Serena Williams Can Keep Denying but She Is Feeling the Pressure in Grand Slams

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2016

Serena Williams rests on her racket during a tough second-round match at Wimbledon 2016.
Serena Williams rests on her racket during a tough second-round match at Wimbledon 2016.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Serena Williams once talked about going into acting after finishing up her tennis career. She's doing a fine job playing the role of the stress-free champion with nothing to lose. 

Friday, in another dramatic performance, Williams defeated Christina McHale 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-4 in the second round of Wimbledon 2016. 

If Williams felt no pressure in that match, then she deserves an Academy Award for acting like a 21-time Grand Slam champion one loss away from a full-blown freak out. 

She shrieked, screamed and smashed her racket. At one point during the match, she pleaded for a lob to go out as it sailed over her head. 

She looked like someone under serious pressure. 

For nearly a year, Williams has been trying to tie Steffi Graf's record of 22 Grand Slam titles, the most in the open era. Since Williams entered the race for the record books, she's been repeating the same lines about feeling no pressure or having nothing to lose (via John Skilbeck of the Press Association, h/t Daily Mail).

It's clearly an act. 

Serena Williams prepares to hit a backhand during her second-round match at Wimbledon 2016.
Serena Williams prepares to hit a backhand during her second-round match at Wimbledon 2016.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

No matter how composed she looks in press conferences, her raw emotions erupt in competition. The tension in her face, the intensity of her screams and the inexplicable unforced errors all point to a player who feels the pressure.

Her win against an unseeded McHale is more evidence that the burden of trying to make history is weighing heavy on Williams' shoulders. 

McHale is a solid player who reached a career-high No. 24 back in 2012. But seriously, she's not a world beater. Besides, this is Wimbledon, where Williams rules. She holds six titles, more than any active player. McHale has never advanced beyond the third round at Wimbledon.

Yet, McHale looked like the champion in charge through most of the match. It probably has something to do with Williams' recent woes in Grand Slams. No longer invincible, Williams is beatable in the eyes of other players. 

She entered this year 21-4 in Grand Slam finals. She was 6-0 in finals at the Australian Open and 3-0 in at Roland Garros. Now she's 21-6 in Slam finals. Her defeats at the Australian Open and the French Open marked the first time she lost back-to-back major finals. 

She's losing her dominance and the players are taking notice.

After Angelique Kerber won the Australian Open, Simona Halep shared the mood of the women's locker room. Halep told the French press agency AFP, (via Yahoo Sports):

I think now every tournament is open to win. Everyone can win. I know that Serena is still there and she's very strong. But as I said before, if Angelique won this (Australian), Pennetta won the U.S. Open, in my opinion, I can believe more that I have a chance to win. I think every player thinks the same.

As her opponents grow more confident, Williams appears more apprehensive. Against McHale, Williams went 5-19 on break points

She seemed to lack that killer instinct she built her trophy case on.

The pressure is getting to her, and she's finding it harder to pretend otherwise.

After her French Open loss, Williams wept. There was agony behind those tears. Her whimper sounded similar to Roger Federer's "God, it's killing me," cry when he lost to Rafael Nadal at the 2009 Australian Open. It's the type of lament that surfaces when a once-dominant player realizes he or she has run into a wall. 

With Williams, perhaps it's more of a stumbling block than wall. She had a similar experience when she was trying to reach No. 18 and tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. 

In 2010, Williams won the Australian Open and tied Billie Jean King's 13 Slam titles. It took Williams 15 years to win 13. Three years later, she won her 17th Slam at the 2013 U.S. Open. Reaching 18 seemed like a cinch. 

However, Williams struggled in 2014. She lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open, the second round at the French Open and then the third round at Wimbledon. She finally reached 18 at the U.S. Open. 

With that pressure off, Williams won the first three Slams in 2015 and seemed destined for the fourth. But under more pressure—to win the calendar Slam—Williams lost to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of the U.S. Open.  

Leading up to last year's U.S. Open, Williams told Melissa Isaacson of ESPNW"I'm really trying to stay away from stress and stay away from press...I don't necessarily want to hear about, 'Oh, this history and that history,' because I just want to be able to do the best that I can."

But how possible is it to "stay away from press" when there are commercials and a mural created to celebrate your pending triumph?  

After the loss to Vinci, Williams' mother, Oracene Price, admitted that the pressure did get to her daughter. Price told ESPNW's Jane McManus"Everyday things can be different. Just little things can put seeds of doubt in your mind and then you think too much, don't do what you should do, when you're out competing."

Up next for Williams is unseeded German Annika Beck, another young feisty player. Beck defeated Heather Watson in the first round. Williams and Beck have never played each other. 

Like against McHale, Williams will be the clear favorite. Expect theatrics. Win or lose, you can also expect another great performance.