New York: Serena Williams, who opens her quest for a third successive U.S. Open title with a meeting against fellow African American Taylor Townsend on Tuesday, said Arthur Ashe would have been proud.
On Arthur Ashe Kids` Day that drew legions of young hopefuls to the National Tennis Center on Saturday, Williams pondered the significance of her clash against the 18-year-old Townsend and the legacy of Ashe, whose name graces the center court stadium.
"I think he would say it`s a great opportunity to see a veteran American player play the future of American tennis," 32-year-old Williams told reporters about her match against the 2012 Australian Open girls`champion.
"He was such an amazing guy. I had an opportunity to meet him. So I think he would be really proud and honored to see so many young African-American players...doing so well and playing so hard and just being role models for the next generation."
Williams said she took a lot from the example set by Ashe, a three-times major winner who claimed the U.S. title in 1968, and died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia.
"I believe he had a great positive spirit," said the world number one. "You know, you have to go through what he went through. He had an incredibly positive spirit and just a positive outlook on everything.
"Obviously I didn`t get to know him. I was incredibly young when I met him and it was ever so brief, but his legend absolutely lives on."
The top seed said playing Townsend would be special.
"It`s going to be a great match for me. She`s such a great player," said Williams, who won her first U.S. title on Arthur Ashe Stadium court in 1999.
"I have been able to see her play a little bit. She does everything really, really well. We`re really good friends. We always talk and always text each other. It`s going to be a really tough match for me.
"She`s a very aggressive player. She comes to the net. She makes her shots. You don`t really see that in tennis so much...it`s good, refreshing and I think it`s the future of tennis."
Williams is determined to end a disappointing grand slam season on a high note.
After a fourth-round loss in the Australian Open, a second-round exit from the French Open and a third-round ouster at Wimbledon, Williams is hungry for victory.
After wobbling away from Wimbledon after an illness forced her to withdraw from a doubles match, Williams has won at Cincinnati and Stanford and reached the semi-finals in Montreal in her U.S. Open run-up events.
"I think those matches were good for me because I haven`t played a lot of matches this year. So technically I should be perfectly fine," she said. "I haven`t played that much tennis this year."
Victory at Flushing Meadows would give her a sixth U.S. Open crown and lift her career haul of grand slam singles titles to 18, tying her with fellow-Americans Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Still, echoing Ashe`s positive spirit, Williams said if she fell short there would be another opportunity.
"Australian, Wimbledon, and French also could have been 18," she remarked. "Didn`t quite happen.
"But there`s always next year and the year after, so you don`t give up."