June 2, 2019
Serena Williams was knocked out of Roland Garros earlier than any other major tournament for five years – and left us all wondering about her future.
It’s not a delicate question to ask, but one that all great champions are forced to face sooner or later.
How long can she go on? When will be the right time to retire?
Not since the European summer of 2014 has a Slam gone quite so badly for Williams.
This year she was dispatched 6-2, 7-5 by the 20-year-old Sofia Kenin, and Serena was quick to pay tribute to her compatriot.
‘She literally played unbelievable,’ she said.
True enough, but the other part of that truth lay in Serena’s lack of preparation.
‘She wasn’t ready,’ admitted her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
At least a first-week exit in Paris gives Serena enough time to get match-fit on grass in time for Wimbledon.
‘I’m working on getting there, I think it will be enough time. At least I can start putting the time in now,’ she agreed.
And that could well mean a wild card to a grass-court tournament or two in the run-up to Wimbledon.
Serena can undoubtedly improve her fitness and her match sharpness in the month before the big one. But will that be enough?
In the long run, how much more does she have left in the tank? Will she ever equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams?
If that is to happen, surely Wimbledon this summer is Serena’s best chance.
She loves the home of tennis. She is so strong on the grass that she will believe she has a realistic tilt at Court’s elusive tally.
But beyond this summer, the 37-year-old may have to accept that that time is catching up with her at last.
Serena Williams is not the type of champion to carry on competing if she doesn’t think she can win.
It will be extremely tempting for her to play the US Open too, though. It is her home Slam, after all, and last year she reached the final.
Flushing Meadows would be just as apt a stage as Wimbledon to bid her fond farewell to the tour, should she decide to call time on her singles career.
If Serena is still looking at 2020, there must be doubts in the back of her mind as to whether her supreme tennis levels can last that long.
There is the lure of the Olympic Games, of course.
But that will again depend on whether she feels she has medal chances in either the singles or doubles.
One thing is certain. Serena Williams has nothing left to prove.
Margaret Court played in both the amateur and professional eras. But few people, if anyone, believe her record 24 Slams are as impressive as Serena’s 23 in the modern era.
The history books may say differently in simple mathematical terms.
But there will ways be enough fair-minded observers to sing Serena’s praises as the undisputed greatest of all time.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if Serena gets fit enough to win Wimbledon against the odds, and therefore makes history at Tennis HQ, where she is so revered?
Whatever happens, time is running out for our much-loved heroine. And therefore we should appreciate and cherish the Queen of Tennis while we still can.
By Mark Ryan