Forty-four long months.
That’s how long it’s been since Serena Williams won a Grand Slam tournament. Williams has been stalled at 23 major titles, one fewer than record-holder Margaret Court, since the second week of Donald Trump’s presidency. In what has been the longest drought of her remarkable career, Williams has not won a major since defeating her sister, Venus, in the 2017 Australian Open finals while pregnant.
On Tuesday, after some initial jitters, Williams launched yet another bid to rewrite history with a fairly convincing 7-5, 6-3 win over Kristie Ahn in the first round of the U.S. Open.
The victory was Williams’ 102nd at the U.S. Open, breaking Chris Evert’s record for the most wins at the tournament by either a man or a woman.
The win was also her first straight-sets victory since tennis restarted as she had come in playing five three-set matches. After falling behind, 0-2, in the second set, she won five straight games and then held serve at 5-3 to close it out.
Many thought it was important that she open up with a strong performance as she has not exactly been an overpowering opponent this year. Last week, in the Open tune up, the Western & Southern Open, she bowed out in the third round after blowing a big lead to Maria Sakkari of Greece.
“Yeah, it’s been years, since the '90s since I won a match in straight sets, she joked in her on-court interview. “It felt really. I was just like, ‘Serena, be Serena and close it out’ and I know I can do that so it felt really good.”
Williams turns 39 this month and this tournament may be her best chance of finally catching Court. Since giving birth to her daughter, who turned 2 on Tuesday, Williams has been to four Grand Slam finals in two years – two at Wimbledon and two in New York – and has finished as a runner-up in each.
This year’s draw, however, is quite inviting. Six of the top 10 players in the WTA rankings -- including defending champion Bianca Andreescu and the two top players in the world – Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep – have opted to sit out rather than play in the COVID-19 bubble.
A title win for the third-seeded Williams would also see her become the most decorated women's player at the US Open in the modern era. She is currently tied with Evert for most titles with six.
Williams has bristled at suggestions that there would be an asterisk on a win this year, given that fear of the virus has thinned the field. She became the first major player to commit to the Open when the USTA announced it was going to hold the tournament amid the pandemic.
"It still has to be tennis that's played, asterisks or not,” Williams said before Tuesday’s match. “I think this whole year deserves an asterisk because it's such a special year — history we have never been through in this world, to be honest, not this generation, not this lifetime. It's just in history, period.”
History that clearly means a lot to her at this point in her life.
“Yeah, in a weird way I feel like every time I come here I'm being told I broke another record,” Williamssaid after her win. “….But it's cool. I don't think I appreciate it enough, which is unfortunate. But I'm in the middle of a Grand Slam, so it's not the time to be focused for me on records when I'm thinking about winning a tournament.”