Serena Williams enters the US Open making a case for herself not only as the greatest women’s tennis player in history, but possibly the greatest woman in sports history.
The 33-year-old star has sustained a level of excellence few can rival, from winning her first Grand Slam singles title as a teen prodigy at the 1999 US Open to collecting her 21st last month at Wimbledon, completing her second career “Serena Slam” of holding all four major trophies at once.
Winning a record-tying fourth consecutive US Open women’s title, a feat last achieved by Chris Evert in 1978, would give Williams something she has never achieved before — a calendar year Grand Slam — and link her with only a handful of the game’s greatest legends, men or women.
But it’s not something world number one Williams wants to contemplate just yet. It’s like pondering a good book before the last chapter is written, especially as Williams is penning an epic tale that doesn’t appear set to end anytime soon.
“I just want to play tennis,” Williams said. “I don’t necessarily want to hear about this history and that history, because I just want to be able to do the best that I can. I want to be able to win and I don’t want any distractions. That’s how I’m going to handle it.”
When the year’s final Grand Slam event starts Monday in New York, Williams will be a huge favorite. She has won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open six times each and collected three French Open crowns.
“I compete a lot against my standards,” Williams said. “I have such high standards for myself and I expect the best from me and nothing less.”
– ‘Living the dream’ –
Matching her “Serena Slam” run from the 2002 French Open through the 2003 Australian Open required Williams to endure numerous three-set fights on London grass, but she emerged triumphant.
“To have all four at the same time, two times in one career, that totally means a lot,” Williams said. “It was really important for me to do that.”
Williams is only one shy of Steffi Graf’s Open Era career record of 22 titles and the retired German legend tweeted that Williams’ feat was “incredible” and an “amazing accomplishment.”
“I see her post things about me and that’s pretty awesome,” Williams said. “I really am still like a kid when I see her or I see posts. I get super excited. I’m still living the dream.”
– ‘Don’t feel my age’ –
At 33, Williams is the oldest women’s world number one — no man so old has won a Grand Slam title since 1972 — and her best might be yet to come.
“I’ve definitely gotten a little better,” Williams said. “I really don’t feel my age. It’s gratifying at whatever age you achieve it.”
Williams is three Slam singles titles shy of matching Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record and would join a rare calendar-year Slam list that includes Graf, Court, Maureen Connolly, Don Budge and Rod Laver by winning at Flushing Meadows.
“I feel OK about my game,” Williams said. “I’m always looking to improve. I’m never comfortable. That’s when I think you are susceptible to losing.”
She became a US Open champion at age 17, only the second African-American woman after Althea Gibson to claim a Grand Slam title. Williams, coached by her father Richard, was toughened on the streets of Los Angeles and by practices with older sister Venus, a seven-time major champion.
Maturity brought a fashion design business and a foot in the entertainment realm as an actress, but her domination when focused on tennis has made Williams the likely target for a new generation of record chasers yet to come.
“I think it will be great,” Williams said of such days. “I think it’s amazing. I think I would be really supportive, like Steffi is of me. It’s such a great feeling. I always want to see people do well and be successful. I think it will be really cool.”