This summer’s singles at Wimbledon is starting to look like the best hope left for Serena Williams when it comes to winning a Grand Slam in this final act of her career.
On a mission to claim a major as a working mother, the 37-year-old American may be running out of road after she failed to complete another tournament when pulling out of the Miami Open on Saturday.
Just like her exit here a year ago – when she stormed out of the stadium immediately having lost to Naomi Osaka – there was no explanatory media appearance, merely a bald statement saying she had a knee injury.
This comes after retiring mid-match at Indian Wells earlier this month with a viral illness. That followed the spectacular collapse in the Australian Open quarter-finals, when she lost to Karolina Pliskova after leading 5-1 in a deciding set, having tweaked her ankle.
It is natural enough that, in her late thirties, her body is becoming less co-operative as the search goes on longer than expected for Grand Slam title No 24.
Given that Roland Garros poses more challenges to her increasingly cumbersome movement, and that so many rival players enjoy the US Open’s hard courts, the grass at SW19 that she loves surely represents the best chance of success.
After every setback the question arises where she will turn up next.
She is theoretically obliged to play the Madrid Open in early May, a significant lead-in event to the French Open but she appears so sparingly on the WTA Tour that it is far from guaranteed.
It is a policy that has historically served her well but it is no longer yielding the results that it once did.
More and more, the question will be asked whether her body will allow her to play the amount that she needs.
A startling statistic is that since September 2016 she has only played 42 matches in 13 events on the official WTA Tour. One of the tournaments was the 2017 Australian Open that she won while, it transpired, being pregnant.
Yet since giving birth to Olympia in September that year she has yet to enter the winner’s circle.
It has been notable that neither of the two biggest comebacks seen in women’s tennis in recent years – those of Williams and Maria Sharapova, their breaks being for very different reasons – has gone as smoothly for the champions as everyone expected.
The Russian has not even managed to get back into the top 20 nearly two years after her return from a doping suspension.
Now just shy of her 32nd birthday, she has been affected by shoulder problems this season and her latest re-entry to the tour will come next month in Stuttgart. It is quite possible that she and Williams will never play each other again.
One reason why they have laboured more than expected may be the strength of talent in the women’s game. While the women’s elite top 10 has been relatively weak in recent years, resulting in a smorgasbord of champions, the consensus view among most coaches is that the overall level of players down to around 75 has gone up.
Also, a player has emerged in Osaka who looks like she might be able to exert some dominance, winning the last two Grand Slams, although she was upset in the third round here on Saturday.
Another one might also be coming along in Canada’s 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who later knocked out Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber.
The German, displeased, gave her the most cursory handshake and told her at the net that she was ‘the biggest drama queen ever’.
But Andreescu has never won a senior match at SW19 and Osaka is yet to progress beyond the third round there. Grass is an alien surface to some but not for Serena, who may approach it with renewed determination.Daily Mail