SINGAPORE – Before Serena Williams stepped onto the court for what might just be her final match of 2014 she had to defeat her toughest opponent yet - herself.
Losing does not come easy for Williams.
Williams expects nothing but perfection. And in those rare times when her brain and body do not cooperate, she’s really not sure how to deal with it.
So before she could face Eugenie Bouchard in a must-win match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals presented by SC Global, she carefully considered the words of her coach Patrick Mouratogolu.
“I was really disappointed in my play yesterday,” Williams said. “I tried, but it didn't work out for me. I don't really recover well from losses, but I had a really long talk with Patrick. He just was, you know, telling me what I needed to do and how to get over it.”
The WTA Finals round robin format leaves losing players feeling a bit confused. They've all said they're used to knockout tournaments where one loss sends a player packing toward the next event. Each of the losers has had to learn to shake off the loss in time for another must-win match.
“He was like, 'You're still in the tournament. You still have another match to play. You can't dwell on this,'" Williams said. "But just over and over in differing ways, just talking positive. I started to believe that maybe I could come play another match. I wasn't quite sure that I could. So he really was able to help me out.”
Williams' clinical, 57-minute therapy session came at the expense of Bouchard, who will leave Singapore doing some soul-searching of her own after going 0-3 in the Red Group. Williams delivered a convincing 6-1, 6-1, effort and even managed to ratchet up her serve to 127 miles per hour at one point.
Williams said her serve abandoned her mightily in her loss to Simona Halep on Wednesday. Mortagolu might have influenced the return of Williams' best weapon.
“A lot of technical things," Williams said. "He told me that I didn't have the same attitude that I normally have when I approach a match. Things that I did wrong and things that I could have done better. Then it was also mental. Like, you've got to get yourself together. You know, it wasn't just one thing. It was both tactically and mentally. And then I think his belief was really key, because I was feeling mighty low.”
Amazing how a champion who doesn’t lose very often would have such a hard time shaking off a bad day. But in tennis, like boxing, self-confidence and belief are as important as physical skills. In fact, a bad mindset can negate even the most talented player’s abilities.
“I was able to feed off this belief," Williams said. "I know that sounds weird. Even though I've won so many titles, I still at some point feel like, ‘Oh, gosh. Well, maybe I might not be able to do this or maybe I might not be able to do that.' Especially after a loss. Especially the way I performed yesterday. So I definitely don't think that I would've been able to survive today if it wasn't for Patrick. For sure.”
In the end, Williams went out and did what she had to do. Now her fate and a berth in the semifinals depends on the outcome of the Halep-Ana Ivanovic match on Friday at 7:30pm SGT. Of course, there are all sorts of tie-breaker scenarios, but Williams said she’s not going to fret.
“You know, I'm okay," Williams said. "Like I said before, it's out of my hands. The last thing I'm going to do is stress out about it. If I don't qualify, I'll be sad, I guess, but it wasn't my year. I'm not going to fall out and die. At least I won my last match, and get ready like I’ve been saying since Cincinnati, for next year. I feel like 2015 is going to be a better year for me. I believe that and I'm ready for that.”
Williams could finish the year as World No.1. How she can possibly top that in 2015, we’ll have to wait and see, but with her coach by her side, anything is possible.