FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS
By Luke Jensen, ESPN tennis analyst
Serena Williams has stunned the tennis world with her semifinal run at the Australian Open. Questions about her lack of play, commitment and fitness have surrounded her throughout. Thankfully, ESPN tennis analyst Luke Jensen was here to answer five burning questions about Serena.
How has Serena Williams made it this far as an unseeded player?
She is still Serena Williams. Brett Favre is still Brett Favre. The greats are the greats. If you put them in a situation in which they need to win, they most often do. The road is going to be rockier now than in their glory days, but great players find a way to win. When athletes are pressed, when they have something to prove, they can become dangerous. Just because Williams is unseeded doesn't mean she can't hang with the best. She's one of the greatest to play in our era and is still young.
How has her lack of fitness not affected her?
Serena Williams is clearly not in fighting shape. Muhammad Ali wasn't in fighting shape, but was still the champion. He found a way to win. This girl is insane when it comes to finding the right time to strike and execute. Serena likes to compete. Coming down here for one tournament, she can get away with it. If she plans on playing a successful full season on tour, though, she will need to drop the pounds. Look at the pictures of her in her glory days. She was in tiptop shape. The fact is that her opponents need to be unbelievable mentally and physically strong in order to get by her. When you look up and realize your opponent is Serena Williams, whether she is in shape or not, it's scary.
How intimidating is Serena to her opponents?
There's no doubt how intimidating she is. Just when she walks around the grounds, you can feel her presence. When you have that much hardware in a trophy case, it's hard not to command that respect. The thing about Jelena Jankovic and Shahar Peer (the last two players Williams defeated) is that they can get hot, but in lesser-known tournaments. It's a different ballgame when you play a major. It's the Super Bowl of tennis. When you have to serve out a match against a champion, you need to bring something else to the table. What I have noticed about Serena is that she is learning her opponents as the match progresses. Her opponents also need to fight back the weight of the shot coming off Serena's racket. In the end, that's why she is able to win so many of these matches. She's relentless and her opponents can feel it.
How will she fare against Nicole Vaidisova, her next opponent?
I think Serena will win. It won't be easy, though. Vaidisova, though only 17, has been around the block. While she too may fall victim to Serena, this is going to be a challenge. Vaidisova was a French Open semifinalist last year. She is extremely dangerous and has a big serve. This girl is knocking on the door, much like Sharapova was when she won Wimbledon at 17 two years ago. She's beaten Venus before. She is a big ball-striker, but Serena will once again find a way to win. To take it a step further, in my opinion, Serena is the favorite to win the whole tournament.
What is Serena's outlook for the season?
Assuming she stays healthy, everything is possible, whether it's on clay, grass or hard courts. If her knee holds up and her ankles do as well, she will be successful. For Serena, the question isn't whether or not she can win, but can she stay injury-free. She needs to play more tournaments and get back into tennis shape. Obviously, she is a lethal ball-striker, as is evident here in Australia, but there are always going to be health concerns. There's no reason to think she can't become the No. 1 player in the world if she makes a strong commitment to play and get in shape.