Win over Eugenie Bouchard a reminder of Serena's longtime dominance
MELBOURNE, Australia -- One hour and 59 minutes. That's how much time Serena Williams has spent on center court through the first two rounds of the Australian Open. That's 49 minutes on Rod Laver for a first-round win against German player (and Williams' next-door neighbor) Tatjana Maria and 70 minutes to dispatch Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-2 in the second round Thursday night. So far this tournament, the seven-time Aussie Open champ has faced only three break points, won 81 percent of her first serves and has yet to drop a set.
While world No. 1 Simona Halep spends her postmatch news conferences discussing the difficulty of recovering from two-hour-plus, three-set matches (she's played two so far), Williams spends very little of hers discussing tennis at all, perhaps because so far, she's played very little tennis.
"Today [before the match], I was replying to emails about our next collection with my brand, then I'm thinking, 'I play a night match, so I want to spend time with my daughter, because I won't see her this evening for dinner,'" Williams said after her second-round win. "We have dinner every night." Over the course of the media conference, Williams also dished on the type of boss she is -- "hands-on, involved, opinionated but open to suggestions" -- why she believes she can "do it all" and how motherhood has taught her to delegate.
When asked what she knows about her third-round opponent, 18-year-old Ukranian Dayana Yastremska, who upset No. 23 Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round, Williams said only, "It's Patrick's [Mouratoglou, her coach] job to tell me more about her. I'm going to go out and take her extremely seriously. She's made it this far. She's here to win."
Ranked No. 59, Yastremska is also the highest seed Williams has yet to face in this tournament, so the fact that Williams is speeding through matches is less headline material than a reminder that she is playing the tennis we expect her to play and this tournament is hers to lose.
But watching her dominant second-round win over a player many believed could ride her recent success to an upset over Williams was a reminder of something else: how many Eugenie Bouchards have come and gone and come again during Williams' remarkable 20-year reign over this sport.
Five years ago, Bouchard was the "it" girl in tennis. During the 2014 season, she made the semifinal at the Australian and French Opens and the final at Wimbledon. She landed magazine covers and sponsorship deals, and was heralded as the sport's next great star. Then she struggled with injuries and a lack of motivation and hasn't seen the semifinal of a Slam since. But she's not alone. The list of Grand Slam champions, former No. 1s and next-big-things who have debuted and departed, or simply slid into mediocrity, while Williams has added to her Grand Slam title count, is long and stunning. (See: Stosur, Sam; Kuznetsova, Svetlana; Ivanovic, Ana; Sharapova, Maria.)
"I admire the longevity of her career, her dominance over such a long amount of time, how she's come back so many times," Bouchard said of Williams before their match. "I think she's the greatest ever, so it's just so cool that I'll be able to share the court with her and see how I compare to one of the best players. Her ranking is top-20 right now, but to me, she's always No. 1. I don't want to put her on too much of a pedestal because I have to play her, but I love her."
If that's what her competitors have to say about Williams before taking the court against her, it's no wonder she's winning in straight sets. "I just do the work, go out there, and I play the best I can," Williams said, a reminder that there is no magic formula for what she has accomplished in her career. "I work hard," Williams said. "That's it."
If Williams breezes through the next round, she will face her first real test of the tournament when she plays either big sister Venus or Halep in the fourth round. The Williams sisters played each other twice in 2018, with Venus winning at Indian Wells and Serena winning in New York. Williams is 8-2 in her career against Halep and has faced her only twice in Slams, taking both meetings.
But Williams will have another advantage next week: Venus and Halep have combined to play four of the longest women's matches so far in Melbourne, and chances are their third-round meeting will go the distance as well. Those marathons could make them no match for an opponent who's simply been running sprints.