The list of tennis players opting out of taking part in the Tokyo Summer Olympics is growing.
And that list now officially includes Serena Williams.
Williams, the double gold medallist in 2012 in London, also won gold in doubles with sister Venus in 2000 in Sydney, and in 2008 in Beijing.
But this time, she won’t be there.
Williams confirmed this Sunday in response to a question from Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports. And in further follow-up questions from other journalists at her Wimbledon pre-tournament press conference, she didn’t want to elaborate.
At least, not right now.
Williams was asked if the fact that she couldn’t bring aptly-named daughter Olympia, with whom she is inseparable, to Tokyo with her was a factor.
“There are a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision. I don’t really want to — I don’t feel like going into them today. Maybe another day,” she said. “Sorry.”
Serena sombre in press
You never want to judge tone, because there’s always so much going on behind the scenes that you never see. But Williams, whose scheduled press conference was moved around numerous times before she arrived, was exceedingly sombre when she did sit down.
She was courteous, as she usually is. But there seemed, right under the surface, to be a rare layer of sadness. You just hope that there’s nothing going on, on the personal front, that’s of concern.
Asked by British journalist Simon Cambers what missing the Olympics would be like, after having had so many glorious moments there, she deferred those reflections.
“I have not thought about it. In the past it’s been a wonderful place for me. I really haven’t thought about it, so I’m going to keep not thinking about it,” she said.
Another quest for No. 24
Williams won Wimbledon in 2015 and 2016, her fourth and fifth titles at the All-England Club.
She didn’t play in 2017, when she was extremely pregnant with Olympia.
Upon her return, she reached the final in 2018, but lost to Angelique Kerber. And she reached the final again in 2019, the last time it was played. But she lost – again routinely, in straight sets – to Simona Halep.
The consensus is that grass is her best opportunity to capture that elusive history-making major. But Williams said that even the absence of two of the top three players in the world didn’t really open up the field much.
“I feel like it doesn’t matter who you play, you have to be ready. Everyone’s here. Everyone worked really hard to be here,” said Williams, who often says – sometimes even accurately – after tough defeats that her opponent played the match of her life to beat her.
Big “X” on her back since ’99
“It’s definitely made me better, to be honest. I’ve had a big “X” on my back since 1999, since I won the US Open. When players play me that hard every single tournament, every single match, every single Grand Slam – it just doesn’t matter where – you just get better,” she said.
“It’s been difficult mentally when someone might beat you and they lose directly in the next round, almost every time,” she added. “But at the end of the day, that’s why I’m … Serena.”
Williams should give herself more credit, because the fact that her opponent has absolutely nothing left in the tank for her next match, after a win over her, is a testament to how incredibly draining it – physically and mentally – to secure a win over her.
Even as she approaches 40, that’s still the case.
Williams will play her first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus on Tuesday.