By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, August 25, 2020
“Everything gets harder when you get older,” says Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova.
Photo credit: US Open Facebook
Security guards patrol exits of rented homes Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic occupy enforcing the US Open safety bubble.
Even elite gatekeepers can’t stop the kleptomaniac hounding Williams on her hunt for history.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion will launch her quest to claim her record seventh US Open title and match Margaret Court’s all-time record with her 24th major crown in the bubble of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center next week.
Advancing age is the thief robbing reaction time, embezzling energy and stealing stoic focus from the 38-year-old Williams.
Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, who was a month shy of her 50th birthday when she partnered Bob Bryan to the 2006 US Open mixed doubles championship, says “time is not on [Serena’s] side.”
The owner of 59 total Grand Slam titles believes complications caused by Williams’ advancing age is her biggest obstacle as she tries to cross the major finish line.
In a conference call with the media to promote Tennis Channel’s coverage of the US Open, which begins Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern with Navratilova, Jim Courier and Brett Haber hosting “Tennis Channel Live at the US Open” the former world No. 1 detailed why age is Williams’ biggest foe.
“Look, it was hard for me once I hit 30, and [Serena and Roger Federer are] 10 years older,” Navratilova said during her Tennis Channel conference call. “I played a lot more tennis at that point. Still, everything gets harder when you get older.
“Everything takes longer: preparation, recovery, recovery from injury, the nerves get in the way more as you get older, and you slow down a little bit. No matter how hard you work, the quickness is not the same.”
Fast-twitch muscles still function, but not quite as fast after age 35, Navratilova said.
“I thought, Okay, I was just as fast,” Navratilova said. “The reaction, even though I saw the ball, I almost had to tell myself to run for it. What came naturally in your 20s and early 30s now was a struggle.”
Still, Serena, who turns 39 on September 26th, has plenty of assets to aid her in this run at history.
Six of the world’s Top 10-ranked women—including defending-champion Bianca Andreescu, who beat Williams in the 2019 US Open final—didn’t make the trip to New York. A diluted field could make her path a bit less problematic.
It’s been six years since Serena last ruled New York, but the six-time US Open champion carries a competitive ally into the Open.
The US Open court.
Laykold, the new US Open surface, shipped the same US Open court surface to Williams’ Florida home. She spent recent months training on the new court in her backyard.
The faster track rewarded Williams’ fiercest weapon—her serve—in her epic two hour, 48-minute Western & Southern Open opener yesterday. The third seed slashed 14 aces, including a 118 mph blast in the decisive tiebreaker, against one double fault and won 82 percent of her first-serve points in a sweat-soaked 7-6(6), 3-6, 7-6(0) victory over Arantxa Rus.
In addition to bringing the heat when she needed it most, Williams showed strong will and speedy wills playing some tremendous defense to extend points.
Still, how will tennis’ most famous mom recover amid potentially sweltering US Open conditions without the benefit of the energizing pro-Serena crowd?
And can the soon-to-be 39-year-old Williams either impose or explosiveness to shorten points or withstand the physical punishment of more two-hour-plus battles in the bubble?
Serena knows her performance this week will provide some answers.
“Physically I feel like I’m incredibly fit. I did hit a wall today in the second set,” said Williams, who left the court after the second set in accordance with the WTA’s heat rule. “I was so hot. That never happens. So I think physically I’m fit. Tennis is mental. You know, it’s all mental.”
The owner of a record 167 singles championships and 177 doubles titles, Navratilova knows staying power is much more than a state of mind and age can be an obstacle.
“I played doubles, finished almost 50 years old. I know that age definitely gets in the way,” Navratilova said. “It’s just a matter of how well you manage it.
“What you may lose speed-wise maybe you gain knowledge-wise, how to play points, how to manage your emotions and everything else. There’s different payoffs or different tradeoffs rather. It doesn’t get easier.
“Yeah, time is not on these guys’ side, whether it’s Roger or Serena. Time is not a friend.”
Twenty-two years after her US Open debut, Williams, who has dropped four straight Grand Slam finals, believes she’s fit enough to conquer the ultimate foe.
“I’m ready. I’m excited,” Williams said. “Like I said, I’m actually super fit and I’m super ready. I feel like I’m ready for anything.”