In her exclusive column for wtatennis.com, Martina Navratilova argues that the No.17 seed is a big threat to claim a record-breaking 24th Grand Slam, despite a tricky summer.
Martina Navratilova
August 24, 2018

If I were in Serena Williams' position going into the US Open, I would probably be thinking: "I wish I had more matches under my belt this summer. Otherwise I am good to go."

Since reaching the Wimbledon final, she has only won one match, and played just another two, so even if her body is feeling great, I'm sure she must be wishing that she were a bit more match-tough. 

Read more: Navratilova: Halep is now playing like a No.1

After returning to the Tour in March, Serena's had more early losses than she would have expected. But at the same time, she also got to the final of Wimbledon, so it's been kind of a mixed bag. She had a good-looking French Open run until she got injured and thus had to withdraw from her fourth-round match against Maria Sharapova. Serena then had a great Wimbledon. But in the final that lack of match play became more obvious.  Angelique Kerber forced Serena to hit more balls than she was accustomed to and the errors piled up. 

Serena Williams on the run in the first set. (Getty)

So Serena needed more match play this summer, but it didn’t happen. She suffered her heaviest ever loss against Jo Konta in San Jose, before withdrawing from her next tournament in Montreal, and had a good win against Daria Gavrilova in Cincinnati only to then lose a tough three-setter to Petra Kvitova. So, all in all, not the summer that Serena would have hoped for.

That being said, if Serena gets into the second week at the US Open, where she will be attempting to equal Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, she is likely to play better and better tennis. Serena - who opens against Magda Linette, and who could meet her sister Venus in the third round, and Simona Halep in the fourth round - typically plays better tennis in the second week of a major. 

Gallery: Serena's 23 Grand Slam victories

A hard court at the US Open offers a true bounce, and it's also Serena's favorite surface for movement. That means it's a bit easier for Serena - in comparison to when she is playing on clay and grass - to get some rhythm and to feel like she's match-tough. It’s easier to kind of fake it at the beginning and, by the second week, you don’t have to fake it - it’s real. 

So I think the surface plays in her favour, as does competing at her home Grand Slam and having an American crowd cheer for her. All of those things will be helpful. Maybe there will also be a greater sense of urgency because it's the last Grand Slam of the year, and then it's a long way to go until the next opportunity to equal that record, which won't be until January's Australian Open. She's seeded 17, which is higher than if they just went off the world rankings, but in reality it doesn't really make much of a difference one way or the other. 

Serena picked up the trophy in 1999 (Getty)

Making history isn't easy, and there's pressure on Serena as she looks to equal the Margaret Court record. That pressure is self-imposed as well as what you might call world-imposed, with the whole tennis world looking on. But, with that record, she has four bites of the cherry every year. That means Serena is under less pressure at this year's US Open than she was in New York in 2015 when she was attempting to achieve the calendar-year Grand Slam - that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and she came close, losing to Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals. 

So perhaps it's easier in a way for Serena this year than in 2015, but chasing records is never easy. And pressure, as we have seen in the past, can get in the way. 

Victory in New York this summer would also give Serena a seventh US Open title, which would be a record. But I don't think that this US Open is about Serena breaking her tie with Chris Evert on six titles. It's about trying to win a 24th Grand Slam to equal Court - that's the number she cares about. 

Where she wins a 24th major is kind of irrelevant. Of course, it would be nice for Serena to have the record number of titles at the US Open - that would be a bonus - but I don't think that's on her radar. It’s about 24 and history - that’s enough to think about and to play for.