New York: Serena Williams enters the US Open making a case for herself not only as the greatest women`s tennis player in history, but possibly the greatest woman in sports history.
The 33-year-old star has sustained a level of excellence few can rival, from winning her first Grand Slam singles title as a teen prodigy at the 1999 US Open to collecting her 21st last month at Wimbledon, completing her second career "Serena Slam" of holding all four major trophies at once.
Winning a record-tying fourth consecutive US Open women`s title, a feat last achieved by Chris Evert in 1978, would give Williams something she has never achieved before -- a calendar year Grand Slam -- and link her with only a handful of the game`s greatest legends, men or women.
But it`s not something world number one Williams wants to contemplate just yet. It`s like pondering a good book before the last chapter is written, especially as Williams is penning an epic tale that doesn`t appear set to end anytime soon.
"I just want to play tennis," Williams said. "I don`t necessarily want to hear about this history and that history, because I just want to be able to do the best that I can. I want to be able to win and I don`t want any distractions. That`s how I`m going to handle it."
When the year`s final Grand Slam event starts Monday in New York, Williams will be a huge favorite. She has won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open six times each and collected three French Open crowns.
"I compete a lot against my standards," Williams said. "I have such high standards for myself and I expect the best from me and nothing less."Matching her "Serena Slam" run from the 2002 French Open through the 2003 Australian Open required Williams to endure numerous three-set fights on London grass, but she emerged triumphant.
"To have all four at the same time, two times in one career, that totally means a lot," Williams said. "It was really important for me to do that."
Williams is only one shy of Steffi Graf`s Open Era career record of 22 titles and the retired German legend tweeted that Williams` feat was "incredible" and an "amazing accomplishment."
"I see her post things about me and that`s pretty awesome," Williams said. "I really am still like a kid when I see her or I see posts. I get super excited. I`m still living the dream."At 33, Williams is the oldest women`s world number one -- no man so old has won a Grand Slam title since 1972 -- and her best might be yet to come.
"I`ve definitely gotten a little better," Williams said. "I really don`t feel my age. It`s gratifying at whatever age you achieve it."
Williams is three Slam singles titles shy of matching Australian Margaret Court`s all-time record and would join a rare calendar-year Slam list that includes Graf, Court, Maureen Connolly, Don Budge and Rod Laver by winning at Flushing Meadows.
"I feel OK about my game," Williams said. "I`m always looking to improve. I`m never comfortable. That`s when I think you are susceptible to losing."
She became a US Open champion at age 17, only the second African-American woman after Althea Gibson to claim a Grand Slam title. Williams, coached by her father Richard, was toughened on the streets of Los Angeles and by practices with older sister Venus, a seven-time major champion.
Maturity brought a fashion design business and a foot in the entertainment realm as an actress, but her domination when focused on tennis has made Williams the likely target for a new generation of record chasers yet to come.
"I think it will be great," Williams said of such days. "I think it`s amazing. I think I would be really supportive, like Steffi is of me. It`s such a great feeling. I always want to see people do well and be successful. I think it will be really cool."