Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Blessing In Disguise

Serena Williams withdrew from Cincinnati with right toe aggravation. Here's why this is the best news possible for Serena and her fans.

First of all, my apologies to anyone who was in Cincinnati just to get a glimpse of Serena Williams in action on a tennis court. Sightings of Serena live and in person on an American hard court are about as rare as glimpsing Siberian Tigers in southeast Russia, so it's always a bummer to miss out on the chance, especially when you've traveled far from home.

But for the rest of us, particularly those lucky ones like me who have already basked in the glory of Serena this summer, we can put our own desires aside and recognize that Serena's premature departure from the draw in Cincinnati is absolutely the best thing for her, and for her chances winning her 14th Grand Slam singles title at the 2011 US Open.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the women in pursuit of US Open glory, things just got a little tougher.

While there might be a modicum of concern about Serena's aggravated toe, the underlying theme in her abbreviated press conference today was that Serena was a) satisfied with her form at the moment and b) is ready to focus primarily on the only thing she needs to focus on -- her fitness heading into New York.

There's also c) the fact that Serena wants to attend Kim Kardashian's wedding in California this weekend, but as long as she doesn't dance like a fool -- and I mean that literally -- the aggravated toe should be fine come Labor day.

As the 90-second presser wore on, Serena even went so far as to call her "aggravation" a "blessing in disguise," stating, when asked, that the withdrawal would actually make her chances at the US Open better. "I'll have more opportunity to rest up, and to get to one-hundred percent healthy, which could be a very dangerous thing," said Williams.


Toe concerns notwithstanding, the pull-out by Serena is a bold masterstroke by her camp that will buy Serena time to continue working on her fitness while avoiding overplaying, and over exposure to her opponent's scouting. It will allow Serena time to do what she does better than any other player on tour: to go prepare for a Grand Slam on her own terms. Serena has done this before, and while some players need excessive match play to feel ready for a big event, Serena has always been a player who seems to benefit more from hitting hoppers full of balls in a secluded top-security practice enclave than she does from playing matches.

For those who are concerned that Serena's toe might actually be an issue at the US Open: watch the video above, and ask yourself, does this look or sound like a player who is worried at all about her health? I think not. This whole summer -- call it the Summer of Serena if you will -- was designed with one thing in mind: peaking in New York and erasing the bitter memories of the 2009 meltdown vs. Clijsters.

Now that Serena has all of her confidence back, has regained her feel for the ball and her feel for dominating anybody and everybody who takes the court against her, the plan calls for retreating from the microscope and making the machine even stronger than it was in the last 12 matches. Expect her to serve better than she has all summer in New York, and expect her to be more fit than she has all summer too.

If anything, this blessing disguise has made Serena an even stronger favorite for the US Open. While other players get lost in the madness of the blistering-hot American summer, caught up with chasing titles and earning points, Serena has wanted only one thing since the hardcourt season started.

Now that it's in her sights, she's going to ramp it up further, in an attempt to peak -- once again -- when it really matters.

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