2017 WTA season preview: will Serena be back to her best or is she in terminal decline?

My second post previewing the 2017 WTA season takes a look at the newly-engaged (congrats) Serena Williams. 2016 was a weird one for Serena. In many ways it seemed like one long hangover from the agonising defeat to Roberta Vinci at the 2015 US Open. We saw her ease into finals but then struggle to compete against opponents who were expected to be the ones who’d struggle. She lost out to inspired performances from Kerber in Australia and Muguruza at Roland Garros, as well as putting in a terribly below-par showing against Azarenka in the Indian Wells final.

But at Wimbledon, she looked back to her best. Her domination of Kerber, who barely put a foot wrong, in the final was incredible and she finally equalled Steffi Graf’s Grand Slam haul, silencing the pundits who had been talking about it constantly since the Vinci loss. It seemed like the only way was up. But it wasn’t, in fact, it went downhill once again.

Dogged by a shoulder injury, she lost limply to Svitolina at the Olympics and was once again toppled by an opponent who had no right to be as confident as she was, in Karolina Pliskova at the US Open. She then withdrew from all competition for the remainder of the year, as she had also done the year before.

We’re promised that she’s healthy and raring to go and is scheduled to play Auckland for the first time before the Australian Open. But as a follower of hers on Snapchat, I’m concerned. I accept that such platforms allow people to show the edited highlights of their daily lives and that Serena probably isn’t interested in showing us her daily training sessions. However, when you contrast how much partying and socialising she’s doing just a week or two before the season begins with the likes of Andy Murray, who shuns the seasonal festivities for an intense period of training on the other side of the Atlantic from his family home, it’s a bit worrying. And given how few much matches she’s played in the past 18 months and her tendency to play a very lean calendar, the major concern is whether she’ll ever have enough match practice to re-establish herself as the dominant force in women’s tennis. Though knowing how unpredictable Serena can be, I’m prepared to be proven completely wrong.

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