Serena Williams Breaks Up WTA's Parity Party With US Open Win
NEW YORK -- Not so fast, parity fans.
Just as you were getting excited about the wide-open future of women's tennis with eight different finalists in this year's four Grand Slam tournaments, Serena Williams returned at the US Open in the role of resident killjoy.
As Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki so succinctly put it, "When Serena is on her game, there's not much we can do. That's why she has so many titles."
Serena's latest Grand Slam win was No. 18, pulling her into a tie with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for career majors, and seemed to set into motion a renewed zeal in Williams going forward.
So which is it? Was order restored with her US Open title? Or will the remainder of the field be rejuvenated by a crazy 2014?
Here are six things to consider as another Grand Slam season ends.
1. Serena does not seem to be going anywhere
Much as the ancient almost-33-year-old gave us reasonable cause to wonder about her future after failing to get past the fourth round of the first three majors of 2014 and exiting Wimbledon in a well-documented cloud of doubt, she was back to her indomitable self at the Open. Or at least strong enough to win the title without dropping a set.
"I always said that when I'm playing my best ... it's difficult to beat me because I serve pretty good, I have a pretty good return, I'm pretty fast," Williams said in a trio of understatement. "If I'm doing all those things combined, it's definitely difficult to win."
Talking about one day reflecting on their careers with her sister Venus, Williams said retirement "hopefully will be a long time from now."
So is Steffi Graf's 22 Grand Slam titles suddenly a more realistic possibility?
"I am thinking about 19. ... Hasn't even been three hours and I have already mentioned 19," Williams said only a tad sheepishly Sunday night. "Oh gosh. So yeah, but not 22. I'm taking it one at a time."
Well, that has to make the others feel better ...
2. Speaking of which, how good should the other three Slam champions feel?
Combined, Australian Open champ Li Na, French Open winner Maria Sharapova and Wimbledon titlist Petra Kvitova are 3-32 against Serena. And none of the three had to get past her to win her respective title, which means that, more than anything, they must rely on someone else knocking off Serena, odds you'd rather not take in a typical Serena year.
Sharapova, while forging a reputation for her prowess on clay, was certainly not memorable on hard courts this summer and lost to Wozniacki in the round of 16 at the US Open. As for Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, she has not advanced past the third round of the three other Slams since a French Open semi in 2012.
And Li? It's easy to forget how fabulous the two-time Grand Slam champ looked in winning the 2014 Australian Open (fighting back after down to match point) because it was nine months ago. Also because we've heard so little from her lately.
Li lost in the first round at the French and the third round at Wimbledon. Injuries and questions about her motivation plagued her, and she also split with her longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez.
She pulled out of Montreal, Cincinnati and the US Open with a knee injury as her ranking slipped from a high of No. 2 to her current No. 6, and reports circulated that Li, 32, was contemplating retirement. But Li's agent Max Eisenbud told the China Daily, "She is not retiring."
If she is in the right frame of mind mentally, there is still the issue of being able to withstand the injury bug.
3. The Grand Slam runners-up probably have more reason to be optimistic
OK, Wozniacki performed more like a frightened rookie than a serious contender in the US Open final, but let's give the former No. 1 a break and say she hadn't been in a final in five years (the 2009 US Open) and that was her only other one. She actually is capable of giving Serena a match on hard courts and has the fiber to compete for another Slam title.
Working backward in Grand Slam runner-up order, we may have gotten a little carried away with Eugenie Bouchard after the 20-year-old Canadian reached the semis in Melbourne and Roland Garros then the final at Wimbledon. A disappointing hard-court season followed with first-round exits in her hometown of Montreal and Cincinnati then a second-round loss in New Haven, which was enough to remind us that she is just 20 and was ranked 144th at the end of 2012.
Bouchard lost to Ekaterina Makarova in the round of 16 at the Open, which was better. On Friday, she showed her resiliency as well as good luck by tweeting that she caught two foul balls at the Yankees-Royals game.
There is no reason to think she still won't contend for a Slam title again next year. Let's all just promise not to freak out if she doesn't.
And no, we're not forgetting Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova and French Open finalist Simona Halep. Now ranked No. 2 in the world, Halep was a semifinalist at Wimbledon and a quarterfinalist in Australia before losing in the third round of the US Open to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Yes, Lucic-Baroni was a good story as a 32-year-old qualifier. Halep was the WTA's Most Improved Player last year, and at 22, there's still plenty of upside. She will be among the more compelling players to watch.
As for Cibulkova, she failed to get past the third round of any Slam after the Australian and was bounced out in the first round of the US Open. Same thing all of last year, which makes her closer to forgettable than compelling.
4. And they weren't even among the eight finalists
Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Angelique Kerber, Sara Errani, Flavia Pennetta and Makarova did not make it to a Grand Slam final this year, but don't count them out for future appearances.
Radwanska has been to a Slam final (2012 Wimbledon), two semis and six quarters; Ivanovic won the French in 2008 and made a strong push back into the top 10 in 2014; Jankovic reached the US Open final in 2008; Errani was the 2012 French Open runner-up; and Kerber is a two-time Slam semifinalist.
And we haven't even mentioned Victoria Azarenka.
5. So how about Azarenka?
The two-time Grand Slam champ (2012, '13 Australian Opens) and two-time US Open finalist did not have her picture plastered on seemingly every bus and billboard in Manhattan the past two weeks for no reason.
Azarenka is still a huge presence in women's tennis despite her nightmarish year of injury and inactivity. She has made a slow but steady return to the competitive fray with quarterfinal finishes in Montreal and at the US Open, where, weakened by a bout with food poisoning, she fell to Makarova.
Now ranked No. 24, Azarenka was not too pleased to fall out of the top 10 and then top 20, and she gets more annoyed with each loss, which means look out for a healthy Azarenka, whenever that happens to be.
6. And finally, the Americans
What have we learned about the U.S. women this Grand Slam season that we didn't know last year? Not a heck of a lot, though few would have predicted Venus Williams, 49th at the end of 2013, would now be ranked higher than Sloane Stephens, then ranked 12th.
While that's great news for Venus, 34, who has learned to manage her Sjogren's syndrome to the extent that she is 26-12 this year with one title, third-round finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open and a No. 19 ranking, Stephens has regressed.
Stephens, 21, is now ranked 27th, is 21-19 this year and made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open and fourth round of the French before losing in the first round at Wimbledon and second round at the US Open. Stephens has changed coaches and speaks of being on her own course, but the woman 13 years her senior appears to have the more positive attitude right now.
Of the others, it would have been nice to see Madison Keys go a little further than the second round of the US Open after reaching the third round of Wimbledon. But, ranked 28th, the 19-year-old looks set to surpass Stephens. And there is no reason to think she won't. Soon.