Australian Open 2014: Serena Williams closing in on title of 'the greatest of all time'

Younger Williams sister is still full of fight at 32 as she begins her chase for a sixth Grand Slam Down Under

Melbourne

There cannot be many races with a 128-strong field and an odds-on favourite, but then again the world has not produced many tennis players like Serena Williams. If you consider the 32-year-old American's record over the past 18 months, some of her rivals must be wondering why they have bothered to turn up at the Australian Open, which begins here tomorrow.

Although she has not won here since 2010, the gap is due almost exclusively to injuries and illness. "I just wasn't able to stay on two feet, literally," she said here yesterday. "So this year I've been doing a lot of exercises for my ankles, trying to make sure that they're pretty stabilised to get used to this."

At an age when some players might be contemplating putting away their rackets for good – Steffi Graf and Helen Wills Moody, two of the five players ahead of Williams on the all-time list of Grand Slam title-winners, retired at the ages of 30 and 32 respectively – the world No 1's domination seems to grow with every year. Since the 2012 French Open, Williams has played in 21 tournaments and won 16 of them.

If she maintains her current rate of two Grand Slam titles a year, it will not be long before Williams's right to be regarded as the greatest woman player of all time will be unquestioned. If she wins two more Grand Slam trophies in 2014, which would take her total to 19, Williams would move ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and would have only Margaret Court (24) and Graf (22) in front of her.

"It would mean a lot to be on the same level as such great players as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova," Williams said yesterday. "I still have a lot of work to do. I obviously want to be able to reach that level, but I'm not there yet."

Williams has enjoyed remarkable longevity. The gap between her first and most recent Grand Slam titles – the 1999 and 2013 US Opens – is the longest of any female player in the Open era. She is also the oldest woman to be world No 1.

There have been three distinct Williams eras: 1999 to 2003, when she won six Grand Slam titles and did the "Serena Slam" (holding all four titles at the same time); late 2003 to the summer of 2008, when she won only two Grand Slam titles and struggled with fitness; and the period since Wimbledon 2008, during which she has won nine of the 18 Grand Slam tournaments in which she has competed. One of the reasons why she has stayed at the top for so long is that she has relatively few miles on the clock.

Her father, Richard, who has coached her throughout her life, did not believe it was in the interests of Serena or her sister Venus to play on the international junior circuit. As a senior, Williams has also limited her appearances on the main tour, which is underlined by the high proportion of Grand Slam titles in her career tally. Navratilova, Evert and Graf won a total of 167, 154 and 107 singles titles respectively, of which 18, 18 and 22 were at Grand Slam level; Williams has won "only" 58, of which 17 are Grand Slam titles.

"At the age of 30 she had played about half the tournaments that I had played at 30, so she is fresh in tennis terms," Navratilova said, adding that she expected Williams to win more than 20 Grand Slam titles. "She is eager, and winning is very contagious. Once you get really used to it, you don't want to let go of it."

The French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, to whom Williams turned two summers ago, has clearly been a factor in extending the American's career. Her father, however, remains a key figure. Williams spent most of the off season training with him in Florida.

"I love working with my father because for me he's the most unbelievable coach in the world," Williams said. "I definitely feel motivated. I don't know why. Why am I training so hard in Florida with my dad? Why am I doing this so many years later? I can't stop. I love it. I love being out here. I love competing. It gives me something to do, and I just love the competition. So for me it's just about motivating myself and trying to reach new goals."

Mouratoglou has not tried to change Williams. "I think that her parents created a, how can I say, a machine," he said. "So you just have to show her how to use the key of the machine, and if she uses the key I think she's the best player in the world. There is no discussion."

The coaching combination of Mouratoglou, whose father is one of the richest men in France, and Williams, who taught his children tennis on public courts in California littered with drug addicts' syringes to the background noise of gunfire from drive-by shootings, is an unlikely one, but it works. "My dad has been there for me since day one," Williams said. "He's always so positive on the court.

"Patrick is too, but my dad definitely gives me more direction. Patrick has me figuring things out on my own.

"I think both ways work really well, but ultimately they both say the same thing. The reason I'm able to work with Patrick is because he's not going against anything that my father has told me to do."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
John Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil