NEW YORK • Win or lose today's US Open women's final, Serena Williams is just getting started in the latest phase of her career.
"I'm still on the way up," said the 36-year-old, who is in her seventh tournament since the birth of daughter Olympia on Sept 1, 2017.
"There's still much more that I plan on doing."
She came agonisingly close to matching Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in July, but fell to Angelique Kerber in the final.
It was the high point of a return that began in March and has not surprisingly been, at times, erratic.
But once again Williams, who swept past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-0 in the semi-finals on Thursday, has shown she can rise to the occasion on the biggest stages.
The Latvian broke Williams in her opening service game, then appeared to feel the pressure as the American took 12 of the last 13 games to win the match in 66 minutes.
She also improved her remarkable record in Grand Slam singles semi-finals to 31-5. The last two losses she sustained at the semi-final stage came at this tournament.
In 2015, she was stunned by Roberta Vinci, who thwarted Williams' hopes of winning all four Major titles in the same year. She then lost to Karolina Pliskova in the 2016 semi-finals.
Another US Open title - four years after her sixth - would not be a culmination but a springboard, Williams said.
"I just feel like there's a lot of growth still to go in my game, that's actually the most exciting part," she said. "Even though I'm not a spring chicken, I still have a very, very bright future."
Williams, who has spoken of the emotional roller coaster of being a new parent, said adjusting to physical changes in the wake of motherhood has also been a challenge.
"I don't feel like me," she said. "My mum said it takes, like, a full year to kind of get back. I'm at a full year now, but I'm also playing a sport professionally.
"I just feel like I'm definitely not there. Even my body is different. I actually weigh less than I did before I got pregnant, but it's distributed differently now.
"I'm still waiting to get to be the Serena that I was - and I don't know if I'll ever be that physically, emotionally, mentally."
The players that have faced her say the current Williams is tough enough - perhaps as good as ever.
Eighth-seeded Pliskova, who briefly rose to No. 1 last year, fell to Williams in the quarter-finals.
"I don't feel any difference," she said of Williams' game. "She's playing with the same power. She can still serve well. I think maybe she's back on the level where she was."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES