Serena Williams' pursuit of the calendar-year Grand Slam was the talk of the 2015 US Open, ending when Williams fell to Roberta Vinci in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history – just two match wins shy of becoming the first person to achieve the Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988.
Following the loss, Williams took the rest of 2015 off to rest and recharge. On Monday, Feb. 18, she will kick off her 2016 Grand Slam season at the Australian Open, a place where she has won the title six times – in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2015.
Serena represented the U.S. at the Hopman Cup earlier this month, but knee problems forced her to withdraw from her first scheduled match and retire in the middle of her second match.
USOpen.org spoke with Serena's coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, about Serena's health, the pressure of the 2015 season and the disappointment of falling in the US Open semifinals, chasing history and her expectations for the 2016 campaign.
USOpen.org: How is Serena's knee? What exactly was the problem, bone bruise or muscle strain?
Patrick Mouratoglou: Serena’s knee is good now. She needs a treatment every six months and she is having it. This time, her knee did not react well to it and got swollen. She has needed time to get rid of the inflammation and that explains why she has not been able to compete at the Hopman Cup. Now, the inflammation has disappeared and we can prepare in perfect conditions for the [Australian] Open.
USOpen.org: How has the injury affected her Australian Open preparation?
Mouratoglou: Serena will be ready for the Australian Open. We had a great preseason. She is physically, tennis wise and mentally in shape. We are just finishing the preparation this week.
USOpen.org: Considering how little she's played since the US Open, what are her expectations coming into Australia?
Mouratoglou: Serena is not the type of player who needs to play to feel confident in her game. Every time she is starting a Grand Slam tournament, her expectation is to win the title. I do not see any reason why it should be different this time. We prepared it with that goal in mind, as always.
USOpen.org: Does she put even greater pressure on herself than the media and fans do?
Mouratoglou: Serena is a champion. She has a very high level of expecatations. She never expects anything but the best. She works with that mindset all the time and never stops until she is happy about the result of her practice.
USOpen.org: Serena is such a fierce competitor, but is she getting older to the point where her body won't allow her to play at 100 percent with her trademark tenacity and determination every single time?
Mouratoglou: She won four out of the last [five] Grand Slams. Even sick or injured, she can still find a way to win and proved it in 2015. Since she has the same motivation and she doesn’t have a major injury, I do not see anything else stopping her.
USOpen.org: What was her offseason schedule like since October after the US Open? What did she want to work on to get even better?
Mouratoglou: I came to Florida three weeks in December to finish her preseason. She was already in a good shape. As always, we worked also on developping her game and adding new things, but that is a secret.
USOpen.org: As her coach, what expectations do you have for her in 2016?
Mouratoglou: In 2015, I said my expectation for her was to win the four Grand Slams. I can’t go down this year, especially after getting so close to it last year. But the Olympics will also be [a] goal.
USOpen.org:: After all the pressure toward the end of last year, how's her mindset now?
Mouratoglou: Serena’s mindset is consistent. She wants to win titles and enjoy her last years of tennis with doing as well as she can. She is very focused and professional.
USOpen.org:: Realistically, what would a successful season look like? Does she have to win two or three Grand Slam singles titles for it to be successful?
Mouratoglou: The achievements are the reward for a good work. My goal is to keep her motivation, her level of tennis and her fitness at the required level, the one I see should be hers. If we can do that, then I know we will be happy with the results.
USOpen.org: What motivates her to succeed and what is left in the game for her to achieve to keep motivating her to strive for even more greatness?
Mouratoglou: First of all, she enjoys playing tennis more than ever. I believe that being No. 1 in the world and winning Grand Slams is enough to keep her motivated. It is a position you are blessed to have and definitely don’t want to lose. Finally, there are some records to beat and the next one is the number of Grand Slam titles of Steffi Graf (an Open era-record 22; Serena currently has 21). Once this will be done, we will see what is next.