Serena Williams is fat. Serena is out of shape. Serena cares more about fashion than tennis.
Those were the accusations.
But Serena had the last word at the 2007 Australian Open. The younger Williams sister did show up at the event on Day 1 a bit doughy, but by Day 14 she looked in absolute fighting form, like she should be on TV pitching the “Serena Slam Weightloss Plan.”
Makes you shudder to think how she’ll show up at the French, knowing she can play her way into shape.
But Serena flipped the scenario during the Aussie fortnight. At the beginning it was criticism of her physical condition. By the end it was criticism of her opponents’ mental condition.
In the third round Nadia Petrova did what she does best, choking a 6-1 and a break lead in the second, folding 6-3 in the third. Then came the choking brigade of teens and near-teens. No. 1 seed Jelena Jankovic, who had beaten Serena in their previous two meetings, got tight on the big stage in Melbourne. Against Shahar Peer, the inexperienced Israeli teen got tight after jumping out to a set and a break lead. Same with Vaidisova, who still can’t control her emotions, and couldn’t close out a set point.
Worse yet, there matches were basically battering ram vs. battering ram, with few slices, drop shots or clever off-pace angles.
As Steve Bierly of The Guardian put it, “The Williams, when they put their minds to it, still play power tennis better than anybody else, and Serena, for whom this was her eighth slam title, the best of all. But the chronic lack of variety in the women’s game makes for tedious watching. One longs for somebody with the brain, variety of shots and anticipation of Martina Hingis who is also physically strong enough to withstand and counter the huge hitters. But to walk around the outside courts during the final week and watch the junior girls did nothing for the spirit of optimism. Here were youngsters welting the ball at one another with no thought of guile or subtlety. It was depressing.”
Depressing as the one-dimensional play was, it fell right into Serena’s court, where she could out-muscle her opponents and chase down balls and play defense better than her gawky six foot runway-model opponents.
“The worst criticism is that I was not fit — I know I am larger in some areas than some women players,” Serena said. “I don’t have a flat chest or a flat ass. I was looking in the mirror and I was asking myself, ‘Am I fit, or what?’ My waist is, like, 28 inches. I couldn’t figure this one out. Yet I am the same size and same weight as five years ago. I played three sets with [Shahar] Peer and [Nadia] Petrova, I practised at 7 in the morning after Petrova and was not tired at all.”
Her angry state in the final was due to a fierce resolve to see her murdered sister, Yetunde, see her raise the trophy from on high.
“Every day I write notes for my matches, but today my note was just ‘Yetunde.’ That’s it,” Williams told the press afterwards, looking at her notes during changeovers. “Usually I write ‘Look at the ball, move forward, do this, do that.’ Today I just had one word. Every changeover I looked at it and I just thought about how happy she would have been, how much she always supported me. I just thought about what an amazing sister she was to me. I just said ‘Serena, this has to be motivating. This has to be more than enough to motivate me.’”
“I think it was.”
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