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Keeler: Williams not same player anymore


It was simply stunning to watch.

I'm not afraid to admit that I never have and never will be a Serena Williams fan. I think she has terrible sportsmanship, and is a bad role model for kids. Not to mention, rooting for Williams when you're a Maria Sharapova fan would be a little like rooting for the Boston Red Sox when you're a New York Yankees fan.

Still, as I watched Williams' lifeless performance on Tuesday, when she lost to Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her. I should be happy, after all, her loss makes Sharapova the heavy favorite to win in Paris.
It was a sad reminder that all champions in any sport eventually fade.

Remember Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform? Brett Favre as a Viking or as a Jet? Or even more sadly to me just look at the current Yankees. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera will never be what they once were.

Williams has defeated many opponents over the years. She's crushed everyone who has posed as a threat to her as the top player in the sport, but there's one that even she can't beat -- Father Time.

At 30, Williams isn't what she used to be. In that regard, the loss shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. She hasn't won a major title in almost two years.

However, it was easy to forget as she winning 17 straight matches on clay, racking up two titles heading into the French Open. She was the clear favorite, just like she was at last year's U.S. Open. There she lost in the final to Sam Stosur, at least there she came close.
This was certainly the most unexpected loss of her career. She had never lost a first-round match at a grand slam, and Razzano was only 3-4 on the year coming into the match.

But Father Time can creep up on you when you least expect it and turn everything upside down.

As fans we often think of sports stars as being invincible or unbeatable. But the reality is that the only thing that's guaranteed in life is that things will change, and as one star fades another will emerge.

It's the good and bad of sports. You always hate to see someone stay in the game too long, but at the same time you really don't want them to leave.

There's no question Williams will stay at least for the remainder of this year. The Olympics are coming up, and this year that means there will basically be two Wimbledons, the place she's had the most success.

After that she will have to take a long look at whether she wants to continue. Much like Roger Federer, who is also 30, Williams could still win a grand slam or two. However, I don't think she can win more than that, and even winning one is not a given.

She can still win tournaments and be a force in the game, but she will never dominate again. The other players are no longer intimidated by her, and there will always be someone else out there excited to knock her off.

In the past she would have found a way to beat a Razzano, even when her game wasn't at its best. When your young and fearless, you're not afraid of losing. The older you get the more you realize just how important it is, and nerves become even more of a factor.

Williams admitted after the match that she was pretty nervous and it showed on the court.
As I watched her lose in the first round for the first time ever I realized that now is the time for all of her fans and tennis fans in general to watch as many of her matches as they can. It's always sad to see someone past their prime, but it would be even sadder not to appreciate their game and what they have brought to the sport.

After Tuesday's loss it's clear there isn't a lot of years left for Williams, much like some of the older Yankees. Now is the time to enjoy their play before they are gone.






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