In a surprising twist of fate, world No. 1 Serena Williams will arrive at this year’s US Open with her last chance to win a Grand Slam title in 2014.
Discounting the period between 2010-2011 when she lost a year of play to injury and illness, the last time that Williams showed up at the US Open without having captured a Grand Slam trophy leading in to this event was 2008. It’s worth pointing out that she rectified the situation with a win at Flushing Meadows that year.
While Williams has failed even to reach a quarterfinal at the three Grand Slams already played this year, she’s still leading the WTA Tour with five titles for the season: Brisbane, Miami, Rome, Stanford, and Cincinnati—just last week. Her victory at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open established Williams as the winner of the summer Emirates Airline US Open Series Bonus Challenge for a second consecutive year, which translates to the potential of earning an extra $1 million bonus check if she can finish first in Flushing.
Williams will be starting her 203rd non-consecutive week as No. 1 when she walks through the gates at Flushing Meadows, and will be in the market for a 63rd career singles title and 18th victory at the majors. If she captures this year’s US Open, she will join Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in the 18 Grand Slam singles title club, trailing only Steffi Graf with 22 in the Open era. Australian Margaret Court holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles in the women’s game with 24, which currently leaves the soon-to-be 33-year-old Williams seven majors short of equaling Court’s tally.
“It’s always motivated me,” said Williams, when asked if she’d like to achieve the record of most major trophies before she retires. “But at the end of the day I have to first get to 18. That’s been avoiding me, actually.”
It’s certainly worth pointing out that WIlliams, who is the two-time defending champion at this year’s Open, is a woman on a mission. And when she has that hard stare of purpose and winning on her there’s no denying Williams becomes an even more formidable opponent.
Williams is hoping to carry into Flushing Meadows the momentum of her 6-4, 6-1 win over Anna Ivanovic for the Cincinnati title, which she described as “definitely a better level than I’ve played all year….” Nevertheless, she still believes there’s room for improvement in her game, most especially her return of serve.
Win or lose in New York, Williams is emphatic in pointing out that she isn’t planning on leaving the game anytime soon. And why should she? Just a month shy of her 33rd birthday, she still owns the women’s game.
“I just love to play,” Williams said. “I love being out here. I love the competition. I love this moment. I love holding up the trophy and I love doing the work that it takes to hold up a trophy. For me, there is no better feeling.”
Jokingly declaring that, “32 is the new 22,” Williams is clearly in top physical shape, quite possibly in the best condition of her career. That said, she also understands that longevity in the game will require intelligent choices.
“At the end of the day I definitely want to be able to win majors and then just pick and choose really carefully around the tournaments,” Williams said. “Although 32 is the new 22, it’s still 32. Or 33 in a couple of weeks…. So, yeah, I just want to make some really smart decisions going into my future because I want to continue to play for a long time.”
For now, Williams is pushing the notion that all is well and she’s in the perfect frame of mind, allowing that in her opinion, everything started to “click” since her first day of practice at the Cincinnati tournament.
In that vein, her publicly pronounced current mantra sounds more like advice coming from a self-help book promoting the sunnier side of life: “Be good to myself and be positive,” she said. “Whatever happens, I have to be happy. I’m not doing so bad, you know.”