Thinking too much about the elusive 24th Grand Slam title to equal Margaret Court’s record did not help Serena Williams’ quest, the American great admits as she prepares to hang up her racket after a sparkling career.
It seemed only a matter of time before Williams would surpass Australian Court to become the most successful player in the sport when she won her 23rd major singles trophy in Melbourne at the start of 2017.
However, nobody could have envisaged that Australian Open title being the last time Williams would hoist a major trophy as she took a break from tennis to give birth to daughter Olympia the same year.
“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT (greatest of all time) because I didn’t pass Court’s record, which she achieved before the ‘Open era’ that began in 1968,” Williams said in a lengthy article in Vogue.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day-to-day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Slam final, then yes, I’m thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help.”
In the world of sport there are few records that have quite stood the test of time as the one belonging to Court.
Williams, who will turn 41 next month, came tantalisingly close to equalling the mark having reached the final in four majors since she returned from maternity leave in 2018.
But she came up just short each time.
“The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus Grand Slams,” Williams said. “I had my chances after coming back from giving birth… But I didn’t get there. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
“I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually it’s extraordinary.”
Two of those four championship matches were at her home major on the hardcourts of Flushing Meadows, where Williams has lifted the trophy six times.
She will have another chance when the U.S. Open starts at the end of this month in what is expected to be her swansong.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year,” she added. “And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try.
“I know there’s a fan fantasy that I might have tied Margaret that day in London, then maybe beat her record in New York, and then at the trophy ceremony say, “See ya!”
“I get that. It’s a good fantasy. But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst.”