Serena Williams: “I’ve had a big X on my back since ’99”
For the 13th time Serena Williams will take her place in a Grand Slam draw with a chance to tie Margaret Court on the all-time major singles title list. As usual, the American will do it with a target on her back.
In the four and a half years since she last raised a Grand Slam trophy in 2017, Serena Williams has travelled the tennis circuit with a target on her back. Every young player covets taking a shot at a living legend, and they all step up with guns blazing these days, while Williams tries to fight them off, along with father time, as she approaches 40.
Next week at Wimbledon it won’t be any different. Playing in her 13th Grand Slam main draw since giving birth to her daughter Olympia, the 23-time major champion will continue her quest for a 24th major title – and first as a mother – knowing that the entire field is gunning for her.
That’s okay, says Williams – and it’s nothing new.
Williams: “I’ve had a big X on my back since ‘99”
“It’s definitely made me better, to be honest,” Williams says of facing a gauntlet of formidable WTA stars that always finds a higher level of tennis when they face her. “I’ve had a big X on my back since ’99, since I won the US Open. When players play me that hard every single tournament, every single match, every single Grand Slam, it just doesn’t matter where, you just get better.”
Williams then refers to one of her favourite catch phrases as she explains what she’s up against every time she enters a Grand Slam draw, reminding us all: there’s only one Serena.
“Yeah, it’s been difficult mentally when someone might beat you and they lose directly in the next round almost every time,” she says. “At the end of the day that’s why I’m Serena. So thanks.”
A deep draw at Wimbledon, and no easy matches
Most pundits agree that Wimbledon’s fast-playing grass will give Williams her best shot at finally locking down an elusive 24th major singles title, but the American legend knows that it won’t be easy: she’ll need to play exceptional tennis to get through a draw that is loaded with dangerous players.
“I think that the women’s draw is so deep, regardless of who you play,” she said on Sunday during her pre-tournament press conference. “You really have to show up now. There’s no longer matches that are going to be a sure walk-through. You just have to really have your head in, have your game on.”
Serena Williams Last 12 Major Appearances
Roland Garros, 2018: Round of 16
Wimbledon, 2018: Runner-up
US Open, 2018: Runner-up
Australian Open, 2019: Quarter-final
Roland Garros, 2019: Third round
Wimbledon, 2019: Runner-up
US Open, 2019: Runner-up
Australian Open, 2020: Third round
US Open, 2020: Semi-final
Roland Garros, 2020: Second round
Australian Open, 2021: Semi-final
Roland Garros: 2021: Round of 16
Four consecutive finals at Wimbledon
In recent years, Wimbledon has been Williams’ best tournament. She has reached at least the final in each of her last four appearances at SW19, falling to Angelique Kerber at the last hurdle in 2018 and Simona Halep in the 2019 final after claiming titles in 2015 and 2016.
Seven-time champion Williams owns a 98-12 record at Wimbledon. She faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in the opening round and could end up with a rematch of the 2016 and 2018 final against a suddenly resurgent Angelique Kerber, last week’s champion at Bad Homburg, in the third round, if the seeds hold.
No matter how it plays out, Williams is not taking anything for granted.
“I feel like it doesn’t matter who you play, you have to be ready,” she says. “Everyone’s here. Everyone worked really hard to be here. So, yeah, I see it as an opportunity to just keep going.”