Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou says the legendary American has not been the "real Serena" in her last four Grand Slam finals, and admits that the former world No. 1 will have to adapt to new challenges if she is to add to her Grand Slam tally.
Serena currently has 23 Grand Slam titles, one behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
Williams won the most recent of her Grand Slam titles at the 2017 Australian Open while she was at the early stages of her pregnancy, and went on maternity leave immediately after that. She did not return to the tour until over a year later in February 2018.
Since then, she has been to four major finals, but has faltered in all four. The American lost the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 2018 and 2019, failing to win a set in any of those matches.
Mouratoglou believes one of the reasons his charge has struggled in recent Grand Slam finals is the pressure of having to equal Court’s record.
“The pressure must be immense. Just try to imagine, then, what it must be like to go into a Grand Slam final knowing that victory will secure your place in history”, Mouratoglou wrote in a column on tennishead.net. I can’t believe there is any greater pressure in sport than that”.
“In the quarter-finals and semi-finals she had been destroying most of her opponents. In three of the finals, however, she simply never showed up”.
“When Serena is Serena she is unstoppable. She hasn’t been the real Serena in the last four finals. That’s what we have to change”.
Between 2018 and 2019, Williams played just eight tournaments outside the majors- winning none of them- leading to suggestions that she might have been lacking in confidence heading into the Slams. Mouratoglou dispelled this theory, arguing that confidence was not an issue, neither was her level of tennis.
“People ask me whether Serena is playing enough tournaments away from the Grand Slam events. Of course, playing and winning matches can only give you confidence, but I don’t feel that a lack of confidence has been the problem for her”, Mouratoglou continued. “You don’t win quarter-finals and semi-finals in the way that she has without feeling confident. Similarly, there has been no problem with her level of tennis going into these finals”.
Mouratoglou however admits that Williams has not been at optimum fitness since her return from maternity leave, but believes she is getting closer to being at 100%.
“Fitness, nevertheless, has been an issue. It took Serena a long time to get back in shape after giving birth. Breastfeeding contributed to the length of that process and it was many, many months before she was able to start practising the way that she needed to in order to get back in shape. She’s getting closer and closer to 100 per cent fitness, but I don’t think she’s there yet”, he wrote.
The Frenchman also accepts that something will have to change in 2020 if the great American is to add to her Grand Slam count.
“I will have to think what I should do differently – not so much in terms of preparation, because I feel that the level of her tennis has been excellent, but in terms of her mental approach”.
“What we have to consider is that Serena is facing a new challenge at the moment, the last one of her career, and that we probably need to adapt and find a solution to it.”
Serena finally captured her first title since child birth in January 2020, winning the ASB Classic in Auckland, but she suffered a shock third round defeat to Qiang Wang at the Australian Open, as her wait for that record-equaling 24th major continued.
Despite Williams’ recent drought, Mouratoglou is confident that the American will not only equal Court’s Grand Slam record, but will go on to break it.
“People ask me if Serena can equal Court’s record. My response is that she doesn’t play to equal records. She plays to beat them. She never plays for a silver medal. She goes for gold – every time”.