Serena Williams: 10 Forces Behind Her Return at the U.S. Open
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Serena Williams is an icon in her own time. She and sister, Venus, changed the landscape of women's tennis permanently.
Even with extended absences from the game, she comes back and gives us all what we have longed for, a champion.
Sometimes, just hearing her name is like nails on a chalkboard for some and the happy ending of a story for others. Whatever it is, you cannot deny she is an American Champion.
No. 10: Serena's Health Has Rebounded
Serena at Roger's Cup
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Serena Williams, like all players, has been plagued by injuries throughout her career. She has had back, abdominal, thigh, groin and calf problems. Nothing, however, prepared her for her downward spiral of 2010.
In late 2009, she suffered a mysterious foot injury in a bar in Germany that took her out the game for many months.
When finally was able to return, she had a pulmonary embolism that nearly took her life. I think it was the first time Serena understood she was not invincible. She realized she may never play again.
After she got better and received word she could return to tennis, Serena's eyes were opened to a chance she never thought she would need. A chance for redemption.
Serena changed her routine to ensure she stays healthy. Her doctors say they have never seen her more fit.
No. 9: Serena in 4th Round at Wimbledon
Serena at Wimbledon 2011
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Serena had little time to prepare for her return to tennis. Wimbledon was fast approaching, and she wanted the opportunity to defend her crown.
She had time for one tune-up tournament prior to Wimbledon. She made her return debut at the 2011 AEGON International, in Eastbourne. She won her first round match 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 against Tsvetana Pironkova. She would lose to Vera Zvonareva in the second round 6-3, 6-7, 5-7.
There was no time to rest. Wimbledon was next, and she had a crown to defend.
Serena made it to the round of 16, where she lost to Marion Bartoli 3-6, 6-7. Serena had been ranked 26th in the world, and this loss would drop her to an all time low of No. 175.
Serena was crushed she couldn't defend her title and determined she would continue her journey back to greatness.
No. 8: Serena Gets Fit
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The AEGON International and Wimbledon tournaments took their toll on the out-of-shape Serena. So she took matters into her own hands.
Instead crumbling under the pressure of a resurgence, she pushed through it. She change up her diet and her fitness routine and, somewhere along the way, found a rhythm that worked.
Serena had put on extra pounds during the last year that made her slower and more sluggish. In addition to her diet change, Serena started Pilates. The pounds came off, and her core was stronger than ever.
Serena will never lose her power game. She was now taking that extra second of response time so as to better read her opponent. She has used this to turn her defense into an offense.
Serena is also spending extra time with her coach and hitting partner. She put it all together and made a statement at the last few tournaments that she could go the distance.
No. 7: Serena's Power
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When Serena hit the WTA circuit, women's tennis was doing well. There were plenty of aggressive players, great servers and hard hitters. The moment Serena stepped out on the court for the first time, that all changed.
Power would become synonymous with Serena. She has a forehand and backhand speed that shoots the ball at her opponents like a rocket. Most players need extra training to learn to return a Serena Williams' volley.
Her favorite shot is the cross-court forehand. Just when you think she is hitting down the line, Serena turns just enough to send the ball right past you to the other side. Justin Henin was the only player who could forge a solid defense against her.
Serena's power has kept her in many matches because her opponents must expend so much energy to return one ball, let alone an entire match of them.
No. 6: Serena's Dominance on the Court
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Serena is not intimidated by anyone. She has a tough mental acuity matched by no one playing today. No player has ever gotten in her head and taken her out of the match.
This mental toughness is just one way Serena dominates the other players on the tour. This is the one place where we are seeing the other players fall time and time again.
Other ways that Serena dominates is when she steps onto the court, she is ready to play. She is in shape, on time, focused and ready for her match.
Also, Serena beams self-confidence at every match. It doesn't matter if you have beat her previous or never played her, Serena is confident she is going to win.
Many players have never beat Serena and know the only way to a Grand Slam title is through her. Put all this together and she is one powerhouse who can dominate any player on any court on any surface.
No. 5: World Team Tennis
Serena at World Team Tennis
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Serena has always been a fan favorite at World Team tennis. She loves playing it, but the tight schedule of the tour doesn't always allow for it.
Serena is what you call a marquee player, which means she plays when her schedule allows. Since her return, she joined the World Team on Randalls Island in late July for a match between the Washington Kastles and New York Sportimes.
This was beneficial in a couple of ways. World Team tennis is known for its camaraderie, and that is what Serena needed to feel welcomed, appreciated and supported by fellow players.
It helped her put her revamped skills to the test in a smaller arena than a Grand Slam. She could easily change things up and not forfeit a major match.
It gave her more hard court time under her belt, so she would be better prepared for the US Open.
No. 4: Serena Wins Stanford and Toronto
Serena wins Stanford
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No one, including Serena, could have predicted her comeback wins at Stanford and Toronto. She looked sluggish at the AEGON and Wimbledon tournaments.
Serena entered Stanford as an unseeded player. She made it to the finals for a rematch of Wimbledon with Marion Bartoli. Serena would beat Bartoli in straight sets 7-5, 6-1.
Serena took that same intensity to Toronto where she again made the finals. Serena beat Samantha Stosur in straight sets 6-4, 6-2. This win gave Serena her 39th WTA title and second consecutive since Wimbledon 2010.
Serena looked to have slowed her game down and intensified her focus on what she was doing right. She was making every point count. Her hustle was back, she had lost some weight, her confidence was there as was her power. Serena's comeback was just beginning.
No. 3: Right a Wrong
Serena ousted in 2009 US Open
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All players have had problems with the line judges and officials' calls. Sometimes the call is right, and sometimes it is down right wrong. In the end, the official rule of the head judge will stand.
Everyone remembers the showdown between Serena and the line judge in her semi-final match with Kim Clijsters. Serena got called on a foot fault on her second serve at 15-30 in the second set. That call cost Serena a point and sent the match to 15-40.
Serena then approached the line judge and motioned her racket at her while yelling profanities. The line judge approached the head judge along with Serena and U.S. Open officials.
In the end, Serena was charged with unsportsmanlike behavior, which cost her another point and the match.
A bewildered Clijsters was left without an explanation, and she would go on to win her second consecutive U.S. Open title.
Serena has always been about winning with prestige, and this wasn't just losing. It was a black mark that would go down in the record books. This is not the legacy Serena wants to leave in New York. She is looking for redemption.
No. 2: 14th Grand Slam Title
Serena determined to win
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Serena Williams already has 13 Grand Slam singles title, with three of those at the U.S. Open. This is more than any other active player on the WTA tour.
Serena is not ready to throw in the towel on her career. In fact, she is doing just the opposite. Her return to form has been a spectacular feat. Many players have tried, but none have achieved the success Serena has.
To say that she has 13 titles doesn't quite give you a glimpse of the champion that is Serena Williams. She has a fighting spirit that few athletes in any sport can match.
She is winning even when she isn't playing her best matches. She has a tenacity that only true champions can be begin to comprehend.
She knows she deserves this title. The difference for her is she will go out on the court to prove it to every one of us.
No. 1: Fan Favorite
Fan favorite Serena Williams
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Serena is by far the fan favorite going into the U.S. Open. This can help a player in so many ways.
The first being that everyone wants to be at your matches and practice. All these fans cheer you and want nothing more than to bask in your victory.
Serena is an American player in a tournament on American soil. Every country cheers harder for its fellow countrymen in any sporting event.
Wherever Serena goes, drama follows. In this age of Twitter and instantaneous information, people have knowledge of Serena' happenings as they are unfolding.
There have been more times when a player is downtrodden, tired and just running on empty that the hometown crowd has carried them to victory.
Give the crowd a match worth watching, and they will stick with you until the end, no matter how late the time. No one understands and respects this more than Serena Williams. No other American player is so loved by the crowd.