Serena Williams has her eyes on New York, not always the most welcoming landscape for her but now a destination where she is desperate to make history and friends.
Where once there was rancour this time there ought to be the most fulsome lavishing of celebration for the finest tennis player the women’s game has known since Steffi Graf as Williams attempts to draw alongside the German’s tally of 22 majors while completing the first calendar grand slam since Graf’s in 1988.
Williams will arrive as owner of all four championships and at the very peak of her game at 33 – fit, healthy and happy. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if history crowds in on her.
Williams’s home audience has not always been kind to her in the cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium. There was the welter of poor calls against her during a loss to Jennifer Capriati in 2004; she was fined $10,500 for launching a tirade at a line official there six years ago during an acrimonious semi-final against Kim Clijsters and she was driven to apoplexy in a row with the chair umpire over a late scream of “come on!” when losing to Sam Stosur in the 2011 final. But this time, surely, it will be different.
Was she prepared for the barrage of questions she will receive about her bid for the slam when she returns to the United States before the US Open? “I have to go into New York thinking, ‘Listen, I want to win the US Open. I want to defend my title’. And that’s the only reason I want to be there. I want to go in that locker room and take my famous picture on my knees and hold up that No4 [for a fourth title in a row].
“And that’s how I got through this; it wasn’t about winning the Serena Slam, it was about winning Wimbledon. I hadn’t won here in a while, I really wanted to win this title and that’s the same mind frame I want to go into the next grand slam.”
And the US Open? “It would be amazing. It would be really good to have an opportunity. Even to have this opportunity to go into New York, being an American, with that amazing New York crowd … I feel like I play better when I’m relaxed. Last year going into the [US] Open I didn’t get to the quarter-finals of any grand slam and so going into that tournament I was so relaxed that I thought I might repeat that and I probably won’t get too far in this tournament. So I just went in there having a low goal, quarter-finals, and then building on that goal match by match, and that’s literally how I took it. So I just have to take it one match at a time.
“Hopefully people will be cheering me on to, like, push me over the edge, give me that extra strength I need to go for this historic moment. That would be great. And I think in a way it also makes things easier for me because I feel like I have nothing to lose. I feel like I can go in there, do the best I can and just hope for the best.”
Her best will be more than good enough. While she had anxious moments here against Heather Watson, Victoria Azarenka and, to a lesser extent, Garbiñe Muguruza in the final, Williams always gave the impression she could find a way. And the regular slam, as opposed to her eponymous one, is the prize that matters most, she reluctantly agreed. “I think so, because of what everyone says and what everyone writes, seeing it as the ultimate – so obviously you can’t help but see it that way too. There’s a reason it’s been 27 years since it’s been done. I mean, it’s not the easiest thing to do.”
After becoming the oldest slam winner in the modern era by beating the rising Spaniard Muguruza 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday, Williams was as content as experienced observers could recall. She has had more than her share of troubles, from failing health to wavering support during her “difficult” times on court. But there is an air of maturity and satisfaction about her that was missing here in the second round of the doubles last year, when she left the tournament suffering from a mysterious dizzy spell after serving four double faults in a row.
In the bowels of the media centre at the end of a long and productive day on Saturday she paused to say in turn to each of her inquisitors “thank you so much”, and the thought arrives that the gratitude should be travelling very much in the opposite direction. We all have a lot to thank Serena Williams for.
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