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Serena eyes historic 24th Slam against teen Andreescu

Serena Williams is through to a 33rd Grand Slam singles final © AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

NEW YORK, United States, Sep 6Serena Williams will take a fourth shot at equaling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles in Saturday’s US Open final against fast-rising Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu.

Williams, who turns 38 in three weeks, is aiming for her first Grand Slam title since giving birth in September 2017 to arrest a run of three major finals defeats in a row.

She would become only the fourth mother in the Open era to win a Slam after Aussies Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Belgium’s Kim Clijsters.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion won her last major at the 2017 Australian Open, finishing runner-up at Wimbledon the past two years either side of an infamous meltdown against Naomi Osaka in the 2018 final at Flushing Meadows.

“Is this the best opportunity? I don’t know. I literally haven’t thought about it this tournament. I’ve been way more chill,” said Williams, who could break her own record as the oldest women’s Grand Slam champion.

Williams could capture a record seventh US Open title to surpass the mark she shares with Chris Evert. Victory over Andreescu would also move her past Evert with a 102nd US Open match win, the most in tournament history.

“There’s so many different emotions in finals. It just brings out so many highs and lows, nerves and expectations. It’s a lot,” Williams said.

“I felt more prepared this tournament. I mean, Wimbledon I probably had a week to prepare, so that was amazing. Australia, I was super prepared. I did great, then rolled my ankle.

“I shouldn’t have even played the French Open. That was just a bonus just to compete in another Grand Slam. I just feel like I actually had time to train. I just had a really tough year with injuries, mostly bad luck. I just needed to get injury-free.”

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Williams will face an opponent, Andreescu, who wasn’t even born when the American won her first Slam title at the 1999 US Open.

The 18-year age gap between the players represents the largest between women’s finalists at any major in the Open era.

The pair met in last month’s final at Toronto, but it was a brief encounter, with back spasms forcing Williams to retire while trailing 3-1 in the first set.

– ‘Ton of power’ –

Andreescu offered words of encouragement and a consolatory hug as Williams tried to fight back tears that day, in an exchange that quickly went viral.

“She really knows how to mix up the game and play different shots in different ways. Above all, I just like her as a person. She’s amazing,” Williams said.

Bianca Andreescu consoled Serena Williams after injury prompted the American to quit during the Toronto final © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / Vaughn Ridley

“She’s a great player. You never know what is going to come from her. She does everything else. She serves well, moves well, has a ton of power. She’s very exciting to watch. It’s good. I think it’s great for women’s tennis.”

This time last year a despondent Andreescu was digesting another failed US Open qualifying bid, having fallen short of the main draw in New York for the second time.

“If someone told me a year ago I would be in the US Open final this year, I’d tell them they were crazy,” said Andreescu, who hasn’t lost a completed match since March.

She finished 2018 ranked 178th but is one win away from becoming the first Canadian Grand Slam champion, and the first teen to win a major since Maria Sharapova lifted the trophy here in 2006.

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Bianca Andreescu could become Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion © AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

“I’ve always dreamt of this moment ever since I was a little kid. But I don’t think many people would have actually thought that it would become a reality,” Andreescu said.

Andreescu, born in the Toronto suburbs to Romanian parents, said the experience from her truncated Rogers Cup showdown with Williams would prove helpful.

“Obviously I was nervous. But I think I channeled that nervousness into something else. When I stepped on the court, I didn’t really think of who was on the other side. Having those four games against her I think is going to help me on Saturday,” Andreescu said.

As a 15-year-old, she wrote herself a check in the amount of the US Open prize money. She still has it, visualizing it regularly, but now the real one is within her grasp.

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