Serena shuts down before Open final

Serena Williams is in lockdown mode and feeling the weight of history, but says she wouldn’t have it any other way heading into a potentially career-defining Australian Open final.

Already widely considered the greatest women’s player of all-time, the sport’s most enduring champion can match Steffi Graf’s open-era record 22 of grand slam singles crowns with victory over German underdog Angelique Kerber on Saturday night.

The 34-year-old – who snared her first major half a lifetime ago – faltered under the intense pressure of trying to complete a fabled calendar-year grand slam sweep at the US Open in September.

Williams accepts the stakes are just as high in Melbourne, but is relishing the chance to atone for her shock semi-final loss at Flushing Meadows to Roberta Vinci.

“Everyone has expectations. I’m the favourite,” she said on Friday.

“I was the favourite in New York. I feel like I could have done better in New York.

“But that was a learning experience. So I’m going to hopefully take that to the court for not only this tournament, but for the rest of these slams.”

The tennis superstar is blocking out the external pressures by staying at a Melbourne apartment in the countdown to the final watching TV.

“I’d rather have this than something else because it means I’m doing well,” said Williams, who has yet to drop a set for the first time en route to a seventh title match at Melbourne Park.

“For sure, I would say this is probably the best slam I’ve played in a year, and I’ve won a lot in a year.

“Again, I haven’t won this one. But even if I don’t win, I really can take away that I’ve been really consistent, and I want to continue that.

“I know my practices are better. Hopefully I’m playing better. So I definitely can play more consistent and more mentally stable.”

Williams is not only already the oldest grand slam champion of the professional era, but no other woman in history has come close to winning majors over a 17-year span.

Yet the insatiable world No.1 says she craves victory more than ever.

“I kind of relish every win and every final and every match now. I think maybe in the past I didn’t as much,” Williams said.

“I was just like going through the motions. Even though I was super excited, I just feel like now it’s even more exciting.”

Kerber will be Williams’ 15th different grand slam final opponent.

Only older sister Venus, Maria Sharapova and Australia’s Samantha Stosur have ever beaten the American on the sport’s biggest stages.

Kerber, though, gives herself a shot.

“I don’t have so much pressure like she has,” said the seventh seed.

“This is what I mean that I have nothing to lose. I know I can lose the match. That’s why I’m going out there to try to win the match.”

Williams leads 5-1 head-to-head, but remembers well the only time she lost to the German left-hander, on a hard court in Cincinnati in 2012.

“I thought she played unbelievable in that match,” Williams said.

“That’s something that I’ll never forget. I just remember her serving really well, her moving well, her being determined to win that.

“From then on, I’ve been really focused that she’s someone that I really – and everyone – has to take very serious.”

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