Williams still learning to live with ‘Serena target’

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Winning a Grand Slam is hard. For Serena Williams, managing the overwhelming expectations that come with a two-decade-long career in the spotlight seems even harder.

The third seed advanced into the second week of the US Open on Saturday, surviving a third-round scare from fellow American Sloane Stephens before winning 2-6 6-2 6-2 in her toughest test at this year’s tournament so far.

Asked how she compartmentalised the day-to-day challenge of competition with the attention 23 Grand Slam titles can bring, Williams simply said: “Sometimes it’s harder than others.”

“Every day having ‘Serena’ on your back is a massive target for the tour, for the press, for stress,” said Williams.

“But as Billie Jean King said, pressure is a privilege. So I wouldn’t want it any other way. So I just try to think about how fortunate I am to have been in this position.”

In all of sport there are few records quite so stubborn as the one belonging to King’s rival, Margaret Court: 24 Grand Slam titles. It is one that Williams has fought mightily to reach.

The 38-year-old six-time US Open champion has made the finals in four majors since she returned from maternity leave in 2018, coming up just short each time.

It is a fight she has waged largely on her own.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone,” about chasing records, Williams told reporters. “Maybe that would have been, would have, would, could be a good idea.”

Her next hurdle comes in the form of Maria Sakkari of Greece, who cut short Williams’ Western & Southern Open campaign just 10-days-ago in the tournaments third round.

For Williams, a relentless perfectionist, the meeting is yet another chance for self-improvement.

“I don’t think it’s anything tricky, especially when you lost it’s good to kind of go back out there and try to do a little bit better,” she said.