US Open 2014: Serena Williams forgets age and stays focused on the present

World No 1 says she has never felt fitter as she aims for 18th Slam at Flushing Meadows

New York

As a Jehovah’s Witness, Serena Williams does not celebrate birthdays. That is probably just as well, given that the American appears to be well aware that she will be passing another milestone next week. “Oh, I don’t celebrate birthdays,” Williams said when asked about her forthcoming 33rd. “No one should after a certain age, right? It’s almost depressing. I think even if I did I would be kind of trying not to at this point, trying to forget it.”

As the oldest women’s world No 1 in history continued her preparations for next week’s US Open, she was bombarded with reminders about the passing of time. Sloane Stephens, the 21-year-old seen by many as Williams’ natural successor as American No 1, practised on an adjoining court in the morning. At noon Williams attended the draw, in which she was paired in the first round with 18-year-old Taylor Townsend, arguably the most promising of all the young Americans. In the afternoon Williams took part in a coaching clinic for youngsters from a nearby community centre.

Although she jokes that “32 is the new 22”, there have been times this year when age appeared to be catching up with Williams. Despite being a long way clear of all her rivals at the top of the world rankings, she has had a poor year in Grand Slam tournaments, losing in the fourth round at the Australian Open, the second round at Roland Garros and the third round at Wimbledon.

After Wimbledon, in particular, there were widespread doubts about the American’s future. Having lost to Alize Cornet in the singles, Williams then retired mid-match in the doubles in worrying circumstances as she was barely able to hit the ball over the net. A virus was given as the official reason, after which Williams was said to have been confined to bed for three days and initially advised by doctors not to fly home. She was later reported to have said she would have tests “for things that do run in the family”. Williams’ sister, Venus, suffers from Sjogren’s syndrome, an incurable auto-immune disease.

Remarkably, however, Williams has gone on to enjoy a very successful summer, winning two of the three tournaments in which she has competed on the hard-court circuit. Having secured top spot in the US Open Series, which brings together the tournaments in the build-up to the year’s final Grand Slam event, she will earn a record $4m (about £2.4m), including a $1m (£603,000) bonus, if she makes a successful defence of her title here.

Williams described her form in Cincinnati, where she won the title last weekend, as her best this year and “definitely a level that could take me to the [US Open] title”. As for her fitness, Williams said: “I’m in some of the best shape I’ve been in. I can play long points and be ready to go again. I feel really fit.”

After some of her difficulties earlier this year there was inevitably speculation that Williams might turn to a new coach, but she insisted she was still committed to working with Patrick Mouratoglou. “We have a great relationship,” she said. “It’s been a great run. It’s a great challenge. We both love challenges. We want to continue, to just keep going.”

Williams has always made the Grand Slam tournaments her priority and is ready to focus on the major events even more in the future. “That’s something me and Patrick have been talking about a lot,” she said. “It’s his suggestion, and I think it makes a lot of sense. At the end of the day I definitely want to be able to win majors and then just pick and choose really carefully around the tournaments.”

Victory here would take Williams to 18 Grand Slam titles, which would put her level with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, with only Margaret Court (24 titles), Steffi Graf (22) and Helen Wills Moody (19) ahead of her.

Williams was asked whether the thought of equalling Navratilova and Evert played on her mind. “For sure you think about it,” she said. “Everyone talks about it every time I step into a press conference, so even if I’m not thinking about it, it’s like: ‘I’m going to have to now.’ But I’ve been going for No 18 all year and it hasn’t happened. Eventually maybe I’ll get it. We’ll see.”

As for the immediate challenge here, where she will be attempting to win the title for the third year in a row and the sixth time in total, Williams insisted that her Grand Slam disappointments earlier this year could prove to be to her advantage.

“I almost feel like the pressure is lifted because I haven’t performed the way I’ve wanted to personally,” she said. “I don’t feel a ton of pressure going into the Open. I almost feel like it’s lifted.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links