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By Chris Oddo                          Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

After watching
Serena Williams fall to Ekaterina Makarova in the round of 16 at the Australian Open, it’s hard not to wonder about her future. Is this the beginning of the end for the 13-time Grand Slam singles champion, or will her listless performance in Melbourne be the final straw, the ultimate humiliation that will cause Serena to rise from the ashes of her own indifference as an even stronger, even more dominating player?
 
To say that she’s done seems harsh, but to expect a return to dominance might be a tad far-fetched.
 
Williams, a woman who has forged a reputation as one of the most invincible, most indomitable players to ever grace a tennis court, has clearly shed some of her mystique over the last year. Gone are the days when Serena could win matches on her reputation alone, and here are the days when the Bartoli’s and Stosur’s of the world see her as ripe for the upset. Some have said that Williams’ mystique alone was good for a few games a set, and now that she’s a lot more beatable in the eyes of her peers, it’s hard not to question how long she can remain relevant in a sport with so much up-and-coming talent.
 
So what must Williams do to capture more Slams? That is where opinions diverge. Sports Illustrated’s tennis seer Jon Wertheim wrote yesterday that Williams can no longer make it as a part-time player. “Her schedule, sparse in the best of times, has been pared to the four majors and the Olympics,” wrote a skeptical Wertheim. “Her chance for redemption won't come until late spring.”
 
“We will see if today's dismal result sharpens her resolve, whether it motivates her to make one last, earnest push toward the Evert-Graf-Navratilova corridor. Or whether this defeat further complicates what is already a complex relationship with the sport of tennis. This we know: she can't get away with doing this halfway anymore.”
 
It’s an interesting take on a complicated player, but the truth is that only Serena knows what it will take to get her game back into high gear. Let’s not forget that her earnest attempt to get more matches in before the Australian Open was thwarted by a severe ankle sprain in Brisbane a few weeks ago. And let’s also take into account that Serena is a woman who is still very much on the mend, having gone through a near-death experience due to a pulmonary embolism and related hematoma early last year, and having suffered through the loss of her longtime friend and family advisor Kevin Davis after a long bout with cancer in December.
 
Problems aside, at 30 years of age Williams still has ample time to tack on more Grand Slam titles. And an unexpected disappointment – call it a slice of humble pie – like the loss to Makarova might be the perfect tonic to fuel Williams to another level.
 
To write Williams off now, when she’s still on the mend both physically and spiritually, might be a big mistake. Then again, it might be naïve to think that Williams will ever be the supreme player that she was when she won her 13th Grand Slam on Wimbledon’s Centre Court in 2010.
 
Ultimately, the answers lie with Serena. Whether she plays eighty matches a year or eight, she’ll have to throw her heart and soul into reviving her game in order to have success. She’s past the point where she can sleepwalk through Grand Slam draws or tippy-toe through off-seasons, attending as many celebrity parties as practice sessions.
 
If there ever was one, now is the time for Serena to sever ties with her distracted, immature self, and make a commitment to the singular purpose of cementing her legacy, because as much as she’d like it to be, her work isn’t quite done yet.

 

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