On Aug. 21, the same day that the women’s draw was announced, I asked Serena Williams at the Nike store on Mercer Street how she felt about her unlucky draw where she’s scheduled to play sister Venus in the quarters.
"Oh really?" she asked, sounding surprised. "No, I didn’t see it. So, hopefully one of us gets to the semis."
I tried to move the interview along and asked her about her tennis game, but she really couldn’t get past her misfortune in the draw.
"Um. You know. What do I want to do more consistently? I don’t know. I don’t know I just–I don’t know. I got a little disappointed when you said that quarter thing–I lost my train of thought."
It’s actually a bit of a startling thing for Serena to say. She prides herself on ignoring draws, and paying no attention to her future opponents. Her philosophy is a simple one: If she plays well, she’s unbeatable.
But then again, things haven’t been easy for Serena Williams recently. She hasn’t reached the semis at the U.S. Open since 2002, she hasn’t won a Grand Slam since 2007 Australian Open. Last year at the Open, she suffered an enormously rough loss to Justine Henin in the Quarters where she broke down in tears, and couldn’t muster any energy for questions from the media afterwards. It was also the third loss in a Grand Slam in 07 to her fierce ex-rival, Henin (a player who shocked everyone with her decision to retire earlier this year).
With Serena, it’s easy to say her heart isn’t in it, but that’s too facile an argument now. She’s playing, consistently and often. Simply put, the problem with the 26-year-old is that she doesn’t win the big match the way she used to.
And now, given her disappointment with the news that she has to play an early match against Venus Williams–the player on tour who is best as neutralizing Serena’s game, particularly mentally–she’s almost admitting how vulnerable she really has become.