In 1999, 17-year-old Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open. Twenty years later, and after three seasons of maternity and injury, she is aiming for a 24th lead in Flushing Meadows to equal Margaret Court's record.
In two decades, the youngest of the Williams sisters who will turn 38 on September 26, has forged a unique track record with 72 titles including 23 Grand Slam (already 6 US Opens, in 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014). Not a player, not a surface resisted him: today fallen to 8th place worldwide, she has already left an indelible imprint on hard, grass and earth.
But in all these years, when Roger Federer (38) and Rafael Nadal (33) had their game changed to last, Serena continued to pound his powerful baseline game.
"If you compare the 1999 Serena to today's, there is not much difference: its game has not developed to the point of changing, becoming more varied or anything," says his former training partner Sascha Bajin (2008 to 2015) in an interview published by the WTA a few days before the start of the US Open (August 26-September 8) where the American will face another star in the first round of his sport, Maria Sharapova.
"Every time Serena enters a court, she sees herself winning," said Bajin, who was coaching Japanese Naomi Osaka when she won her first Grand Slam title in New York last year by defeating Serena in the final. .
The American had lost control of her nerves, scooped a penalty game and finally conceding the game in a breathtaking scenario.
Since then she has only played one Grand Slam final in July at Wimbledon, where she bowed sharply to Romanian Simona Halep.
The US Open did not go as well as it hoped: Serena Williams gave up in tears after four games in the final in Toronto because of back pains, pain that then pushed to drop out before entering Cincinnati.
Injury and maternity
So she is still waiting to clinch her first title since returning from maternity in March 2018 after giving birth to her daughter Olympia, in September 2017. Her last trophy goes back to the Australian Open, her 23rd Major in January 2017, despite three Grand Slam finals contested since.
And his 2019 season has also been thwarted by knee problems, occurring before those who have hit his back in recent weeks.
But despite injuries and motherhood, and even if she played only 26 games this year before tackling the US Open, she will be one of the main contenders again.
"Without a doubt, if she is physically fit then she can make a very good result, that's for sure," assured Canadian Bianca Andreescu who took advantage of her retirement in the final in Toronto. The Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who also knows fatherhood since 2017, however, stressed the difficulties faced by all players returning from injury: "In general we are not ready to 100% because we need to to play, we need rhythm, we need matches. "
However, Serena will be in the hard immediately since the draw reserved for him in the first round Sharapova, winner in New York in 2006, also ex-N.1 worldwide fell to 87th place in the WTA, and also undermined by injuries for more than two years. A shock that Osaka and Halep will not fail to watch, according to their own admission.