Secrets Of Serena's Notebook
Serena shows strength to win
By Oliver Brown
Last Updated: 11:47pm BST 02/07/2007
The power of positive spin
Inside the notebook that Serena Williams took on to Centre Court were inscribed the words: "My good thoughts are powerful, any negative thoughts are weak. You are No 1, you are the best. You will win Wimbledon."
Every tenet of that philosophy came to her aid last night, as the two-time champion rallied from acute cramp to defeat Daniela Hantuchova in a contest of fragmented, ferocious drama.
Williams is an avowed film enthusiast, and the script she followed here showed her eye for extraordinary plot twists. In the climax to the second set the seventh seed's cause had appeared hopeless, as the onset of spasms in her left calf reduced her to shrieks of agony. Rain provided her rescue halfway through the tie-break, and after a 115-minute delay - during which she received all the massage and ice she needed - she reappeared refreshed and almost frighteningly refocused.
Never has Williams been so physically vulnerable in the theatre of battle. Never has she been so emotionally exposed. Her powers of recovery, though, were something to behold - the 'Serena bubble', it is called, when Williams works herself without warning into a frenzy of defiant hitting. A more composed character than Hantuchova might have exploited her opponent's fragile state, but the momentum switch proved decisive as the American powered to an improbable 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 victory.
"I decided I was going to die trying," Williams said. "I just had to go back on court, no matter what. It would have been weird if I hadn't tried." She disclosed, too, that her doctor had been worried about lasting damage to her career if she carried on, though by the time she prevailed her face reflected little of her earlier agonies.
The first signal that Williams was in trouble had come before her collapse, when she called for the trainer at 5-5 in the second set, asking for salt to be brought to treat her cramp. Her concern was soon made manifest - up 30-15 on Hantuchova's serve, she did nothing more than pace the baseline before she pulled up abruptly on her left leg, tapped the calf with her racket and collapsed to the ground.
Her face creased in pain, she was aided immediately by her trainer, who began to apply a deep massage. But with every kneading of the cramping muscle, Williams betrayed a greater discomfort, letting out loud cries as the spasms returned. Each member of Team Williams looked on anxiously from the players' box, mother Oracene shaking her head as her daughter's Wimbledon dream appeared to be heading for a tearful end.
The umpire's call of a medical time-out drew some ironic laughter from the crowd, who could perceive Williams' predicament all too plainly. Did she let the pain consume her and quit, even with a one-set lead? Or did she risk a recurrence by playing on, even on one leg? Then there was the factor of rain to consider as the skies darkened above.
Williams, weeping, chose to fight on. The calf was taped up, but as play resumed her prospects looked wretched. Hantuchova fired down an ace. Williams pitched a return resignedly into the net. The next game, however, triggered a remarkable turn. From somewhere within her tangle of emotions, the American drew the resolve to hold serve. Even given the inequities of the women's game, this gave a whole new meaning to being able to win on one leg.
Still, Williams' total lack of mobility was hardly a help in the ensuing tie-break, and as the rain intervened for a crucial reprieve at 5.33pm she trailed 4-2. The two-hour interruption was critical - for two hours her team could concoct every means of restoring some strength to her afflicted muscle, and when she finally re-emerged she sported leggings to ward off the cold.
At first, Williams could hardly move. Wincing at every error, she showed uncharacteristic flashes of temper, hurling her racket when she missed an easy put-away late in the third game. But such frustration was more than matched by her motivation - with each scream of "come on", sister Venus seemed an unsettled onlooker, almost trying to shield herself from the ferocity of Serena's performance.
It was this intensity that unnerved Hantuchova, and by the time Williams hit her final winner the 10th seed looked spent and utterly bemused. It had been a maelstrom of a match, which left its mark on both players.
Williams would not thank anyone for reminding her, but she faces a quarter-final against world No 1, whose 6-2, 6-2 procession against Patty Schnyder yesterday was a study in contrasts. It is a confrontation Williams would do well to win, but frankly, after this extraordinary episode, you would not put anything past her.
The power of positive spin
Extracts from the double Wimbledon champion's inspirational notebook:
My good thoughts are powerful
My only negative thoughts are weak!
Decide what you want to be, have, do and think the thoughts of it.
Hang on to the thought of what you want. Make it absolutely clear.
You will look at balls
You will move up
You R #1 (No1)
You are the best
You will add spin
You will have long follow-throughs
You will win WIMBLEDON