EVERETT — Toward the end of the first set, after Serena Williams had won four straight games, Marysville resident Terry Hart-Harrison said to her husband, “I hope she loses one so we can see three.”
Hart-Harrison was referring to the set total, as she wanted to maximize her time with the greatest female tennis player ever — and she couldn’t have been alone.
Saturday’s Fed Cup event wasn’t just a chance for Pacific Northwesterners to see some of America’s top talent take on Latvia, it was an opportunity to see a transcendent athlete compete for her country.
And though Williams didn’t deliver a victory, she did give the sold-out crowd memories.
If Saturday was the first time you got to see Williams compete live, your ticket was a bargain no matter what the cost. The 23-time Grand Slam winner didn’t dominate, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t captivate.
Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova earned the 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 7-6 (7-4) win, which seemed like a world-class letdown at the time. But when the best to ever do it gives you two tiebreakers, that’s a victory in defeat for those who came to watch.
This isn’t an excuse for Williams coming up short Saturday. Awesome as she was at times, she sprinkled in some awful, too.
When one of the game’s best power players loses four straight service games in the first set, it’s surprising to say the least. But if watching Serena in-person was a bucket-list item for people in the Angel of the Winds Arena, it’s hard to think they drove home disappointed.
Now, at one point, it looked as if they might drive away fuming. Williams trailed 5-2 in the first set before going up, 6-5. That’s when Hart-Harrison passed along her wish to her spouse, and well, she got her wish.
Sevastova rallied and captured the first set. Then, Serena stomped on her in the second, ripping passing shots with the strength that has doomed opponents for more than two decades.
Entertaining as the three-set match between Sofia Kenin and Jelena Ostapenko was earlier in the day, neither player displayed the brute force that Williams did. The crowd reactions were less “ooooh” than they were “whoa.” It was clear why she is a generational — scratch that — all-time player.
Unfortunately for her, the consistency just wasn’t there Saturday. Williams won all six of her service games in the third set but couldn’t break — and was finally broken in the second tiebreaker.
At the time, it looked as if Williams was contributing to one of the great team choke jobs Fed Cup history by losing at the international competition for the first time in her career. Only seven times in the tournament’s history had a country blown a 2-0 lead, which was America’s position after Kenin and Williams’ wins Friday.
But after two singles losses Saturday, the Americans rallied in doubles play, where Kenin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won in straight sets to push the United States into the 12-team final that will take place in Budapest in April.
So yeah, as devastating as Serena’s loss may have seemed at the time, it was harmless in the end. And though she didn’t put up a win, she did put on a show.
Add four Olympic gold medals to Williams’ 23 Grand Slams, and you have an athlete who is as dominant in her sport as Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are/were in theirs. Getting the chance to see someone that elite in a match that competitive is a treat only a small percentage of the world can brag about. Those in attendance on Saturday can, though.
Williams was obviously happy that her team won, but she didn’t want to elaborate much on her own performance.
“It was a really intense match,” she said. “I feel like it was lots of points, lots of running, lots of things to take out of the match, for the future as well.”
Hart-Harrison’s husband, Thad, had a more concise reaction when he got a text from someone asking what he was doing in the middle of the match.
“Watching the GOAT.”