As Serena Williams went over on her right ankle in her first singles match of the year’s first Grand Slam, worried glances ricocheting around Australian Open high command, it was assumed that her spill would put paid to her doubles campaign with sister Venus.
Much as Jeremy Chardy was practically vilified on Twitter for playing a doubles match the day after reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open, and, heaven forbid, risking himself an injury, doubles was viewed as an expendable outing for the No.3 seed.
But the game’s lower-profile discipline has an importance to Serena that the 15-time major singles champion has no hesitation in admitting to.
Alongside Venus, Serena has never lost a Grand Slam doubles final, winning 13 of them, and three Olympic gold medals too. What’s more, in those 13 finals, they only dropped a set four times.
“They mean a lot to me,” Serena said about her doubles titles.
“They count at Grand Slams. I’m really excited that I’ve been able to win so many doubles titles.”
Much of it comes down to the fact that, in Venus, Serena has the perfect partner. The pair complement each other perfectly; they have the natural chemistry on the court that the Bryan brothers do. And, at the end of it, they are sisters, doing it for each other. You only had to look at the way Serena leaned her head on her older sister’s shoulder during the Olympic gold medal ceremony, or adjusted Venus’s skirt during their straight sets win over Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik on Sunday afternoon.
Serena and Venus won 90 per cent of points on their first serves, produced 39 winners and just 12 unforced errors. They are a well-oiled machine.
Serena has put the secret of their success perfectly in the past. “They’ll hit all the balls to Venus and I’ll relax,” she said. “That’s the mistake.”
And so Serena and her ankle did not take a break instead of playing doubles. She competed, they won, won again, and won again. Three matches later, they are in the quarterfinals, top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci their next opponents.
Vinci and Errani, like Williams and Williams, are exceptions to the rule in that they are managing both disciplines rather well. The world No.1s are both ranked inside the singles top 20. But that’s a rarity.
Today’s tennis requires that, especially in men’s, players focus on one or the other. It’s very difficult to do both. And Serena knows that.
“I mean, people that are winning a lot of singles titles, nowadays, in the past decade or two decades, usually don’t win as many in doubles,” she said.
“So I’m almost even with my singles and doubles. I think that’s really cool. It shows that I’m a really all-around player.”
Thus, while there is no doubt that the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup is the pot at the end of the rainbow for Serena this fortnight, the women’s doubles trophy would do pretty nicely too.