LONDON – Nothing drives Serena Williams the way disappointment does.
“It’s the biggest factor for me. Like, if I lose, all hell breaks loose, literally. Literally! I go home, I practice harder, I do more,” she said. “I don’t like to lose. … I hate losing more than I love winning. It could be a game of cards – I don’t like it. I really don’t like it.”
Well, the way Williams has been playing tennis lately, there’s been very little not to like. When Wimbledon starts Monday, she will be an overwhelming favorite to win her sixth title at the All England Club and second in a row. Williams enters the grass-court Grand Slam tournament 43-2 in 2013 and on a 31-match winning streak, the longest on the women’s tour in a single season in 13 years.
“It happens in sports: You’re going to lose. I learned that you’re not going to win all of them. And there have been a few matches that I wasn’t disappointed in,” said Williams, who at 31 is the oldest player to be ranked No. 1 in WTA history.
“But there were some that I was disappointed in,” she added, “and it’s actually helped me to get better.”
Case in point: A little more than a year ago, Williams arrived at the French Open unbeaten for the season on red clay and anticipating a charge at the title. Instead, she lost in the first round, the only opening-match exit from a major tournament in her career.
“It really was a shock for her. She really worked on rebuilding herself to become perhaps stronger than ever,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who began collaborating with Williams shortly after that defeat.
Since that dark day at Roland Garros, Williams is 74-3, including trophies at three of the past four Slams and the WTA Championships, plus gold at the London Olympics.
That run of nearly uninterrupted success began 12 months ago at Wimbledon, and most recently resulted in her first French Open championship in 11 years, with a straight-sets victory over defending champion Maria Sharapova.
There are four men, meanwhile, who all have real reason to like their chances, a quartet that’s combined to collect 32 of the past 33 Grand Slam tournaments: defending champion Roger Federer, owner of a record 17 Grand Slam titles, including seven at Wimbledon; No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won Wimbledon in 2011; two-time champion Rafael Nadal, whose record eighth French Open trophy this month raised his career haul to 12 major titles; and Andy Murray, the runner-up last year at the All England Club and reigning U.S. Open champion who wants to give Britain its first male title winner at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
Federer and Nadal could meet in the quarterfinals, with the winner potentially getting Murray in the semifinals, because all three wound up on the same side of the draw. Djokovic, meanwhile, is on the other half and at most would need to beat only one of that other trio to earn the championship.
Some people would say that I was lucky with the draw,” Djokovic said. “But look, you know, it’s a Grand Slam, so I don’t think that there is any easy way to the title.”
Williams, though, stands alone atop the women’s game at the moment.
Her serve, which she can consistently hit at more than 120 mph, is clearly unrivaled, and she leads the tour this season in aces, service games won, break points saved and first-serve points won. Her return is terrific, too, and Williams leads the way in first-serve return points won, while ranking second in return games won.
“I don’t see a weakness,” three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said. “She’s playing the best tennis of her career. She’s not only in the best place I’ve ever seen, I think she’s the best player that’s ever lived. I said that a while ago, but she’s cementing it in everyone’s mind. She’s just a level above anyone. There’s no doubt about it.”