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By Chris Oddo
Photo Credit: Clive Brunskill/ Getty
Serena Williams after quartefinal 2012 Wimbledon
(July 3, 2012)—There were a few scary moments for Serena Williams in rounds three and four of The Championships. She was a few games from being knocked out of the draw by both Zheng Jie and Yaroslava Shvedova in those tense affairs, but now that she's passed each test with flying colors, Serena Williams has emerged as the favorite to win a fifth Wimbledon title on Saturday.

But there is still one tennis expert who doesn't see Serena as the favorite to win yet.

That would be Serena herself.

"I have absolutely nothing to lose," said Williams after her 13-ace 6-3, 7-5 victory over defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. "I can just go out there and enjoy myself and have fun."

Nothing to lose? Who does Serena Williams think she is, Tamira Paszek?

Whether she believes it or not, Williams is clearly talking up the fact that she is the underdog at The Championships, at the tournament that Serena and her big sister Venus have owned for the last 10 years.

Is it true?

Perception, more often than not, is reality.

So maybe it is.

And if it is, then Victoria Azarenka is going to have to deal with a very dangerous underdog on Thursday when they meet in the Wimbledon semifinals.

When asked if she agreed with the fact that people see her as the favorite to win after her impressive thrashing of Kvitova, Serena wasn't taking the bait. "I don't think about it. I just think I can do the best I can," she said.

It is often said that a champion's mind is as important as a champion's body, and if that's the case, Serena's psychological approach to the business end of Wimbledon might make the difference for her this year.

It would be easy for her to get sucked into all the favorite talk, but the thirteen-time Grand Slam champion understands that it will be easier for her to play the kind of loose, care-free power tennis that will get her the title if she believes she's the underdog.

"She's been so successful already, like I said, winning a Grand Slam," Williams said of Azarenka. "Going against a player like that, I feel like she almost has an advantage, I guess. So, you know, that makes me really relaxed and I can just kind of hit."

Azarenka with an advantage over Serena? Can these really be the musings of one of the best players to ever grace the Wimbledon grass with her presence, a sure-thing Hall of Famer who just last week took sole possession of the all-time lead among active players when it comes to Grand Slam wins?

Apparently, yes.

But don't be fooled by all the posturing. Never mind the underdog talk, beneath that fragile exterior lies an extremely confident woman.

And with each impressive performance, the memories of Serena's recent failings on the Grand Slam stage fade further into the distance.

Her loss to Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon in her second tournament back from a near-death experience last year?

Gone.

Her meltdown-tainted loss to Samantha Stosur in the US Open final?

Gone.

Inexplicably uninspired losses to Ekaterina Makarova and Virginie Razzano in the last two Slams? 

Fading, fading, gone.

All that is left now is a serving guru who has more aces than all but six men in the draw, and is gaining confidence as quickly as she is locking up love holds.

She's confident, and she’s calm. It’s a lethal combination.

“Sometimes I put pressure on myself and I'm really amped-up too much,” she said “Sometimes I just need to relax and smile and just like take a deep breath.”

Deep breathing aside, all that is left now is two more matches before Serena Williams becomes the first 30-plus-year-old to win a Grand Slam since 1990.

(Come to think of it, that's another good reason to believe that Serena is an underdog.)

It’s certainly not going to be easy, but if Williams can truly play like an underdog who believes she has nothing to lose in her next two matches, the gains could be extraordinary.

It's the classic reverse psychology play, and so far for Serena Williams, it's working just fine.

 

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