Venus and Serena Williams have had contrasting summers in 2012.
Neither of the Williams sisters has ever worried much about their ranking on the WTA tour or events outside of the four Grand Slams, even as they have always performed well on the biggest stages in tennis.
Heading into the year, Serena had never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam event, creating a winning percentage that many of her peers have never come close to. After losing in the first round at Roland Garros this year, however, many could be heard questioning her ability to dominate women’s tennis. She is, after all, 30 years old—No. 1 Victoria Azarenka is 23 years old—and past what many would consider her “prime.”
Yet in true Serena fashion, she has gone 26-1 since the loss in Paris. Her wins this summer at Wimbledon, Stanford, the Olympics and the U.S. Open have pushed her even closer to being the greatest female tennis player of all time. She has a resume that now includes 15 Grand Slam Singles titles, 13 Grand Slam Doubles titles, two Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles, four Olympic gold medals, 45 career WTA titles and over $40 million in prize earnings.
During her “best” year in 2002, Serena won three out of four Grand Slam titles; if she can equal that accomplishment in the 2013 season, she will tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for all-time Grand Slam Singles titles won with 18.
Venus Williams, however, has struggled this season. In fact, she has not been able to win a title since 2010. Struggling with Sjogren’s Syndrome—an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain—Venus barely qualified for the third Singles' spot on the U.S. Olympic team; she also did not make it past the third round of any of the Grand Slam events she entered this year.
A 19-9 record for 2012 speaks volumes about the struggles Venus has endured.
Not surprisingly, Serena has obviously been growing in confidence while Venus’s once-unwavering level of self-belief seems to be declining. Four times this year, Venus has battled to the quarterfinals of a Tier 1 tournament, only to lose three times to top-10 players, resulting in a 4-7 record against the Top 10 this year.
However, the biggest indication of Venus’s struggles with confidence is evident in her Grand Slam results. In 16 years of competitive tennis at Grand Slams events, 2012 has been Venus’s worst ever season (2 wins, 3 losses).
Since her return to the tour in March at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Venus has shown that the fundamentals of her game that won her 43 WTA and seven Grand Slam titles are still very much present. Her serve is still among the biggest; her ground strokes are still devastating; her net play and craftiness around the court seems to have improved as a result of her declining speed and mobility.
So, why the poor results? The only explanation lies in the confidence that is needed for champions to still believe that they can win.
As Venus played a long three-set night match at this year's U.S. Open, she had opponent Angelique Kerber on the ropes. Even considering Venus's stellar resume, Kerber (seeded #6) was the favorite to win—Kerber had defeated Williams on clay in Madrid and on grass at the Olympics this year.
It initially seemed that the American and two-time U.S. Open champion had other plans as she rallied and created several chances to win the match. Yet, in the most important moments of the match, the double faults and unforced errors mounted for Williams. It became clear that perhaps even Venus saw Kerber as the favorite to win.
This year, Serena and Venus have clearly illustrated the difference a little self-belief can have in the game of tennis. As the tennis world keeps its fingers crossed for many more years of the Williams sisters, we can only hope that in 2013 Serena continues to remain healthy and motivated to break records, and that Venus returns to seeing herself the way many of us have seen her for years: a champion.