Serena Williams came out heavy-footed and flat in her fourth round match against Dominika Cibulkova at the Sony Open Monday and found herself down 6-2, 4-1 to the diminutive and talented Slovakian before quickly rebounding to win 11 of the last 13 games and prevail 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Through the first set, Serena hit 18 unforced errors to a mere two winners and her serves were clocking well below 90 mph. This from a player who can regularly serve over 115mph and usually has at least two winners before the end of the first game of the match? Something was up.
“Mentally I was just fried and I was just thinking about everything but tennis,” Serena told reporters. “Then I just had to pull myself back together.”
She spent the first set of the match struggling with an internal dialogue — literally. Asked if there are “two Serenas” sometimes, she said yes.
“I’m talking to myself inside and she’s talking back and giving me lip. I give her a little attitude, and then I tell her she sucks and she tells me to shut up. We get into it a little bit,” she said with a laugh. “Then we get along.”
Once she settled down into the match, the comeback was perfunctory. We’ve seen this happen frequently with Serena, whose high octane game can erase a slow start in a flash. According to the WTA’s stats guru, Kevin Fischer, Serena is 21-20 since 2009 when losing the first set.
“I’ve been down worse. It’s nothing new. Just keep fighting. I never give up. Doesn’t matter whether it’s in life or on the tennis court, I keep fighting. That’s what I kept doing today.”