Serena Williams lost to Marion Bartoli, 6-3, 7-6, on Monday at Wimbledon, her first loss at the grass court event since 2008. Busted Racquet looks at the five biggest reasons for Serena's early exit in her comeback Grand Slam.
1. Sloppy groundstrokes. Serena had 19 unforced errors, about two-thirds of which were truly unforced. During routine rallies from the middle of the court, Serena was pushing forehands wide and sending backhands into the middle of the net. Her footwork was likely the biggest cause of the lethargic groundstrokes. Serena hit most her shots flat-footed.
2. The missed break opportunity. A poorly played first set almost got back to even when Serena had three break points down 3-5 in the opener. Bartoli responded with a winner and two aces on each of those points. Serena wouldn't get a break until 5-6 in the second set but couldn't capitalize in the tiebreak.
3. Couldn't put away easy points. Bartoli would hit short balls that the Serena of old would have put away with ease. On Monday, she hit it right back to Bartoli. It was partially a function of the aforementioned footwork and partially because she appeared fatigued on the 90-degree day and wasn't getting to the balls early enough. That comes as little surprise. After all, this was only Serena's sixth match in the past 11 months.
4. Tentativeness. It wasn't until the final game of the second set that Serena began attacking Bartoli's second serve. The Frenchwoman was puffing 82 mph serves to Serena, who then hit back to stay in the point rather than to attempt to win it. That's a fine strategy when your groundstrokes are crackling, not so much when forehands are landing four feet long.
5. Bartoli outplayed her. There's an old saying that nobody ever beats Serena except Serena. The old adage didn't hold true on Monday at Wimbledon. Bartoli hit her spots all afternoon, blistered her groundstrokes, served more aces and played a stellar defensive match that kept her in points she'd normally have been out of. Many others players would have collapsed when Serena forced the second set tiebreak. Bartoli didn't blink. Yes, Serena wasn't at her best; she's won matches with a lot less, though. It took a special effort from Bartoli to pull the upset and, in the end, she won, Serena didn't lose.
In the wake of the loss, we'll hear that it was ridiculous to ever assume Serena could come back from a yearlong break and contend in a Grand Slam, as if we were all insane to think that she had a chance to win Wimbledon. That's too easy to do in hindsight and is insulting to the 13-time Grand Slam champion. She was one point away from serving for the second-set tiebreak and forcing a decider with a former Wimbledon finalist who was playing one of the best matches of her career. This came 13 days after her comeback began from a lengthy break due to serious injury. Nobody else in any sport could have pulled off something like that.
Because Serena Williams lost at Wimbledon on Monday it doesn't mean the comeback is a failure. So far it's been a triumph and it's only just getting started.
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