By Chris Oddo / Monday, October 28, 2013
She's got power, precision and athleticism, but Serena Williams' biggest weapon is her fortitude.
Photo Source: AFP
A look back at the studs and duds from the tennis week that was...
Hero: Serena Williams
In a lot of ways, Serena Williams added another dimension to her dominance over the weekend in Istanbul. Many, including myself, have become jaded watching the sheer dominance that Williams has held over the field for the last year or two—frankly, it doesn't make for the most dramatic tennis when you are 99.9 percent sure who is going to come out on top when Serena plays (no matter who she plays, or on what surface). But in heroically overcoming a China-sized wall of fatigue at the end of a long, magnificent season, we got a real sense of what a struggle 2013 has been for Serena Williams.
10 Mindblowing Stats about Serena Williams 2013 Season
Williams makes it look so easy, and dominates all comers so routinely, that we tend to forget what type of grit and determination she—both mentally and physically—is putting into her tennis.
On Saturday, in a wobbly semifinal against Jelena Jankovic, and on Sunday in the final against Li Na, the notion that Williams is just breezing through one of the most dominant seasons of her transcendent career was laid bare and exposed as a fallacy. For this was no walk in the park for the 32-year-old 17-time Grand Slam champion. That much was made clear from the weary, watery look in her eyes as she stumbled and fumbled her way to victory in the season's final two matches.
In a season where we were able to witness Williams in all her profound, missile-launching glory on so many occasions, we were given a strange yet equally profound moment on the final weekend. The woman who typically wins with power, precision and pure physicality was stripped of all her weapons and forced to win two high-stakes matches with only her mental fortitude.
Turns out it was more than enough.
In tennis, the mind is a terrible thing to waste, and Serena Williams is not one to be profligate when it comes to what is her single most important and all-too-often overlooked characteristic—good, old-fashioned brainpower.
And there lies the crux of Williams' closing act in 2013. Had it not been for her determination, her grit, her mental toughness, her killer instinct, etc... Williams would not have won in Istanbul. What we haven't realized all season, because Willliams has made crushing opponents look so easy, is that Williams' mental power has been her driving force throughout the year.
Sure, her 78-4 record (ninth best single-season WTA winning percentage of all-time) has a lot to do with her rocket serve and booming groundstrokes, but Williams' serene, sumptuous 2013 has been a work of concentration and commitment more than anything else.
That is why the way that Williams won in Istanbul was the perfect send-off. For a season that was built on a foundation of will power, spirit, commitment and love for tennis, watching Serena wobble, exhausted and R&R deprived, was the most appropriate and most poignant ending we could have hoped for.
Other than Rafael Nadal, who is Serena's mental twin on the men's side, there is nobody else in the game—male or female—that possesses as much guts, as much moxie or as much desire. Williams would hold her ground against Li and eventually take her down in three sets. Go figure.
At 32, Williams' mettle was on display for all the world to see in 2013. We got many candid glimpses of her dominance, and they were awe inspiring. But the most beautiful win of all, in my opinion, was the ugly one that ended her season.
To watch another tennis player want to win that bad is simply inspirational. It may get boring to watch her dominate tennis sometimes, but that's our problem, not hers...
Zero: Victoria Azarenka
With the finish line so close, Vika played the fatigue card in a lackluster performance in Istanbul, losing two of three and failing to qualify for the semis. Let's hope she was watching Serena and learning about how to deal with fatigue.
Hero: Juan Martin del Potro
The Tower of Tandil won his second consecutive Swiss Indoors title, taking down a Swiss guy by the name of Federer in the final. Del Potro finishes the season with a 23-1 record in 500-level events, and hopefully he will parlay some of that confidence into a sterling performance at this year's World Tour Finals, and further down the road, at the Masters and Slams in 2014.
But Del Potro's heroism goes beyond tennis. The way the big man handled the awards ceremony in Basel, showing heartfelt respect for Roger Federer and the Swiss fans, was vintage Del Potro. His humble humanity, and the gratitude he expressed to fans is of the reasons that he is one of the most loved players in the game.
Hero: Roger Federer
The Mighty Fed was looking like his old self at times in Basel, and he rode a wave of crowd support all the way to the final in Basel. Maybe it could have been better, but what could not have been better is the fact that Federer reached his 10th career final in his hometown. Talk about giving the Swiss faithful their money's worth. Roger never lets them down. And he buys the ballboys and girls pizzas and eats it with them, which is always a nice touch.
Zero: Stan Wawrinka, Tommy Haas and Richard Gasquet
Each player passed up on a chance to grab some extra points in the race to London by losing their first match last week. But that's okay, the big points are in Paris, where the tour will be this week for the final Masters 1000 event of the season.
Hero: Li Na
Li may have fell short in the final to Serena Williams, but her run in Istanbul enabled her to leapfrog Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova to reach a career-high No. 3 in the rankings. It is the highest ranking achieved by an Asian tennis player in history.
Hero: Mikhail Youzhny
The Russian ended a personal 15-match losing streak against the top five when he defeated David Ferrer in the Valencia final for his 10th career final.
An absolutely great venue for tennis, and great support from fans, at Istanbul. The city and community have served admirably during their three-year stint as the host city of the WTA Championships. We can only hope that Singapore does it as well next season...