Serena Williams is becoming a fraud. There is no other way to put it. She is throwing matches. Tanking. She lost to Sybille Bammer Thursday at the Cincinnati Open 7-5, 6-4, committing 44 unforced errors. That's two per game. "Anyone could have beaten me today,'' she said.That could actually be Serena's motto during non-majors. This is getting embarrassing, and it would be nice if someone else would hold her accountable. No one wants to anger the golden goose, I guess.But come on. She has lost to Bammer, Samantha Stosur, Francesca Schiavone, Patty Schnyder and Klara Zakopalova. That's just since April. Has she lost it? Is Serena just fading or slumping? Ha! No way. Serena Williams is the most talented women's tennis player of all time. She has won three of the past four majors. She is great. Forty-four unforced errors -- that's no accident. That's Serena not bothering. Against Bammer she ran hard enough, but also moped around and seemed completely disinterested.
When I say she's tanking, that's not to say she goes into the matches looking to lose, but rather that she's just not interested enough to put up a fight. It's a mental throwing of the match by neglect. I guess that's slightly different than intentionally losing, but not by much. She has not won a tournament, other than a major, in 17 months. She says she's focusing on majors, and we've surely heard that before from star athletes. We heard it from Andre Agassi at the end of his career, when his back was so bad that he could barely lift is feet over the paint on the baseline when running down forehands. But this is not only a gearing-up and attempting to peak at majors, but also a complete disappearing act in non-majors. Serena, you can at least try in non-majors, while taking your show around the country and the world to the little people, the fans.
They have been sold a bill of goods with Serena. They are marketed to, and pitched on the idea of, coming to see Serena, but that's not Serena showing up. It's a bait-and switch. And Serena's lack of effort is only serving to promote the idea that the only shows worth watching in tennis are the majors. Contrast that to the men's tour, where, at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this week, all eight of the world's top eight players reached the quarterfinals. Here are some numbers. In the past 17 months, Williams has played in 15 non-majors without a win. Her match record in those tournaments is just 27-15. Since April, she has played five non-majors, losing three of them in the first round. Her record in those events is 3-5. Meanwhile, Dinara Safina, far inferior to Serena as a player, is ranked No. 1, ahead of Serena, simply because she shows enough respect for the tour and fans to try hard and earn computer points everywhere.
There is no way for Serena to defend going 3-5 in non-majors. No way. She mentioned something about having a cold in Cincinnati, for pete's sake.Go ahead and call me a Serena hater. I've heard it enough. And maybe that's why you don't hear the truth anywhere else, because pressure can work. But I don't hate Serena at all. I see her as an incredibly talented, strong, smart, beautiful woman. And that's about the ultimate mix for promoting a sport, providing a role model for girls everywhere, and amassing amazing records. If you care. If you respect those things.
A reader wrote me with something I had never considered: Maybe Serena is losing in non-majors because they require you to play every day. In majors, you play every other day. And maybe she's just not in good enough shape to play every day. That rings true. But if Serena cared enough, she would get in shape to play every day. "I've been training so hard,'' she said. "So this is a little disappointing. But I hope my hard work pays off eventually, because I have been working really, really hard.'' Oh, please. Someone did ask her the other day about what she's working on to help her win some regular tour-level events. Williams bristled:"I'm sorry, but I feel like winning Grand Slams is just as important as winning. . .and they're on the tour. I play on the WTA Tour while I win them, so for me [a major's] a tour event. I've won one just recently a couple weeks ago.'' Yes, at Wimbledon. She was fantastic. People in Cincinnati bought tickets to see that brilliance.