Williams, the No. 2-ranked woman tennis player in the world (it still seems strange to read that, right?), basically handed No. 1 Kerber the year-end No. 1 ranking for 2016 when Williams declared that she was pulling out of the critical tournaments in Wuhan and Beijing.
The decision torpedoed the scenario that both the ATP and WTA dreamed about when they created their tours and year-end championships: a battle for the top ranking that goes down to the wire, long after the last ball in Grand Slam tournament play is called out.
If Williams already has vengeful eyes riveted on 2017, Singapore becomes more of a question mark. Williams played no tennis after the US Open last year but nevertheless went on to reach the Australian Open final. Would she spurn the WTA Championships for two years in a row? Williams might be obliged to show up, but she can’t be forced to train hard or arrive ready to play at full capacity. We won’t be able to take the true measure of Williams until next January.
It’s almost impossible to see Williams going into the Australian Open as the No. 1 seed. She will be seen through different eyes in the locker room. She will know a different form of pressure at a time in her career when she seems to forget far too often how she became dominant. Williams might be great theater these days, but some still prefer the lethal, steely-eyed player who once struck fear in the heart of every opponent without a single shriek, clenched fist or shout of, “Come on!”
After Australia, Williams went on to reach the French Open final and won Wimbledon. She closed out the season with a surprising semifinal loss to Karolina Pliskova. That setback reminded us that in many ways, Williams has become a suffering champion, which has brought her unprecedented attention.
Now she must prove the rumors of her latest demise have been greatly exaggerated and that she has one last run in her. Call it: Serena’s Last Stand.