Ahead of the Open, friends of mine who know that I'd gotten pretty obsessed with tennis over the summer started asking me, "Do you think Serena will win?"
At her best, I said, she's clearly the best player in the world. But over and over again at the Majors this year she either came out flat or let down mid-match to drop sets. Every time, she managed to fire herself up into that special Serena level and put the match away. (How do you describe that level? I always struggle to come up with an adequate analogy. A train at full speed? A predatory great cat on the hunt? A superhero? A war goddess?) She went to three sets twice at the Australian, five times at the French, and twice more at Wimbledon. The ferocity of her play at that level is astonishing, but there's a cost to it. It requires extra energy to pull yourself up like that, above and beyond the cost of all those extra sets. It might be, I concluded, that ultimately she'd find herself trying to go to that well one time too many.