When the Australian Open begins Monday in Melbourne,1 there’s one clear reason to watch: Serena Williams, after two years of falling just short, could finally win her 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would tie her with Margaret Court for the most all-time.
Williams won the ASB Classic last week in New Zealand — the 38-year-old’s first title since 2017, when she gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. Until 2018, Williams had won a singles title in every year but one2 since she won her first major at the U.S. Open in 1999.
Williams didn’t face a particularly difficult field in Auckland, but she looked driven. When she won, she looked determined. “I’ve been waiting two years for this moment,” Williams said after the win. “I think you could see the relief on my face.”
Williams returned to Grand Slam matches at the 2018 French Open. She reached the Wimbledon final a month later, but lost to Angelique Kerber. Simona Halep crushed Williams in the Wimbledon final last year. And Williams has lost in the final of the past two U.S. Opens, first to Naomi Osaka and then to Bianca Andreescu, who was just 19 years old. Williams was dominated in each match; she didn’t win a set. Her loss against Andreescu left her despondent.
“I believe I could have played better,” Williams said. “I believe I could have done more. I believe I could have just been more Serena today.”
Considering her age, Williams’s difficulty winning another major is not a surprise. Yes, she’s likely nervous as she continues to try to tie the all-time record. More than anything, though, her younger rivals have a lot of talent — and there are always more on the way. But if she stays healthy, Williams has a good chance to win at least one more major title.
Williams has been impressive at converting chances into titles. She has won 32 percent of tournaments played in her career, according to the Women’s Tennis Association — the highest win percentage of any current player with at least 30 tournaments under her belt. No one else is close: Williams is well ahead of Maria Sharapova (18 percent), Venus Williams (16 percent) and Petra Kvitova (13 percent).
Serena Williams has won the Australian Open seven times in her career. She seems fit and, as usual, eager. And at least one star — Andreescu, Williams’s recent foil — isn’t playing the tournament this year. A lot could change at the Open; smoke from the fires raging across the country could make the tournament dangerous for all players. But Williams won’t quit unless she has no other choice, no matter the odds or the pressure that comes with her quest to make history.
While younger women continue to battle Williams for titles, a trio of 30-something men have been shutting out almost all of their rivals at the Slams for nearly 15 years. Rafael Nadal, 33 years old and currently No. 1 in the world, is one major away from his 20th Slam title, which would tie him with the 38-year-old Roger Federer, who’s ranked No. 3. No. 2 Novak Djokovic, with 16 major titles at age 32, could challenge them both.
Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have had a stranglehold on the top three spots in the rankings for so long that it feels like men’s tennis is stuck in a computer game programmed a decade ago. But at some point, a man born in the 1990s will win a Slam title. Three of the ’90s kids are ranked just behind the ’80s kings: Daniil Medvedev (age 23), Dominic Thiem (26) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (21).
Medvedev — 6-foot-6 with great ground strokes and a lot of confidence — has the most promise; at last year’s U.S. Open, he pushed Nadal to his limit. Tsitsipas won the ATP Finals to end 2019. Thiem won a set against Nadal in last year’s French Open final; he badly wants to win the title in Paris. It seems a sure bet that these and other young potential stars will arrive. The question is when.
“For us, for the young guys, it’s all about time,” Tsitsipas said in November. “We will have to beat them or wait for them.”