MELBOURNE — Serena Williams says her rise to become perhaps the greatest player of all time is all down to mental strength and never giving up, a trait learned from Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.
The dominant American now holds more Grand Slam titles in the Open era than anyone else, after surpassing Graf’s 22 by winning the Australian Open final against her sister, Venus, on Saturday.
Navratilova has 18, along with Chris Evert, while Margaret Court has 24, but only 11 of those were won after the more competitive Open era began in 1968.
Williams said they all had one thing in common — fighting spirit.
“One thing about a champion, they keep fighting, they keep going,” said the 35-year-old, whose 6-4, 6-4 win at Melbourne Park also returned her to world number one.
“I just feel like those four really are incredible fighters. They’re mentally tough as well. They always kept going.
“It’s something that I learned from them a lot, is how to hopefully do the same, which hopefully I’ve been able to do.”
Williams had been reluctant to talk about records in Melbourne to keep the pressure off, but she is now ready to acknowledge her standing as one of the greatest women players of all time, if not the greatest.
“I definitely think so. I mean, between Martina, myself, Steffi Graf, hands down we are leading that conversation,” she said.
Her achievement took 19 long years from her Grand Slam debut as a 17-year-old in Melbourne in 1998, and she is not ready to stop just yet.
But she insists there are no new goals, despite Court’s 24 titles being within reach.
“I never had a number. That’s the beauty of it,” she said.
“When I started this journey, I just wanted to win a Grand Slam. Then I just wanted to win. Every time I step on the court, I want to win.”
And in an ominous sign that there is still more to come, she added: “I don’t want it to stop. I want to keep it going.”
- Enjoy the moment -
Being at the top for so long means Williams now carefully selects her tournaments, and she is set to take a break now until Indian Wells in early March.
She said she wanted to enjoy winning in Australia, and give it time to sink in.
“One thing I learned in the past is you have to enjoy it. That’s the beauty of winning Australia, you have a few months to relax,” she said.
“If you win the French, it’s like back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Australia, you have time to enjoy the moment before the next Grand Slam.”
Williams also has wedding plans to make after her recent engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who was courtside for her historic victory.
She revealed that elder sister Venus would be a bridesmaid, but not when the marriage would take place nor where.
But she said it was special having Ohanian by her side in Melbourne.
“He’s been so supportive in the stands. Although I never really heard him, even though I heard he was very boisterous,” she said.
“I’m so focused, I don’t hear a lot. I have really selective hearing. It’s nice to have that support. It is a wonderful feeling.”