Serena Williams can make tennis history in Paris on Saturday when a win over Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final would give her a 22nd Grand Slam title.
That would equal the Open-era record set by Steffi Graf in Paris 17 years ago and, with Wimbledon just around the corner, her claim to the “greatest-ever” would be hard to refute.
Williams though has been perplexingly out-of-sorts all week in the cold, damp conditions that have dogged Roland Garros and she sounded distinctly underwhelmed by the record prospect when asked about it following her semifinal win over Kiki Bertens.
“You know, if I get there it will be great. I guess you can say it took me a while to get to 18, considering, you know, I’m the only one on tour that had 18,” she said.
“I guess it’s how you look at it. The same with 21 and trying to get to another one. Nothing I can do about it. The only thing can I do is just play to win the tournament and that’s it.”
Williams, who at 34 would be the oldest winner of the French Open, at times looked unrecognisable in her last two matches against world number 60 Yulia Putintseva and 58 Bertens, sparking talk that she was either injured or ill.
But asked if she was suffering from a groin injury as suggested by retired former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, who is working this year as a courtside TV interviewer, Williams replied flatly: “I heard she said that. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her.”
She then added: “Yeah I have had some issues, but, you know, it is what it is.”
In contrast, Muguruzu, 12 years younger than the American champion, has breezily progressed into what will be her second Grand Slam final, dropping just one set along the way.
She lost in straight sets to Williams in last year’s Wimbledon final, but believes that she has made progress since then, especially on the mental side of things.
“I have learned a lot how to control my emotions inside the court and outside the court,” she said.
“I think it’s very important, because sometimes it’s not too good to show them or not controlling them. So, like, in a tournament like this you have to be very focused.
“It’s very long. Even longer with this kind of weather that you have to wait a lot. Yeah, here I’m learning. Here just I’m putting everything into that and it’s going well.”
Score to settle
Muguruza is the first Spanish woman to reach the final at Roland Garros since Conchita Martinez finished runner-up to Mary Pierce in 2000 and she will aim to become the first Spanish winner of a Grand Slam title since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in Paris in 1998.
Williams though has a score to settle having strong memories of her loss to Muguruza two years ago.
“I learned so much from that match,” he said. “I hate to lose, but when I do, you know, I hope it was worth it. That match was definitely one of those that was kind of needed and worth it.”