For the last three years, Serena Williams has been chasing the all-time grand slam singles record of 24 championships held by Margaret Court.
But since clinching an Open era record 23rd major at the 2017 Australian Open – while pregnant with her daughter Olympia – the former top-ranked American has failed to clear the final hurdle.
With tennis having resumed in early August following a five-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Williams’ pursuit of that elusive 24th grand slam title is back on.
Despite earlier than expected defeats in her first two events back, and though she has lost the last four slam finals she has appeared in, the 38-year-old’s huge experience may yet give her the edge over younger opponents at this month’s US Open, her long-time coach said.
“She’ll be competitive,” Patrick Mouratoglou, who has worked with Williams since 2012, told CNN Sport in a phone interview, conducted before her return in Lexington. “It’s easier for the older players because they know themselves so well and they know how to get back in shape after a long break.
“We’ve seen Roger [Federer] being out for six months and winning a grand slam, so those players I think have so much experience, they don’t need so many matches to be competitive,” said the Frenchman, who has guided Williams to 10 major singles championships.
“I think for a younger player it’s a bit tougher for the same reasons; they don’t know themselves that well yet. Especially when they’re progressing that fast, everything’s going well, positive and in a way it breaks that momentum a little bit.”
Williams has been competitive in her first two events back but last week in Lexington and then this week at the Western and Southern Open, which is being held at Flushing Meadows, the American found it difficult to close out matches and suffered surprise quarterfinal and third-round exits, respectively.
She lost to world No. 116, Shelby Rogers in Lexington and then on Tuesday, let slip a commanding lead to lose to world No. 21 Maria Sakkari from Greece.
Confidence has never been an issue for Williams but Mouratoglou has work to do to get her mind on track for a genuine shot at the title.
“I’ve just got to start learning how to win big points,” Williams told reporters after losing to Sakkari, having served for a straight-sets victory. “If I could just focus on how to win that one point, that would be better.
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“I had so many opportunities to win and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again. There (are) really no excuses, to be honest.”
Although the younger generation still looks up to her, has Serana lost some of her omnipotent aura?
“It’s not like 10, 15 years ago, whenever Serena and Venus walked around, you could feel what we call ‘locker room respect.’ With the younger generation, I don’t think they fear that,” Daniela Hantuchova, a former world No. 5 from Slovakia who is now a tennis commentator for Amazon Prime in the UK, told CNN Sport in an interview.
If there is anybody who knows how to bounce back from a long break, it’s Williams, who has struggled with a number of serious health issues and injuries since turning pro in 1995.
These include an almost year-long break straight after winning Wimbledon in 2010, during which she underwent surgery for a cut in her foot and was hospitalized for a potentially life-threatening pulmonary embolism.