‘I’m play­ing bet­ter than ever be­fore,’ says Wil­liams af­ter slam No.23

The Herald - Herald Sport - - TENNIS - TOM ALLNUTT

SER­ENA WIL­LIAMS quite sim­ply be­lieves she is play­ing the best ten­nis of her en­tire ca­reer.

Wil­liams over­came her sis­ter Venus 6-4 6-4 on Satur­day to claim her sev­enth Mel­bourne crown and se­cure an Open-era record 23rd grand slam ti­tle.

It means she moves above St­effi Graf in the all-time list and now stands just one short of Mar­garet Court’s un­matched 24.

The 35-year-old shows no sign of slow­ing. She has won 10 ma­jor ti­tles since turn­ing 30 and has made eight out of the last grand slam 10 fi­nals.

“I was think­ing yes­ter­day on the prac­tice court, ‘gosh I’m play­ing bet­ter than I have ever be­fore I think’,” Wil­liams said.

“I’m mov­ing bet­ter, I’ve al­ways been a fast mover but I stopped mov­ing a bit in the mid­dle of my ca­reer be­cause I was like, I don’t have to move so much.

“But I was like, ‘man I’m hitting re­ally well’. It feels good to be play­ing this well at the mo­ment.”

By her own high stan­dards, 2016 rep­re­sented a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son for Wil­liams. The Amer­i­can only added a Wim­ble­don ti­tle to her tally and also sur­ren­dered the world num­ber one spot to An­gelique Ker­ber af­ter a shock US Open de­feat to Karolina Pliskova.

“Win­ning this one was very im­por­tant,” Wil­liams’ coach Pa­trick Mouratoglou said.

“I feel when you end the sea­son with a loss, es­pe­cially in a grand slam, you can­not feel the same way and can­not have a good feel­ing. She had con­fi­dence but not the same kind as when you win. That’s why this one was very im­por­tant for the rest of the sea­son.”

Wil­liams has strug­gled at times with the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion, crum­bling at the 2015 US Open when a cal­en­dar grand slam was in sight and then stum­bling again there in Septem­ber when on the brink of break­ing Graf’s record.

She has ap­peared far more re­laxed in Mel­bourne, on and off court, with her new fi­ance Alexis Oha­nian here sup­port­ing from her box through­out.

“I’ve been try­ing to live it for some time now, this tour­na­ment I was able to do it,” Wil­liams said.

“I was okay with not los­ing but I also knew I didn’t have to win here to make my ca­reer. It set­tled with me this time. I don’t know why I felt like that but I want to know be­cause I want it again.”

Sur­pass­ing Graf’s 22 ma­jor tri­umphs adds sta­tis­ti­cal weight to the now al­most in­dis­putable ar­gu­ment that Wil­liams is the great­est fe­male player of all time.

She could pass Court’s mark at Wim­ble­don this sum­mer, although 13 of the Aus­tralian’s 24 suc­cesses came be­fore the Open era, when grand slams were still not fully pro­fes­sional.

THE ONE AND ONLY: Ser­ena Wil­liams cel­e­brates grand slam ti­tle No.23.

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