| Serena's career at the point of no return|
By Mark Hodgkinson
As Serena Williams seems to be spending more time in green rooms than locker rooms these days, it is probably appropriate that her last public appearance of note was at an Oscars party in Hollywood.
The American's last tennis match? Back in January, at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, when the defending champion, clearly overweight and shockingly inept with her stroke-play, was beaten in the third round. Williams, a two-time Wimbledon champion and a winner of seven grand slams overall, dropped out of the world's top 100 this week, her lowest ranking for around a decade. And so there are now genuine doubts whether the world No 106 will play again.
Williams, 24, has multiple interests outside tennis. She has been working on her acting career (one of her recent roles came in the medical drama ER where she played a mother whose child was trapped inside a burning building), and she also has her own fashion label - Aneres, as in Serena spelt backwards. Other recent projects have included working with Estee Lauder on their cosmetic range, 'Flirt', and starring in a reality television series with her sister, Venus. She has also demonstrated a Paris Hilton-style liking for premieres and parties.
With all that going on, what appeal can the practice court and the gym possibly hold for the aspiring actress and fashionista? Williams once dominated the sport with her athleticism around the court and the ferocity of her shots, but she has been struggling with fitness and injuries for some months now.
So concerned have the tennis world been with Williams' attitude towards the sport that two of the greats, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, have been moved to publicly question her. Both Evert and Navratilova believe that Williams has been wasting her undoubted talent, and spending too much time on her off-court interests. How many more grand slam titles could Williams win if she applied herself properly?
Evert has written an open letter to Williams in the May issue of Tennis Magazine, advising her to have a re-think about her tennis career. "In the short term you may be happy with the various things going on in your life, but I wonder whether 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not putting 100 per cent of yourself into tennis. Because, whether you want to admit it or not, these distractions are tarnishing your legacy," Evert wrote.
"I don't see how acting and designing clothes can compare with the pride of being the best tennis player in the world. Your other accomplishments just can't measure up to what you can do with a racket in your hand. Just remember you have an opportunity of the rarest kind - to be the greatest ever." Navratilova could hardly agree more, describing Williams as a potential "supernova". "Serena should be in her physical prime, but she is wasting time you cannot ever get back. She had the opportunity to be the greatest in history. Instead, she'll be a supernova who burst on to the scene, and then she was gone," Navratilova said.
"Serena has a gift, and she's not using it. What you really regret are the things you didn't do. Will she get it together, or will she fall so low she'll need wild-card invitations? She may find by then that her head will be there, but her body won't. It's a sad situation." Williams may counter by saying that she did not ask Evert and Navratilova for their advice, and, frankly, they can mind their own business. Richard Williams, the father of Serena and Venus, once said that he could see his daughters developing other interests and retiring early from the sport as he did not want "a couple of gum-chewing illiterates" on his hands.
But it is difficult to argue with the points made by two of the legends of women's tennis. And while Williams appears increasingly uninterested in tennis, so the sport has started to move on without her as one of the leading players. Should she announce her retirement soon, and that is far from unlikely, then she may find that the sport copes a little better than she may think.
The mind is cast back to Williams' last appearance in a Wimbledon final, in July 2004. In the minutes after her defeat by Maria Sharapova, Williams was asked how, "as a tennis superstar", she might respond to the challenge from the teenage Russian. "A tennis superstar?" Williams replied. "I'm not a tennis superstar. I'm a superstar. Period. Like Britney Spears." And the sad thing is that she was not joking. Even in a sport that has known some puffed-up personalities, the Serena Williams ego takes some beating.
serena should be taking her tennis more seriously instead of dropping outside of the world top 100. many people can be called a good designer or actress. but only one person can be called the best tennis player in the world. why she doesnt seem to want that is astounding. tennis players all over the world wish they had serenas ability to take advantage of it which she doesnt wanna. she could dominate tennis then when her career is over be a designer and actress for over half her life anyway. her time now whilst young should be focused on the sport that made her.