Serena Williams exhausted plenty of sweat equity in attempts to win Grand Slam title No. 22. Now that she's done it, how many more Slams can she win?
Williams ended her major-title drought with a straight-sets 7-5, 6-3 win over Angelique Kerber on Saturday in the 2016 Wimbledon final. Williams ties Steffi Graf for most Slam titles in the Open era. She's two major titles short of holding the all-time record held by Margaret Court.
Although Williams turns 35 on September 26, she's not talking retirement. Graf retired at age 30. But by then she was no longer No. 1 and had won just one Slam in nearly three years. Williams remains ranked No. 1 and has won five Slams in two years.
With the Open-era record and Court's 24 within reach, if Williams stays healthy, she could win three to five more Slams.
She's 1-3 in the last four Grand Slam finals. Had she won the 2015 U.S. Open and split this year's first two Slam titles, Williams would already be tied with Court.
Instead, Williams needed to overcome the heartbreak of getting so close to completing the calendar Slam and failing.
Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, believes losing to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of that U.S. Open left Williams more devastated than she let on. He told tennis writer Mark Hodgkinson, per Wimbledon.org:
If I'm totally honest, I'm not relieved to have the 22nd, I'm relieved to have Serena back. Everything depends on that. I don't look at the reward, I look at how to achieve it. There was something missing for a few months and the thing that was missing was just Serena. The tennis player was there but Serena as a person wasn't really herself, so she was much more beatable.
Now she's back, vintage Serena. She is as aggressive and relentless as ever. At least that's the way she played against Kerber at Wimbledon.
The second-guessing hesitant woman who faced Kerber at the Australian Open is not the type of player who can win three to five more Slams.
Williams acknowledged she needed an attitude adjustment. She told the Telegraph's Oliver Brown: "I woke up one day and I just felt different. I felt a relief. I made my mind up that I was not going to worry about anyone or anything—about what people said or didn’t say—that I was just going to worry about tennis."
Free from the burden of reaching 22, Williams could pull off another "Serena Slam," in which she holds four major titles at one time.
The Guardian's Kevin Mitchell thinks Williams is ripe to make a run through the record books. He wrote: "Finally, Serena Williams is as good as Steffi Graf. That’s what the numbers say: 22 majors apiece after she beat Angelique Kerber to win her seventh Wimbledon on Saturday—and a whole string of other records are ready to come tumbling down, besides."
What could stop her? Injuries and a drop in her level of play are obvious obstacles. She hinted that if her sister Venus Williams retired, it would be difficult to remain on the tour.
Serena Williams told Tom Hopkinson of the Mirror: "It would be hard to carry on playing... she is definitely my backbone on this journey we have been on for a really long time... It would be so weird going to Grand Slam tournaments and not seeing her around..."
When reporters brought up the subject at Wimbledon, Venus Williams dismissed any talk of retirement. She even joked about playing until she was 40.
So if big sis plans to play one to two more years, Serena Williams could retire with five more Slams and leave the game with 27.
That's based on her post-age-30 production. Since turning 30, Serena Williams has averaged about two Slam titles per year. If she wins this year's U.S. Open and two more next year, she could have 25 and still be ranked No. 1.
Six years ago, reaching 18 seemed improbable. Williams had just won her fourth Wimbledon title and 13th Grand Slam, tying Billie Jean King. But shortly after that win, Williams cut her foot in a freak accident. A few months later, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. She missed a year from the tour.
When she returned, she was only a few months shy of her 30th birthday. There had been questions about whether she would even return to tennis. There certainly was no talk about catching Court.
There's talk about it now.