Does Serena Williams choke?
This must seem like a really stupid question given that Williams has 21 singles Grand Slam titles to her credit. She also has 13 doubles titles with her sister Venus.
Is this the hallmark of a choker?
I repeat the question: Is Serena a choker, that is, does she lose matches she was expected to win relatively easily?
This year’s loss to Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-final is a case in point.
Serena had come into the year’s final Slam on the back of another Serena Slam.
Maria Sharapova was rendered hors-de-combat before the tournament qualifiers began.
This was her golden opportunity to go down in history as only the third woman in history to record a Calendar Grand Slam.
Alas, it was not to be.
Serena choked or at the very least appeared to.
She was not at her best, seemingly sluggish throughout the match. Her customary speed deserted her. Her Italian opponent was on song, storming back in the final two sets to make her first ever Grand Slam final.
To answer the question again, one has to check Williams’ record in Grand Slam tournaments.
What we need to know are the instances when Serena has lost in Grand Slams when she was doing well and expected to go all the way.
There are always giant-killers, there will always be giant-killers in any sport. That is the beauty and unpredictability of it. An underdog comes in and knocks out a fancied opponent. But it is rare that the unheralded player goes on to overcome every obstacle in his or her path. That kind of consistency is not to be suddenly expected from , say, a rank qualifier or wildcard unless their names are Goran Ivanisevic or Kim Clijsters.
That said, let’s look at Serena’s record in Slams specifically the instances when she lost out after making it past the first 7-8 days of the tournament.
Let’s look at her record when she has lost in quarter-finals, semis and finals after putting in all the hard yards to get that far.
Serena has an awesome record in Grand Slam finals: 21-4. Her record in women’s doubles is even more terrifying to her opponents: 13-0. Her four losses in singles finals have come against three opponents: her sister, Venus (2), Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur. Her mixed doubles record is 2-2; this was in the early part of her career before the 2000s.
Serena has appeared in 61 Slams with a winning percentage of 34%.
Steffi Graf has 22 singles titles in 56 appearances including qualifiers with a win percentage of 39%.
Margaret Court who holds the all-time record of 24 titles in 47 appearances with a win percentage of an astonishing 51% i.e. she won more than half of all the Grand Slams she played. Add to that 19 women’s doubles and 21 mixed doubles titles and you will just begin to comprehend her dominance of the game in her era.
Nowadays, Court is more known for her strong views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage in her role as founder-minister of a Pentecostal church called the Victory Life Centre. Court was raised a Roman Catholic but converted to Pentecostalism in the 70s.
Court states that she does not hate the LGBT community and welcomes them to be members of her congregation.
Serena has made the quarter-finals or better 42 times, winning 21 thus equally likely to clinch the title or (somewhat) lose her way.
The table below chronologically lists Serena’s career losses in Grand Slams—quarter-finals and better.
|Tournament||Serena’s Ranking||Stage of Tournament||Opponent||Opponent’s Ranking||Eventual Winner|
|Wimbledon 2000||8||Semis||Venus Williams||5||Venus Williams|
|US Open 2000||5||Quarters||Lindsay Davenport||2||Venus Williams|
|Australian Open 2001||6||Quarters||Martina Hingis||1||Jennifer Capriati|
|French Open 2001||6||Quarters||Martina Hingis||1||Jennifer Capriati|
|Wimbledon 2001||5||Quarters||Jennifer Capriati||4||Venus Williams|
|US Open 2001||7||Final||Venus Williams||4||Venus Williams|
|French Open 2003||1||Semis||Justine Henin||4||Justine Henin|
|French Open 2004:||2||Quarters||Jennifer Capriati||7||Anastasia Myskina|
|Wimbledon 2004||1||Final||Maria Sharapova||13||Maria Sharapova|
|US Open 2004||3||Quarters||Jennifer Capriati||8||Svetlana Kuznetsova|
|French Open 2007||8||Quarters||Justine Henin||1||Justine Henin|
|Wimbledon 2007||7||Quarters||Justine Henin||1||Venus Williams|
|US Open 2007||8||Quarters||Justine Henin||1||Justine Henin|
|Australian Open 2008||7||Quarters||Jelena Jankovic||3||Maria Sharapova|
|Wimbledon 2008||6||Final||Venus Williams||7||Venus Williams|
|French Open 2009||2||Quarters||Svetlana Kuznetsova||7||Svetlana Kuznetsova|
|US Open 2009||2||Semis||Kim Clijsters||19||Kim Clijsters|
|French Open 2010||1||Quarters||Samantha Stosur||7||Francesca Schiavone|
|US Open 2011||28||Final||Samantha Stosur||9||Samantha Stosur|
|Australian Open 2013||3||Quarters||Sloane Stephens||29||Victoria Azarenka|
|US Open 2015||1||Semis||Roberta Vinci||43||Flavia Pennetta|
The statistics in the above table show that Serena has lost to an opponent who was ranked lower than her and not the eventual winner a total of just 5 times.
That’s 5 out of 21. It’s less than a 25% chance that Serena will lose crunch games to players ranked lower than her and not red-hot coming into the tournament and continuing that streak.
The players she lost to? Jennifer Capriati (2), Samantha Stosur, Sloane Stephens and Roberta Vinci.
Despite appearances, Serena is a model of consistency when it comes to performing at Grand Slam tournaments.
Her latest loss notwithstanding, Serena is difficult to get away from when she’s on song and at the top of her game.
Serena is a champion among champions.
Kim Clijsters came into the tournament unseeded on a wild card after coming out of retirement. She went on to win the first Grand Slam of her career. The win lifted her ranking to 19.