Forgetful Serena Williams still thrives on the pressure


London: Imagine what it must be like to lose count of your Wimbledon titles. Serena Williams came into the interview room and found herself stumbling over this crucial detail.

Asked to clarify an earlier statement, in which she had suggested that she was playing with nothing to lose, Williams replied "I don't necessarily have to win another Wimbledon in my career, saying I won …. was it six times?"

"It was seven," came the answer from the assembled reporters. "OK," said Williams. "See, I don't even remember."

Williams has been superbly focused here, even if her footwork and ball-striking are not yet at their smoothest. On centre court in the third round, Kiki Mladenovic asked some searching questions. Yet Williams was never fazed.

She interrupted Mladenovic's early momentum at a crucial stage, breaking as her opponent served for the first set with the help of some crunching returns. Just over an hour later, she dominated the second-set tie-break to close out her 7-5, 7-6 win.

I don't think I did a good job of keeping in the moment and playing the person who was in front of me.

The bookies' favourite since Petra Kvitova's first-round exit, Williams suffered a few malfunctions on her usually trusty forehand, but shrugged them off without becoming demoralised.

Mladenovic, at No 62, is the highest-ranked player that Williams has faced to date. Her fourth-round opponent Evgeniya Rodina stands at a lowly No 120, and will probably tremble at the thought of sharing a court with the greatest player of this or any other generation.

It probably should have been Madison Keys, the 10th seed, who faced Williams in a fourth-round meeting on Monday. But Keys admitted after her three-set loss to Rodina that she had allowed her mind to skip ahead to the daunting prospect of Williams. As Keys put it, "I don't think I did a good job of keeping in the moment and playing the person who was in front of me."

Another win for Serena Williams.

Another win for Serena Williams.

When this point was raised with Williams herself, she replied "I'm glad someone admitted that. Every single match I play, whether I'm coming back from a baby or surgery, it doesn't matter. These young ladies, they bring a game that I've never seen before.

"I don't even scout as much, because it's a different game when they play me. That's what makes me great: I play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater."

Although Williams has enjoyed her most successful period since teaming up with coach Patrick Mouratoglou six years ago, her self-reliance on court contrasts with the uncertainty of so many other players when they're under pressure.

Martina Navratilova came up with an interesting argument on this score, as she discussed the "seedageddon" which has left only 14 of the top 32 players in the tournament after the first five days.

"Too many things are done for these players today," said Navratilova. "They don't do anything for themselves except for hitting the ball. They motion, and someone brings them a towel. I saw a player hold out her arm and someone applied sunblock. They don't have to take responsibility. Then they get out there [in a slam] and it's only them. And when the you-know-what hits the fan, and they have to make all these decisions – what shot to hit, how to adjust – they are not prepared."

Daily Telegraph, London

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