Why Living In The Present Is So Important For Serena Williams

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LONDON -- It was the kind of scenario that could have haunted Serena Williams. And many thought it would, given the frightening image of a world-class athlete so dizzy and disoriented as to be rendered incapable of so much as bouncing the tennis ball.

But if returning a year later to the very same Wimbledon court from which she was practically carried off mid-doubles match was traumatic for Williams, she didn't show it.

And she didn't act it.

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The next challenger to Serena Williams is Timea Babos, ranked 93rd in the world.

"Not at all," she said after dispatching Margarita Gasparyan, a 20-year-old Russian qualifier, 6-4, 6-1 in a first-round match Monday. "I thought about my third-round [singles] match."

It was that 2014 Wimbledon match in which Williams was eliminated prematurely for the second straight year here, losing in three sets to 25th-seeded Alize Cornet. And whether it served as her primary motivation going forward, rather than the doubles match three days later that would catch the world's attention, no one will know for sure.

But she did proceed to rebound in fairly notable fashion, winning the next three Grand Slam titles. She set herself up for a second career Serena Slam and her 21st Grand Slam singles championship, and she is keeping alive hope for a first career calendar-year Grand Slam at the US Open in September.

For now, that is clearly all that is important.

"I'm just excited about that and really focusing on that," she said. "I always focus on the moment. I don't live too far in the future, and I don't live in the past. I just live in the present."

The present, as it transpired Monday, came in the form of another in a long line of young, hungry, unknown opponents. The difference is that this one provided an opportunity for Williams to overcome her recent penchant for slow starts.

Although the match began a bit rocky once again with Williams broken in the first game and struggling more than usual with her shot-making, it ended in satisfactory fashion for the five-time Wimbledon champ as she closed out the second set capitalizing on both break opportunities.

"I'd be lying if I said I want to play a hard match," Williams said. "But I think it's good for me. At the end of the day, I think it's definitely good for me."

The only thing that threw her Monday was a question about a possible fourth-round matchup against sister Venus.

"I didn't know that," Williams said. "Um, well, she's been really tough. Last time we played [in the 2014 Rogers Cup], she actually beat me. That's not going to be an easy match. You know what, I'm going to just focus on right now. ... You got me."

The idea of battling her sister, who played well at the start of the year and who beat fellow American Madison Brengle 6-0, 6-0 in the first round Monday, is probably a bigger roadblock than the actual match would be. But that's where it is with Serena when she's at the top of her game -- only theoretical scenarios and potential matchups to dream up as stumbling blocks.

For Serena, the only bigger one might be the daunting task of facing a media corps intent on asking about her push to make history. A victory here would put her within one Grand Slam title of tying Steffi Graf in the modern era with 22 and three short of tying all-time leader Margaret Court with 24.

"Honestly I don't think about it," she said. "But every time I come into press, you guys talk about it. So naturally it's definitely getting more on my mind than I want it to be, than what it has been.

"It's definitely historic, I guess. But it's also six matches away. It's definitely not guaranteed. I'm just going to try to enjoy holding three right now, and enjoy that moment."

If she wants to avoid unwanted stress, she might want to also avoid reading what fellow American John Isner had to say about her after his match Monday, when he called her the "top 10, top 15 greatest athletes of all time, for sure."

"Obviously there are so many that are still playing and have played in whatever sport they performed at, but Serena is up there," he said. "She's an incredible champion. It's not just tennis. She's one of the best, for sure."

So good, he continued, that her French Open title -- in which she was down a set in four of her seven matches -- was not that big a deal.

"She was better than the girls she was playing," Isner said. "She got in a hole, but she believed in herself and she was very confident. I think the Red Sox coming back from 3-nil against the Yankees back in 2004, whenever it was, I think that was pretty impressive. They were pretty big underdogs. Serena is the favorite in every match she plays."

Now that's pressure.

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