Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Serena Williams failed to deliver

Serena Williams addresses the media after her shock loss to Madison Brengle. Photo / Dean Purcell
Serena Williams addresses the media after her shock loss to Madison Brengle. Photo / Dean Purcell

Serena Williams is often held up as an example to budding sportspeople across the globe - but she was far from a role model on Wednesday.

The world No 2 described her play as "unprofessional" as she made a career high 88 unforced errors in her shock second round loss to unheralded compatriot Madison Brengle.

That may be a correct assessment, but it was her conduct afterwards that really stung.

In just her second - and final interview at the tournament - Williams spent most of the three minutes and thirty seconds trying to attack the credibility of the event.

That may not have been her intention, but when the greatest female player in the history of the sport says that the blustery afternoon in Auckland was "the least favourite conditions I've ever played in" it felt like a dagger blow to its reputation.

Williams added that the ASB Classic "was not a great opportunity to assess your game", the kind of comment that can reverberate around the locker room.

And there was more;

"At least I can get out of these conditions so I can get somewhere better, and warmer weather too," said Williams. "I can take solace in the fact that the conditions won't be like this is Melbourne."

Ouch.

Thankfully, there shouldn't be too much collateral damage, as most of Williams' colleagues on tour understand her tendency to apportion blame to external factors after surprise defeats.

Serena Williams post loss press conference

But Williams' conduct was a concern. She gave almost no credit to her opponent, and the focus on the conditions overshadowed Brengle's tenacious play. It also exposed a chink in Williams armour, and explained why, for many, regardless of statistics, she will never be regarded in the same class as Roger Federer.

Federer enjoys the challenge of playing in the wind and the sun, seeing it as a battle of wills. Williams, instead, was downcast and frustrated the whole match.

Conditions were tough on Wednesday, very tough. The wind was unpredictable and at times over 30km/h. But Williams never changed her mindset. She stuck with plan A - full throttle - and kept hitting long and wide. Brengle, in the great traditions of Brad Gilbert, played a lot of 'junk' tennis, taking the pace off the ball and using her forehand slice.

Listen: ASB Classic tournament directer Karl Budge talks to D'Arcy Waldegrave

Williams never stopped trying - this wasn't tanking a la Marcelo Rios or Nick Kyrgios - and it seemed like she wanted to win. This was shown in her fight to bring the second set back from the brink, and saving two match points in the third.

Williams usually only plays at big tournaments, almost always at large cavernous stadiums where the wind is not much of a factor. So it was a different experience for her - one she may not have experienced for a long time.

But Brengle was incredulous when he heard about Serena's "worst conditions ever" comments.

"Have you been to Hobart?", said Brengle. "That's the most wind I have ever played in. You can get some windy days there where it almost becomes not tennis. Compares to that, I felt like we could at least play points. I've played points there where you are almost bunting the ball."

Overall, Williams' time here was a disappointment. Her presence gave the tournament massive exposure, but Williams never gave the impression that she wanted to pay back her huge appearance fee. She did no media beyond the mandatory post-match press conferences - for a total of 13 minutes - and only two of her scheduled three off court appearances.

On and off the court, Williams delivered the least of any of the big names to come to Auckland over the last decade, including Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams, Jo Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer.

- Michael Burgess

- NZ Herald

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