Thought on Serena as we approach the Spring
Having watched the women's final in entirety now, I have only one thought:
The quality of tennis Serena played, in terms of solid and consistent aggression and sheer focus, control, and court-sense gives me every indication that she is gunning for a 2nd French Open title, and she's preparing for the way she has to play on clay.
All tournament long, Serena maintained laser-sharp focus. The only times she looked out-of-sorts were the first set and a half against a very 'on' Azarenka, and about four games against a very 'on' Henin. And rather than up the aggression, she took a very practical route and went with the smarter shot, the steadier weapon, the holding pattern rather than the air strike. And as she found her range, she turned it around. That's the kind of tennis she is capable of, but we haven't seen THAT kind of tennis from Serena, conistently, in a very long time. This makes three straight matches (or at least 6.5 straight sets) of extremely thoughtful tennis with the gear always set to 2nd or 3rd, with the ability to kick it into 4th (and, for Serena, untouchable) gear when the cylinders are firing.
Part of what, I think, Serena has suffered from on clay in the past five years is a tendency to think she can blast her way past anyone. And that is true against almost anyone on grass, most players on hard courts, and many players on clay, but the threshold is lower. Serena has rarely needed to play thoughtful tennis because her devastating best is too much for anyone to handle. But (in many ways) since Sharapova showed that a determined, focused, and on-fire player can withstand the barrage and throw it back at her, Serena has had to adapt. Seeing her adjust her tactics against Azarenka, and especially seeing her come into the final with a gameplan I never would have expected from her, I am convinced she has learned something about maintaining that steady level and letting the opportunity present itself rather than forcing it and risk opportunity arriving on her opponent's doorstep.
Admittedly, there are still technical things that will always make clay a tougher ask, but seeing her play this past week...I think she's looking more capable as a slow-court player than she has at any point in her career. And as someone who relishes clay tennis as the ultimate expression of the sport, I'm excited to see the best of her generation bring it on clay with the proper attitude and mindset, as well as skills, to be the best.