Tue Jun 21 10:11am EDT
When Serena Williams dropped the second set of her first-round match at Wimbledon, Dick Enberg and Chris Evert speculated during the ESPN broadcast that she was on her way out of the tournament. Her opponent, Aravane Rezai, looked fresher, while Serena labored to get to shots and made grunting noises that sounded less like the normal shrieks of the game and more like the byproduct of impending exhaustion. Would Serena's long layoff send her packing early at the All England Club?
The four-time champion dominated the decisive third set 6-1 and advanced to the second round of the Grand Slam event. When she sat down on the bench after the match, she broke down in tears. They continued through her live television interview with the BBC:
It was a rare display of true emotion from Williams, who spent the past year recovering from a foot injury and a health scare with blood clots. Except for the occasional temper tantrums on the court, Serena rarely lets her guard down enough to show her true feelings. Like with a majority of star athletes, there's a veneer around most of what she says. Though she may give off the appearance that she says what she's thinking, it's always condensed into banal, interchangeable soundbites.
To hear Serena let it all out in such a cathartic way after this match was refreshing. Before when she would say something like "I love tennis," it seemed like it was something her PR rep told her to say. When she said it Tuesday, it was genuine.
Serena has always loved the game of tennis. Sometimes she made you wonder whether she loved it as much as other pursuits in her life. Not today though. Maybe she didn't realize how much the game meant to her until there was the possibility that she might never play it again.
But play it again she did and play it again she will, later this week in a second-round match against Simona Halep. Don't expect any tears if she wins this time. Now that she's got the first one out of the way, Serena has her sights set on winning far more than that at the All England Club.
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