Serena Williams' tumultuous season can be turned around with a win at the U.S. Open. Getting in position to pull that off will require Williams to take a different approach from the one she took in 2013.
Last year, Williams stormed through tournaments on her way to a record-breaking season. She went 78-4 and won 11 titles, including the French Open and U.S. Open. She racked up a record $12.4 million in prize money and became the oldest woman to ever hold the No. 1 ranking.
Yet the schedule, the grind and the fight for No. 1 left her fatigued and burned out.
Earlier this year, after a first-round loss at the Family Circle Cup, Williams spoke to reporters about needing a break.
On Wednesday, Williams withdrew from the Swedish Open, citing the need for more time to recover from a viral illness.
She told ESPN.com, "I have decided not to play in Bastad next week because I am still not at 100 percent. I want to be in top physical shape to compete and I expect to start training next week."
Even if she were well enough to play, withdrawing from the Swedish Open was a good move for Williams. She needs, and can afford, some time off.
So what if she blows off tournaments where she is defending champion? Despite failing to advance beyond the fourth round in any Grand Slam this year, Williams maintains a 2,550 point-lead over No. 2 Li Na.
Right now, Williams needs redemption more than ranking. With one Slam remaining, Williams can still salvage her season. A win at the U.S. Open would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam titles.
However, a loss would render her year a failure.
Williams must become more selective in the tournaments she targets. She turns 33 in September. The oldest woman to win a Slam was Navratilova. She was 33 years and eight months old when she won Wimbledon in 1990.
If Williams wants to break Navratilova's record next year, rest and recuperation make more sense than racking up trophies from minor tournaments.
Another Bank of the West title would be nice, but it won't add to her legacy. Even premier tournaments are less important now. How often do people discuss Sony Open titles when they compare the greatest of all time?
Of course, Williams can benefit from a couple of tuneup tournaments. However, defending points and her No. 1 ranking should be the least of her concerns.
She's already the oldest person to hold down the No. 1 spot. There's no need to risk further fatigue. She skipped Stanford last year. Why go back? It's a wonderful little tournament. But it's insignificant when it comes to Williams' career.
Williams is playing for legacy, and only additional Grand Slams can enhance her already legendary status. Nobody else on tour is in the greatest of all time conversation. Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and even Li Na, are all future Hall of Famers. But none of them has a shot at G.O.A.T status.
Williams needs to take an emotional and physical timeout. She has to regroup and rest her arm. Most notable in Williams' three Grand Slam losses was how her serve let her down.
After her Wimbledon loss, Williams spoke with reporters about her lackluster serving, per Wimbledon.com.
"Today, I don't know the percentages of my serve, but I do know I didn't hit as many aces," she said. "I think my first serve was down a little bit... I worked really hard on my serve, so I don't know why it didn't happen today."
Similar to Major League Baseball pitchers, whose arms sometimes give out, Williams needs to rest her right arm. It's the key to her biggest weapon, the serve.
She has to recapture the edge, that intimidation factor. She must understand that now that she has appeared physically and emotionally vulnerable, many players no longer fear her.
Instead of blowing players off the court, Williams will have to exercise more patience in her matches. She must construct points, then wait for a chance to pounce.
When Williams is healthy, she is by far the best player on tour. It's just that lately she's had a problem summoning her killer instinct. Once known for her ability to close out matches, Williams now gets tight and blows one-set leads. She needs to take time off to figure out why.
Although her state of mind seems fragile, her talent is timeless. Time off to retool and recharge is a must if she wants to get back into championship form.
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