Elusive 24th major weighs heavily: Serena; done chasing top rank: Osaka - GulfToday

Elusive 24th major weighs heavily: Serena; done chasing top rank: Osaka


Serena Williams in action during the final of the 2017 Australian Open, which she won by beating sister Venus. File

Serena Williams’ long chase for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam trophy has been weighing on her mind ahead of next week’s Australian Open, admitted the 39-year-old seven-time Australian Open champion.

Serena has not added to her glittering collection since beating her sister Venus in the Australian Open final in 2017 when she was pregnant with daughter Olympia.

Serena, chasing Margaret Court’s all-time record, has since lost four Grand Slam finals, but insisted she was now used to the pressure.

“It’s definitely on my shoulders and on my mind,” she said. “I think it’s good to be on my mind... I’m used to it now.”

The American has been in aggressive form in Melbourne, dropping just one set in three matches in the Yarra Valley Classic before withdrawing from a semi-final showdown with world number one Ashleigh Barty due to a shoulder injury.

She said the decision to pull out was precautionary and was “super-confident” the problem wouldn’t overly trouble her.

Serena has appeared strong physically in Melbourne and, unlike some of her peers, unfazed by the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine imposed for players travelling to Australia.

Serena is in the same Australian Open quarter as world number two Simona Halep and three-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka, but was focused on her opener against Laura Siegemund of Germany.

“She has had lots of great wins over top players,” she said of the world number 51. “She has a different game. She mixes up the pace a lot. It will be a really good match for me to get in there early and play my best.”

DONE CHASING WORLD NO.1, SAYS OSAKA: Naomi Osaka insisted on Saturday she wasn’t consumed by returning to world number one, revealing her top priority was greater consistency as she eyes a second Australian Open title.

The world number three is widely seen as a frontrunner at Melbourne Park, having gone 14 matches unbeaten — including the US Open final — before withdrawing from her Gippsland Trophy semi-final against Elise Mertens with a shoulder injury.

Three-time Grand Slam winner Osaka reached the rankings summit two years ago when she defeated Petra Kvitova to win the Australian Open and become the first Asian player to take the top spot.

Despite her heady rise, the 23-year-old said becoming world number one felt slightly underwhelming, and brought extra pressure.

“I think nobody really acknowledged me as number one,” said the Japanese star, who was wearing glasses, an orange beanie and Los Angeles Lakers attire in her press conference.

“It just made me think people don’t really see me as number one. I just kept trying to prove myself. I felt like that wasn’t really a good mindset to have. If it comes to the point where I’m able to be number one again, I’ll embrace it, but I’m not really chasing it like that anymore.”

Osaka, instead, hoped to be a more consistent performer on the tour and gained inspiration from world number two Simona Halep, who has been ranked in the top 10 for 346 consecutive weeks.

“I think that’s incredible,” she said of Halep’s streak, which is the eighth longest in WTA history. “I feel like I want to have that sort of consistency.

Even though she will enter the Australian Open as a favourite, Osaka admitted to nerves ahead of her first round clash against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

“I’m going to feel very nervous because that’s what’s always going to happen to me,” she said.

“But I think the way that I’m playing now, the way that I was able to play my matches that I had the past couple days, it gives me a lot of confidence.”

OSAKA SLAMS MORI: Osaka on Saturday slammed “ignorant” remarks from the Tokyo Olympics’ chief organiser after a sexism row that has triggered an angry backlash and calls for his resignation.

Osaka, a leading face of the Games in her home nation, joined growing criticism of former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori, 83, after he complained that women speak for too long in meetings.

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