LONDON — Nothing drives Serena Williams the way disappointment does.
“It’s the biggest factor for me. Like, if I lose, all hell breaks loose, literally. Literally! I go home, I practice harder, I do more,” she said. “I don’t like to lose. ... I hate losing more than I love winning. It could be a game of cards — I don’t like it. I really don’t like it.”
Well, the way Williams has been playing tennis lately, there’s been very little not to like. When Wimbledon starts Monday, she will be an overwhelming favorite to win her sixth title at the All England Club and second in a row. Williams enters the grass-court Grand Slam tournament 43-2 in 2013 and on a 31-match winning streak, the longest on the women’s tour in a single season in 13 years.
“It happens in sports: You’re going to lose. I learned that you’re not going to win all of them. And there have been a few matches that I wasn’t disappointed in,” said Williams, who at 31 is the oldest player to be ranked No. 1 in WTA history.
“But there were some that I was disappointed in,” she added, “and it’s actually helped me to get better.”
Case in point: A little more than a year ago, Williams arrived at the French Open unbeaten for the season on red clay and anticipating a charge at the title. Instead, she lost in the first round, the only opening-match exit from a major tournament in her career.
“It really was a shock for her. She really worked on rebuilding herself to become perhaps stronger than ever,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who began collaborating with Williams shortly after that defeat.
“The more you eat, the hungrier you get,” Mouratoglou said. “When you win, when you achieve the exceptional, you don’t want it to stop.”
Since that dark day at Roland Garros, Williams is 74-3, including trophies at three of the past four Slams and the WTA Championships, plus gold at the London Olympics.
That run of nearly uninterrupted success began 12 months ago at Wimbledon, and most recently resulted in her first French Open championship in 11 years, with a straight-set victory over defending champion Maria Sharapova. That was Williams’ 13th consecutive win against Sharapova; their rivalry took a nasty off-court turn Saturday, when Sharapova’s pre-Wimbledon news conference included a verbal shot at Williams.
Sharapova was asked about a recent Rolling Stone article where the author surmised that critical comments by Williams directed at an unnamed, top-five player were referring to Sharapova.
Williams is quoted as saying: “She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”
“At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court,” Sharapova said Saturday. “I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy.”
Williams has been linked to Mouratoglou, but neither has confirmed their relationship extends beyond tennis. When Mouratoglou was asked about the topic at the French Open, he smiled and replied: “Sorry. I don’t understand the question.”
Between the lines, given the way Williams’ best-in-the-game serve and generally dangerous strokes only get better on the slick grass, it’s difficult to pick against her during the upcoming fortnight.
There are four men, meanwhile, who all have real reason to like their chances, a quartet that’s combined to collect 32 of the past 33 Grand Slam tournaments: defending champion Roger Federer, owner of a record 17 Grand Slam titles, including seven at Wimbledon; No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won Wimbledon in 2011; two-time champion Rafael Nadal, whose record eighth French Open trophy this month raised his career haul to 12 major titles; and Andy Murray, the runner-up last year at the All England Club and reigning U.S. Open champion who wants to give Britain its first male title winner at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
Federer and Nadal could meet in the quarterfinals, with the winner potentially getting Murray in the semifinals, because all three wound up on the same side of the draw. Djokovic, meanwhile, is on the other half and at most would need to beat only one of that other trio to earn the championship.
Some people would say that I was lucky with the draw,” Djokovic said Saturday. “But look, you know, it’s a Grand Slam, so I don’t think that there is any easy way to the title.”