Wil­liams feels the weight of his­tory in Mel­bourne

Coach says top­ping record 24 Grand Slams is her great­est-ever chal­lenge

Sport360 - - Front Page - By Reem Abulleil @ ReemAbulleil ✉ [email protected]

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.

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