For Serena Williams, the heartbreak of making the final at the U.S. Open last year, only to be beaten by Australian Samantha Stosur hurt.
It hurt a lot.
The American star was in front of her home crowd; she was the favorite to dominate the match to come and she was supposed to walk away from Flushing Meadows with another career title to her name. But as we all know, it simply did not come to be.
Fast-forward a year and Serena Williams is back at the U.S. Open—back in the third round—and back establishing herself as a genuine contender for the title this year.
She isn't moving as well or hitting the ball as cleanly as she was last year, and she isn't the player that everybody is watching out for.
Not yet, anyway.
Speaking via the Los Angeles Times, Williams commented on her current form—stating that she wasn't too pleased with the way she is hitting the ball or the way that she is moving around the court.
It was one of those days [after winning her second round match]. I wasn't really happy with the way I was playing. I think I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
I was running for a shot and rolled it [my ankle]—story of my ankle life. But it's fine. I did a lot of ice and tape and compression to keep the swelling out. I rolled it in Australia [earlier this year], so I was a little nervous. But it's fine.
Anyone who watched the American legend in her match would understand what she was hinting at—she simply doesn't look as fluid or as "together" as you'd say she has in years gone by. She doesn't look at ease with herself, nor does she look entirely happy with the way that she's performed so far in the tournament.
However, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is, after all, only the third round of competition and there is still another week of matches before Williams can lift high the 2012 U.S. Open title—should she it make it that far again.
For Williams to be noticing where her game is lacking and understanding how she can improve is only a good thing. For her to realize that she isn't playing her best tennis, but still coming away with strong results, is a good thing.
The confidence will come—as it always does for Williams—who somehow manages to string it all together at the right time in big tournaments. The confidence will come, and you get the feeling that it will come because she remembers what happened last year.
She is desperate for it not to happen again, but she also realizes that making the final is simply not enough and having the home crowd behind you isn't enough. You have to improve, you have to play better and you have to be able to build on your mistakes and shortcomings in the past.
You get the feeling that Williams understands that.
Be it her ankle, her unforced errors or the pain of that loss in 2011, Serena Williams is a more focused, more thoughtful athlete this time around, and one that could well go all the way to clinch the 2012 U.S. Open crown.
Williams will meet Ekaterina Makarova for a spot in the round of 16.
Does Williams have what it takes to go all the way this year?
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