Serena Williams, riding an emotional rollercoaster as she adapts to juggling tennis and motherhood, seeks to end 2018 on a high with a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open.
The US great counts six US Open victories among her 23 Slams and with one more would match Australian Margaret Court’s record for most major singles titles.
She could also join Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters as the only mothers to win Grand Slam singles titles, but since an impressive run to the Wimbledon final – where she fell to Angelique Kerber – Williams has endured a lacklustre build-up to the hardcourt showpiece in Flushing Meadows.
“I’m still at the very beginning, this is a long comeback,” she defiantly told reporters after a second-round loss to Petra Kvitova – winner of five titles this year – in Cincinnati.
She had shrugged off an even bigger disappointment two weeks earlier – a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Britain’s Johanna Konta in San Jose that was the most lopsided defeat of her career.
Williams later revealed she had learned shortly before the match that the man convicted of killing her sister Yetunde Price in 2003 had been released on parole, something she “couldn’t shake out of her mind”.
It was another instance of personal matters intruding on the tennis court in a way they never have before, with Williams opening up about her struggles with post-partum emotions since the birth of daughter Olympia last September, and wrestled with feelings of inadequacy that many new mothers experience.
Halep in form
“I have been through a lot of stuff in my life, but I have never been through this,” Williams said.
And then there’s her game, worryingly inconsistent in six tournaments so far this year – including the French Open where she withdrew before the fourth round with a pectoral injury.
Awarded the 17th seeding, nine spots above her world ranking, Williams nevertheless faces a tough early road with a potential third-round clash with her sister Venus and a possible fourth-rounder against world No1 and top seed Simona Halep.
Halep arrives at Flushing Meadows buoyed not only by her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros but by an impressive hardcourt campaign that included a victory in Montreal followed by a runner-up finish in Cincinnati.
The Romanian has reached six finals this year, displaying a new maturity on court.