Thursday’s a special day in the tennis world as one of the sport’s all-time greats, Serena Williams, turns 38. Just by doing that, the current World No. 9 has written herself even deeper into the history books, becoming just the fourth woman ever to be ranked in the Top 10 after turning 38.
The only other three women ever to be in the Top 10 at age 38: Venus Williams, who was 38 years and 29 days when she was last in the Top 10 during Wimbledon last year; Martina Navratilova, who was 38 years and 75 days; and Billie Jean King, who holds the record at 39 years and 322 days.
Serena holds the record for oldest woman to be No. 1—she was 35 when she last held the top spot.
During her run to the US Open final a few weeks ago, Serena was asked how she and players like Roger Federer, who turned 38 in the summer, are still going strong after so many years on the tour.
“I don’t know. I feel like we obviously have a lot of love for the sport,” Serena said. “I feel like a lot of players do, too. I can’t really answer for Roger. I can just say that I always said I would wake up one day and say, ‘I’m done,’ and that day hasn’t come yet for me. I’m still playing pretty good tennis.
“I do look at Roger, like today, and the guy is incredible. His game is shockingly amazing. So there is no reason that he shouldn’t be out there with his ability. And I feel the same way about mine.”
The biggest record Serena’s chasing is, of course, Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record. She won 24 Grand Slam titles, the most career Grand Slam titles for any player—male or female—in tennis history. Serena still stands just one behind at 23, but says she’d still be playing regardless of the record.
“I’d definitely still be playing if I’d already passed it,” she said. “I’ve had so many chances to pass it and [hope] to have a lot more, but it’s cool because I’m playing in an era—five eras—with so many amazing players. If you look at my career, the players I’ve played, it’s amazing I was able to get this many.”
So what keeps her going?
“Honestly, simply, I like the wins most. That’s it. I think I do that for me, and that’s what I like most.”
Since she came back to the tour a year and a half ago, Serena’s been doing a lot of winning, and particularly on the biggest stages: she’s 33-6 at the majors but just 10-6 away from Grand Slam events. She’s contested the final of four of the seven Grand Slams since she returned to the tour.
By reaching the final of Wimbledon this year at 37 years and 291 days, Serena became the oldest woman in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final, beating Navratilova’s record from Wimbledon in 1994, and she one-upped her own record by reaching this year’s US Open final at 37 years and 346 days.
She’s already the oldest woman to win a major in the Open Era, winning the Australian Open in 2017 at age 35, and if she wins another major, she’ll be the oldest player to win one in the Open Era, male or female - Ken Rosewall has that record, winning the 1972 Australian Open at 37 years and 62 days.
After finishing runner-up to Bianca Andreescu in the final of this year’s US Open, Serena looked back at her incredible achievements since coming back to the tour as a mom - and looked ahead, too.
“I feel like in 20 years I will definitely be like, ‘Wow, that wasn’t so bad,’” she commented. “It’s really hard right now to take that moment in and say, ‘You did okay,’ because I don’t believe that I did.
“I believe I could have played better. I believe I could have just been more Serena today. I honestly don’t think Serena showed up. I have to figure out how to get her to show up in Grand Slam finals.”