After loss to Venus, it's time to temper our expectations for Serena

From ESPN - March 13, 2018

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Since she arrived here, Serena Williams has been telling us to temper our expectations. In postmatch media conferences, she has said she is easing into her comeback, not placing too much pressure on herself to win matches or perform like the Serena of 14 months ago. She asked us to give her time to return to championship form.

We did not listen. Her actions during matches seemed to speak more loudly than what she was saying after them.

In her first- and second-round wins in the BNP Paribas Open, she played aggressive, gritty tennis, fighting back from down 3-1 in the first set of her second-round match against Kiki Bertens before winning in a tiebreaker. We had short memories for the unforced errors and uninspired serving, and focused instead on the positives. She showed incredible focus and mental toughness and hit powerful returns. She moved better than she had in the exhibition matches she played before returning to WTA play here at Indian Wells.

With each game, with each match, Williams looked stronger, fitter, more technically sound than she had previously. Heading into Monday night's matchup with her older sister Venus, we all but expected Serena to win -- against a top-10 opponent who played in two Grand Slam finals last year and is contesting her fourth tournament this season. It was too much to ask.

"For me, it was a good match. It was good to play and try to get in the rhythm and get into the swing again," Serena said after the match. "I am getting there. It's not exactly where I want to be, but I will get there eventually. I have a lot to improve on. It's good that I do not have to say that this is the best tennis I have ever played and I lost. My room for improvement is incredible. I just have a long way to go, and I am looking forward to the journey."

On a grander level, this match held a lot of meaning. That is true any time the Williams sisters face each other, and their history here at Indian Wells only compounded the emotion of the night. But in the story of Serena's return to tennis after a 14-month maternity leave, this match will be but a footnote, the first loss she was dealt in what will undoubtedly be a success story punctuated with future Grand Slam wins.

Because she came into this tournament unseeded, it was inevitable she would play a top player early, and that it would be the first true measure of where her game stands right now. Monday against the No. 8 player in the world, Williams looked more like we expected her to look in her first two matches: Like a player who is not in peak form or ready to win tournaments.

"In a way, it's normal she did not win tonight," her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told "If she had won the first tournament, that would have been incredible. But if you know how to use disappointment in a good way, it is great motivation."

During this tournament, Mouratoglou said he and Serena learned a lot about where she is in her comeback and what they need to work on heading into next week's Miami Open.


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