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14 Jul 2016

Serena Williams defying age with another Grand Slam win

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July 14, 2016 Category: Sports Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Serena Williams at 2016 French Open  (Jimmie48 Photography / Shutterstock.com)

By Chris Murray

As I watched Serena Williams defeat Angelique Kerber in straight sets at Wimbledon last Saturday, tying her with Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era with 22, I couldn’t help but think that she has to be the most dominant player in her 30s in the history of tennis.

For the record, it was the ninth title that the 34-year-old Williams has won since turning 30. That’s more than the great Martina Navratilova who was 33 when she won the last of the three singles titles she won since hitting that magic number.

You see, in tennis, 30 is considered old. To some, the mid-to-late 20s is heading toward over-the-hill status.

But if you saw Williams close out Kerber in the final game, you saw a woman who doesn’t appear to have lost a step in her 30s. She still had the blistering serve that comes in at somewhere between 115 and 120 miles per hour.  Even at 34, Williams’s strong serve is still a nightmare for her opponents.

What’s even more remarkable about Serena’s achievement is that she’s reached the final of one of the four Grand Slam tournaments—the Australian Open, the French Open, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon—seven out of the last eight times since turning 30 in 2014. Before winning at Wimbledon, Williams reached the finals of the Australian and French Opens.

She’s also won all four Grand Slam events since turning 30 and was on the verge of capturing the calendar year Grand Slam before losing in the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Open.

While she fell short of an accomplishment that very few people have actually pulled off, the fact that she came that close is still an incredible achievement, considering that many of the women who were she and her sister Venus’s contemporaries when they joined the tour are now retired.

To me, Williams is the tennis equivalent to former middle and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins who was fighting for titles well into his 40s and 50s.  Scribes like Yours Truly kept calling for him to retire because he wasn’t going to be able to beat guys younger, stronger and faster and he kept proving us wrong.

The idea of challenging old “Father Time” made Hopkins a compelling figure in sports and it’s adding to Serena’s legend in the sport of tennis.  Her real opponents are not only the young kids like Sloane Stephens or Svetlana Kuznetsova, it’s old “Father Time” and like Hopkins, Williams is proving her arms are not too short to out volley the old guy with the beard and sickle.

In a career with its share of controversy, injuries and a scare from a pulmonary embolism she was diagnosed with back in 2011, Williams has lifted her game to an even higher level and has come to dominate tennis in a way that few have able to do.

Williams credits her coach Patrick Mouratoglou who helped with her balance when she hit the ball. He felt that Williams was hitting too many balls while she was off balance. Mouratoglou is also credited for helping Williams keep her mental edge throughout matches.

After losing three straight Grand-Slam finals dating back to the 2015 U.S. Open, some tennis observers were talking about how age was finally catching up to Williams. But at Wimbledon this year, Williams had just enough to finish off her opponents when it looked like things were going the other way.

In her second round Wimbledon match against fellow American Christina McHale, Williams dropped the first set and seemed to be on the verge of being upset, but used her guts, guile and that wicked serve of hers to march through the rest of the draw.

After winning the singles title, Williams came back later in the day to help 35-year-old Venus win the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles title.  That’s how you gang up on Father Time.

Williams will get two more chances to defy age at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro and at the U.S. Open.  If she wins the U.S. Open, she will surpass Graf for the most in the Open era.

Watching an athlete fight the inevitable ravages always makes for compelling theatre.

It’s even more compelling to watch them beat it.

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