This has been a good year, not a banner year, for Serena Williams.
At age 34, injuries have taken their toll on her season, limiting her to only seven events played. Yet she still is the No. 1 women’s player in the world and she occupies the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open, which begins at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Monday.
Last year, Williams came into the Open having won the previous three Grand Slam titles and was considered the overwhelming favorite for the calendar year slam. Then she got bounced in the semifinals by Roberta Vinci, a loss that is still inexplicable.
Her 2016 season includes losses in the final of the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber, and a loss in the final of the French Open to Garbine Muguruza. But she finally tied Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 majors when she defeated Kerber in the final at Wimbledon.
Things haven’t been rosy since. She has played in only one event, the Rio Olympics, where she was bounced in the third round by Elina Svitolina, and hasn’t played since, pulling out of the Cincinnati tournament two weeks ago with an ongoing right shoulder problem.
The right shoulder and the thunderous serves it helps deliver is the big question mark at the U.S. Open.
“I haven’t played a lot and I haven’t practiced a lot, but I’m just starting to feel a little better,” Williams said on Friday. “I prefer to play more coming into the final Grand Slam of the year . . . there is nothing we can do about it. You just have to make the best of every single opportunity. That’s all I can do now.”
In her first match she gets a little speed bump on the road to her seventh U.S. Open title and record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title. Ekaterina Makarova, a player who owns a victory over her at the 2012 Australian Open, is a dangerous unseeded player who can cause problems.
“She’s a big fighter. She never really stops,” Williams said. “I think one thing that’s pretty impressive is she gets a lot of balls back. You think she’s not super quick, but she is . . . I try to look at it as we always have tough matches.”
The draw was made Friday and Williams could encounter fifth seed Simona Halep in the quarterfinals and big sister Venus, now 36, in the semifinals.
Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 men’s seed who is battling a wrist injury, gets unseeded Jerzy Janowicz in the opening match. He also could encounter the surging Marin Cilic, the 2014 Open champion, in the quarterfinals, and possibly Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. No. 2 seed Andy Murray, the Wimbledon and Rio Olympics winner, gets Lukas Rosol in his opener.
While maintaining that her fitness was at a high level, the Olympics was tough on Williams.
“It wasn’t very easy physically,” she said. “At the end of the day I knew I gave the best effort I could and it just wasn’t enough.”
The shoulder was bothering her, and it was at Wimbledon as well. There was even a sense of incredulity that she had won. “Ironically enough, the day after the final of Wimbledon, I was like how . . . ?”
Laughter ensued. It’s still Serena Williams, the No. 1 player in the world.
Stephens out. American Sloane Stephens has withdrawn from the U.S. Open because of a right foot injury. Stephens reached the fourth round in 2013.