Sabine Lisicki didn't just beat Serena Williams at Wimbledon on Monday; she proved to the rest of the tennis world that it could in fact be done and essentially what it takes to make it happen.
That certainly doesn't make Serena an easy mark heading into the hard-court season and ultimately the U.S. Open in August—the reality is she is anything but.
It does, however, peel back the unbeatable façade the world’s top-ranked player had built during her 34-match winning streak that included a commanding victory in the 2013 French Open just a few weeks ago.
Sometimes a loss, no matter how poorly timed it is, is just that—a loss. Yet other times, it’s a setback that months later can prove to be the beginning of something even more significant.
Lisicki’s thrilling three-set triumph might have just provided the blueprint for derailing Williams’ quest for a second consecutive U.S. Open victory and a fifth overall. If nothing else, she at least certainly gave a lot of talented players the belief that Williams can be beaten, even on a day when she doesn't necessarily play awful tennis.
In contrast, it might well be the motivating factor for yet another dominating run through the summer slate and into the fall that will remind the world’s best tennis players that however human she might be, Serena is still by far the best tennis player in the world.
One thing is certain: Once the U.S. Open rolls around in less than two months, Serena will be singularly determined to prove it’s the latter and not the former that stems from her fourth-round defeat at Wimbledon on Monday.
At the age of 31, Serena is among the fittest on the circuit, but she has played a lot of tennis this year—and what that mileage could mean moving forward is at least worth questioning.
Following the Lisicki game plan on the hard courts, players will look to jump on Williams early and then survive the inevitable rally to force tense moments late. There, they will test her serve at crucial points and look to disrupt her footwork with powerful groundstrokes.
Those that have the game to do that—and there are several of them—now believe they have a chance against Serena.
Yet all that said, whether Serena shakes off the loss and returns to being the assassin we witnessed roll through 34 straight opponents is largely up to her. She is still the most powerful player in the game. She remains one of the most determined and isn't likely to dwell on this misfortune very long.
Following her loss in the quarterfinals to Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open in January, Williams went on her unbeatable run of remarkable tennis that turned back the clock and left few with any real hope of taking her down. In fact, between the start of the Sony Open in March and the third round of Wimbledon, Serena didn't lose.
Now in advance of her U.S. Open defense, Williams will have to summon that same commitment and focus to move on from this latest defeat that came just as she was playing so dominantly.
Since her third U.S. Open title in 2008, Williams has won seven more Slams as her body continues to defy her 31 years of age and the overwhelming amount of court time she has logged since winning her first Slam at the 1999 U.S. Open.
Including this Wimbledon, Serena has also won three of the past five Slams, so it’s going to take more than a tight three-set loss to a strong grass-court player to sound the panic alarm. That said, Serena had better respond to this latest loss the way she did after the Stephens defeat.
There were confounding moments in this most recent match that Williams’ future opponents will undoubtedly look to capitalize on at the U.S. Open.
Serena seemed to slow down during critical moments and took the pedal off the gas when she gained control of the match. Twice during the third set, Williams earned big-time breaks, only to give them right back to Lisicki on her own serve. Her once-powerful serve was an anchor in the deciding set.
Serena acknowledged as much herself.
"I probably couldn't be more disappointed," Williams said. "I think I may have backed off of a success. I was playing something successful. I didn't continue that path. The result didn't go the way it could have gone had I continued to play the way I did in the second set."
Despite that disappointment, however, there is time for Williams to get her momentum back.
Unlike the brief turnaround between the French Open and the Wimbledon Championships, Serena will have ample opportunity to get herself refocused and prepared for the hard courts. Her body will be rested and her mind reenergized by some time off that she was not afforded following her long French Open run.
Between the Australian Open and U.S. Open, Serena has won nine Slams on the hard courts, and she will again be very difficult to beat in her Open defense. A win in New York would move Serena to within one Slam of tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert with 18 career titles.
There’s no denying that her loss to Lisicki and the chance to edge closer to those two legends will be more than enough motivation for the American.
With a score of talented players not just believing Williams can be beaten but recognizing it as fact, all that motivation and more will be needed for a long Open run.
It’s Serena’s new reality brought on by one stunning defeat at Wimbledon.
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