By Eric Smiley || Contributing Writer
Godzilla, Twister, and San Andreas- What do all three of those films have in common? If you answered that they are all disaster movies, you would be right. That is what Serena Williams’s U.S. open loss to the unranked Italian, Roberta Vinci, felt like to her and millions of Americans: an absolute catastrophe.
Going into this year’s Open, Serena Williams, 33, was having an amazing year, perhaps one of the best in women’s tennis history. In fact, her year was so spectacular that she was vying for a calendar Grand Slam, a feat that hasn’t been completed by any woman since German former tennis player Steffi Graf did it in 1988.
A calendar Grand Slam is when a tennis player wins all four of the most important annual tennis events, the Australian Open in mid January, the French Open in May and June, Wimbledon in June and July, and the US Open in August and September, in a single calendar year. It is so rare because one needs tremendous consistency and endurance to go along with talent to overcome the high competition at all four majors. Additionally, the playing surfaces and playing conditions change drastically throughout the four opens.
Though Williams had a relatively easy time with her first two opponents, she barely got past round three when fellow American Bethanie Matek-Sands took her to the maximum three sets. After then beating up-and-coming American player, Madison Keys, she was set to play another American. However, this next match was perhaps the most discussed match in Serena’s twenty-year professional career.
Next up was Serena’s older sister, seven-time Grand Slam winner, Venus Williams. Seriously? I thought this was only supposed to happen in movies. Still there was nothing Serena could do about it. With all the pressure on Serena Williams already to complete the rare feat, she had to beat her sister and best friend, Venus, in order to advance to the Semifinals. Not surprisingly, several celebrities showed up to see the big match in New York. Among those present were Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, reality stars Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner, media proprietor Oprah Winfrey, and Vogue’s Anna Wintour.
While Serena obviously had the most on the line, Venus wanted to win just as much.
“She wants to win this,’’ Serena said. “So do I.’’
Going into the match, Serena was 15-11 overall against Venus and 8-5 in majors. Still, despite her winning record, Serena was not looking forward to the matchup.
“It’s like playing a mirror. The only player in the draw I don’t want to play, not only because she’s my sister, but for me she’s the best player,” Serena said.
The only person who dreaded the prospective matchup more than the two sisters was their mother, Oracene Price, who said before the match that she wouldn’t watch it and would instead stay back at their place in Manhattan.
Finally on Sep. 8, the much talked about match had finally arrived. Although Venus fought hard, Serena captured the first set six games to two. Still, Serena looked nervous in the second set and Venus took full advantage, taking the second set six to one. In order to win the match and keep her dream alive, she would need to win the third set. While Venus fought hard in the third set and at times looked like she might actually win the match and break her sister’s heart in the process, the younger William’s held on and defeated her big sister by a score of 6-3 in the final set.
Even though Serena is ranked number one and was favored to win the match, it was still a major test. Venus Williams, 35, whose career had faded in recent years due to advancing age and an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome, has been playing some of her best tennis this year and has regained her form from years ago when she regularly challenged her younger sister in the major tournaments. After Serena won, Venus gave her an emotional hug and left the court so her baby sister could have back the spotlight.
Next up for Serena was world number 43 Roberta Vinci, 32, who had not beaten Serena in their four previous matches. Before the match Serena Williams acknowledged that Vinci had nothing to lose. Clearly, Williams did, however. Nobody in the world expected Vinci to win and Serena Williams was just two matches away from the ultimate accomplishment in tennis. After rainy weather on September 10 made it impossible to play the match, it was moved to the following day, September 11. In the first set, Serena looked like her usual self, coasting with a score of six games to two. But then the nerves got the best of her and she gave up the second set six to four. At this point it was clear; Serena would have to fight for the victory. Despite taking an early two-zero lead in the third set, Serena unraveled and couldn’t fight off Vinci, ultimately losing the third set by a score of six games to four. Serena’s open was over and so was her quest for history.
While some blame the pressure of the situation on her loss, Vinci did play uncharacteristically well. Another theory for her losing is that Serena’s rapper boyfriend Drake, 28, who was in the stands during the match, is to blame for the loss. Drake’s presence might have made her extra nervous during the match. In addition, he is known for cursing just about every team for which he cheers including his hometown Toronto Raptors and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Vinci would end up losing to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta, 33, in the finals seven-six, six-two. Pennetta notably announced that she would subsequently retire from tennis following her US Open victory.
While Serena is obviously extremely disappointed, she hasn’t stopped it from living her life and pursuing her other interests outside of tennis, including fashion. Despite numerous fans blaming Drake for the epic loss, Serena and Drake are still going strong as evidenced by his appearance at HSN Signature Statement Collection at New York Fashion Week on September 15 to support his girlfriend as she displayed her new collection.
Although most fans see her defeat to Vinci as a tragic event, Williams insists it was not a loss but rather a win and a learning experience. It is amazing that at an age when most tennis stars have either retired or struggle to win, that Serena at age 33 still sees opportunities to learn things about herself and continue to get better. Steffi Graf, for instance, won her last major at 29. As said by Serena following her loss:
“I mean, I won four Grand Slam (tournaments) in a row, and got to the semis in another one, and I’ve done that twice. I mean how many people have done that?”
She is right. Serena is a phenomenon and by many accounts the greatest female tennis player of all time. Still, the calendar Grand Slam sure would have been nice. As she turns 34 on September 26 she might not have another chance at accomplishing what she almost did this year. Yet, it would certainly be unwise to discount Serena Williams.
She currently has 21 career Grand Slams and needs one more to tie Steffi Graf and three more to tie Margaret Court’s 24, the most during the open era. Still the best player in the world, Serena Williams certainly has a shot of breaking Court’s record and for all we know, collecting a calendar Grand Slam to go with it.
Junior Eric Smiley is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.