Serena Williams has something to prove at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University this week. Despite the fact that she's had a tough year, it wouldn't be smart to doubt her.
It's been a long time since Williams was in a position that required she prove she's still the best female tennis player on the planet. But that's exactly where she is now.
Why All the Questions?
Williams is still the No. 1-ranked player in the world, but 2014 has not been a successful year by the future Hall of Famer's lofty standards. Not only has she failed to win any of the three Grand Slam tournaments played this year, but Williams hasn't even advanced past the fourth round.
In addition to the flops during singles matches in Grand Slam events, Williams also fell flat during a doubles contest with her sister Venus Williams at Wimbledon. She became ill and had to withdraw from the doubles portion of the event.
For most players, these occurrences wouldn't be cause for panic. However, for one as dominant as Williams, these types of mishaps prompt questions about the present and future.
Melissa Isaacson of espnW.com explores potential causes for Williams' recent struggles. Williams indicated that a viral illness was to blame for what happened in the doubles match, but she also talked about being mentally and physically fatigued. Per Isaacson, Williams said: "I'm really just dead. I need some weeks off where I don't think about tennis and kind of regroup."
Williams has certainly had a nice break. She hasn't played competitively in more than a month. Will that be sufficient for the sport's best player?
Isaacson talks about Williams' past rebounds and how this one will be a bit different.
"Williams has always been able to bounce back from low points and restore her confidence," she said. "But what will it take this time? Serena turns 33 on Sept. 26, and she hasn't advanced past the fourth round of a Grand Slam this year."
There is no doubt, the older an athlete gets, the more difficult it is to remain at the top of their game. Perhaps an already hard-working Williams will have to ratchet up her physical training and mental preparedness even higher to maintain her dominance moving forward.
The Impediments are Noteworthy
In the Bank of the West Classic, a solid field is in place to contend with Williams. The draw includes a healthy amount of the WTA Top 20. Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and even sister Venus are part of the field.
Because of the strong draw, this tournament will serve as a solid barometer for where Williams' mind and body are heading into the U.S. Open in August.
Perhaps this is too much confidence to have in a 32-year-old star in a sport so cruel to 30-somethings, but bet on Williams coming out with a vengeance at Stanford. Despite the fact that she has struggled this year, Williams is still 15-2 on hard courts. Aside from natural grass, this surface lends itself to Williams' success more than any other.
She's also had proven success in this tournament. Williams didn't play at Stanford last year, but she won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
Throughout her career, she's always been defiant and found motivation in the doubts of her critics. After a month of rest, she'll prove she still has enough left in the tank to win the Bank of West Classic and to make herself the odds-on favorite to win the U.S. Open.