United States' Serena Williams hits a backhand return to Japan's Naomi Osaka during their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: Andy Brownbill / AP

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In an era where leaders too often blame others for their mistakes, Serena Williams offered a master class in taking responsibility.

After a crushing semi-final defeat by rising tennis star Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open last week, Williams was asked at a post-match press conference what went wrong.

Her response was simple and straightforward.

“The difference today was errors,” she said.

She didn’t blame her opponent, the referees, the spectators or her injuries. She didn’t blame her daughter or her husband. She didn’t blame her coach or anyone else.

She made it crystal clear, she lost for one reason: She made too many unforced errors.

As the questions continued, she kept repeating that simple response in different ways. “I made too many mistakes, easy mistakes.”

She used the words errors and mistakes eight times in the roughly three-minute press conference. She also acknowledged that she had many opportunities to win points, but was done in by her errors.

As reporters continued to ask her about why she made mistakes and if she was thinking of leaving the sport she has dominated for years, 39-year-old Williams ended the press conference and walked away as she wiped away tears.

That became the headline on many stories about the Osaka-Williams match and Williams’ press conference: Serena Williams leaves press conference in tears. That shouldn’t be the takeaway.

Earlier in the press conference, Williams offered a valuable tutorial on not letting a bad day, even an error-filled day, define you. We offer a hat tip to Inc. magazine for offering this perspective.

“It was a big error day for me today,” she said in the press conference.

“If you’re a leader or an entrepreneur, consider the power and emotional intelligence in that sentence,” Minda Zetlin wrote on Inc.com. “She didn’t blame the judges, or the court surface, or her injuries for her failure. She didn’t try to make excuses or suggest that she could have avoided this dispiriting result if only things had been slightly different. She owned the failure completely — but she didn’t give it the power to dominate or doom her.

“It was a big error day today. Tomorrow might be a very different day,” Zetlin wrote.

There is another lesson here as well: Don’t forget about yesterday either.

Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles, the most of any player in the “Open Era” of tennis that began after amateurs and professionals were both allowed to compete in major tournaments. She is one title away from tying the most ever singles major titles won by a tennis player, Australian Margaret Court, who played in the 1960s and ‘70s and won 24. Willams has also won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister, Venus Williams.

Osaka, who is 23, grew up watching Serena Williams play and calls Williams her idol.

Osaka first beat Williams in a Grand Slam in the 2018 U.S. Open that was marred by allegations of sexist judging and an outburst from Williams. The crowd booed the outcome.

“I just want to tell you guys she played well. This is her first Grand Slam. … Let’s not boo anymore,” Williams said, addressing the crowd in a post-match interview.

“It was always my dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open finals, so I’m really glad that I was able to do that. I’m really grateful that I was able to play with you,” Osaka said after the match.

Serena Williams must be included in any conversation about the greatest athletes. Her lessons extend far beyond the tennis court.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...