When Serena Williams won her first US Open in 1999, Bianca Andreescu, her rival in the final on Saturday, was not yet born. It will be much more than a generational battle for Williams, who pursues that elusive 24th Grand Slam with which he would match the Margaret Court record. She is looking for herself because, since returning to the circuit in 2018 after giving birth to her daughter Olympia in a delivery with very serious complications, she has not won a single title again.
Serena Williams has stopped being 'inevitable' on the big stages. He won 21 of the first 25 Grand Slam finals he played in his career, but has lost five of the last seven. The last three, consecutively and without signing up for a single set: Wimbledon 2018 against Angelique Kerber (6-3, 6-3), the 2018 US Open against Naomi Osaka (6-2, 6-4) and last month July again in Wimbledon (6-2, 6-2) against Simona Halep.
It is not a matter of level. Williams has planted in this final of the US Open yielding only five games between the quarterfinals and the semifinal - along the way the record of 101 victories in the Chris Evert tournament. Moreover, since his return in March 2018, no one has played more Grand Slam finals: with this one there will be four in just 14 months, compared to the two that Halep and Osaka have played (and won). It is the final shot that fails, solidity and determination on the big days. The step that made her unapproachable.
Williams, who will turn 38 in three weeks, has lightened his calendar in this final leg of the race. He selects a lot the tournaments in which he competes, but in this year and a half since his reappearance he has not won any. The last one in his record is still the Australian Open of 2017 that he won against his sister Venus.
Weigh also the injuries, such as those problems in the left knee that has dragged during the season (and that forced him to erase from Miami and Rome) or those discomforts in the back that made him withdraw from the final of the Rogers Cup last month against Bianca Andreescu, his rival in this new US Open final.
The Canadian in one of the brightest exponents of the new wave of women's tennis. In 2018 he fell in the first round of the previous phase of the US Open, but a year later he presented in the final with important titles on hard track already in the backpack: Indian Wells and that Rogers Cup that was pointed at home after the injury from Serena, leaving three Top 10 down the road. Andreescu, who finished last year in 178th place in the world, has won the seven games he has played against Top 10 rivals this year.
That duel that could not be in Canada, will be played this Saturday at Flushing Meadows, a place full of meaning for Serena. Arthur Ashe is the scene that has seen her crowned six times champion of the US Open -more than any other in the Open Era, tied with Evert-, but also where a year ago she starred in one of the most controversial scenes of her career. The American, dominated in the first set by Naomi Osaka, lost the papers and accused chairman Carlos Ramos of "thief" and "liar." In this edition, by the way, the tournament organization has banned the Portuguese in their matches.
At this point his place in history is more than assured as one of the great rackets of history, male or female. But his motivation goes beyond. Serena considered her return also as a vindication of the working mother and woman. "I feel like I'm incredibly competitive. If not, I wouldn't be here because I would." And this Saturday, in that same Arthur Ashe, he will look again for those 24 Grand Slams of Margaret Court.
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