A couple of months before Serena Williams capped her dominant run to a third consecutive U.S. Open championship and 18th major singles title Sunday night, she sat down with coach Patrick Mouratoglou to decipher why the season had been such a struggle by her standards.
At the time, Williams was coming off a third-round loss at Wimbledon, which followed a second-round loss at the French Open, which followed a fourth-round loss at the Australian Open — and, when Grand Slam success defines a legacy, that simply wouldn't do. The quest to match Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova at 18 was weighing on her.
"It was definitely on my shoulders," Williams could acknowledge after that burden was gone. "It was definitely like, 'Oh, get there. Get there. Get there.'"
She knew, of course, there was one more big event left in 2014, and a finite amount of time to turn things around before heading to Flushing Meadows. In some ways starting from scratch, Williams regrouped and stopped her mini-slump, never dropping more than three games in any set, including a 6-3, 6-3 victory over close friend Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday's final.
"When Serena is on her game," said the 10th-seeded Wozniacki, who admitted she was nervous in her second Grand Slam title match, "there's not much we can do."
Williams matched Evert's total of six U.S. Opens and became the first woman to win three in a row since Evert's four-title run from 1975-78.