Serena Williams plays a backhand in her fourth-round match against Ekaterina Makarova.
© Lucas Dawson/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams decided to play hurt Down Under, and eventually she paid the price in a flat 6-2, 6-3 loss to unseeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round. She did not have to play the tournament and take the risk of further injuring the left ankle that had two torn ligaments in it.
But the five-time Australian champion Williams did because on so many occasions in Melbourne, she had pulled off remarkable victories. She figured that once she got into the second week of the event, she could impose herself mentally and physically. But she just could not develop a quick first step on the day, didn't seem to be able to push off on her left foot properly while serving, and moved very gingerly to her left.
As a result, she opened the door wide open to the powerful lefthander who scalded balls to the corners off both wings and troubled her with her slice serves out wide. The 23-year-old Makarova could have folded against the great champion, but she did not, as perhaps she sensed Serena's lack of confidence. She's a much better conditioned athlete than the one who Bethanie Mattek-Sands hit through back in the U.S.'s Fed Cup victory over Russia in Alabama in 2010.
To take down Serena in any Slam, let alone one she has won five times over the last nine years, is a remarkable achievement in any circumstances.
But Williams said she would not have played the tournament had it not been a major.
"No, no way. I probably shouldn't have played. But no way," Serena said. "I never blame any injury that I have because I feel like she played really well and she deserved the win... Obviously I'm not a 100 percent, and I haven't been. But it's no excuse."
One of the reasons why Serena has become such a force at the majors is because she owns the game's hardest, most accurate, most consistent serve. It is difficult to find a big match in any locale, in any year, when she has served as poorly as she did against Makarova. She only managed to put in 52 percent of her first serves and lost 20 of 29 of her second-serve points. And then there were her multiple errors off the ground.
It was an un-Serena like performance and one she'd rather forget but also one she'll likely store in her memory bank if she needs to kick herself in the pants.
"I think she played really well," Serena said. "She went for broke on a lot of her shots. I made 37 errors. That kind of tells the story of the match. I just didn't move the way I wanted to... I served like a -- I guess that's not appropriate. I can't even describe how I served, to be honest. It wasn't good, though. My lefty serve is actually better than that. Maybe I should have started serving lefty."
Sometimes after losses, Serena gets very down on herself, but on a hot Monday in Melbourne, she put things more in perspective. She comes into every tournament to win it, but her expectations were not as high as they were, say, at the 2011 US Open, when she entered the tournament in better health and with a lot more match play and reached the final.
"I feel like I didn't play well today," she said when asked about her mood. "I don't feel like I can get better. I feel like if I was in a situation where, wow, she played so great, and I played amazing, and I served 80 percent, and I hit no double faults, I didn't hit 37 unforced errors, that would be a totally different situation. I didn't play well. I'm not physically 100 percent. I can't be so angry at myself, even though I'm very unhappy."
There are times when Serena has left Melbourne, and no one really knew what tournament she would play next, but she has committed to the U.S.'s Fed Cup tie
against Belarus, Feb. 4-5, in Worcester, Mass., which is good news for Captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who will need her best player to face off against world No. 3 Victoria Azarenka.
Serena also opined that she thinks her elder sister Venus, who has not played since the US Open due to a battling an autoimmune disease Sjorgen's Syndrome, will be able to play.
"She's been training, so I think she'll be there," Serena said.
Even if Venus is unable to take the court, the young U.S. women players' so-called "tennis god" is sure to be in better form.
"I know that I can play a hundred times better than I did this whole tournament," Serena said.