Top-ranked Serena Williams has played down the history at stake for her in this year’s US Open but admits she’s on the verge of realising her childhood dream.
The 34-year-old American tries to complete the first calendar-year singles Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 by winning the US Open, seeking her fourth trophy in a row on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts and her fourth major title of the year after Wimbledon and the French and Australian Opens – just like she imagined in her youth.
“My dream was the win the US Open and to win the Grand Slam,” Williams said. “It was just a dream. I never thought I would be close to doing something like that.”
Williams is an overwhelming favourite to collect her 22nd career Grand Slam title, which would match Graf’s Open Era (since 1968) record and move her two shy of the all-time record of 24 Slam singles titles won by Australia’s Margaret Court.
“There’s always another record or another person to catch up with or pass,” Williams said.
“I never thought I would be in this position, talking about catching Steffi Graf or to be mentioned with Margaret Court. I just wanted to try to do the best I could. I just wanted to compete and keep going.”
The six-time US and Australian Open and Wimbledon champion and three-time French Open winner says she does not see herself as the greatest player ever, saying comparisons over such different eras are tricky at best.
“I’m the greatest player I’ve been able to be,” Williams said.
“I do see the numbers. I do believe in those numbers. Different times have different champions. It’s really difficult to compare one generation to another. Things change – power, technique, technology.”
Williams claims that after completing her second career “Serena Slam” of winning four major titles in a row last month at Wimbledon, she doesn’t feel much pressure.
“Maybe if I go along a few rounds into the tournament I’ll start to feel it,” Williams said. “As far as now I really don’t feel it.
“I don’t have much at stake. I look at it as an opportunity to win and defend my title. That’s all I want to do.”
Russia’s third-ranked Maria Sharapova, who has lost 18 of 20 against Williams including 17 in a row, is a possible semi-final foe.
Second-ranked Romanian Simona Halep, who pushed Williams to three sets in last week’s Cincinnati final, and Danish fourth seed Caroline Wozniacki, whose 10 losses in 11 matches with Williams include last year’s US Open final, are the champ’s highest-ranked possible finalist foes.
Williams could face elder sister Venus, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, in the quarter-finals of a draw section that features nine Americans, many of whom idolise Serena.
Serena is 15-11 in tour-level matches against Venus, having won their most recent meeting in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
They have split four career US Open matches, Serena taking the most recent in a 2008 quarter-final.
But also lurking as a possible quarter-final rival this year is Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, who defeated Serena in a Toronto semi-final earlier this month.
“She really reads the ball well and she really fought really well,” Williams said of Bencic after the loss in Canada. “She never gives up and she fights hard.”
Serena will open against Russia’s 86th-ranked Vitalia Diatchenko, whom she has never played, and could face a second-round date with Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, against whom she is 2-0.
However, they last faced each other in the second round at Wimbledon in 1998.
Sloane Stephens, who won her first WTA title earlier this month at Washington, is a possible third-round opponent and she has one upset win in their six meetings at the 2013 Australian Open quarter-finals.
Williams avenged the loss in the fourth round of the 2013 US Open and has beaten Stephens three times this year, although it took rallying from first set losses in the round of 16 at the French Open and Indian Wells.
Poland’s 15th-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, 0-8 against Williams including a 2012 Wimbledon final defeat, is a possible round of 16 roadblock in Serena’s history run.