Serena Williams Not Giving Up The Fight To Equal Margaret Court’s Record

Serena Williams Not Giving Up The Fight To Equal Margaret Court’s Record

Serena Williams Not Giving Up The Fight To Equal Margaret Court’s Record

By Kevin Mitchell

The American has lost her past four grand slam finals but still has the fire inside to win that elusive 24th major.

If anything can lift Serena Williams to one more slam, it might be the roar of the crowd. It was as loud here on Saturday night in appreciation of her losing effort as it has been for any of her six triumphs in New York since 1999, among the 23 grand slam titles that have garlanded her career.

This is significant. Support for the emotional and complex Williams has not always been unequivocal in the land where she was born, in a sport still striving to shed its white, country-club past – and making slow if welcome progress.

Before this US Open, a statue was unveiled of Althea Gibson, the first black player to contest Wimbledon. She won it twice – and won the US twice. Those who saw her compared her to Serena’s sister, Venus. She railed against prejudice with a stubborn disregard for the conventions of her era, and to do so in the 1950s took immense courage.

She led the way – much as Jack Johnson did for Joe Louis who did for Muhammad Ali: fighters in every sense, but according to their own instincts. They would not be owned – unlike their ancestors who battled slavery of a different kind.

Williams needs no history lessons. She has been writing her own chapters in the narrative for more than two decades. She is every bit as stubborn as Gibson, as aware as Ali – but maybe not as popular. (Then again, who, black or white, was?)

She has always followed her own compass and that sometimes has led her into cul-de-sacs. She has created enough chances to add to her legacy since giving birth in September 2017, reaching the finals of four of seven slams – without winning a set.

She lost to Angelique Kerber (when she was three months into her comeback) at Wimbledon; Naomi Osaka, infamously, here; Simona Halep at Wimbledon two months ago; and, on Saturday night, Halep’s devotee, a player who might be as good or better than Osaka.

Bianca Andreescu, the Canadian teenager who has it all, beat the greatest women’s player of all time 6-3, 7-5 in the biggest stadium in tennis in her first grand slam final. That is a remarkable achievement – and not dissimilar to the heroics Williams has been performing since she won her own first slam here when she was 17, two years younger than Andreescu.

Whether Andreescu will be as great a player as Williams nobody knows. For now and the foreseeable future, we have both of them.

When she came off Arthur Ashe Stadium, Williams resisted suggestions that she is freezing in front of the one last challenge in her career: to equal and then pass Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slam titles. It is the question that refuses to go away, and she has developed a defence to guard against it: semi-denial.

“I’m not necessarily chasing a record. I’m just trying to win grand slams,” she told her disbelieving audience, adding with more candour: “I’m, like, so close, so close, so close, yet so far away. I don’t know what to say. I guess I got to keep going if I want to be a professional tennis player. And I just got to just keep fighting through it.”

Just 48 hours earlier, however, she told ESPN something that went largely unreported, and was way more revealing: “What we don’t understand is when I get 24 – because it’s inevitable – you guys are going to ask me about 25 and to pass the record. And that’s what you don’t get.”

Yet there was no escaping the roar of that crowd.

And genius should never be disregarded, because that is what has sustained her all her career and all her life.

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