Shoulder could trip Serena up

She will also need to keep rivals at bay if she is to make history

NEW YORK • Serena Williams once again arrives at Flushing Meadows poised to rewrite the tennis record books - her own troublesome right shoulder and increasingly emboldened rivals permitting.

The 34-year-old US superstar matched Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles with her triumph at Wimbledon in July.

She can break Graf's record with a seventh US Open triumph, and continue her march toward Australian Margaret Court's all-time mark of 24 Grand Slam titles.

She could also break Graf's record of 186 consecutive weeks atop the world rankings, and surpass Chris Evert for the most US Open singles titles won (six) in the Open era.

When the final Grand Slam of the year gets underway tomorrow, the pressure could be on again.

Williams' bid to retain her Olympic singles title ended in Rio de Janeiro this month when she was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by Elina Svitolina in the third round.

The American was clearly hindered by the shoulder injury that had forced her out of the Montreal WTA tournament as she served up eight double faults and 37 unforced errors in the straight-sets defeat.

Her next step was to withdraw from her WTA title defence in Cincinnati last week.

But when asked to elaborate on the seriousness of the shoulder injury, the top seed shrugged: "Yeah, no, just shoulder-wise. I am starting to feel better so that's a positive."

If Williams is not at full strength, Angelique Kerber is just one of the players poised to pounce.

The German defeated Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the Australian Open final in January. Seeded second in New York, she is one of three players with a chance to seize the No. 1 ranking if Williams falters.

Kerber, 28, boasts a title at Stuttgart, an Olympic silver medal and finals appearances at Brisbane in January and this month in Cincinnati - where she missed her first chance to supplant Williams atop the rankings after a 6-3, 6-1 defeat by Karolina Pliskova.

Being viewed as a legitimate threat to Williams, Kerber said, "is really special".

"Because Serena is one of the best players and athletes in the world," she added.

Third-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza also has a shot at the top spot, although the 22-year-old who stunned Williams 7-5, 6-4 in the French Open final will need her best US Open ever to do so.

In three main-draw appearances she has won just one match. Turning around her Flushing Meadows fortunes would further her aim of establishing herself as more than "the girl that beat Serena" at Roland Garros.

"I want to really do well there," the Spaniard said.

"Hopefully this is the year."

Fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland also has an outside chance at the world No. 1 ranking if she can claim her first Grand Slam title.

Despite Williams' rivals getting increasingly confident they can topple the world No. 1, she remains optimistic that she can put in a good performance in New York.

"I have not played a lot, I haven't practised a lot, but I'm just now starting to feel a little better. Hopefully just every day I will keep going higher," said the American.

"The US Open is obviously a special place. I think usually I prefer to play more coming into the final Grand Slam of the year, but there is nothing we can do about it.

"You just have to make the best of every single opportunity. That's all I can do now."

Williams begins her US Open campaign against the experienced Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Shoulder could trip Serena up'. Print Edition | Subscribe