Williams feels the weight of history in Melbourne
Coach says topping record 24 Grand Slams is her greatest-ever challenge
Aus Open preview
bThe pressure Serena Williams is facing to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of Grand Slams won is the greatest she has ever encountered, according to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Williams is chasing history this upcoming fortnight at the Australian Open and while she has countless records to her name, Mouratoglou believes Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Grand Slam titles remains the ultimate challenge for the American superstar.
She is one major away from equaling that record, but Williams doesn’t just want to match it, she wants to break it.
Seeded 16 in Melbourne, Williams has already reached two finals in the three Grand Slams she has contested since returning from maternity leave last year.
The 23 majors she has won so far make her the Open Era record holder, but just like breaking Steffi Graf’s tally of 22 was tough to crack, usurping Court will be no mean feat, especially with Williams travelling the tour as a 37-yearold mother, with more than two decades of experience on the professional tour behind her.
“My personal challenge is to help her finish her career the way she wants to now, and she wants to break the records, especially the record of Margaret Court. It’s not easy,” Mouratoglou told Sport360 while promoting a new mobile game, Tennis Manager, he unveiled this week.
“The pressure is the highest pressure you can experience in sport, because you play for history. It’s a real challenge. The challenge is also to keep improving her game, because if she doesn’t, she will never break that record.
“She needs to keep improving and she wants to. I think there is a real challenge definitely, breaking that record is probably the biggest challenge you can have as a coach, helping her do that.”
Asked if the pressure Williams is facing now is higher than it has ever been, Mouratoglou said: “Yes for sure. Because since 2013 she has come back to No. 1 in the world for three and a half years in a row. And for three and a half years, everybody expected her to win every match, which I thought was the highest pressure possible for a tennis player and if you got other players that have to experience that, not many can handle it.
“Only the top, top, top champions can. And she did incredibly well in that. And then she became an icon, so it’s even more pressure. And then she started to beat the biggest records in tennis. And when you are one Grand Slam away from equaling the record of all-time, I don’t think there is more pressure than that, and you’re an icon, everybody expects you to do it, the pressure is incredible.
“But that makes it really exciting also. If there is no pressure, there is no motivation, there is no stress. I’m talking about the positive stress that makes you achieve big things. It’s very difficult to deal with pressure but it’s also what makes the sport so exciting.”
Williams is an expert in dealing with pressure and she’s dealt with it in different ways over the years. When she was bidding for the ‘Serena Slam’ for a second time in her career in 2015 (winning four majors in a row across two calendar years), she forbid the media from mentioning her pursuit. This time, Williams isn’t shying away from stating her intentions.
“[The number 24] has always been significant since I got 22, then 23. It’s something that I clearly want but I have to be able to get there and beat a lot of good players to get it,” she told reporters in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago.
Williams landed in the top quarter of the draw and opens her Australian Open campaign against fellow mother, Tatjana Maria of Germany, on Tuesday.
She could face Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, and could get her sister Venus Williams or world No. 1 Simona Halep in the fourth round.
Team talk: Though Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all-time, Patrick Mouratoglou insists she must keep improving to reach her goal.
One to watch: World No1 Simona Halep could be Serena’s fourth-round opponent.