Not since 1988 has a woman’s player won all four Grand Slams in a calendar year. That year, Steffi Graf dominated the rest of the women’s field, as the 18-year-old won her second career Grand Slam at the Australian Open, and proceeded to rattle off titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
Twenty-seven years later, 34-year-old Serena Williams has a shot at the Golden Slam. She has already completed her second career “Serena Slam,” winning last year’s U.S. Open and the first three majors of 2015, and a win at this year’s U.S. Open will tie her with the aforementioned Graf for the most Grand Slam titles with 22 in the Open Era.
At her age, what Serena has been able to do over the past 10 months is nothing short of remarkable. At any age, the feat would be great, but to be playing at the top of her game in her mid-30s only further demonstrates her dominance over the rest of the sport. The question heading into the final Grand Slam of the season is: Can anyone in the women’s game beat Serena?
Many have speculated as to what the difference is in Serena’s game that sets her apart from the rest of the pack. It is not just her power, but the consistency with which she uses power that makes her stand out. No one on the WTA Tour serves with as much speed and accuracy as Serena, making it nearly impossible to break. With the U.S. Open being played on hard-courts, her power becomes even more of a factor.
In addition to her sheer power, there might not be anyone on the Tour who plays with as much passion and intensity on every single point than Serena. Her emotions were on full display in the French Open final against Lucie Safarova as she was yelling at herself, and in her Round of 32 match at Wimbledon against Heather Watson, she turned to the crowd to say “Don’t try me” in reference to the British crowd favoring the hometown favorite Watson.
For someone who is so dominant, it almost seems that Serena still plays with the same chip on her shoulder that helped propel her and her older sister Venus into stardom more than 15 years ago. It is what keeps her drive at full throttle and still motivates her to be the seemingly unbeatable force that she remains to this day. Sure, there are times where she drops sets and looks to be on the brink of defeat, but at this point in the season, winning two sets out of three against her feels like an impossible assignment.
“I was really excited to achieve that ‘Serena Slam,’” said Serena. “It was really important for me to do that. Just holding all four trophies at the same time, two times in one career … I feel okay about my game. I’m always looking to improve. I’m never too comfortable. That’s when I think you are susceptible to losing.”
That is the scary part for opponents. Serena is not yet satisfied and is still hungry for victory even to this day. There doesn’t seem to be a complacent bone in her body, as her desire for victory and pulling out dominant performances has become her forte.
Another trait that separates Serena from her compatriots on the WTA Tour is her ability to hit another gear in the match’s biggest moments, evident in some of her Grand Slam wins. When the lights are on the grandest of stages, as they often are for Serena on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, she shines her brightest.
Sixteen years ago, a then 17-year-old Serena captured her first Grand Slam title in Flushing Meadows at the U.S. Open. If she wins this time around, she will tie Graff’s record of 22 career Slams, and only add to her ever-growing and legendary legacy.
She is the odds-on favorite to hoist the trophy in early September for the sixth time in her career and win her fifth consecutive major title.
“Hopefully, people will be cheering me on to push me over the edge, give me the extra strength needed for this historic moment,” said Serena of playing in front of the U.S. Open audience. “I think, in a way, it also makes things easier for me because I feel like I have nothing to lose. I feel like I can go in there, do the best I can and just hope for the best.”
While she may be trying to tame expectations, Serena is undoubtedly the odds-on favorite to extend her reign in Queens once again.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org