Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

This Is What It Looks Like When Serena Williams Takes Over

Illustration for article titled This Is What It Looks Like When Serena Williams Takes Over
Photo: Alessandra Tarantino (AP)

Momentum shifts in tennis are common, often slight, and always tenuous. Good tennis players capitalize on these tiny shifts—an unlucky bounce, an untimely double fault, a net cord. Great players, though, force the change themselves. That’s what Serena Williams did in her second-round French Open match against Australian Ash Barty.


Williams started the match playing tight, error-riddled tennis. At the end of the first set, which she lost 3-6, Williams had racked up 12 unforced errors and only three winners, and failed to earn any break points. The first game of the second set was even worse. Barty hit a winner, Williams dumped a swinging volley into the net, hit a backhand into the net, and then swatted a forehand into the net, to lose the game at love. It was one of single worst games of tennis I have ever seen Williams play.

Disappointing, I thought, but after all, it was only her second Grand Slam match since returning from giving birth to her daughter. And she had won her first-round match against Krystyna Pliskova. Maybe she’ll be ready for Wimbledon, I figured.

Williams, though, clearly wasn’t thinking about Wimbledon, and in the second game of the second set she morphed into a different player. After a huge backhand return winner, Williams let out a scream that sounded like equal parts celebration and frustration. Three points later, she strung together a rally that set her up with a put-away volley and gave her a break point. Another big yell. She converted the break, and it was as if she had flipped a switch. Williams went on to win the next three games and the set, 6-3.

In the third set, her footwork was faster, she was serving better, and hitting for the lines. Barty stayed sharp, but Williams took the set 6-4.

So what changed? How did she manage to turn herself, and the match, around?

“I just said I gotta be better, I gotta fight harder,” Williams said in her post-match interview. “I didn’t want to go out like this.”

Reporter at Deadspin.