NEW YORK, New York - Virginia Wade believes Serena Williams can return to the US Open in style by winning her seventh Flushing Meadows title. The American is playing in New York for the first time since 2016, having sat out last year's event to give birth to her first daughter, but Wade feels the 36-year-old can hit the ground running.

"It would be phenomenal if she could get herself to win this tournament," Wade said of Serena, who won the most recent of her six titles in 2014. "She's still got a way to go to get herself into fitness, and she's got a lousy draw. If she had a few more comfortable matches, and she didn't waste too much energy in them, I think she could do it."

Serena opens her campaign against Magda Linette, of Poland, in the first round, but tougher tasks lie ahead. "Getting out of the box, playing tough people, playing Venus [Williams] to play [Simona] Halep, that's going to be very demanding," added Wade. "If she can win the tournament, I'm going to bend over backwards giving her applause because that would be a major achievement."

Wade, speaking on the 50th anniversary of her title triumph in the first US Open in its modern-day format, admitted the differences between now and her era are stark.

If she can win the tournament, I'm going to bend over backwards giving her applause.

"It's polar sides apart," she said. "Every year it got better, bigger, more money, improvements. I'm impressed. It's a gradual improvement every year. The slams were always the highlight, but we played an awful lot of tennis. We played singles, doubles, mixed every tournament we could."

Wade's New York victory in 1968 came with a 6-4, 6-2 success over Billie Jean King, and was the first of five Grand Slam titles for the Briton.

"The slams were the big thing." she continued. "There was a lot of attention; being English, the British press, we had traveling to all the tournaments, we had maybe eight or ten dedicated tennis writers. It was a big sport. You made big headlines.

"You maybe could have got away with a couple of weaknesses. One of the biggest differences is that everybody plays a slightly different game. You had real variety. Nobody had the exactly right technique, a forehand, two-handed backhand or a serve. Everybody came up with their own styles. So that made it actually very interesting because you could challenge people with your strengths against their weaknesses."