Williams’s hopes of matching Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles were dashed again on Saturday with a crushing straight-sets defeat by Romanian Simona Halep, Reuters reported.
Women’s great Billie Jean King said she felt Williams was spreading herself too thin in an interview midway through the tournament and urged the American to stop “being a celebrity” for a year and a half.
“She’s got a baby, she’s trying to help gender equity, particularly women of color. But it makes it much harder,” 12-times Grand Slam champion King told the BBC.
“I would like her to put everything else aside, because she’s got people working on those things.
“I wish she would just make a commitment for the next year and a half to two years and say, ‘I’m going to absolutely focus on what’s necessary for my tennis, so when I look in the mirror when I’m older, then I can go back in my mind and know I gave it everything I had.’”
Williams, who has been outspoken in pushing for gender and racial equality, was asked in her post-match media conference whether she should focus more on her tennis than on social issues and being a celebrity.
“The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me, will be the day I am in my grave,” the 37-year-old said.
King, herself a celebrated pioneer in gender equality and social justice, later clarified her comments on Twitter.
“I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality,” the American 75-year-old wrote.
“In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all.”
Search goes on
Just how badly things were going for Williams in Saturday’s final was summed up by a booming plea that came from the crowd: “Wake up Serena!”
Williams heard the message loud and clear but unfortunately for the American it was one of those days when nothing could save her from the 6-2, 6-2 annihilation she suffered at the hands of Halep in 56 minutes.
Since winning the first of her slams at the 1999 US Open, Williams has lost only nine finals at the tournaments that make up the Big Four in tennis.
But never before had she been up against an opponent she described as “playing out of her mind”.
“For me any loss is not easy, per se. When someone plays lights out, there’s really not much you can do. You just have to understand that that was their day today,” said Williams, who won the last of her 23 majors while already pregnant with her daughter Olympia at the 2017 Australian Open.
“It was a little bit a deer in headlights for me. My opponent played unbelievable.”
The performance was definitely very un-Williams-like. Considering she had beaten Halep in nine of their 10 previous meetings, including at this year’s Australian Open, the American was the overwhelming favorite to win on Saturday.
“Today nothing really helped. I made way too many errors for a lot of stuff to work,” said Williams, who trailed 4-0 before finally registering on the scoreboard.
The result means Williams has now had three failed attempts in finals to win that 24th major — she also contested last year’s Wimbledon and US Open showpiece matches.
There is no doubt Williams is a supreme athlete considering she has made it to three Grand Slam finals since suffering multiple complications following the birth of her daughter in September 2017, but the near misses will irritate her.
“In my 20s I was always expected to win but... seems like every Grand Slam final I’m in recently has been an unbelievable effort to get there,” said the former world number one, who had played only five tournaments this year before her run at the All England Club.