No one would have placed a bet on Serena Williams losing her number one ranking this year, considering she had close to double the number of ranking points the number two ranked player had in August last year. Struggling to play as many tournaments as before, could age have caught up with Serena?
Serena had a 38-6 win/loss record this year, which would be considered very impressive for other players. However, by Serena’s standards, it is definitely a disappointing performance especially compared to her previous years, like in 2013 when she had a 78-4 record and in last year when she had a 53-3 record. Four of her losses came to players outside of the Top 10, in matches that Serena should have been winning as the world number one. To be able to be ranked number one for the most of the year despite playing just 8 tournaments, just shows how consistent and competent Williams is, to be able to earn enough ranking points to do so.
Williams managed to hit more than 300 aces in a calendar year for the fifth consecutive time since 2011, but this time she failed to be the aces leader for the WTA for the second straight year, just falling behind Karolina Pliskova by over 200 aces. Nevertheless, Williams cemented her position as one of the best servers in tennis when she led the WTA in the number of First Serve Points won, Service Points won and Service Games won. Williams also came in 9th on the list when it comes to the percentage of return games won, winning 42.7% of them.
Serena’s season does not have many high points, considering she only played in 8 tournaments in the whole year. Nevertheless, she reached at least the semifinals of all four Grand Slams, and the finals of Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.
Entering the Australian Open, she had just recovered from an inflamed left knee that forced her to retire and withdraw from the Hopman Cup in Perth. However, Williams showed no signs of the injury at the Australian Open, strolling to the final without losing a single set. She faced a tough opponent in the first round, having being drawn against one of the highest ranked unseeded players, Camila Giorgi. She powered past through her in a very tight match, with one break in each set deciding the match. She then only lost 8 games in her next 3 matches, against Hsieh Su-Wei and Russian youngsters in Daria Kasatkina and Margarita Gasparyan. Up against another Russian in Maria Sharapova, whom she has an 18-2 record against, and she managed to recover from an early break down to win the match in straight sets to reach her seventh Australian Open semifinal.
Serena then reached her 2nd final of the year in as many tournaments in Indian Wells, but once again, she lost in the final, this time to Victoria Azarenka. Her run to the final was once again very impressive, not dropping a set in the process. She eased past Laura Siegemund in the second round, and Yulia Putintseva in the third round despite a very tough first set. Then, she defeated Kateryna Bondarenko in the fourth round to continue her streak of reaching at least the quarterfinals in every main draw appearance at Indian Wells. Facing a determined defending champion in Simona Halep, she was just too good for the Romanian, strolling to the semifinals after winning in straight sets. In the semifinals, Williams faced a spirited Agnieszka Radwanska, but she maintained her perfect record against Radwanska by defeating her in a very tight two-set match, with Radwanska playing her best tennis. However, she lost to an in-form Victoria Azarenka in the final.
Serena finally won her first title of the year in Rome, defeating compatriot Madison Keys in the final. She had an easy path to the final, only facing one seeded player in Svetlana Kuznetsova at the quarterfinals, whom she managed to get revenge on for her loss in the Miami Open after she managed to control the proceedings and triumph in just 51 minutes. She then defeated surprise semifinalist Irina-Camelia Begu in the semifinal to reach the final.
Serena reached her 2nd Grand Slam final of the year at Roland Garros, hoping to win a 22nd Grand Slam title. At the rain-plagued Roland Garros, she faced her first tough opponent in 26th seed Kristina Mladenovic, prevailing in a very tough match after two hours and 11 minutes which involved more than 2 hours of a rain delay. She easily reached the quarterfinals, defeating Elina Svitolina in a match where she gave her 2 breadsticks (6-1, 6-1). Down a set and a break, Serena managed to produce a spirited comeback against Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals to reach her fifth French Open semifinal. The semifinals saw her facing the surprise semifinalist Kiki Bertens, and Serena, as the heavy favourite, finished the match as the winner in a very hard-fought match. Despite looking in good form, Serena lost in the final to Garbiñe Muguruza in a repeat of the 2015 Wimbledon final.
She managed to reach her third Grand Slam final of the year at Wimbledon, and finally won her first Grand Slam of the year to win her 22nd overall, to tie the record of that of Steffi Graf’s. Down a break in the final set, Serena managed to whisker past Christina McHale in the second round, after suffering a major scare. She defeated 3 Russians in a row from the fourth round to the semifinals, coming from a break down late in the first set to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova, and prevailing against a very consistent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a match that was decided by just a break of serve in each set. She then defeated surprise semifinalist Elena Vesnina in just 48 minutes, the fastest Wimbledon semifinal of all time. In a repeat of their final at the Australian Open earlier in the year, Serena was able to defeat Angelique Kerber in straight sets to win her 22nd Grand Slam title, and tie the record with Steffi Graf for the number of Grand Slam singles titles won.
The US Open saw Williams strolling to the quarterfinals, defeating Ekaterina Makarova in a tough first round match, Vania King, Johanna Larsson and Yaroslava Shvedova in the fourth round. In her quarterfinal, Serena faced an in-form Simona Halep who threatened to create a big upset. Nevertheless, Serena maintained her composure to defeat Halep in front of her home crowd. Reaching her fourth Grand Slam semifinal of the year, Serena suffered another shock loss to Karolina Pliskova in straight sets to gift Kerber the world number one ranking.
Serena failed to win her 22nd Grand Slam title in her first two attempts this year, as she lost in the final of the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber and in the French Open to Garbiñe Muguruza. In the Australian Open final, she made a lot of unforced errors, and played her worst match of the campaign against Kerber. In the rain-plagued Roland Garros, she lost to an on-fire Muguruza in the final, being outplayed by the Spaniard. She might be finally feeling the pressure to tie the record with Steffi Graf for the number of Grand Slams won, but she finally tied the record with Steffi Graf at the Wimbledon championships by defeating Kerber in the final, exacting revenge on her for the loss in Melbourne.
She also disappointingly lost in the third round to Elina Svitolina at the Rio Olympics and in the opening round of the doubles against eventual bronze medallists Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova. She missed a rare opportunity to win a medal and it would most probably be her last Olympics as she would be 39 years old when the next Olympics, held in Tokyo, will take place in 2020.
Serena also lost the number one ranking to Angelique Kerber at the US Open, ending her streak of 186 consecutive weeks at the No.1 spot, which coincidentally tied Steffi Graf’s record too.
After a disappointing US Open campaign like last year, she withdrew from all the tournaments in the rest of the year. Many people doubted her motivation and will to play as many tournaments as before, with some people saying that age has caught up with her.
Season Grade: C
It has been a fairly disappointing season for Serena, who has not met many expectations this year, especially after losing the number one ranking. Her next goal is definitely to win another Grand Slam title and hold the record for the most number of Grand Slams won alone.