Four major finals have come and gone since her last title four-and-a-half years ago in Melbourne. The last of those defeats came two seasons ago.
Tennis came to a grinding halt during the pandemic and Williams, who turns 40 in September, has not reached a final since.
Two semi-final defeats to Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka, in New York and Melbourne, are nothing to be ashamed of for most but for a serial winner like Serena – who remains agonisingly close to boasting more Slams than anyone else in history – failing to get over the line must sting.
Enter Wimbledon. She has reached the final in each of her last four appearances at The Championships and many believe it’s the surface where she still remains vastly superior to the majority of players on the WTA Tour.
‘I still feel optimistic,’ her coach Patrick Mouratoglou tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I still think that Serena is Serena. When she processes things like Serena does, I don’t think anyone can stop her.
‘We haven’t been able to find the real Serena back yet, the one that finds her best tennis in the biggest matches. She’s played some good matches here and there.
‘The tennis is here, I think. It’s about being ready for the Grand Slams. For example, at Roland Garros she wasn’t ready. We didn’t have enough time to get the form needed.
‘That’s the thing Serena needs, to be ready and to have the former Serena mentality, to have her back. A lot of things have changed in her life and she still needs to find a way to navigate and get back to who she is.’
While few would have picked Williams to win the French Open, statistically her weakest Slam, the manner in which the draw opened up – all four of the semi-finalists were major semi-final debutants – could have left her team with a feeling of regret.
‘Yes, I understand that point,’ adds Mouratoglou. ‘But I knew she wasn’t ready. She was more ready than in Rome but still not ready enough to win a Grand Slam.
‘I think she’s gone quite far considering how ready she was. But if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. That’s how it is. I don’t have regrets thinking, “Oh shit, we had an opportunity”. I think it’s all about her.
‘You can put the hardest draw on the planet, if Serena is ready, she’s going to crush everyone. That’s what I think.
‘I have respect for all the players but Serena is different. It’s more about finding her. If she finds herself, the way she is when she’s Serena then whoever is in the draw is not going to be a threat.’
Serena Williams Grand Slam results since 2017 Aus Open win
2018 French Open: Round four (W/O Sharapova) 2018 Wimbledon: Final (l. Kerber) 2018 US Open: Final (l. Osaka) 2019 Aus Open: Quarter-final (l. Pliskova) 2019 French Open: Round three (l. Kenin) 2019 Wimbledon: Final (l. Halep) 2019 US Open: Final (l. Andreescu) 2020 Aus Open: Round three (l. Wang) 2020 US Open: Semi-final (l. Azarenka) 2020 French Open: Round two (W/O Pironkova) 2021 Aus Open: Semi-final (l. Osaka) 2021 French Open: Round four (l. Rybakina)
Williams spent 20 days in June at Mouratoglou’s base in the south of France, with her sister Venus joining for a few days of training. The obvious question remains: is she ready now?
‘She’s much more ready than Roland Garros,’ Mouratoglou responds. ‘We had two more weeks. Every day is a day for her to be more ready.
‘Grass is better for her game. But the most important thing for her is who is going to be the person on that tennis court.’
Williams is not the only female player Mouratoglou will be keeping a close eye on. He also acts as a mentor for Coco Gauff, the 20th seed from the United States, who takes on Britain’s Fran Jones in the first round.
Gauff, 17, arrives fresh from her first Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros, although – like Serena – it perhaps felt as if it was an opportunity missed.
‘Yeah, first of all, she expected to win the tournament so she is disappointed,’ says Mouratoglou. ‘I get it and I like it. She’s always been like that, that’s one of the reasons why she is so good.
‘When she qualified for Wimbledon for the first time of her life [in 2019] and beat Venus, in her mind she would win the tournament. That’s great. That’s how you should think.
‘It’s easy to say it but not easy to believe it, it’s a different story. When you’re able to take away any kind of limit and think you’re going to go all the way, it’s a special asset. So yes, she was disappointed to lose, for sure. Super disappointed.
‘It’s experience, it’s how you learn. There are a lot of lessons to take from that loss. She’s young, which isn’t an excuse because when you’re young you can still win, and by the way she’s winning a lot! She’s made enormous progress since January this year.
‘She’s now almost No. 20 in the world, such an improvement in terms of ranking but this improvement is a consequence of improvement on the court and she still has such a margin for improvement that makes working with her so exciting.
‘She’s already 20 and she can already be so much better everywhere. She’s already very good but it’s important how much better you can get. People can say, oh this is not good, this is not good, okay yeah, she’s 20 in the world and 17 years old, I’m happy there’s a lot of things we can improve. It’s not a negative, it’s great.’
Her opponent Jones – who has six fingers and seven toes – will make her debut at the tournament after remarkably establishing herself in the upper echelons of tennis, despite a rare genetic condition.
Jones, who was born with ectrodactyly-ectodermal dysplasia syndrome – a rare condition that causes developmental problems for feet and hands – revealed she had been inspired by Serena growing up, with the tennis great helping her ‘realise that humans don’t need to have limits’.
‘I don’t know her personally but I read her story and I can only say I have incredible respect for her,’ says Mouratoglou. ‘What she’s doing is unbelievable.
‘I can understand how she relates to Serena who has changed what people see as a reality. People say this is impossible and she’s done it.
‘Serena has done this many times in her career and I feel the same with Fran. Probably people will try to discourage you and tell you, “This is not possible for you” and some people, a few people, are able to say, “I don’t care what you’re telling me I cannot do because I’m going to do it”. And they do it.
‘This is the most inspiring thing for me, by far. These people are incredibly inspiring. All those people who push boundaries and are able to do things that are theoretically impossible with everyone around them telling them, “You’re not going to achieve it”.
‘How much character you need to handle this with all the people trying to discourage you, this is amazing. I have the biggest respect for them. She has 100% of my respect.’
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