NEW YORK, NY, USA - Serena Williams is one win away from making tennis history - again. But this time around, she feels mentally and physically ready to overcome the final hurdle, according to coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Since returning from maternity leave, Serena has gotten tantalizingly close to capturing her 24th Grand Slam title - a feat that would tie the all-time record for most singles trophies - having now reached back-to-back finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
But for Mouratoglou, those three previous Grand Slam finals were an impressive testament to Serena’s competitive drive - despite, in his assessment, Serena not being in peak physical condition.
“She was in the three finals because she's the best competitor of all times, not because she was ready,” Mouratoglou said in his WTA Coaches press conference on Friday. “She played through… injury. I mean, people were disappointed about her results, but I think her results were incredible considering that.”
“I think her fitness just went up and up, and I think her movement now is better than I have ever seen since she became a mother.”
It’s a sentiment that Serena echoed in her own press conference, speaking after her 6-3, 6-1 win over Elina Svitolina. Over the course of the year, Serena has battled an ankle injury in Melbourne, a knee injury ahead of Roland Garros, and was forced to retire from the final in Toronto due to a back injury.
“I felt more prepared this tournament,” Serena said, speaking after her semifinal match. “I joked I trained more for Canada than I did for any other tournament this year, which was kind of funny.
“I just had a really tough year with injuries, mostly bad luck. I just needed to get injury-free.”
For Mouratoglou and Serena, the key to getting back to full fitness was a crucial pause after Roland Garros. After falling in the third round of the French Open, Serena stayed in Paris to treat the knee lingering injury that had previously kept her out of Rome and had affected her all year. The move gave Serena only 10 days to prepare for Wimbledon - but it paid dividends, as she would go on to reach her second straight final at the All England Club.
“When you don't move well, you can't be as confident as you should be, because if your A game doesn't work, you don't have any other option, and for me that's what happened,” Mouratoglou explained, reflecting on Serena’s previous three Grand Slam finals.
“I think it's totally different situation now, because now she can move. If she needs to play the rally, she can play the rally.”
Finally back to full fitness, Serena’s on-court movement now looks sharper than ever, and it was a key factor in her 70-minute win over Svitolina and her 44-minute rout of Wang Qiang in the quarterfinals. In fact, Serena has only dropped one set in the entire fortnight en route to her 10th career final in New York.
But being able to trust her form is having another side effect on Serena, in the form of a more ‘relaxed’ mindset as she readies to take the court on Saturday. In fact, she described herself as mentally “way more chill” ahead of this final than her previous three.
“There's so many different emotions in finals,” she explained. “It just brings out so many highs and lows, nerves and expectations. It's a lot… Obviously there's a lot of things that I've learned in the past, but I just have to go out there, above all, most of all, just stay relaxed.”
“I think being on the court is almost a little bit more relaxing than hanging out with a two-year-old that's dragging you everywhere,” she joked. “I think that's kind of been a little helpful.”
Standing between Serena and the ever elusive 24th Grand Slam title will be Bianca Andreescu in the final. One of the most on-fire players of the year, Andreescu has lifted trophies at Indian Wells and Toronto, and owns a 7-0 record against the WTA’s Top 10.
Despite the fact that the teenager was making her main draw debut here, Mouratoglou revealed that he had named Andreescu as one of his dark horse picks to reach the final before the start of the tournament.
“I'm not surprised she's there. I expected her in final,” Mouratoglou said. “I think she's going to be No.1 soon. I mean, not too soon but in the future, because she has everything that's needed to be No.1.
“Like the game's amazing, I think: the physical, the athleticism, and the mental. She looks incredibly confident. She feels like she's where she belongs. That's the impression she gives.”
Serena herself got an up-close look at Andreescu’s ‘complete’ game a few weeks ago during the aborted final of Toronto. But what stood out to her the most was the compassion that Andreescu showed after the match, famously comforting a tearful Serena who was forced to retire after four games (video above).
“You never know what is going to come from her,” Serena assessed. “She does everything well. She serves well, moves well, has a ton of power. She's very exciting to watch. It's good, I think it's great for women's tennis. Above all, I just like her as a person. She's amazing.”
No.8 seed Serena Williams will face No.15 seed Bianca Andreescu in the US Open final on Saturday. She’ll take to Arthur Ashe Stadium bidding for an all-time record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, and her first major title since the 2017 Australian Open.