January 5, 2018
If Serena Williams took the same psychological approach as Roger Federer, she would probably already be past Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.
But Serena, currently on 23 Slams, just puts so much pressure on herself. And she is doing it again.
Serena has just pulled out of the Australian Open, despite proving that she is already competitive, in a recent exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko
Her explanation told us much about her winning mentality. ‘Although I am super close, I’m not where I want to be. I can compete,’ said Serena, ‘but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.’
In other words, if Serena doesn’t think she can win the Australian Open, Serena doesn’t want to be in the Australian Open.
Contrast that with the attitude of the injured Andy Murray. He said recently he would give anything to be back out there, even if it meant being 30th best in the world.
Could Serena ever think like that? Doubtful.
And Federer is constantly amazed that he is still playing. ‘I never take you guys for granted,’ he told the record crowd in Perth a few days ago.
Roger also admitted, as he looked forward to his Grand Slam chances in 2018, that ‘anything I win from here is a bonus.’
This is the attitude Serena should adopt if she is to achieve her goal of winning two more Slams to become the undisputed all-time-greatest woman tennis player.
Of course, you could argue that Serena’s “winning-is-everything” attitude is precisely what has landed her those 23 Grand Slam titles already.
But it is also what has lost her a few.
For history tells us that Serena doesn’t always get her psychological approach right. Take the last two US Opens she played, when she was red-hot favourite on both occasions.
The pressure Serena placed upon her own shoulders became too great at Flushing Meadows. She didn’t get past either semi-final, as the intensity became excruciating.
Right now, Serena should look at the year ahead as a whole, and plan what is realistic for her, and how to get there.
It’s what we all do this time of year, right?
Serena shouldn’t have expected to be able to “do a Federer,” come back from months off to play at the Australian Open, and actually go and win the thing.
Even Federer didn’t expect to be able to “do a Federer” last year. He just wanted to play and see where the adventure took him.
It was precisely because of this relaxed, pressure-free, super-fresh feeling that Federer thrived in Melbourne to everyone’s surprise – and went all the way.
But Serena is already talking as though she needs to play to win Slams or not play at all.
What Serena has to learn is that the winning of two more Slams will take care of itself if she finds a way to play for the love of the game and then builds her form through the year.
By playing the Australian Open this year, maybe she wouldn’t have won it. So what? She would have been getting match-fit again and shaking out the ring-rust in Grand Slam conditions.
Her chances of winning the French Open at Roland Garros, the next big challenge, might have improved as a result of a stern physical and mental test over the best part of a fortnight in Melbourne.
Now there will be added pressure in Paris – “Serena’s Comeback Slam.” Maybe she won’t win the French either. But by playing in Paris, her chances at Wimbledon 2018 will increase further still, as she gives herself more opportunities to sharpen up before the big one, albeit on a very different Grand Slam surface.
What are the most realistic targets for Serena Williams this year? Are we looking at the final two Slams of the four?
Could Serena win Wimbledon 2018 and then make ultimate history on home ground in America in the final Grand Slam of the year? It is possible. But only with the right mindset.
Know what Serena should do? Pick up the phone to Andy Murray. At the end of that conversation she will realise how lucky she is just to have the chance to play again at all – for the sheer love of it.
Then Serena should go to dinner with Roger Federer. Just listen to the man and the way he approaches the twilight of his career. Everything is exciting, nothing to prove, no pressure, just fun and adventure.
He is still a fighter and a warrior on the big points of course, as any top tennis player needs to be. But he can be that warrior with a clear head. A warrior not a worrier. He is also a record-breaker, just as Serena wants to be – and already is in so many ways.
With Federer’s attitude, Serena can achieve her final tennis dreams. Maybe she should have played the Australian Open, enjoyed the ride, and just seen where it took her.
What was the worst that could have happened, Serena? You might have lost a tennis match somewhere along the way?
You are already a living legend. Enjoy what you have left.
There are four Grand Slam chances this year. For Serena, there are now only three. But it’s not the end of the world.
There is talk of Serena making her comeback in Miami in March, now. But by opting out of Australia, there will be more pressure on her to win, when we finally do see her in a tournament.
That’s the pressure Serena just put on herself. And she hasn’t always coped with the pressure of expectation all that well.
The best advice for Serena? Adopt Roger Federer’s philosophy. Go out there as soon as you can – and have some fun!