NEW YORK – Serena Williams must shake off the ghosts of the past as she makes another attempt to seal a record-equalling 24th grand slam title in a battle of the generations against millennial Bianca Andreescu in the US Open final on Saturday.
Williams, 37, won her so far last major in January 2017 at the Australian Open when she was already pregnant. She has then lost all three finals at the majors since her return last year from maternity leave as she still chases Margaret Court's record.
The American lost Wimbledon finals against Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep and most notably last year at Flushing Meadows against Naomi Osaka - the match overshadowed by her spat with chair umpire Carlos Ramos who docked her a point and later a game for swearing and illegal coaching.
But Williams insisted that match "hasn't really crossed my mind."
It is however not only Court's record that is at stake on Saturday on the world's biggest tennis court that is the 24,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium.
With victory, Williams would break a tie with former great Chris Evert with a 102nd win at the tournament overall and a seventh trophy.
Furthermore she would extend her record of being the oldest women's grand slam champion to 37 years 347 days. She also has the biggest gap between a first and so far last title at the majors, 19 years 362 days since her maiden trophy in 1999.
"Obviously there's a lot of things that I've learned in the past, but I just have to go out there, above all, most of all, just stay relaxed. There's so many different emotions in finals. It just brings out so many highs and lows, nerves and expectations. It's a lot," she said.
Williams, who has been plagued by various ailments through the year, has been impressive so far in New York, thrashing Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 in the first round, China's Wang Qiang 6-1, 6-0 in the fourth, and fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 in the semis.
The veteran has only dropped one set, in the second round against against teenaged compatriot Catherine McNally.
But now she runs into Andreescu who won the Toronto final last month when Williams retired injured at 3-1 in their only previous meeting.
"She's a great player," Williams said of Andreescu who wasn't even born when Williams triumphed for the first time at Flushing Meadows in 1999.
Andreescu said: "I remember watching her when I was about 10. I don't remember specifically a moment. I watched her win most of her Grand Slam titles.
"I've wanted to play her. I remember always telling my team I would have always wanted to play her right before she retires. I'm really looking forward to it. She's an amazing champion on and off the court. It's going to be fun."
Andreescu has risen meteorically through the rankings and into her first final at the majors, by beating Swiss Belinda Bencic, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
"She mixes things up. You never know what is going to come from her. She does everything else. She serves well, moves well, has a ton of power," Williams said of her opponent.
"She's very exciting to watch. It's good. I think it's great for women's tennis."
The youngster also has records on her mind, tying Monica Seles by winning a maiden title in a fourth career slam participation, and becoming the first Canadian woman to lift a trophy at one of the four majors.
The 19-year-old has furthermore done what Williams is yet to achieve this year, winning titles: at the Masters in Indian Wells and Toronto. Andreescu has in fact not lost a match on court since the Acapulco tournament in late February against Sofia Kenin.
She retired with shoulder problems in Miami and withdrew ahead of the second round at the French Open, and did not return until Toronto - followed by both her and Williams withdrawing from Cincinnati which was the final US Open build-up event.
Now she can hardly believe her luck to be in the final - a year after going out in the first round of qualifying.
"It's just crazy what a year can do," Andreescu said.dpa