Three-time defending champion Serena Williams, chasing tennis milestones set by Steffi Graf, credited the retired German star with inspiring her mental discipline ahead of her US Open second round against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens.
The top-seeded Williams needed only 30 minutes to advance 6-0, 2-0 over 86th-ranked Vitalia Diatchenko at Arthur Ashe Stadium – taking her 22nd consecutive US Open triumph since losing the 2011 final to Australian Samantha Stosur – when the Russian retired with a left foot injury.
Williams is trying to complete the first calendar year Grand Slam since Graf did it in 1988 and match Graf’s Open Era record of 22 grand slam singles crowns, two shy of Aussie Margaret Court’s all-time record.
“It’s great to be here in Arthur Ashe Stadium, to be American, just to be on this journey in my life,” Williams said of her pursuit of history.
“It’s kind of awesome that this is the last grand slam of the year, because if it were in a different country I think I would still love it, but it’s not the same as being an American playing in New York, playing for that ultimate goal.”
Williams credits her ability to focus and dig deep to find consistency in her game, “old school” traits she admits came from watching the grit and toughness of stars Graf and Monica Seles as a child.
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“I think maybe it just comes from just growing up watching so much tennis, enjoying Steffi and Monica, that era where it was just them,” Williams said.
“They were such mental players – just looking at that and being so influenced by that, thinking one day I’m going to be there.”
Williams dislikes one potentially distracting idea, that of television interviews during matches such as one Coco Vandeweghe did.
“Hopefully they don’t make that mandatory,” Williams said.
“I think it’s great for some viewers. Get in the mind of the athletes. But I also think, for me, I’m really focused the whole time. I’m really trying to think about what I want to do. I don’t necessarily want to answer questions about anything.”
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