On The Line In 2021: Serena Williams' quest for the Grand Slam record

On The Line In 2021: Serena Williams' quest for the Grand Slam record

Will this be the year she finally breaks Margaret Court’s all-time record?

Today in our On The Line series: the women's Grand Slam title record. On Tuesday, we discussed the men's race.

Since she returned to the WTA tour as a mom almost three years ago, Serena Williams has been on the verge of making history at every Grand Slam she’s played. And while she hasn’t quite crossed the line yet—surpassing Margaret Court’s record of 24 career Grand Slam titles, the most that any player, man or woman, has won in the history of the sport—she’s come painfully close, time and again.

Could 2021 be the year she finally does it?

As she won her 23rd major at the 2017 Australian Open, we didn't know that Serena was about to be off the tour for just over a year. Incredibly, she was in the early stages of her pregnancy during that run. She would give birth to her daughter, Olympia, in September 2017, and return to the game at Indian Wells in March 2018.

Since then, Serena has consistently showcased her former brilliance. She’s made it through to four more Grand Slam finals, beaten a No. 1, captured a WTA title and returned to the Top 10. But that elusive 24th major—and a 25th that would ultimately break Court’s record—has eluded her.

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When Serena, ranked 181st in the world having recently returned to the sport, reached—and lost—the Wimbledon final in 2018, it seemed like only a matter of time before she would be piling major titles onto her resume again.

“It was a great opportunity for me,” Serena said after finishing runner-up to Angelique Kerber that day. “You know, I didn’t know a couple of months ago where I was, where I would be, how I would do, how I would be able to come back. It was such a long way to see light at the end of the road, kind of.

“I think these two weeks have really showed me that I can compete. Obviously I can compete for the long run in a Grand Slam. I can, you know, come out and be a contender to win Grand Slams.”

Then came three more major finals, and three more losses—to Naomi Osaka in the 2018 US Open final, Simona Halep in the 2019 Wimbledon final and Bianca Andreescu in the 2019 US Open final. All four of her final-round defeats came in straight sets.

“I feel like in 20 years, I’ll definitely be like, ‘Wow, that wasn’t so bad,’” Serena said after her 6-3, 7-5 loss to Andreescu in New York. “But it’s very hard right right now to take this moment in and say, ‘You did okay,’ because I don’t believe I did. I could’ve played better. I believe I could’ve done more.

“I believe I could have just been more Serena today. I honestly don’t think Serena showed up. I have to kind of figure out how to get her to show up in Grand Slam finals.”

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But while it’s true that Serena has struggled to unleash her best tennis in major finals since coming back, no one else on the women’s tour has gone as consistently deep at the majors as she has.

In the last nine Grand Slams, Serena has reached the quarterfinals or better six times (the next most is Elina Svitolina, with four), the semifinals or better five times (the next most is Osaka, with three) and the final four times (the next most is Osaka, again with three, though she’s won all three of hers).

And not only has the former No. 1 put herself in the position of winning Grand Slams more than any other woman in recent years, she also still believes she can go all the way.

“I definitely do believe or I wouldn’t be on tour,” she said at the Australian Open last year.

“I don’t play just to have fun—to lose is really not fun. I seem to do well at the last two Slams of the year. I’ve won them all several times, so each one is an opportunity for me to go out there and win.”

The Australian Open, which Serena’s won seven times before, is just around the corner.