During the 2017 US Open, Serena Williams gave birth.
In her 2018 return, Williams confronts the quarter of death.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion resides in the US Open top quarter that’s more congested than the Grand Central Parkway at rush hour.
World No. 1 Simona Halep heads a quarter that features four former world No. 1 players Garbiñe Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Serena AND Venus Williams.
If two-time champion Venus defeats 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in her opener it could put the Williams sisters on a third-round collision course.
The 26th-ranked Serena was bumped up nine spots to the 17th seed.
Serena, who faces Magda Linette in her US Open opener, might have to face Venus, or Kuznetsova, just to get to a fourth-round clash with Halep.
Williams isn’t exactly stressing life in the quarter of death.
A year after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, Serena says she feels revitalized.
“I feel like everything is just different in terms of I’m living a different life, I’m playing the US Open as a mom,” Williams told the media in today’s pre-tournament interview. “It’s just new and it’s fresh.”
If you think motherhood will mute the burning desire she brings to court, Serena says the flame is burning even brighter.
“If anything, I have more fire in my belly,” Williams said. “It’s very hard to describe. It’s very difficult to describe. I thought after having a child I would be more relaxed. I think I’ve said this before, but I’m not.
“I work just as hard if not harder actually. I just feel like I take it just as serious if not more. That’s been really surprising for me.”
How much life does she have left in her 36-year-old legs with her 37th birthday looming in 31 days?
Oddsmakers believe Williams is the one to beat in New York.
Oddschecker lists the woman who won three US Open titles from 2012-2014 as the&n bsp;clear favorite at 13 to 2.
That puts the woman who defeated Martina Hingis for her first major title at the 1999 US Open ahead of Roland Garros champion Halep, Wimbledon winner Angelique Kerber and defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens among leading favorites.
That news didn’t exactly stagger Serena, who views the draw as part of the challenging climb to scaling Grand Slam supremacy.
“That I would be the favorite at this point, almost a year after having a baby, is quite interesting,” Williams said. “I don’t know my draw, but I feel like if I want to be the best, I’m going to have to start beating these people anyway.
“You know, it doesn’t matter to me. If anything, I can just continue to strive. That’s the message I’ve been preaching to women and people, that we face obstacles. You have to face those obstacles. Whether you get through them or not, there’s always another chance to get through them. You have to continue to work hard and believe in yourself. Things don’t always go your way, but continue to climb that mountain.”
Will we see the spirited Serena who surged to the Wimbledon final last month?
Or the anguished and erratic player who lost 12 consecutive games to Johanna Konta in San Jose suffering the worst thrashing of her career a day after learning the man who served time for murdering her oldest sister, Yetunde, was released from jail?
Continuing her quest for an Open Era-record seventh US Open crown and a 24th Grand Slam championship that would equal Margaret Court’s all-time record, will Williams bring the magic and motivation required to rule New York again?
Can Serena be Serena again on the biggest Grand Slam stage?
Here’s how some Grand Slam champions and analysts see Serena’s strengths and challenges ahead of the 2018 US Open.
Angelique Kerber on Serena as a US Open favorite: “Serena is always, like a favorite. Because, I mean, she won the tournament so many times. She know how to play. She have so many experience to playing the big matches on big stages, and I think that this is what she’s looking for, to playing big matches in front of the crowd here at home.”
Chrissie Evert on Serena growing stronger each week: “She has a lot of confidence playing in front of the U.S. crowd. To me, she played a very on-form Kvitova last week. I didn’t really feel like that was a failure for her. I felt like at times like for a set, set and a half, she definitely had her A game going, and really if you look at that match, 6-3 in the third, the way Kvitova was playing, she would have won the tournament the way she was playing. Serena was to me the second or third best player still last week, and she is getting better every week.
“The more she trains—I know she came down to West Palm—I think she’s training down here now, and she needs to put in a little bit more training, get a little bit quicker around the court, get a few good matches under her belt. If she gets into the second week of the US Open with those matches under her belt, she’s going to be a favorite for sure. I mean, I just feel, as I’ve seen her progress this summer and I hear her say that she can feel it and taste it and she’s close and she needs to keep working harder—and you know she’s working harder. She’s got to be one of the top three, I think, favorites for me.”
John McEnroe on Serenra’s motivation: “Serena having a baby, that’s like a whole new ballgame for her, to figure out how to sort of keep herself motivated while starting a family. She got to the finals of Wimbledon. Obviously in tennis the interest relies on rivalries as well as the big names.”
Sloane Stephens on Serena’s form: ” She’s one of the greatest players to ever play, if not the best of our generation. I’m sure she’s ready. I’m sure she’ll have another great tournament.”
Brad Gilbert on how player perception of facing Serena has changed: “The amazing thing is Serena is six weeks away, I believe, from being 37 years young. So it’s not like she’s 26. For any athlete, it’s learning that balance, learning how to be able to have all the time to do all the things. When you’re 26 and you’re singly minded focused or even 35, so now she has different priorities, and so it’s learning how to balance all of that and then get to the court and feel free to be able to just look on the other side of the net and be better than the opponent on the other side of the net. That’s the big question.
“Honestly, two years ago when people took the court against her, they were just hoping not to get beat 6-1, 6-1. They were 4-0 out of the tunnel, and these are even top five and top ten players would get blown out before even walking on the court. So I do think that that part has changed. Every great player in the history of the game [knows] you build up the equity by crushing people, and then all of a sudden when that doesn’t happen— look what happened to Djokovic when he lost a few matches when he had crushed people. People had expectations, all of a sudden, you know what, I have a chance today. Listen, that’s been always the case in the game.”
Hall of Famer Virginia Wade, the first US Open women’s champion, on Serena’s draw: “I think it would be phenomenal if she could get herself to win this tournament. Absolutely phenomenal. It would be a worthy win for somebody who has done so well and is such an icon. I think she’s still got a way to go to get herself into fitness, and she’s got a lousy draw. If she had a few more comfortable matches, and she didn’t waste too much energy in them, I think she could do it.
“Getting out of the box, playing tough people, playing Venus to play Halep, that’s going to be very demanding. So, listen, if she can win the tournament, I’m going to bend over backwards giving her applause because that would be a major achievement, well-deserved reward.”