January 13, 2020
‘Finally,’ Serena Williams said as she broke through a stubborn psychological barrier at the weekend.
She beat fellow American Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 to win the Auckland Classic.
Not a massive scalp. But still, a moment to cherish.
Joining in the celebrations were her two-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia and her husband, Alexis Ohanian.
US President Donald Trump even tried to get in on the act by tweeting his congratulations.
This was Serena’s 73rd singles title and hardly one of the biggest in her illustrious career.
But that doesn’t mean this success isn’t psychologically significant.
And Serena recognised as much while enjoying the moment.
‘Oh it feels good! I think you can see the relief on my face. It’s been a long time.
‘It’s pretty satisfying just to get a win in the final. That’s really important for me.
‘I just want to build on that. It’s just a step towards the next goal.’
And the next goal, we all know, is to win another Grand Slam final and equal Margaret Court on 24 majors.
Since becoming a Mother to Alexis on September 1, 2017, Serena has had to play bridesmaid on the biggest occasions.
She lost two Wimbledon singles finals – to Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep.
The two US Open final defeats were perhaps even more traumatic.
The first reverse, to Naomi Osaka ended in a bitter argument with the umpire. The second loss, to Bianca Andreescu suggested that time might be running out on Serena’s spectacular career.
She had been forced to pull out of a final against the same, powerful young opponent in Canada a few weeks earlier, due to back spasms.
But you write off Serena Williams at your peril. The Australian Open is only weeks away. She is a serious contender.
And Serena will not be too disappointed to hear that Andreescu has already withdrawn from the tournament, to complete her rehab on an injured knee.
Once more, Williams will sense an opportunity.
If she does make the final at the age of 38, that will in itself be a phenomenal achievement.
But thanks to victory in Auckland, her anxiety in any future showpiece will be slightly less debilitating. Any self-doubt will be that little bit easier to handle.
Serena’s hardest opponent has always been Serena herself. Her strong sense of tennis history hasn’t helped.
For a true tennis warrior, she can be surprisingly vulnerable. That’s what makes her so fascinating. And loveable.
Realistically it is still a big ask to imagine that Serena Williams will be Australian Open champion, 2020.
No disrespect whatsoever to Jessica Pegula, but any fellow-finalist in Melbourne would surely be more formidable.
And there will be so many tougher hurdles to overcome along the way before Serena can go toe-to-toe once more for that kind of glory.
This Auckland triumph isn’t necessarily a game-changer. But Serena has already analysed its significance correctly.
It is a stepping stone. A long-awaited release of tension and perhaps even negativity. A break from the troubles of her recent tennis past.