Serena Williams must face up to the reality that she’s 39

Saturday February 20 2021
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Japan's Naomi Osaka (L) gives a hug to Serena Williams of the US after their women's singles semi-final match on day eleven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 18, 2021. AFP PHOTO

By Guest Writer

The late submission to Naomi Osaka, the lingering look at the Rod Laver Arena before walking off, the fleeing of her press conference in tears. 
Where once Serena Williams gave off a faintly intimidating air there was, instead, a sense of vulnerability as she departed the Australian Open.

There will be an American in today’s women’s final, but it will be the relatively obscure figure of Jennifer Brady.
As she enters the final phase of her career 39 year-old Williams has to accept that, since she last won a Grand Slam four years ago, a younger generation has arrived who do not fear her. 

Osaka seems to relish the challenge , as evidenced in a 6-3 6-4 victory. She now faces the late-blooming Brady, who beat fellow outsider Karolina Muchova.
If Williams ever loses her composure in a news conference, it is usually because she has been angered by something. This time it was down to sadness and disappointment, triggered by a gentle inquiry about her future: “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” she responded.
She choked up when asked about her self-confessed surfeit of unforced errors: “I don’t know… I’m done,” she said as she got up to leave.

Of course, she is not done chasing Margaret Court’s Grand Slam singles record, she just meant she was done with that particular interview as awkwardly as she had chosen to.
Neither will wish to tarnish themselves by continually losing to lesser players, although that has hardly happened here with Williams. Osaka has shown again that on hard courts, she is best player in the world today.
Those who know Roger Federer best believe that he will continue on into next year, assuming he is clear of the knee issues that have been dogging him. They are not ruling out the chance of the Swiss adding to his record-tying 20 Grand Slam singles.

But if she is not done, what of Williams?
Williams – who began her trip to Australia by referencing the longevity of 43 year-old Tom Brady (no relation) – may go on too, although a significant potential factor with her would be the desire to have another child.
When she came back after giving birth to her daughter Olympia in September 2017, it seemed only a matter of time before she equalled Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams.

In the eleven Majors she has played in since then, she has reached four finals and two semi-finals. An impressive tally, but on the biggest occasions there is always someone willing to take her down.
Sometimes that someone has been as obscure as China’s Wang Qiang in Melbourne last year, other times favourable contenders considered rising stars in Angelique Kerber, Sofia Kenin, or Bianca Andreescu.

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The presence of a modest crowd, as Melbourne was reprieved from its latest lockdown, was not enough to fire her up for the bizarre conclusion to the match.
Osaka double faulted three times to see the match levelled at 4-4 in the second, but suddenly the American conceded the next eight points to hand the result on a platter. It is hard to believe she would wish to depart big-time tennis on that faintly embarrassing note.

The other semi-final was a much better contest. Remarkably, Brady was one of those forced into full lockdown upon arrival in Australia due to a positive test on her flight, not allowed out of her room to practice for two weeks.
A former college player who quit UCLA to turn pro, she is clearly the resourceful type. Yet she does not have the class of Osaka, the American-reared Japanese player, who has won all three of the hard court Grand Slam finals she has played.

By Mike Dickson

This slightly edited article was originally published by Daily Mail, UK. Dickson is a senior tennis correspondent

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