Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
As She Pursues the Grand Slam, Serena Says She Doesn’t ‘Have Much at Stake’
NEW YORK — Serena Williams may be trying to accomplish something that no tennis player has in nearly 30 years, but she claims she doesn’t feel any pressure.
When the U.S. Open begins on Monday, the 33-year-old Williams will attempt to become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win the calendar Grand Slam.
Serena has already won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon in 2015.
“I really don’t have much at stake, I don’t think of it like that,” Williams, the three-time defending US Open champion, said Thursday at the Open as the men’s and women’s draws were unveiled. “I think of it as having the opportunity to come here and defend my title. I love winning here, I love playing here and that’s all I want to do.”
Even if she doesn’t win the Slam this year, Serena promised she’ll be back next year to go for it.
“I feel like I don’t put that pressure on myself to do anything here ’cause I’m obviously going to be excited to compete next year and just keep going and have fun,” she said.
Still, Patrick McEnroe said he believes that Serena won’t be able to avoid the pressure and hype that come with what she’s attempting to accomplish. About 40 people and five TV cameras watched her practice here Thursday on a side court.
“Serena’s going to have a lot of pressure on her, self-imposed pressure because of what she’s trying to do,” McEnroe said.
“She doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody, obviously. She’s the greatest player ever, in my opinion, on the women’s side. But this is still going for the Grand Slam. It’s still there and I think the interest level from everybody here and the rest of the world, the media, is going to continue to ramp up, so it’s understandable that she’s going to feel that and understandable that she’s going to say that it’s not a big deal, but it is a big deal. It’s a huge deal and it’s an opportunity for her to continue to find something to achieve.”
Serena was drawn to face No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova in one semifinal, with No. 2 Simona Halep on track to face No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki in the other.
But in order to get there, Williams could face a slew of other American women first.
Serena could meet No. 29 Sloane Stephens in the third round, No. 19 Madison Keys in the Round of 16 and her big sister Venus, the No. 23 seed, or Belinda Bencic, who recently beat Serena in Toronto, in the quarterfinals.
“That top quarter is loaded,” ESPN’s Darren Cahill said. “You look through Serena’s quarter of the draw and it’s loaded with good players.”
Serena praised her younger American foes.
“Madison is playing really well,” she said. “So is Sloane actually, she’s playing excellent. So it’s not anything simple or easy to go through.”
A Venus-Serena quarterfinal would draw ratings, but the elder sister could have to knock out Bencic or No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova to get there.
“If you are looking at a Venus/Serena quarter it’s going to be pretty difficult for Venus to get there,” McEnroe said.
Serena’s march to history begins under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night at 7 o’clock against Vitalia Diatchenko, a 25-year-old Russian ranked No. 86 in the world.
With each victory going forward, the hype surrounding Serena’s quest to join Graf among Slam winners with surely magnify.
“I’ve seen a lot of things that [Graf] has posted,” Serena said. “She’s always been so supportive. I know her husband, Andre [Agassi], who has been incredibly supportive. …I really love that someone as great as Steffi is there to be supportive and be happy more than anything for the next person.”
Whether Serena becomes that next person to win the Slam will play out over this fortnight in Queens.
“We’re all very lucky that we get to sit back and possibly watch history being made,” Cahill said.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.