(Reuters) - Serena Williams might be facing her last chance to claim a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title at the U.S. Open, according to former Flushing Meadows champion Mats Wilander.
American great Williams has been stuck on 23, one behind Margaret Court’s all-time record, since her triumph at the Australian Open in January 2017.
Since returning to the Tour in 2018 following the birth of her daughter, she has lost in four Grand Slam finals, including the last two at the U.S. Open and with her 39th birthday looming next month, the window of opportunity is narrowing.
Williams is seeded three at the U.S. Open, despite a world ranking of nine, after a raft of players withdrew citing their concerns about travelling to the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down tennis for much of this year.
The likes of world number one Ashleigh Barty and number two Simona Halep are both missing and while threats remain such as the likes of Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova, Wilander thinks Williams cannot afford to let this opportunity pass her by.
“I think she has to win this one. If she doesn’t I would think people, and more specifically she herself, would most probably doubt that she can win another one,” the Swede, who will be part of Eurosport’s U.S. Open coverage being anchored by Barbara Schett from their innovative Eurosport Cube, said this week as he previewed the major he won in 1988.
“If she can win this one, I think it will give her some confidence that she can go on and win a couple more. If she doesn’t win this one when only three or four out of the top 10 are there, I think that will be a blow to her.”
No fans will be allowed for the fortnight and Wilander says the calm may actually help her quest for the big 24.
“Maybe no crowd helps her too. They are pulling so much for her that I think she gets caught up in the whole historical thing,” he said.
“I think she is going to come out and play fine. Is she the favourite? I don’t know, not necessarily, there are a lot of young players who hit the ball as hard as her and are not really intimidated by her any more.
“But she is certainly in it with a huge chance.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar
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