WIMBLEDON, England – Between sniffles and tears after her earliest Grand Slam loss in more than six years, Serena Williams appeared to have a moment of clarity.
Just a couple of days earlier, after a second straight escape at Wimbledon, Williams was stone-faced as she talked about still being the favorite and having a mental edge over everyone else.
Was she trying to convince others or herself?
Now, that stoic veneer gone after a 6-3, 7-6 (4) defeat against 85th-ranked Jill Craybas in the third round, Williams acknowledged for the first time that perhaps she couldn’t get by on talent and reputation alone.
Perhaps she needed to rededicate herself to tennis.
Perhaps she needed to get in better shape.
Perhaps – gasp! – she needed to actually get out there and work on her game.
“I definitely think it’s important for me to practice harder than what I have been,” Williams said. “I’ve never been big on practicing. I’ve kind of just been all about playing.”
When action resumes Monday at the All England Club after the middle Sunday’s traditional day of rest, it will be Craybas facing Venus Williams for a spot in the quarterfinals, instead of another Williams vs. Williams meeting at a major.
The other women’s round-of-16 matchups include No. 1 Lindsay Davenport vs. four-time major finalist Kim Clijsters, defending champion Maria Sharapova vs. No. 16 Nathalie Dechy, and No. 6 Elena Dementieva vs. No. 9 Anastasia Myskina in a rematch of the 2004 French Open final.
Much attention has been paid to the elder Williams’ decline in recent seasons, all the way down to 16th in the rankings after four full years without a major championship. But this time it’s little sis who looks far removed from the days of being No. 1 and winning seven Grand Slam titles, including four in a row in 2002-03.
Although she wouldn’t use it as an excuse, Williams was hampered by a left ankle injury, one that had limited her to one match in more than two months before arriving in England. More telling was the way she gasped for air after lengthy points even early in the match against Craybas, much as she did while being extended to three sets by 104th-ranked Angela Haynes in the first round and 124th-ranked Mara Santangelo in the second.
Since winning the Australian Open at the start of the season, Williams is without a title and has just 10 victories – none against a top 10 player – and five losses.
Williams vowed that will change.
“I definitely feel by the U.S. Open I’ll be in hopefully a lot better shape. I’ll be practicing until then. I definitely think I’ll be ready for that,” she said.
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