Serena Williams upset; American vanquisher says ‘I think she’s surprised by how bad I am’

(Getty Images)
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Serena Williams lost 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-4 to world No. 72 Madison Brengle in the ASB Tennis Classic in Auckland, a loss she described as “obscene” and gives her little match preparation for the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam that begins in less than two weeks.

Though Serena hit 88 unforced errors (“too much, just way too many,” she said) and struggled to return in the swirling wind (“I’ve never returned like that in my life […] I really abhorred the conditions), Brengle had another theory for why she was able to hang with the 22-time Grand Slam champion:

"I think she's surprised how bad I am 😂"Madison Brengle's interesting strategy against Serena Williams

Posted by WTA on Wednesday, January 4, 2017

“I think she’s surprised by how bad I am.”

Being relaxed and letting a struggling Serena come to you is the only move out of the playbook when you’re ranked No. 72 in the world. Taking it with good humor likely and relaxation makes it even more effective as the one thing a fighting Serena never likes to see is calm on the other side of the net.

With the loss coming early in the first tournament Serena has played since the U.S. Open, does this foretell tough sledding in Melbourne for the world No. 2? No, not for a player as unpredictable as Serena, whose Grand Slam scouting report has pretty much been this for the past eight years: “Favorite to win, can only be beaten by one player in the draw: herself.” Despite playing on Wednesday like she could have been ranked in the triple digits (minus her serve, which was typically great), Serena could very well go through the Australian Open without losing a set. Or she could fall to a player of Ana Ivanovic’s caliber (again).

Either way, you can’t read any tea leaves about it. In her last eight starts at the year’s first Grand Slam, Serena has seen little correlation between tuneup events (if she even played one) and her Australian Open fortunes.

2016: No tuneup, lost Australian Open final

2015: No tuneup, won Australian Open

2014: Won tuneup (Brisbane), lost Australian Open fourth round

2013:Won tuneup (Brisbane), lost Australian Open fourth round

(Getty Images)
Getty Images

2012: Quit tuneup after two wins (Brisbane), lost Australian Open fourth round

2011: DNP

2010: Lost tuneup (Sydney final), won Australian Open

2009: Lost tineup (Sydney final), won Australian Open

2008: No tuneup, lost Australian Open quarterfinal

By these results, winning her tuneup has been the worst thing for Serena. If you wanted to read too much into it, you could say it’s maybe because she was putting in so much court time early in the season that she lost energy two weeks later. That seems suspect though. More likely than not, winning the tuneup and losing early were total coincidences.

That won’t be a problem she’ll need to solve this time. The Australian Open begins in 12 days and, as usual, Serena Williams will enter as the favorite, even though the defending champion, Angelique Kerber, is also the world No. 1. But the defeat to Brengle might have given Serena a key to getting back to the winner’s circle after losing four of her last five Grand Slam starts: Never underestimate how bad your opponent might be.