US Open / 9 September 2019, 6:30pm / MIKE DICKSON Tennis Correspondent
When you have lost your fourth Grand Slam final in a row it is perhaps a tiny consolation to get an arm around the shoulder from royalty.
Within 20 minutes of Serena Williams losing the US Open final to Bianca Andreescu, the Duchess of Sussex was being ushered into the Flushing Meadows locker room to offer some moral support.
She stayed for 45 minutes, and there was also a visit from Williams’s daughter Olympia, doubtless helping to put the 6-3, 7-5 scoreline into some context.
Yet Grand Slam No 24 remains frustratingly elusive. The more finals Williams loses — it is now four final defeats since she became a mum — and the older she gets, the harder the remedy is going to be to find.
Williams put it succinctly: ‘I believe I could have just been more Serena today. I honestly don’t think Serena showed up. I have to kind of figure out how to get her to show up in Grand Slam finals.’
She did also give credit to the Canadian teenager, who has become the fourth different player to overcome her in straight sets in a major championship match, since her comeback 18 months ago.
Along the corridor from where the Duchess was consoling his player, Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou — at the centre of the hand signals storm last year — was trying to look on the bright side.
‘The thing we need most is time,’ he said. ‘She is coming back not from an injury but being a mother and when it’s a huge transformation both for the body and the mind, and at her age, it takes even more time.
‘Her fitness is getting better, her tennis is getting better and
there is a lot of pressure, that’s normal. ‘Nobody has pressure like Serena, she is playing for history, she is playing one match for history, so being a bit tight is normal. The real question is how to deal with that.
‘She is not a quitter and it’s tough but being a champion is not giving up when it’s tough — we are going to make 24 or 25.’
Fair enough, but it was harder to agree with his other assertion, that her opponents in finals have the luxury of being able to play freely, with house money.
‘There is also the fact that she has played four finals, and she has played players who have zero pressure,’ added Mouratoglou.
‘That makes a big difference. It doesn’t happen very often, she plays someone who has no pressure.’
The idea that any Grand Slam finalist can play pressure-free is fanciful and the American also had the following wind of a raucous crowd of 24,000 being behind her.
There is no decision on whether Williams, 37, will, as she often does, sit out the rest of the year and skip the eight-woman WTA Finals at the end of the season. On the basis of trying something different, she might be well-advised to try to play some more this time.
Andreescu, 19, wakes up this morning as world No 5. Nobody in women’s tennis looks to have as complete a game as she does or such variety at her disposal.
Given the recent history of breakout stars on the women’s tour, the issue will be whether she is able to cope with the expectations inevitably placed upon her.
She has also already contended with several wear-and-tear injuries, notably to her shoulder, which kept her out of Wimbledon. ‘I don’t think she will be No 1 in three months but, for sure, she is going to be No 1,’ said Mouratoglou. ‘I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy road because, for everyone, it’s tough after winning your first Grand Slam. Suddenly you experience pressure you’ve never felt before.
‘With her character, she is going to win several Grand Slams. Maybe she is going to go through difficult times now because she is going to experience real pressure.’
An only child from the suburbs of Toronto, Andreescu is the second successive women’s major winner with Romanian roots after Simona Halep. A year ago she was outside the world’s top 200 and injured.
Her refusal to panic when Williams came back from 5-1 down in the second set was hugely impressive.
‘My goals have been to just win as many Grand Slams as possible, become No 1 in the world,’ she said. ‘The idea of fame never really crossed my mind. I’m not complaining, though. It’s been a crazy ride this year. I could definitely get used to this feeling.’