The importance of the 2013 US Open for Serena Williams

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Serena Williams (Profile) has had one of the best seasons of her career in 2013. The soon-to-be-32 year old (she turns 32 on September 26th) American has already won eight titles, has an incredible 60-4 record on the tour and returned to the world no. 1 spot to become the oldest woman to head the women’s rankings. Yet, by her standards, this year has been somewhat of a disappointment for the 16-time grand slam singles champion.

That’s because these days, Serena is not playing for the no. 1 spot or WTA titles. What she is aiming for is cementing her legacy in the sport as one of the all-time greats. And what counts there is the grand slam tally; and in spite of all her domination of the game this season, Serena has only one grand slam title to show for it – a second French Open title in June. At the other two grand slams, Serena was beaten in the quarter-final stage – by Sloane Stephens in Melbourne and by Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon – both times in three sets.

So it’s no surprise that Serena has a lot riding on the line as she heads down to New York for the US Open – the scene of her first grand slam, way back in 1999. A win in New York would be her fifth US Open title but more importantly her 17th grand slam–moving her within one more slam of tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who both have 18 grand slams. Only Margaret Court (with 24 slams) and Steffi Graf (with 22) would remain ahead.
Serena is trying to tone down the expectations on and from herself. Speaking to the media in New York on Saturday, Williams says, “I don’t need to do anything. That’s the beauty of my career. I don’t need to do anything at all. Everything I do from this day forward is a bonus. Actually from yesterday. It doesn’t matter. Everything for me is just extra.”

But anyone who has followed Serena’s career will know that Serena is going to expect herself to win the title in New York. Because, simply put, she believes she is better than the rest of the field. And when she is injury-free as she is currently, she shouldn’t be losing to anyone else.

Serena will have a chance to avenge one of those stinging other losses this year if the draw goes as per the seedings. The world no. 1 is drawn to play young American Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. Stephens was the one who knocked Serena out in the quarters in Melbourne – a match which Stephens says ended their friendship.

While on the face of it, the two seemed to have buried the hatchet, Serena will be surely be gunning for blood if they meet again on the first weekend in New York. Losing to the young pretender in New York on Arthur Ashe Stadium might sting Serena more than that loss in Melbourne did. Which is why, she will need to be careful to keep her emotions, which have gotten the better of her on more than one occasion in recent years at Flushing Meadows, in check.

Looking deeper into the draw, with world no. 3 Maria Sharapova sitting out injured, Serena’s biggest challenger for the title is world no. 2 Victoria Azarenka, the two-time defending Australian Open champion. Serena may lead their head-to-head 12-3 but it is the Belarusian who has a better record on hardcourts this season and has also won two of their three encounters this year, most recently just one week ago in the finals of Cincinnati.

Serena is using that loss as motivation, “Every time I lose, I get so pumped afterwards and I just feel that way. I just feel like now I’m ready, now I’m prepared. I almost needed that to take my game to a new level.”
Serena’s motivation is what has kept her at the top of the game at a time when her contemporaries have limited themselves to playing doubles or have walked away from the game completely. If the grand slam tally stops rising, Serena’s motivation for the game will wane too. Which is what makes this year’s US Open all the more important for Serena Williams.

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