Williams’ 6-3 6-3 win over Caroline Wozniacki in the US Open final took her level with Navratilova and Chris Evert on 18.
The figure had been a big target for the American and she admitted it had weighed on her mind as she suffered early exits at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Navratilova and Evert joined Williams on court at Flushing Meadows to present her with a commemorative Tiffany bracelet marking the occasion.
“We all thought it was a matter of when, not if, after she won here last year,” said Navratilova.
“It took her the full year but I think now she doesn’t have to talk about it, she doesn’t have to think about it and she can just think about 22. That’s what she’s gunning for next. If anyone can get there (she can). She’s pretty young in tennis terms in that she hasn’t played as many matches as I had at this stage of my life.
“Same with Chris or Roger Federer. We had hundreds more matches under our belts. She’s pretty young and fresh, and if she stays motivated and healthy, the sky’s the limit.”
Williams turns 33 this month and only Navratilova has won a women’s slam singles title at an older age in the Open era. But Williams is the number one player in the world and shows no sign of slowing up yet. Navratilova was happy to be joined in the record books, and said: “She plays such amazing tennis.”
The focused and ruthless Williams on show throughout the tournament in New York was a far cry from the anxious figure who suffered early defeats in Paris and at Wimbledon. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, cited the warm-up events she played in Stanford, Montreal and Cincinnati – winning the first and last – key to her revival.
The last sight of Williams at Wimbledon was her being whisked off in a car after the bizarre display in doubles where she appeared barely able to hold a ball and retired three games in.
A viral illness was the explanation, and Mouratoglou insisted it had not been difficult to pick her back up.
“She wanted to go back to the top so bad,” he said. “She was prepared to do everything it would take.”
Wozniacki must wait for another crack at a grand slam title after losing her second final in New York five years after she was beaten by Kim Clijsters. But the fortnight shows Wozniacki’s time in the slam doldrums is over, and father and coach Piotr felt she could not have done any better. He said: “It was very important for Caroline. The last two years she had good results, as her father and coach I was very happy, Caroline stayed top 10. This is very good. Many junior players, also senior players, are looking at top-10 players as fantastic. But Caroline stayed so long at number one, won 22 tournaments, so for Caroline herself, number 10 is not the place she is looking for.
“The last four weeks, Caroline for me played tennis one step up again. Serena was from a different planet. She played with heavy spin, very good tactics. There was no chance. I’m very happy for Caroline. She can see one more time that she’s ready.”