Once Again Serena Williams Faces The Burden Of Expectation At Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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Once Again Serena Williams Faces The Burden Of Expectation At Australian Open

The 38-year-old is used to playing under pressure, but can she deliver in Melbourne Park this year?

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For some the prospect of Serena Williams exiting the upcoming Australian Open without silverware will be nothing short of a disappointment.

In recent months it has become somewhat of a grand slam tradition when it comes to the 38-year-old former world No.1. Ahead of each major the question is asked – can she finally equal Margaret Court? The woman who currently holds the record for most grand slam singles titles won in the history of the sport at 24.

This year marks the third anniversary of Williams’ last grand slam triumph. Taking on sister Venus in the title match, she prevailed 6-4, 6-4, in Melbourne. The achievement made her the most decorated major winner in the Open Era and elevated her back to world No.1. Then roughly an hour after her jubilation on court, talk of her matching Court’s record began.

“One thing I learned in the past is you have to enjoy it. That’s the beauty of winning Australia, you have a few months to relax.” She replied.

Unknown to the public at the time, Williams had more than a few months to relax. During her last grand slam triumph, she was pregnant with her first child. Inevitably the American tennis star stepped away from the tour for over a year to spend time with her new family. Then when she returned, it was a case of settling for second best.

In four out of the last six grand slam tournaments, she has featured in the final. However, she succumbed in straight sets during all of them. Falling to Angelique Kerber (Wimbledon 2018), Naomi Osaka (US Open 2018), Simona Halep (Wimbledon 2019) and Bianca Andreescu (2019). The success has been sparse in recent times, but Williams continues to have admiration from her rivals.

“I’m very impressed about her, that she’s keep playing at this level, with being a mother and also being a little bit older than us. It’s impressive what she does.” Halep told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for Williams, who made her Australian Open debut back in 1998. Earlier this month, she won the ASB Classic in Auckland. The first time she has claimed a trophy since becoming a mother 18 months ago. Could this be the breakthrough she needed to finally claim major title No.24?

“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fit,” Williams said. “I’ve had some good matches – long matches, short matches, rallies, power players, the elements.
“This is exactly what I needed going into Melbourne.

Critics of the former world No.1 have previously said she at times lacked match play heading into the grand slams. In Auckland only one of her five wins in the tournament was over a top 30 player. That was Amanda Anisimova, who was in 25th position at the time. Her other victories were over Jessica Pegula (82), Laura Siegemund (73), Christina McHale (28) and Camila Giorgi (99).

Unlike her rivals, Williams didn’t do a press conference ahead to the Australian Open. Saying she was under no obligation not to. Although she has been training in Melbourne Park.

In her absence, it has been left to her rivals to speculate about her chances. Something Ash Barty, who will be the top seed in Melbourne, quickly distanced herself from.

“I think there are 128 players on the men’s side and there are 128 players on the women’s side that can win the tournament,” Barty commented on Williams’ chances. “I don’t think you can count anyone out. Everyone in this draw is deserving of their spot, has earned their right to be here.”

Williams will be seeded eighth this year at the Australian Open. In her opening match, she will take on Russia’s Anastasia Potapova. Should she progress through the first week, she will play nobody ranked higher than Johanna Konta (12) in the opening four rounds. Then Williams may have to score back-to-back wins over Naomi Osaka and Barty to even reach the final.

Projected route

  • First round: Anastasia Potapova
  • Second round: Tamara Zidansek
  • Third round: Qiang Wang [27]
  • Fourth round: Jo Konta [12]
  • QF: Naomi Osaka [3]
  • SF: Ash Barty [1]
  • F: Karolina Pliskova [2] / Simona Halep [4] / Elina Svitolina [5] / Aryna Sabalenka [11]

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Krejcikova Comes Alive With Her Serve To Win 12th Grand Slam Title At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

It must have seemed like the whole world was against her when Barbora Krejcikova served for the match for a third time against crowd favorite Jasmine Paolini.

But Krejcikova was only going for her 12th Grand Slam title. She was well prepared.

So, she released her patented way-out-wide serve to the smallish Paolini’s backhand, and the best the Italian could do was get her racket on the ball enough to return the serve far off the court, long and wide.

ARMS UP FOR A CHAMPION

The weight of the world was gone as Krejcikova threw her arms over her head and calmly walked to the net to greet the Wimbledon runner-up.

Now, Krejcikova was half-way home to a career Grand Slam in singles. She already owns a career Grand Slam in doubles among her dozen Grand Slam titles that also include one mixed doubles Grand Slam title.

She has won the hard ones, the French Open on clay and Wimbledon on grass.

At 28 years old, anything must look possible to this 5-10 Czech.

KREJCIKOVA COMES THROUGH UNDER PRESSURE

Paolini simply was out played in a second straight Grand Slam final, on clay and on grass. Now she faces the real tests, two straight Grand Slam tournaments on hard surfaces that might not be overly friendly to the 5-4 Paolini.

But there it was, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory for Krejcikova on Wimbledon’s famed Center Court.

After what might be called a throw-away second set for Krejcikova, she came alive in the third set, pinning Paolini to the deep corners while nailing low hard-hit balls to both corners.

Krejcikova got off to 40-0 starts on her first four service games of the decisive set and ended all four with service winners to take a 5-3 lead (with the aid of the only service break of the third set). She yielded only one point in those four service games, a double fault at 40-0 that was followed by an ace.

Of course, it was the serve again that saved the day for Krejcikova and gave her set points two and three, then sealed the deal for a spot in Wimbledon history.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Wimbledon Finalist Jasmine Paolini – ‘I’m A Little Bit Scared To Dream Too Much’

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After coming close to her maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Jasmine Paolini believes consistency is key to having another shot at glory.

The 28-year-old dropped only one set en route to becoming the first Italian woman to reach a Wimbledon final. However, she was denied the title by Barbora Krejcikova, who won in three sets. Paolini was broken once in the decider which was due to a double fault from the Italian following an unsuccessful hawk-eye challenge made on her first serve. Then she failed to convert two break points when down 4-5 before Krejcikova held to seal glory.

“I started bad,” she reflected afterwards.

“I took some time and try to relax and to come back in the second set stronger to try to push the ball more because I was a little bit controlling too much, and I missed a lot of shots.

“She was playing, honestly, very good the first set. She was serving really, really good. High percentage of first serves.

“It was tough but I think I did better than the last final (at the French Open), but still it’s not enough.”

Prior to Saturday, Paolini had scored wins over former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Medison Keys (via retirement) and a marathon victory over Donna Vedic. She has now won 15 Grand Slam matches in 2024 compared to just one last season.

The defeat comes less than two months after the French Open where Paolini contested her first major final but lost in two sets to world No.1 Iga Swiatek. Since the start of this season, she has risen more than 20 places in the rankings and will reach No.5 on Monday.

Despite being in her late 20s, the Italian is producing some of her best tennis on the Tour. Something she credits to a combination of things. 

“I improved my game a little bit. I believe more in myself. I improved my serve. I think I improve the return.” She explained.

“I think physically I’m better than two years ago. I’ve been working with a new fitness coach for one-and-a-half years.

“There are many things, I think. Not just one. I think also winning matches helps a lot.”

Whilst she is heading in the right direction on the Tour, Paolini has vowed not to get too ahead of herself.

“Sometimes I’m a little bit scared to dream too much.” she said.

“I’m going back, trying to practice and stay in the present. This is the goal for me and my team, to try to keep this level as much as possible.

“If I keep this level, I think I can have the chance to do great things.

“Today I was dreaming of holding the (Wimbledon) trophy but it didn’t go well.

“I’m just enjoying the position where I am right now.”

Paolini has won 30 out of 43 matches on the Tour so far this season.

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Jasmine Paolini’s Wimbledon Run Hailed By Italian Prime Minister

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Image via x.com/twitter

The Prime Minister of Italy has praised Jasmine Paolini for lighting up the hearts of others during her Wimbledon run. 

Paolini missed out on her first Grand Slam title to Barbora Krejcikova, who prevailed in three sets to capture her second major trophy. Despite her defeat, she has made history at the tournament by becoming the first female player from her country to reach the final. Until this year, she had never won a Tour-level main draw match on the grass. 

Whilst disappointed about missing out on the biggest title of her career, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni posted a tribute to Paolini on social media just moments after the final had concluded.

“Proud of Jasmine Paolini,” The Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) quotes Meloni as saying. 

“The first Italian tennis player to reach the final of the prestigious Wimbledon tournament. 

“Despite the defeat, you lit up the hearts of the Italian people, succeeding in conveying grit and passion to all of us who supported you”. 

Paolini is the first player ranked outside the top five to reach the final of both Wimbledon and the French Open within the same year since the ranking system was introduced in 1975. She is also only the fourth female player in the Open Era to have reached her first two Grand Slam finals in the same year at Roland Garros and Wimbledon after Chris Evert (1973), Olga Morozova (1974) and Steffi Graf (1987). 

Should she win three or more matches at the US Open later this year, she will also set a new Open Era record for the most Grand Slam wins achieved by an Italian female player in a single season. 

“The last two months have been crazy for me. I want to thank my team, and my family. They always support me and I wouldn’t be here without them. The crowd have been amazing. I received a lot of support. Just incredible to feel the love from them, I enjoy it so much.” Paolini said following her Wimbledon defeat. 

The 28-year-old will rise to a ranking high of No.3 on Monday. 

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