Serena's chase stirs the world

PHOTO: Reuters

If ticket sales are any indication, all eyes are on women's tennis at the moment.

For the first time, the women's final at the US Open was sold out before the men's.

That's not too much of a surprise when you think about what's at stake for Serena Williams.

This is sport at its very best and, like so many others, I am thrilled at the prospect of being a witness to a unique achievement.

The world No. 1 is chasing history, having recently completed her second "Serena Slam" at Wimbledon - four back-to-back Grand Slam titles since the 2014 US Open.

Everyone will surely know this by now, but it's worth repeating - if Serena wins the US Open this weekend, the 33-year-old will complete the calendar year Grand Slam, a feat achieved only by Steffi Graf (1988) in the Open era (Maureen Connolly, in 1953, and Margaret Court, in 1970, did it in the pre-Open era).

Can she do it?

Italy's Roberta Vinci will try to end the dream in the semi-finals this morning (Singapore time).

Victory for Serena will pit her against either world No. 2 Simona Halep or another Italian surprise, Flavia Pennetta, in the final on Sunday morning.

Watching Serena from Day 1 at Flushing Meadows, it's remarkable just how focused she's been as she attempts to complete one of sport's greatest feats.

She's been keeping a low profile during the pre- and post-match interviews and has not let any distraction creep in.

More importantly, she's seems to really be enjoying her tennis right now.

Serena has always said she never expected to be so successful for so long.

That she's chasing history is a "bonus", she once remarked.

After her quarter-final victory over sister Venus, she again repeated that she had nothing to lose.

She's absolutely right when you look at all she's achieved.

That's a great attitude and mentality to have and, no matter what happens in New York the next few days, Serena is already one of the best players to have graced women's tennis.

Form-wise at the US Open, her serve has been huge - beyond what it's ever been.

She's really stepped it up in terms of both power and placement.

I've noticed even her footwork has improved, and her mental strength has helped her technically as well.

Serena has played tough three-setters against Venus and Bethanie Mattek-Sands and come through because she always manages to play the big points well.

That is special, and her unwavering self-belief and ability to dig deep is what sets her apart from the rest.

The final match-up

The way she beat a red-hot Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals, Simona will be heavily favoured to overcome Pennetta and meet Serena in the final, if the American star does get past Vinci in the semis.

Fitting, perhaps, because they are the two best players in the world.

It is an enticing prospect if Simona is the final hurdle in Serena's quest for history.

It's always fascinating to watch the Romanian play Serena.

Their matches have always been tight and Simona did hand Serena her worst loss since she was 16, delivering a 6-0, 6-2 blowout at the 2014 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

The 23-year-old has found her confidence recently, and she will be even more fired up after her three-set quarter-final win over former world No. 1 Azarenka.

She is playing excellent tennis and has really turned her year around after she admitted to experiencing a bit of a slump.

Simona can mix it up on the court - hit off-pace balls, hit with spin - and she's just so good in returning everything because of her speed. She's like a wall. She can force Serena to make errors.

Simona has not won a Grand Slam yet, which makes her dangerously hungry. But, is that lack of experience at the final hurdle also going to be a negative?

She will be facing a player on the verge of making history.

There's also the element of home support. This is America's Slam, and Serena will be cheered on wildly by a sold-out arena.

It's a big mountain to climb for Vinci, Simona and Pennetta, all of whom have had a great US Open so far.

Intriguingly, Serena will celebrate her 34th birthday on Sept 26, while Simona will turn 24 a day later.

Both will be desperate for the ultimate early birthday gift.

Even if Serena loses, she can tie Graf for the most singles Grand Slam titles in the Open era (22) starting with the 2016 Australian Open in Melbourne.

Though she is one of the oldest players on the circuit, age is clearly not affecting her.

But, she is just two matches away from pulling off the feat in New York.

The sporting world will be focused on the City That Never Sleeps over the next few days and it's fantastic for women's tennis.

No one wants to miss history being made.

And I can't wait.

This article was first published on September 11, 2015.
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