It's not that she didn't try, because she did. It's not that she wasn't fit enough to play, because she was. But Serena Williams, a five-time champion at the Australian Open, put in a performance Monday that she described as "disastrous" while losing 6-2, 6-3 to Russia's Ekaterina Makarova, ranked No. 56 in the world.
Why? Not quite sure she even knows the answer to that question. Lack of match practice certainly played a part, as did the fact the ankle she injured in Brisbane made moving to the left difficult. But it didn't explain the lethargy that seemed to be draped over Serena's game like a cloak of despair. At times she appeared to move in slow motion, and her second serve would have looked ordinary on those public courts in New York's Central Park.
"I served like a . . . I guess that's not appropriate," she said, pulling back from what she really thought about her serve. "I can't even describe how I served, to be honest. It wasn't good enough. My lefty serve is actually better than that. Maybe I should have started serving lefty."
Serena was actually far more impressive in her press conference than she had been on court. She can be funny, sarcastic, miserable, dismissive or just plain ornery in front of the media, depending on her mood. But this time she was just honest and rational.
Was she fit? "I never blame any injury that I have because she played really well and deserved to win today," was the reply. "I look forward to our next match. I feel I can definitely play so much better. And that's good. Like if I felt I couldn't play better, that would be a problem."