Serena Williams facing highest pressure she's ever faced, says coach Patrick Mouratoglou

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The pressure Serena Williams is facing to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of Grand Slams won is the greatest she has ever encountered, according to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

Williams is chasing history this upcoming fortnight at the Australian Open and while she has countless records to her name, Mouratoglou believes Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Grand Slam titles remains the ultimate challenge for the American superstar.

She is one major of way from equaling that record, but Williams doesn’t just want to match it, she wants to break it.

Seeded 16 in Melbourne, Williams has already reached two finals in the three Grand Slams she has contested since returning from maternity leave last year.

The 23 majors she has won so far make her the Open Era record holder, but just like breaking Steffi Graf’s tally of 22 was tough to crack, usurping Court will be no mean feat, especially with Williams traveling the tour as a 37-year-old mother, with more than two decades of experience on the professional tour behind her.

“My personal challenge is to help her finish her career the way she wants to now, and she wants to break the records, especially the record of Margaret Court. It’s not easy,” Mouratoglou told Sport360 while promoting a new mobile game, Tennis Manager, he unveiled this week.

“The pressure is the highest pressure you can experience in sport, because you play for history. It’s a real challenge. The challenge is also to keep improving her game, because if she doesn’t, she will never break that record.

“She needs to keep improving and she wants to. I think there is a real challenge definitely, breaking that record is probably the biggest challenge you can have as a coach, helping her do that.”

Asked if the pressure Williams is facing now is higher than it has ever been, Mouratoglou said: “Yes for sure. Because since 2013 she has come back to No. 1 in the world for three and a half years in a row. And for three and a half years, everybody expected her to win every match, which I thought was the highest pressure possible for a tennis player and if you got other players that have to experience that, not many can handle it.

“Only the top, top, top champions can. And she did incredibly well in that. And then she became an icon, so it’s even more pressure. And then she started to beat the biggest records in tennis. And when you are one Grand Slam away from equaling the record of all-time, I don’t think there is more pressure than that, and you’re an icon, everybody expects you to do it, the pressure is incredible.

“But that makes it really exciting also. If there is no pressure, there is no motivation, there is no stress. I’m talking about the positive stress that makes you achieve big things. It’s very difficult to deal with pressure but it’s also what makes the sport so exciting.”

At this point, Williams is an expert in dealing with pressure and she’s dealt with it in different ways over the years. When she was bidding for the ‘Serena Slam’ for a second time in her career in 2015 (winning four majors in a row across two calendar years), she forbid the media from mentioning her pursuit. This time, Williams isn’t shying away from stating her intentions.

“[The number 24] has always been significant since I got 22, then 23. It’s something that I clearly want but I have to be able to get there and beat a lot of good players to get it,” she told reporters in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago.

Williams landed in the top quarter of the draw and opens her Australian Open campaign against fellow mother, Tatjana Maria of Germany, on Tuesday.

She could face Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, and could get her sister Venus Williams or world No. 1 Simona Halep in the fourth round. Serena has reached the final on her last three appearances at Melbourne Park, winning the title in 2015 and 2017, and losing to Angelique Kerber in 2016. She missed last year’s edition while on maternity leave.

Serena appears in the trailer for the Tennis Manager game launched by her coach Mouratoglou in the build-up to the action in Melbourne.

Partnering Augustin Pluchet of RCG, Mouratoglou says that tennis was the only sport out there without a proper management game and they were hoping to fill that void.

“I think the tennis fans love to know what’s behind-the-scenes, how champions practice, how do you negotiate the contracts with the brands and this is game not only explains that, you become an actor of that and for tennis fans that’s an incredible experience,” he explained.

“You become the actor, like decide who you want to work with, how you want your player to practice, which tournament he’s going to play, you can coach him, you can negotiate the contracts, so you become a real actor of the professional tennis world.”

The game (iOS/Android) is available for free download here.

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