LONDON • Seven-time Wimbledon tennis champion Serena Williams insists she will not let her pursuit of the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles become a damaging distraction.
She ended one of the most frustrating periods of her career on Saturday, when she equalled Steffi Graf's Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final.
Since winning Wimbledon 12 months ago, Williams had been stuck on 21 Slams after losing in the US Open semi-finals and this year's Australian and French Open finals.
The long wait to see her name alongside Graf was a stressful time for the 34-year-old American.
"What an incredible performance by Serena at Wimbledon," Graf wrote on her Facebook page.
NEAR MISSES TOOK A TOLL
Coming so close. Feeling it, not being able to quite get there. I've just felt a lot of pressure. I put a lot of that pressure on myself. Obviously had some really tough losses.
SERENA WILLIAMS, on closing in on Steffi Graf's 22 Grand Slams, an Open era record.
"Such a gift to all sport fans who get to continue to watch her add to an already amazing career #22!!!"
Having finally tied the German's landmark with a seventh Wimbledon triumph that took her within two of Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Slams, Williams was asked if she was now focused on surpassing that tally.
But the world No. 1 was adamant she would not be making a point of targeting any more major milestones.
"Oh, God, no. I've learnt a lot about 22. I learnt not to get involved in those debates and conversations," she said. "I definitely had some sleepless nights, if I'm honest. Coming so close. Feeling it, not being able to quite get there.
"I've just felt a lot of pressure. I put a lot of that pressure on myself. Obviously had some really tough losses."
Embarrassed by her stunning loss to Roberta Vinci at the US Open last year - a defeat that cost her a rare calendar Grand Slam - and humbled by her further failures this year, Williams had vowed to come back stronger than ever and she conceded that it was a huge relief to finally end her quest.
"Definitely so excited to win Wimbledon, that's always a great feeling. But maybe even more so is the excitement of getting 22, trying so hard to get there, finally being able to match history, which is pretty awesome," she said.
Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, however, firmly believes she can go all the way and smash Court's record. "She is someone who beats records and not just equals them," he said. "We will keep going. I think she will go far because she wants to do it."
Williams also put the icing on the cake of her successful Wimbledon campaign by teaming up with sister Venus for a sixth doubles crown on Saturday.
The pair beat Timea Babos of Hungary and Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court - hours after Serena claimed her singles title.
Williams has now won both the Wimbledon singles and doubles (with Venus) in the same year on four occasions.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE