We always expect the greats to play great forever and it’s hard to see them finally slip and fall.
The Yankees were pained to see Mickey Mantle, his last few years in the Bronx and Mike Piazza wasn’t this Hall of Fame self as that seven year contract wore on at Shea Stadium.
We saw Joe Namath struggle and Patrick Ewing limp on the court.
And in tennis, we saw the greats start sliding down, from McEnroe, Connors, Everett and even Agassi.
Now, we may see Serena Williams’ downside.
To her credit, Serena didn’t make any excuses for her Semifinal loss to Karolina Pliskova, 6-2 7-6 (5), she just didn’t play well.
She could have blamed the schedule, which put her on court less than 24 hours after she beat Simona Halep in three sets.
“I don’t see how it’s not unfair,” she said. “Like, we play every single week. We play — I have been in Toronto or Montreal or Cincinnati where I play Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
“I mean, if I’m not used to playing this, and I really should think of something different. I’m not going to sit here and make an excuse, because that’s not me. Being a professional, if I can’t recover, then, you know, that’s that.”
She could have blamed her knee, which she said was hurt in the third round and “wasn’t able to move the way I wanted to.”
But give her credit, she just said she didn’t play well, which is why Pliskova is going to the finals.
This may be the new normal for Serena. After years of dominating the competition, she is finally losing a step out there, or maybe, the field is just catching up to her varsity. Williams is facing tougher competition, who would have been dominated a few years ago by the generational player.
She is going to be 35, which is a lifetime in tennis years. It’s amazing that she continues to play on such a high level. It may be the reason why matches like this one shock us, rather than shrug our shoulder when we look at the facts.
As Americans, Serena was our shining light in tennis. With the men’s side not doing much and finally some upstarts like Madison Keys and Sloane Stevens giving us hope on the women’s game, Williams was the one constant out there for the old U.S. of A.
The fields are filled with Europeans and even some Asians, who play tennis at the level we used to attain.
We still had Serena, our one A-Bomb to the rest of the world’s armies.
And now that is falling on the wayside. It’s obviously not her fault. Players get old. That’s sports and why we watch them.
The failure of American tennis to have the new wave behind Williams is why we are heartbroken when she loses.
However, none of this is Serena’s fault. She is getting up there and injuries happen.
“When you’re injured you’re thinking of other things when you should be just playing and thinking of your shots,” she said. “My mind was just a little bit everywhere. But it was what it was.”
Pliskova played better today and right now, Angelique Kerber is the top player in the world.
Those are just facts and if this happened to any other player, we would shrug it off and say that’s life.
But Serena is ours and frankly, our only hope the last few years in tennis.
She’s been so great and we want to hold onto the greatness. There’s nothing wrong with that, but remember, time ticks on.
Even for Williams, who is proving to be human, like the rest of us.
The bright side is greats have a run in them at the end. Connors did it in 1991, so did Agassi.
Serena will return, hopefully for not the last time.