 – throwing his future into doubt. Last week, Serena Williams exited Melbourne Park in similar fashion following her straight-set semi-final defeat to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion faced standard questions during her final press-conference of the tournament. Reporters asked Williams, who turns 40 in September, about her future on the tour and the nature of her semi-final defeat.
“Considering how well you’ve played to get to this stage, what do you feel caused that [defeat] or was it just one of those bad days at the office,” Williams was asked.
“I don’t know … I’m done,” the American replied as she left the stage teary-eyed.
Hours later, Williams addressed her exit on Instagram, thanking her fans for their support at the opening Slam of 2021.
“Melbourne and my Australian fans, today was not ideal outcome or performance but it happens,” the 39-year-old wrote.
“I am so honoured 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 everyone [SIC] single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you.”
The Japanese superstar has the world of tennis in her grasp and is in an excellent position to dominate for years to come
Williams’s semi-final defeat shouldn’t be regarded as a major shock. Naomi Osaka was a cut above in 2020, winning the US Open and leading the sport’s charge for racial justice. The Japanese superstar has the world of tennis in her grasp and is in an excellent position to dominate for years to come.
Williams, on the other hand, is trophyless since 2017. The current world number 7, then aged 35, stunned the world four years ago by winning the Australian Open while pregnant and in her 22nd year as a professional.
The seven-time Australian Open champion’s performances under the Melbourne lights were commendable. Williams breezed through the opening three rounds of the tournament, conceding only 13 games to start her campaign.
Aryna Sabalenka, the tournament’s seventh seed, won the second set of her clash with Williams in round four, losing 6-4 2-6 6-4 on Valentine’s Day.
In the quarter-finals, Williams faced the strongest player on her side of the draw, world number two Simona Halep. The California-native dominated her Romanian counterpart, winning 6-3 6-3 to secure a place in the final four.
Although the tournament ended in disappointment for Williams, her performances in Melbourne were not emblematic of a player in the final days of their career.
Since taking maternity leave in 2017, Williams has chased one goal relentlessly – to surpass Margret Court’s Grand Slam record. On four separate occasions, Williams has fallen at the final hurdle.
In the 2018 Wimbledon final, she was defeated in straight sets by Germany’s Angelique Kerber. Months later, she lost 2-6 3-6 to Naomi Osaka in the final at Flushing Meadows. Simona Halep and Bianca Adreescu inflicted similar defeats in the 2019 Wimbledon and US Open finals.
Williams has proven her ability to reach the business end of Grand Slams since 2017 – which is an achievement in itself. In order to burst through the final frontier, the 39-year-old has to improve in one of two areas.
Williams cannot become a better tennis player between now and the end of her career; she is the greatest of all time.
If she is to win another title, the American has to overcome her mental block or focus even more intensely on the physical side of the game.
Andy Murray’s physical decline has been too steep; the Brit won’t win another Grand Slam title.
But Serena is different. Her play in Melbourne suggests that she has a genuine shot at another Wimbledon title in the summer. The 39-year-old will have to roll back the years to do it – but a 24th Slam isn’t out of her reach yet.