US Open

Serena Williams rejects idea 24th title would be cheapened by thin field

Serena Williams in Melbourne

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SPORT PRESS GROUP

Serena Williams is not concerned that finally breaking through for her record-equaling 24th major singles title at the US Open would be cheapened by the thinned-out field as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It still has to be tennis that’s played, asterisks or not,” Williams said on Friday during a Zoom conference before the Western & Southern Open, which usually takes place in Cincinnati but starts this weekend in New York.

“I think this whole year deserves an asterisk, because it’s such a special year, history we have never been through in this world, to be honest, not this generation, not this lifetime. It’s just in history, period.

“So I think we are living a future history lesson. So I think regardless, there is always going to be some asterisk by it, because it’s never been done before. And if you win, it was, like, wow, I was able to win in this crazy circumstance where there was no fans. It was just so sterile and weird but I mentally came through. It might be a more mental test than anything.”

On Monday, Simona Halep became the player to drop out of what is typically the final grand slam of the year. The world No 2 became the sixth top-10 player on the women’s side to withdraw from a tournament that has already lost both its defending champions in Rafael Nadal and Bianca Andreescu.

Williams, who has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms that have affected her lung capacity, admitted her concerns about travelling to New York during the pandemic, but said the USTA chief executive, Stacey Allaster, allayed her fears.

“For me, it’s been a different experience, and, you know, I’m really a little intense,” she said. “You might see me walking around with my hazmat glasses and everything, and mask, obviously. But for me, like, this is a little bit deeper than just playing tennis. It’s, like, OK, I have health issues and I don’t necessarily want to get sick, and if I do, I want the good version.”

The world No 9 confessed there was a time when she believed the Western & Southern Open and US Open were beyond salvaging because of the country’s patchy response to the pandemic.

“There was definitely a point where, in the beginning, I was, like, ‘There is no way these tournaments can even happen,’” she said. “But I had a lot of great talks with several people at the USTA and the protocols they have are so intense, it definitely helps me to feel safe. I see every day they are following through on those protocols.

“Obviously, it goes bigger than the USTA. The government has to be involved and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at some level, so that also makes me feel a lot better.”

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