Serena is still the best

The American will face World No. 29 Ekaterina Makarova — the 2014 U.S. Open semifinalist and Rio Olympic doubles gold medallist — in the first round of the U. S. Open.

Serena Williams... chasing Steffi Graf's record of 186 weeks at the top.   -  AP

February 18, 2013: At the age of 31 years and 145 days, Serena Williams became the oldest woman to claim the World No. 1 ranking.

Three years later, the ‘oldest’ is still the best in the world. Walking into Flushing Meadows as the World No. 1 for the fourth consecutive year, she is spiritedly gunning for Steffi Graff’s record of 186 weeks at the top.

But the American has a tough task at hand. She has played only three matches after her Wimbledon triumph in July and has a sore right shoulder to worry about. Not to forget that she has been handed an extremely tough draw, with Angelique Kerber gnawing away at her lead steadily.

She will face World No. 29 Ekaterina Makarova — the 2014 U.S. Open semifinalist and Rio Olympic doubles gold medallist — in the first round. Did we mention she has an experience of beating Williams in a Grand Slam before? Serena then faces a potential quarterfinal clash with Romanian Simona Halep. Her sister Venus Williams is in the same half of the draw, again!

But the strong-willed player that she is, injuries and a tough draw will mean little in her quest for the seventh U.S. Open title in her 17th appearance at her home Slam.

Last year, Serena Williams walked into the U.S. Open looking to tie Steffi Graff’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles. She had gone on a rampage after pocketing the 2014 U.S. Open title. The World No. 1 collected the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon trophies before making her way to the final Grand Slam of the year. And then, her climb to the Graff peak was halted by Roberta Vinci in the semifinals.

She kept trying, the pressure seemingly getting the better of her in the most inopportune of moments twice — in the finals of the Australian Open and the French Open. The 35-year-old struggled with her serve and double-faulted six times against Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the Grand Slam final Down Under.

Her usually imperious forehand deserted her and she saw herself falling short of the mark yet again.

In the French Open final, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza won the big points and left Serena rueing yet another lost opportunity. A thigh injury was not to be taken as an excuse. "I'm not one to ever make excuses and say, like, 'Oh, my adductor was hurting,' or whatever. At the end of the day, I didn't play the game I needed to play to win and she did,” was Serena’s pokerfaced response.

A month later, she had had enough of waiting. Angelique Kerber was standing between her and history, and she was in no mood to let the German upstage her again. The American’s serve came good and she fittingly finished the match with an ace, to capture a magical seventh Venus Rosewater dish at the Wimbledon and with it, her 22nd Grand Slam title.

It was not the first time that Serena had delayed her inevitable date with destiny. She had taken a year chasing trophy No. 18 to match the achievements of tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and when she did — at the U.S. Open in 2014 — she ran away with three more to complete a second 'Serena Slam'.

But in her defence, she was recovering from life-threatening pulmonary embolism. She had fought against a clot in the lung in 2011 and had relearned the art of winning again. She had come back strong from a serious foot injury in 2010 and proved to be a fighter.

In the final Grand Slam of the year, Serena is chasing Steffi again. And this time, she is trying to topple her record of 186 consecutive weeks at the top and break away from the German by capturing her 23rd major title. Again, Angelique Kerber is snapping at her heels and is only 190 points away from the top ranking.

The Open Era record had been done away with. Only Margaret Court has more, two more to be precise. Serena is on course — age and injuries being just minor blips on the course.

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