By its own ridiculous standards, 2020 has been a disappointing year for Serena williams. For the first time since 2006, she failed to make a Grand Slam final, a combination of her Achilles tendon and pandemic conspiring to keep her out of the game’s bigger stage.
Now in great shape, she returns to Melbourne with her eye once again on an elusive 24th major title, to equal the record set by Margaret Court more than four decades ago.
At a time when so many of the sport’s all-time records have been tied, it would be fitting for Williams to level himself up with Court. Over the past 15 months, we’ve seen Rafael Nadal tie Roger Federer’s 20 major titles, Lewis Hamilton tied with Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships and Tiger Woods tie Sam Snead’s 82 wins on the PGA Tour.
But time is running out for Williams. Now 39, she is already the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam title, having won in Melbourne in 2017 while pregnant with her daughter Olympia.
Four years later, can she rewrite the record books again?
“Never underestimate Serena,” senior commentator Sam Smith told Wide World of Sports.
“Of course, it gets harder and harder as she gets older. But a lot of the problems in recent years have been physical, with some minor injuries.”
As well as wounds, like the Achilles question who embarrassed her during her loss in the US Open semifinals last year, and finally forced his withdrawal from Roland-Garros, Williams has racked up an undesirable record in recent years, having lost the last four Grand Slam finals she has played.
But Smith says it’s not the added pressure from the Court’s record that is causing the losses, nor a decline in Williams’ form.
“You think of the two Wimbledon finals she lost, in 2018 and 2019. Angie Kerber played brilliantly in 2018, then Simona Halep was extraordinary the following year,” said Smith.
“She also lost to Naomi Osaka (US Open 2018) and Bianca Andreescu (US Open 2019), all of these players played amazing tennis against her. “
Smith noted that while Williams undoubtedly has her goal of matching and then passing Court, her career will not be defined by whether or not she wins another major.
“That’s her goal, and she’s going to do whatever it takes to make it happen. But any pressure is self-imposed. If she doesn’t match Margaret Court, no one is going to say, ‘Oh, you didn’t win. than 23 Grand Slam titles. ”.
“She has had an extraordinary, brilliant and phenomenal career that will go down in the history books.
“They’ll still be talking about Serena in 100 years.”
This afternoon marks the first official tour-level game for Williams in four months, when she faces Australia’s Daria Gavrilova in the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne.
Fresh off a win over Naomi Osaka in the Adelaide Super Slam show on Friday, Williams returns to Melbourne Park, where she has already won the Australian Open trophy seven times, which makes her by far the most successful woman of the open era.
Williams said in an interview last week that she only plays for the Grand Slam at this point in her career, and having won 73 tournaments on the regular tour, it’s not hard to see why.
“She’s very clear on what she wants to do,” Smith said.
“What else is there for her to play? She’s playing for the story. And that’s great, thank goodness she’s still here.
“She keeps showing up. Everyone’s scared of her, I would say every player, when they watch the draw, the first name they look for is Serena, to see where she’s at.”
Williams has publicly supported the mandatory two-week quarantine that all players must serve, although the fact that she and other big names were in Adelaide, while the Little Lights were in Melbourne, raised accusations of preferential treatment.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley didn’t shy away from the claims, pointing out that those “at the top of the game … are going to get a better deal.”
Osaka may have put it best over the weekend, when asked how she handles women’s tennis, when she explained that as long as Williams continues to play, she will retain that honor.
That’s why Smith says quarantine won’t have bothered Williams, even after spending a fortnight with a three-year-old.
“I think you can throw everything on the big champions and they will adapt,” Smith said.
“They understand it better than anyone, and they do it faster.
“Certainly she probably realizes as a parent that she can’t control everything anymore, she has to be adaptable and organized.”
It’s also why missing a Grand Slam final in 2020 won’t worry her, as she travels to the Australian Open next week. One of the favorites for the tournament, along with Osaka and Ash Barty, you wouldn’t bet against Williams lifting Memorial Cup Daphne Akhurst for the eighth time, and ultimately tied for Court record.
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