Motherhood helps Serena reach brink of history as 38 looms

Jim SLATER
Serena Williams is back in the final at Flushing Meadows after last year's controversial showdown with Naomi Osaka

Serena Williams finds chasing after her two-year-old daughter Olympia has helped her pursuit of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open as her 38th birthday approaches.

Williams would match Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Slam singles titles and claim an unprecedented seventh US Open title with a victory in Saturday's final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Being on the court is almost a little bit more relaxing than hanging out with a two-year-old that's dragging you everywhere. I think that has kind of been a little helpful," Williams said after her 6-3, 6-1 semi-final victory Thursday over Ukraine's Elina Svitolina.

Just two years ago, Williams was fighting for her life with a blood clot in her lung after giving birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Now she could become only the fourth mother in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title after Aussies Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Belgium's Kim Clijsters.

"I think it's amazing to come back with a baby and win because it's hard," Williams said. "My day off isn't a day off.

"I'm literally hanging out with baby. I'm doing activities with her. I don't want her to forget me. I try to spend as much time (as I can) with her. I'm a full-time mom first, foremost. That means the most to me. So I train and then I rush home.

"Being in a Grand Slam is difficult because it takes away a lot of time that we normally have together."

Three weeks shy of her 38th birthday, Williams would become the oldest women's champion in Grand Slam history, surpassing the age mark she set in winning the 2017 Australian Open at 35 while pregnant.

Williams seeks a record seventh US Open title to surpass the mark she now shares with Chris Evert. If she wins the finale it would give her 102 US Open match wins, one more than the record 101 she shares with Evert.

Williams says she definitely would still be playing at an age when most rivals have put down the racquet even if she had already passed Court's once-thought unassailable mark.

"I definitely would still be playing if I had already passed it. 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 the span of the career, the players I've played, it's amazing that I was able to get this many."

- 'A sick joke' -

Williams, who won her first Slam title 20 years ago at the US Open, said if someone had told her at 17 she would still be playing two decades later, "I would definitely not have believed them.

"At 17 I thought for sure I'd be retired at 28, 29, living my life. So I would have thought it was a sick joke."

Williams has missed three prior Grand Slam finals chances to match Court and collect her first Slam as a mom, falling in last year's US Open and the past two Wimbledons.

"I think it's great. To be this far in my career, to be playing at this level with these amazing new players, is cool," Williams said.

"It's cool that I've been in more finals than I think anyone on tour after being pregnant. I think that's kind of awesome.

"It's not easy to go through what I did and come back, and so fast. To keep playing, to also not be 20 years old, yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself."

Svitolina marvels at Williams as well.

"What she does is unbelievable effort on a daily basis. You have to work every day. You have to be always ready, always prepared for any match," Svitolina said.

"What she does and what she achieved, it's something unbelievable. For sure, everyone dream about it. For now, only her who can do it."