It was a year ago that Serena Williams suffered arguably her darkest night at the US Open. Even after such a long time, there are differing views on what happened in the 2018 women’s singles final at Flushing Meadows and who was to blame, but there’s no denying Williams’ defeat to Naomi Osaka is not one she will will remember fondly.
This loss came just weeks after Williams had lost to Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final and the 37-year-old has since lost another Grand Slam final, suffering another Centre Court defeat, this time to Simona Halep, in July. Never before has Williams lost three Grand Slam finals in succession as she has over the past year or so.
Questions hung around Williams as she pitched up at Flushing Meadows for this year’s US Open. The nature of her defeat to Halep at SW19 brought info focus her mortality and prompted many to scrutinise the American’s mindset. While Williams’ return to the top level of the sport has been mightily impressive, she has yet to win a Grand Slam title in that time. Is it possible that she has developed a mental barrier?
If she has, there has been no sign of it over the past two weeks. Williams has dropped just one set on her way through to the round of 16, putting down an early marker with a 6-1, 6-1 demolition of Maria Sharapova in the first round. As things stand, the 37-year-old is the favourite (+130) to add a seventh US Open title to her collection.
Looking at the field that’s left in the women’s singles, Williams is quite clearly the biggest name. Of course, she’s the biggest name in every draw, but the likes of Osaka, Ash Barty, Petra Kvitova and Kerber, players who possess the game to challenge the American, have already fallen by the wayside.
Bianca Andreescu has momentum behind her, but the teenager is playing in her first US Open and so a meeting against Williams in the final could be somewhat overwhelming. Elina Svitolina has been impressive form at Flushing Meadows, but the Ukrainian, who could meet Williams in the semi finals should she get past Johanna Konta, has lost four of the five matches she has previously played against the 37-year-old.
Belinda Bencic perhaps stands the best chance of toppling Williams. The Swiss has pushed the American all the way in two of the three matches they have played on hard courts and with Bencic in exceptional form she would surely fancy her chances. Even still, if Williams were to find top form no challenger would stand a chance.
As a 23-time singles Grand Slam champion, it seems peculiar to claim Williams has something to prove, but this is the reality of her current situation. As one of the greatest, arguably the greatest, women’s tennis player in history, the questions asked of Williams ahead of the US Open were relative. Nonetheless, she has answer them emphatically with just three more victories before the end of the week.