World No 1 Serena Williams feels the pressure of chasing history at the US Open, but she accepts the intensity as the price for dominating a generation of women’s tennis.
The 33-year-old American, who captured her first grand slam title at the 1999 US Open, is a huge favourite as she tries to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 by winning her 22nd career major title starting today in New York.
“I decided I prefer to have that pressure than the pressure of not winning,” Williams said. “Not everyone can handle that pressure, but I’m OK with it. I would rather be in this position than another one.
“I’m ready. I’m so ready. I’m ready to get it over with. I don’t care if I win or lose or break even. I’m ready to start it, get it over with, and be done and go on to the next event.”
Williams seeks her fourth consecutive US Open title having won this year’s French and Australian Opens and Wimbledon as well as hardcourt events in Miami and Cincinnati.
“It gives me confidence to know that what I’ve been working on these past few days and weeks has been going very well,” said Williams.
“It also makes me realise the feeling of winning. I like that feeling and want to do the hard work.”
Williams has won six Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles and three French Open crowns to stand one shy of Graf’s Open Era (since 1968) record of 22 grand slam singles trophies and only three shy of Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, likes what he sees in his star pupil, especially her powerful serve.
“She has probably got the best serve in the history of the women’s game,” he said. “Even when it’s not perfect, it’s still good enough to win. She has to continue to have faith in her serve.”
Williams opens on Monday night against Russian world No 86 Vitalia Diatchenko on Arthur Ashe stadium. Also in action is No 3 seed Maria Sharapova, who is one of five former champions in the singles draw. But her chances of stopping Williams this fortnight are in doubt after the Russian admitted she was still short of fitness.
Sharapova is struggling with a muscle strain in her right leg and has not played a competitive match since losing to Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals just over seven weeks ago.
The five-time major champion was forced to withdraw from Toronto and Cincinnati earlier this month and has only been able to do limited training.
— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) August 30, 2015
“You have to be realistic and limit your expectations but it’s not easy,” Sharapova said. “As a competitor, when you get on the court you want to do the best you can. I’m feeling better, it’s just a time thing, dealing with these niggling issues. It’s just a process.”
Sharapova could meet Williams in the semi-finals but has a miserable 2-18 record against the American.
On Williams quest for the Grand Slam, Sharapova said: “Has she got a great chance? I think you could safely say that, yes.”
Williams’ dominance has led to questions regarding the standard of the rest of the field.
“She’s been playing at an incredible level,” Sharapova said. “It doesn’t take anything away from the other players. We have to step up.
“When we want to go out on the court, we want to perform better and that’s what drives us. If we didn’t think we could then I personally wouldn’t be able to go out on court.”
Know more about Sport360 Application