This Is No Rehearsal

Posted by Brodie under: Serena, Superhero, USO

13 Sep 2011

After a foot injury turned to a life threatening disease, Serena Williams missed her chance to return to the biggest stage of tennis and right the wrong that was her infamous shouting tirade on lineswoman Shino. She missed the chance to defend her Australian Open title, and missed Roland Garros too. Finally, she returned to Wimbledon in a wave of emotion that moved tennis fans everywhere. She was so happy to be there.

Truth be told, no one expected her to win that tournament, and she didn’t. That was fine. It was the calm before the storm, the trumpeting of the return of the “real” number one. The Queen was back, baby.

The stage was set all too perfectly. After casting out the number 1 Caroline Wozniacki like a heretic from the church of tennis nerddom, she was in the final. This wasn’t any final, however. Pushed back to Sunday because of the rain, it would take place on the 10th anniversary of September 11th in New York, happening at the same time as the triumphant return of the NFL’s first Sunday. It was all so American. All too perfect.

Her opponent would be Australian Samantha Stosur who she had dismantled in the Toronto final just weeks earlier, and had dismantled on many occasions before.

It wasn’t such smooth sailing, however. In many fans thirst for blood in the semifinal, they failed to see the chinks in the armour of Serena. She looked impatient at times, and missed easy shots. Her defense backed her up against an opponent seemingly incapable of hitting winners, and she was fine.

Stosur is not Wozniacki, however. She made her pay, keeping her off balance with her trademark kick serve, and punished the short balls down the line on the forehand wing when the opportunities presented themselves. She took the first set.

We as tennis fans didn’t jump to conclusions. It’s why they play the games, but it’s also why they play three sets. Serena would make errors, keep her calm with her trademark stretched left arm, palm-to-the-court “I’m not going to freak out” look. She would spank a couple winners, get fired up, gain her focus and composure, and her opponent would crumble under the weight of it all. It would be one way traffic from there, and the prophecy would be fulfilled.

If football is a game of inches, tennis is a game of milimetres. It’s also a game of milliseconds. After hitting that fateful forehand at the start of the second set, she yelled out a “come on!” before Sam got to the ball and lay a racquet to it. The point was rightly awarded to Stosur. It was one way traffic indeed, but the cars were on the wrong side of the road.

“You’re out of control. You’re totally out of control. You’re a hater, and you’re unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser.” Just some of the deep insights that came out during the changeover.

Serena, rather sarcastically if you ask me, reflected after the match that she would have to check the rule book and thought obstruction was more like the “hat rule”, in that if you lose your hat, the point is called a let and you replay it. She was wrong.

Ironically, the tour has come under much scrutiny with the absence of Serena, Maria, Kim, and now permanently Justine in that many lower ranked players are able to make it deep into tournaments and in fact win them as the top seeds crumble and fall away. Sadly, despite Serena doing the same thing, Stosur rose to the occasion and took it, and not just in this match.

Her match versus Petrova was incredible (see my post below). The longest match in US Open history for the women, she dropped the second set, barely. But like what many of the top men do, frankly, they keep faith in that they were the better player on the court, stick to the game plan of staying aggressive and looking for openings, and wait it out on their way to victory, however slim it may be.

It was the same story in the next round as her and Kirilenko ground out one of the longest tiebreaks ever. While it would be lovely to say that winning it was a turning point for Stosur, that was not to be as Kirilenko took it 17-15. That was all fine and dandy for Stosur. She kept working, kept attacking, and smothered the exhausted Kirilenko and the train kept rolling.

When we look back at this tournament, it will be highlighted by the final, the return of Serena, and her inevitable frustration and fall. Really, it should be highlighted by those two fantastic, epic, historical matches that took place late at night on Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand respectfully. While the worlds’ eyes were elsewhere, a champion was forging the ground work for an historic run to the finish line.

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap