Serena Williams on-court interview
Serena Williams on-court interview after round 4 win
An astonishing 11 women commenced their AO2019 campaigns with the opportunity to seize the world No.1 ranking – but only one, Serena Williams, could achieve history with an all-time record-equalling 24 Grand Slam titles.
With a gruelling three-set victory over world No.1 Simona Halep on Monday, Serena sent a powerful reminder of her lofty position among the game’s greatest. Now comes the opportunity for Williams to add to it as she faces Karolina Pliskova in her 50th Grand Slam quarterfinal.
MORE: Day 10 schedule of play
It’s a record that began building 21 years ago, Serena playing her first Grand Slam event as a 16-year-old at AO1998. She lifted her first major trophy at the US Open, age 17, in 1999.
Some two decades and a further 22 Grand Slam titles later, epic numbers are not even what’s most remarkable about Williams’ time on tour. Rather, it’s the hunger to add more to her history as a 37-year-old mother that still defines her superstar status.
The seven-time Australian Open champion showcased her fierce will to win as she overcame Halep, the 107-minute victory a huge step forward in the comeback that began only 10 months ago. After taking the first set in 20 minutes and leading by a break in the second, Williams needed all her talent and willpower to stave off the spirited Halep.
“It's a part of this journey on my way back,” reasoned the American, who is playing only her eighth official tournament in her new role as a tennis-playing mother to daughter Olympia. “I felt like I did have an opportunity to win that in straight sets, but then I'm playing the No. 1 player in the world.
“So I'm still learning, which is, at my age and my point in my career, I think (is) admirable and exciting that I still have things I can learn from.”
It’s also daunting for the opponents challenging for the titles that Williams has long dominated.
Serena takes a 2-1 record into her quarterfinal against the seventh-seeded Pliskova, the most recent of those victories achieved at the same stage of the 2018 US Open.
“I didn't play well that match, so for sure would be good revenge to play her again. Different conditions here (and) I think I’m playing a little bit better than I was last year,” said Pliskova.
On a nine-match winning streak after starting her season by lifting the trophy in Brisbane, Pliskova will also channel the memories of victory over Williams in the semifinals of the 2016 US Open.
“We have had good matches. She's beaten me on an occasion or two or three,” said Williams, noting the importance of returning well against the renowned big server.
Confidence comes from a stellar recent history – Serena’s last loss at this level of a Slam occurring to Sloane Stephens at AO2013 – and her constant focus on improvement.
“I can definitely go to a new level,” Williams warned. “I have to if I want to stay in the tournament.”
It’s a wise approach for the 37-year-old, who made two Grand Slam finals in the seven events she contested in 2018 but also experienced rare losses.
Runner-up to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon, the prolific champion experienced the rise of the next generation in her loss to Naomi Osaka at the US Open.
A win over Pliskova could set up a re-match with Osaka, who faces Elina Svitolina in the other women’s quarterfinal. That’s an evenly matched contest if measured by their previous matches, Svitolina holding a 3-2 edge over the 21-year-old.
History also beckons in the men’s draw as Novak Djokovic’s quest to become the first man to lift seven Australian Open titles continues in the quarterfinals against Kei Nishikori. The signs are positive for the world No.1 Serb, who leads the head-to-head record 15-2.
A win for Djokovic would ensure a semifinal with either Milos Raonic or Lucas Pouille. Aiming to build on a 3-0 match-winning record in his quarterfinal, the Canadian will draw on the memories of a career-best performance as an AO2016 semifinalist.
For Serena Williams, there’s a vastly more accomplished Australian Open history, and the promise of an even more significant future. But as she targets that milestone 24th major, the American insists her focus is only on the present.
“I've been edging closer for probably like a decade now,” said Williams earlier this tournament. “I'm not even dealing with that right now.”
Yet more wisdom from one of the game’s greatest. There’ll be plenty of time for more considered contemplation should Serena take that place in history.