Serena Williams has Quest for Calendar Slam Derailed
by Haley Hunt on Friday, October 2nd, 2015
In 2015, Serena Williams was victorious in 26 of her Grand Slam matches. However in the semi-final of U.S. open, Serena lost her 27th match to Italian, Roberta Vinci. Since the shocking defeat, the tennis world has been abuzz, many unsure as to what went awry. In order to figure out what happened, let’s walk through the highlights of Williams’ 2015 season and review the significance of this year’s U.S. Open in the context of tennis history.
To say that Serena Williams had a dominant year leading up to the U.S. Open would be a severe understatement. Williams entered the 2015 U.S. Open with seasonal highlights of 3 grand slam titles, 2 premier tournament titles, and 3 premier tournament semifinal appearances.
At the Wimbledon Championships this July, Williams secured her 6th career Wimbledon title and 21st career Grand Slam title, completing her second “Serena Slam” (4 consecutive grand slam tournament wins). She positioned herself to match some of the highest accomplishments in tennis history. A 7th victory for Williams at the 2015 U.S. Open would: 1) break her tie with Chris Evert for the most U.S. Open wins, 2) match Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, and 3) complete Williams’ calendar sweep of the major tournaments, a feat accomplished only 3 times in history, and not since Graf in 1988.
Kicking off the U.S. Open evening session on night one of the tournament, #1 ranked Williams came out firing in her reptilian accented Nike dress to secure a comfortable first round victory, 6-0, 2-0 (ret.) over Vitalia Diatchenko (#86). After an effortless first round, she seemed prepared to storm through her next six matches to claim the looming “Calendar Slam” record. However, her transition to the second and third rounds was not as simple as anticipated: Williams had to dig herself out of back-to-back three-set battles against two players outside of the top one hundred. Fast forward to the fourth and quarterfinal rounds, where Williams overcame fellow American, twenty-year-old Madison Keys, in two sets. Next, after a slight bump in the second set, she eliminated her older sister Venus in three sets, to secure a spot in the semifinals. Headed into the final four, Williams was obviously a favorite; in fact, many thought that she had already secured her spot in the finals before she even stepped out onto the court for her semifinal. For the first time in history, the women’s final sold out before the men’s. Adding to Williams’ advantages were the stats on her unseated opponent, Roberta Vinci (world #43), who had 300-1 odds of winning the Open and whom Serena had dismantled in all four of their head-to-heads without dropping a set.
In the first set, the players exchanged early service breaks, but it was ultimately Williams’ biggest weapons: her serve, power, and movement, that allowed her to consolidate these breaks of serve and to claim the set 6-2. In the second set, however, Vinci began to take control of the rallies, pinning Serena behind the baseline and advancing to the net to finish off the points. This finesse propelled Vinci to a 6-4 second set victory. Nonetheless, with Serena’s outstanding 2015 record of 18-1 in third set victories and her notorious reputation for digging herself out matches with deficits as large as 1-5, the crowd was certain that Vinci would experience similar misfortune. In the third set, Williams appeared to be gaining momentum as she took control, up 2-0, 40-30, one booming serve from a 3-0 lead. Yet, this time, Vinci came roaring back to stun Williams 2-6 6-4 6-4 and dash her hopes at the records that once seemed so attainable.
Prior to this loss, Williams had been 25-3 in major singles semifinals, with all three defeats coming from former world #1s. However, this loss in no way diminishes Williams’ success this season, at the U.S. Open, or in tennis history. She has achieved numerous comeback wins, but she has also experienced losses in which she has exhibited worse tennis than we saw during this semifinal matchup. The press has created so much pressure and hysteria surrounding this moment that the tennis community has been compelled to obsess over this loss instead of celebrating Williams’ run at this U.S. Open and her outstanding season as a whole.
While in the third set Williams’ mental strategy crumbled and her unforced error count rose, she did total sixteen aces and fifty winners, stats that indicate well-played moments. Ultimately, it was not Williams’ errors, but Vinci’s aggression and consistency, that earned the Italian the victory that she described as “the best moment of (her) life.”
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