When Serena Williams began her comeback at Indian Wells this time a year ago, it was broadly seen as a question of when not if she would equal, and then surpass, Margaret Court’s grand-slam record.
There was acknowledgment that having had a year’s maternity leave, Williams’ ascent back to the top of the sport would not be instant, but it would surely happen sooner or later.
As it happened, the speed of Williams’ return to the upper echelons was actually ahead of schedule – within six months of her return she had reached the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open.
But in both of those finals, Williams fell short – losing to a younger, more energetic, and most worryingly more composed opponent. She failed to win a set in either match, losing by pretty grim scorelines of 6-3, 6-3 and 6-2, 6-4 to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka respectively.
These defeats, coupled with January’s Australian Open defeat to Karolina Pliskova – having held match points and led 5-1 in the third set – meant that where there was once certainty, now there is doubt.