Serena Williams’ verdict that she is “a bit disappointed” with her season this year indicates her urgency to overtake the 18 Grand Slam titles of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and to get on with chasing Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22.
Whether the 32-year-old still has time to achieve that may be suggested by her performances at the season-ending climax, the WTA Championships, which was scheduled to start yesterday.
It was an extraordinarily critical self-judgement by Williams on a season in which she has won another two Grand Slam titles and taken her total to 17 — perhaps caused by a fear that time is short.
More than that, Williams has lost only four matches, taken her career earnings past US$50 million and become the oldest woman to hold the world No. 1 ranking.
The player most capable of upsetting her is Victoria Azarenka, who has no doubt over where the American stands in the history of the sport.
“She can be the greatest of all time,” Azarenka said after losing to Williams last month in the longest US Open women’s singles final in 30 years. “Serena’s still not done.”
The Belarusian also suggested that the American now focuses more intensely and raises her level more dangerously when it really matters.
Williams has lost twice to Azarenka this year — in Doha in February, the day after having regained the No. 1 ranking from her rival — and in Cincinnati in August, after leading for most of the match.
“Against her, you have to take risks,” Azarenka says, “because she will [do that], and she will do that really well.”
Azarenka will need to recover from a disappointing build-up to the WTA Championships. The world No. 2 lost in the second round in Tokyo, where she had been feeling unwell, and in the first round in Beijing, where she served 15 double faults.
Other qualifiers in an eight-player field are Agnieszka Radwanska, the former Wimbledon finalist from Poland, Li Na, the Chinese pioneer who reached her third Grand Slam final in Melbourne this year and Petra Kvitova, the 2011 WTA Championships winner.
Also playing are Sara Errani, the Italian who also tops the world rankings in doubles, Jelena Jankovic, the former world No. 1 from Serbia, and Germany’s Angelique Kerber.