Serena Williams’ Body Should be Able Again. Will the Mind be Willing?

Serena Williams will almost surely be able to play tennis again. The question is this:

Will she want to?

The focus Wednesday was on her immediate health scare, the blood clots in one of her lungs. With blood thinners, that is manageable, and she could be back in time for Wimbledon in June. She had missed the previous eight months over a seemingly minor foot injury. And last year, her knees were the problem.

In many ways, her body is breaking down. It happens with age, and with the beating the tennis tour can put on you.

But the tour puts an equal beating, at least, on the mind. At 29, Williams is getting to a dicey age in tennis. Middle age, old age. Somewhere in there.

Even before her injuries and sickness, her motivation seemed shaky, as she would blow off tournaments that aren’t majors or to show up for these mandated events, lose quickly, and intentionally, and get out.

I’m not sure she wants this anymore. And she certainly doesn’t need it financially.

But the game still needs her.

“This has been extremely hard, scary and disappointing,’’ she said in a statement. “I am doing better. I’m at home now and working with my doctors to keep everything under control. . .

“While I can’t make any promises now on my return, I hope to be back by early summer. That said, my main goal is to make sure I get there safely.’’

It will be roughly a year away from the game for Williams, and if she doesn’t come back by Wimbledon, then she will fall entirely out of the rankings. Players hold on to their computer rankings points for 12 months.

So she would go into the U.S. Open, the last major of the year, unranked and unseeded. Is she going to have that burning desire to do all the dirty work, the ground work, the grueling hours of practice, to build it all back up?

All to play one major, the U.S. Open, before January 2012?

Williams has spent years talking about having interests outside of the game, a balance in her life and a way to stay fresh an healthy. It has led to plenty of criticism, but when you see burnouts, and Tiger Woods, who seem unable to deal with real life, you realize that maybe she, and her sister Venus, have been on to something.

So I’m not suggesting that Williams might be burned out. But at some point, players start to lose their intensity about tending to the tiny details, traveling the world to play tournaments she isn’t interested in.

Williams is not going to be building toward anything. Caroline Wozniacki, ranked No. 1, is trying to grow her career and to prove that she’s the best. (She’s not). Williams has nothing to prove.

Kim Clijsters came back after 2 ½ of retirement/maternity leave because she wanted to. And it is possible that Williams will have found over the course of the year that she really misses the game.

Maybe she will come back fired up.

I doubt it.

Pete Sampras was struggling before he wons that last U.S. Open. And then he stepped away for a deep breath and realized that that was enough.

“I never looked back,’’ he said this week, after looking relaxed and comfortable while beating Andre Agassi in an exhibition in New York.

At some point, it’s just hard to keep the consistency, to be pumped up day in, day out.

The guess here is that she would probably like to play the majors, and maybe one or two warmup tournaments before them. And that’s it. The tour should find a way to keep her, even if that means re-writing the rules to allow her to do what she wants. Serena Rules.

The good thing for Williams is that the mountain is not too high to climb. That’s my nice way of saying that the top of women’s tennis is weak, a void almost, other than Clijsters.

I don’t want to go so far as to talk about the end of both Williams sisters. Venus is banged up, and 30. But I don’t think Venus is ready to go.

Serena has come back before, even when she was out of shape. The body is going to keep presenting problems. This health scare could shock her into seeing the finish line of her career. It could push her to make one more run. Or, she might realize that last time she left the court, it was Centre Court at Wimbledon, and she was the champ.

It isn’t a bad way to end.

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

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