Tiger Woods can identify with the struggles of Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal as they each bid to make history in their sport, with time working against them.

This week, 40-year-old Woods will yet again seek to add to his major haul of 15 in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record tally of 18.

It was a mark that Woods appeared destined to surpass when he reached 14 in 2008, but his 2019 Masters triumph ended an 11-year drought brought on by injury and personal issues.

Fellow American Williams has similarly hit a barrier in her quest to catch Margaret Court's grand slam total of 24, with the 38-year-old having been one behind since 2017.

Nadal, the youngest of the trio at 34 and also one shy of the all-time mark, faces a slightly different challenge in that his target could be a moving one, with Roger Federer still looking to increase his number of slams victories above 20.

Asked if the proximity to such historic milestones made it harder to win, Woods suggested age was the greatest factor.

"You know, I think it gets harder to win as we all age," he said at Winged Foot ahead of the second of three majors this year. 

"I think that when you're in your prime, in your peak years, you have to take advantage of those opportunities so that when you get to the all-time marks, you have the opportunity.

"I think that whether it's Rafa or Fed or Serena, they've been so consistent and so dominant for such a long period of time, that's how you get to have those all-time marks.

"Consistency over a long period of time is the hallmark of those records."

The U.S. Open has not been at Winged Foot since 2006, when surprise winner Geoff Ogilvy took the honours after finishing five over par.

That sums up the difficulty of the challenge facing the field this week, with Woods citing this track as one of the toughest in the world.

"I think it's right up there next to Oakmont and I think Carnoustie as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it," he said.

"I think those three golf courses, they can host major championships without ever doing anything to them.

"The winning scores here have never traditionally been very low. I don't see that changing this week.

"The golf course is going to be hard. It depends on how difficult they want to set up these pins, give us a chance at it.

"But with the forecast, it's going to be difficult no matter what."

Serena Williams has pulled out of the Internazionali d'Italia tournament in Rome, citing an Achilles injury.

The US Open semi-finalist entered the WTA Tour event with the intention of gaining match practice on clay before the upcoming French Open.

That delayed grand slam takes place from September 27 to October 11 in Paris, switched from its original May start due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Williams fell short in her bid to land a record-equalling 24th grand slam when she was edged out by Victoria Azarenka in New York this week, when she needed medical assistance for the Achilles pain.

She stressed afterwards that she intended to play the French Open, but the Rome event, which begins on Monday, has now been scratched from her plans.

Former world number one Williams said in a statement released by the WTA: "I regretfully must withdraw from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia due to an Achilles strain."

Petra Kvitova and Bianca Andreescu will also be absent from the tournament after the WTA announced their withdrawals.

Simona Halep is among those returning to action, however, with the world number two having opted to miss the US Open due to concerns related to the pandemic.

Victoria Azarenka will try to take a "neutral" mentality into her US Open final showdown with Naomi Osaka after claiming she is no longer a player fuelled by ego.

The 31-year-old former world number one overcame a torrid first set to defeat Serena Williams 1-6 6-3 6-3 and book a place in the Flushing Meadows showpiece.

Williams, whose search for a record-equalling 24th grand slam goes on, beat Azarenka in each of her previous final appearances in New York in 2012 and 2013.

The Belarusian won the Australian Open in each of those years but a succession of form, fitness and personal problems have contributed to those being her most recent triumphs at the highest level.

After earning the chance to end that drought against Osaka, who Azarenka was due to face in the final of last month's Western & Southern Open before her opponent withdrew due to a hamstring strain, she told reporters it was an opportunity she would approach with humility.

"I think when you're coming up from kind of nothing, then you become a number one player in the world, sometimes you can start to think you're invincible and that you're better than everybody, and it's not true," Azarenka said.

"So the ego starts to grow. It's very hurtful when it gets damaged, so...

"Instead of getting the ego damaged, I tried to remove that and learn from my mistakes of that ego, and realising that being a tennis player doesn't make you better or worse than anybody else, that you're still human, and all you can do is try to be the best version of yourself and keep improving."

Azarenka has taken to sitting with her eyes closed during the change of ends and explained this was an exercise used to clear her mind of any thoughts during high-pressure moments.

"Absolutely nothing. That's my goal," she said.

"When s*** happens to you, you're like, oh, let's be positive, let's be positive.

"It's sometimes impossible to be positive. So being neutral, just not going into negativity is very useful. It's very simple."

Williams confirmed afterwards that she would take part in the forthcoming French Open and Azarenka admires her old rival's longevity and quest to match Margaret Court's all-time slam record.

"I think it's amazing," she added. "There's no other thoughts.

"Someone who is an amazing champion going for what she wants to do. All admiration from my side."

Two-time major champion Naomi Osaka will go into this year's US Open final with a different mindset.

Osaka won her first grand slam singles title at Flushing Meadows two years ago, overcoming Serena Williams in a match that was overshadowed by the 23-time major champion's incredible meltdown.

The Japanese followed that success up with glory at the 2019 Australian Open, but did not go beyond the fourth round of a major again until this fortnight in New York.

Osaka defeated Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-3 on Thursday and, having been the runner-up at the Western & Southern Open when tennis returned from its suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic, she feels in a better place going into her third major final.

"I feel like my mindset is much different this time around. I feel like I've learned so much through the ups and downs, not even counting the finals, but just regular tour tournaments," said Osaka after her semi-final triumph.

"I would say mentally I feel stronger. I feel fitter now. It's going to be interesting to see what happens.

"I feel like the older you get, the more mentally strong you are. I think that's something that you learn from being on the tour for such a long time, playing so many matches.

"But for me, definitely my goal during these two tournaments was to be more mentally strong and to fight for every point. So that's what I'm going to go into the final with. Nothing is going to change that."

Osaka was denied a rematch with Williams in the US Open final by Victoria Azarenka, who won a semi-final against the great American 1-6 6-3 6-3.

World number 27 Azarenka is in good form having won the Western & Southern Open by walkover after Osaka withdrew from the final due to a left hamstring injury.

Osaka said of the Belarusian: "I've played her once in Roland Garros. I played her twice, but the Roland Garros one is the most recent one that I remember.

"Yeah, she seems really confident now. She's moving well. I don't know. I don't try to think about other matches right after the match that I just finished. But [it] should be tough."

Osaka believes the hard work she put in during lockdown has paid dividends since the return of professional tennis.

"You're never really sure how things will pan out. But I felt like I put in as much work as I could, and I tried as hard as I could during the quarantine to get myself ready. For me, I felt that's the only thing I could possibly to," she said.

"Yeah, I feel like my first match in [the Western & Southern Open], I was super nervous. But I was really happy with the level that I was playing. I just tried to keep building from that. Now I'm here."

Serena Williams had been hunting down US Open glory this fortnight with the same hunger she showed when winning a first grand slam singles title at Flushing Meadows 21 years ago.

It was September 11, 1999, when a 17-year-old Williams proved the theory she was destined for greatness, seeing off Martina Hingis at Flushing Meadows to cap a spectacular run through the draw.

Big sister Venus had been expected to land a singles slam first, being 15 months Serena's senior and ranked higher. Venus' time would come, but it was the younger sibling who triumphed that time in New York.

There will be no record-equalling 24th major at the same site this year following a semi-final loss to Victoria Azarenka on Thursday, though.

But, with the help of Opta, we look back at how Serena got started at her home slam.


The Williams sisters had been spoken about long before they took their first steps on the WTA Tour, with their talents having been nurtured from an early age by father and coach Richard. He and they eschewed the typical pathway through the junior ranks, after a rush of early age-group success, focusing instead on moving into the professional game, fighting racial prejudice along the way.

In November 1997, Serena announced her arrival when, just turned 16, she beat Mary Pierce and Monica Seles at an event in Scottsdale, before reaching the semi-finals in Sydney at the start of the 1998 season.

Unseeded, she won an indoor title in Paris early in 1999 by beating local hero Amelie Mauresmo in the final after seeing off three previous French opponents. A fortnight later, she overcame Steffi Graf to triumph at Indian Wells. With Venus, she then won the French Open doubles, a first taste of grand slam glory.

Serena missed Wimbledon through injury but any doubts over her fitness were banished by victory at a Los Angeles tournament a week before the US Open, where she beat world number one Hingis for the second time.

That week is perhaps best remembered for Graf, fed up of battling injury, announcing her retirement. As one queen of the courts departed, another was continuing quite the sublime entrance.


The seismic moment the tennis world had been waiting for arrived earlier than many imagined, even if teenage players winning majors was nothing new.

Hingis won three slams as a 16-year-old in 1997, adding two more at the 1998 and 1999 Australian Opens, and the likes of Graf, Chris Evert and Seles were all in their teens when they made major title breakthroughs in the women's game.

Serena's win stood out for many reasons, not least that it made her the first African-American woman to win a grand slam singles title in the Open Era. The great Althea Gibson won five singles slams in the 1950s, during tennis' amateur age, but another such triumph had been a long time coming.

Serena would not rise to number one in the world until July 2002, but that first major would be followed by many more, and heading to New York this year she had 23 singles slams - an Open Era record (ahead of Graf - 22, Evert - 18, Martina Navratilova - 18) and just one short of the all-time best achieved by Court.

One women's record Serena owns outright is the number of grand slam titles on hard courts, as nobody matches her 13 successes.


What was most remarkable about Serena's 1999 run to the title was the calibre of the opposition she fended off.

A 6-1 6-0 annihilation of Kimberly Po in round one was followed by a straight-sets win over Jelena Kostanic, but the real tests were to come.

Williams was pushed hard by 16-year-old Kim Clijsters in round three, taking a decider 7-5 against the future three-time US Open champion, before picking off grand slam winners Conchita Martinez, Seles and defending title-holder Lindsay Davenport en route to the final, each match going to three sets.

Hingis, by contrast, had only dropped one set all tournament, and that came against Venus in their semi-final battle.

After scuppering the hopes of Martinez, Seles and Davenport, Hingis was a fourth successive seeded opponent for Serena, who triumphed 6-3 7-6 (7-4) against the 18-year-old Swiss.

Hingis, once seen as the likely successor to Graf as a long-time standard setter, would never win another singles slam.


For Serena, for the Williams sisters, for tennis, the final grand slam tournament of the 1990s had seen a moment of monumental significance.

United States president Bill Clinton called to offer his congratulations minutes after the women's final ended, and the young Serena acknowledged the symbolism of the success, the possibilities it could open up.

At her post-match news conference, she spoke of Gibson's legacy, saying: "One of her best friends told me she wanted to see another African-American win a slam before her time is up.

"I'm so excited I had a chance to accomplish that while she's still alive. It's just really great."

Gibson died in late September 2003, by which time Serena had six singles slams. Even then, Serena was only getting started.

Serena Williams said she will contest the upcoming French Open after her US Open semi-final elimination at the hands of Victoria Azarenka, while playing down an Achilles issue.

Williams' bid to win a record-equalling 24th grand slam title was put on hold once more following a 1-6 6-3 6-3 loss to former world number Azarenka in New York on Thursday.

Not since claiming the 2017 Australian Open has American superstar Williams clinched a major trophy, despite reaching four finals in that period.

And Williams' wait continues after two-time slam champion Azarenka completed a stunning comeback on Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows, where the unseeded Belarusian advanced to her first major decider since 2013.

With the rescheduled French Open due to get underway on September 27 amid the coronavirus pandemic, attention turned to Roland Garros post-match and Williams was asked if she would be competing in Paris.

"I'm definitely going to be going to Paris," Williams, a three-time French Open winner, told reporters.

Williams stormed out of the blocks under the New York lights, the 38-year-old hitting 12 winners and breaking serve three times in a devastating opening set.

But Azarenka refused to surrender in an entertaining battle between two mothers on the WTA Tour, outlasting Williams in just under two hours on court.

"I started really strong," Williams said. "Then she just kept fighting. She just changed and started playing better and better. Maybe I took a little too much off the gas pedal at some point."

"It's obviously disappointing," she continued. "At the same time, I did what I could today. I feel like other times I've been close and I could have done better. Today I felt like I gave a lot."

There was a worrying moment early in the final set when Williams was hunched over and required a medical timeout.

Initially thought to be an ankle problem, Williams said: "It wasn't much. I just was stretching. Like, I ran for a shot.

"Off that first step that I took, it wasn't my ankle, it was actually my Achilles. It just overstretched. It was pretty intense. Then that was that.

"It feels fine. I don't think it had anything to do. I think Victoria played well. It didn't affect my play ultimately at all, just for that one point."

Serena Williams' wait for a record-equalling 24th grand slam titles continues after former world number one Victoria Azarenka sensationally rallied to advance to the US Open final.

Stuck on 23 slam trophies since winning the 2017 Australian Open, losing four major finals since that last success at Melbourne Park, Williams looked on track to earn a 2018 US Open final rematch with Naomi Osaka after blitzing Azarenka in the first set.

But two-time major champion Azarenka completed a memorable comeback to prevail 1-6 6-3 6-3 on Thursday for her first slam final since the 2013 US Open decider, which she lost at Flushing Meadows.

Riding a 10-match winning streak having won the Western & Southern Open, a nervous Azarenka did not look like a player in form to start the match in a battle of the mothers.

Appearing in her first slam semi-final in seven years, Azarenka was broken in the opening game following two double faults and it was a sign of things to come against ruthless third seed Williams.

Committed to going big as she attacked Azarenka, a fast-starting Williams was unstoppable as the 38-year-old American superstar hit 12 winners and broke three times – closing out a lopsided first set on her opponent's serve.

Two-time US Open runner-up Azarenka, however, turned the match on its head in a high-octane second set under lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.

Out of rhythm in the opener, unseeded Azarenka settled after saving a break point in the first game of the second set.

Finding her range and eliminating unforced errors, Azarenka dug deep as the Belarusian earned a pair of break points, only needing one for a 3-2 lead before consolidating.

Azarenka produced a complete turnaround, reeling off 12 winners and a solitary unforced error against Williams, whose timing appeared off as the showdown went to a deciding set.

There was a worrying moment in the second game when six-time US Open champion Williams hunched over and required a medical timeout, re-emerging with a heavily strapped ankle.

Williams willed herself on, but Azarenka had all the momentum, breaking for a 3-0 lead and it was an advantage she never relinquished.



Azarenka bt Williams [3] 1-6 6-3 6-3


Azarenka – 24/17
Williams – 35/28


Azarenka – 2/5
​Williams – 6/3


Azarenka – 3/7
​Williams – 3/5


Azarenka – 68
​Williams – 65


Azarenka – 67/46
​Williams – 72/37


Azarenka – 80
​Williams – 78

Victoria Azarenka is excited to face Serena Williams again after an impressive display at the US Open on Wednesday.

Azarenka was in blistering form in a 6-1 6-0 thrashing of Belgian 16th seed Elise Mertens in the quarter-finals on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The two-time grand slam winner next faces Williams and the Belarusian cannot wait, despite having lost 18 of their previous 22 meetings.

"I love playing against Serena. I think we have one of the best matches – at least that I played in my career – against her," Azarenka told a news conference.

"We always played on big stages. It was a lot of big fights. She's one of the players who push me to the limit, who makes me better. I'm excited for that.

"It's been a while since we played. I think the last time was, what is it, Indian Wells [last year]. I think we both were not really playing well at that time. I think the semi-final of a grand slam is a different stage. It's going to be a different fight. I'm looking forward to it."

While Williams is chasing a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title, Azarenka will go into the meeting on the back of 10 straight wins.

Asked why she enjoyed playing the American so much, Azarenka said: "It's very simple: I like playing against the best. That's where you see yourself, your level, the biggest challenge.

"That's what I'm working hard for, to play on the biggest stages against the best players. There's no one as tough mentally as Serena. I love that challenge."

Serena Williams marvelled at beaten opponent and fellow mother Tsvetana Pironkova after their exhausting US Open quarter-final on Wednesday.

Williams is aiming to win a grand slam for the first time since giving birth to her daughter in 2017, having lost four major finals in the intervening period as she remains one championship shy of Margaret Court's record 24.

Yet Pironkova's story heading into their last-eight meeting was perhaps even more remarkable still.

The Bulgarian, who had a son in 2018, was playing for the first time since Wimbledon three years ago and incredibly defeated two seeds en route to meeting Williams.

She had control of this latest clash for long periods, too, leading by a set and a break at one stage, but Williams rallied to triumph 4-6 6-3 6-2.

The 38-year-old gushed in her praise of Pironkova afterwards, however, saying in her on-court interview: "It just shows me how tough moms are.

"Whenever you can birth a baby, then honestly you can do anything. I think we saw that with Tsvetana today. She played unbelievable.

"[Playing for the first time since 2017] is unbelievable. Wow. I couldn't even do that. I could barely win a match when I came back. She's incredible.

"That's why I say I'm most influenced by moms. Like how do you do it?

"You play a match, you go home and you're still changing diapers. It's like a double life. It's really surreal."

Williams will now take on Elise Mertens or Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals on Thursday and is targeting a faster start.

She said: "I play again tomorrow. The good news is I'm used to playing back to back to back to back to back, so in a way I'd kind of be used to it.

"But at the same time, I need to work out how to start a little bit faster."

A resolute Serena Williams recovered from a set and a break down to beat Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday and return to the US Open semi-finals.

Williams' pursuit of a long-awaited record-equalling 24th major title appeared in serious trouble as she struggled to effectively combat the resurgent Pironkova's combination of forehand slice and backhand power.

The Bulgarian - a 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist - had not appeared on the WTA Tour since playing the All England Club three years ago but dumped out two seeds en route to this stage.

As the finish line quickly moved into sight on Arthur Ashe, though, the great Williams proved a step too far for Pironkova.

The 38-year-old, beaten in the previous two Flushing Meadows finals, dug in for an exhausting 4-6 6-3 6-2 success and set up her latest semi against either Elise Mertens or Victoria Azarenka.


Victoria Azarenka joined Serena Williams in the US Open quarter-finals as Sofia Kenin crashed out on Monday.

Azarenka was pushed before the two-time Australian Open winner booked her spot in the last eight at Flushing Meadows.

Williams was also challenged before reaching the quarter-finals and her bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title remains on track.

But there was no such luck for this year's Australian Open champion as Kenin bowed out.



Azarenka reached the US Open quarter-finals for the first time since 2015 after overcoming Czech 20th seed Karolina Muchova 5-7 6-1 6-4.

Muchova was on top early before Azarenka steadied to advance in two and a half hours.

The Belarusian, twice a US Open runner-up, was eventually too good for Muchova, who battled a leg injury late in the last-16 clash.

Azarenka won the Western & Southern Open ahead of the US Open, showing some good form since the WTA Tour season restarted amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She will next face Elise Mertens after the Belgian 16th seed proved far too good for Kenin – the second seed – 6-3 6-3 in just 75 minutes.

Mertens hit 19 winners and just seven unforced errors against Kenin, whose best run at her home slam came to an end.

The win saw Mertens reach the quarters for the second straight year.



Williams came through a tough battle with Maria Sakkari, winning 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 after two hours, 28 minutes.

The American star looked set to endure more frustration in her quest to level Margaret Court's record when she trailed Sakkari by a break in the third set.

Sakkari came from a set down to defeat Williams at the Western & Southern Open.

However, she could not hold on to her advantage in the decisive set as Williams produced a response befitting her status as a 23-time major champion.

"Just felt like I was able to compete longer. I was a little fatigued last time and had some cramps, but I felt like Maria played a completely, I felt like she almost played better today. She's such a good competitor," Williams said.

"It was a really intense match."



Awaiting Williams in the quarter-finals is Tsvetana Pironkova, whose run continued with a 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 victory over Alize Cornet.

A former Wimbledon semi-finalist, Pironkova is back playing for the first time since 2017.

The Bulgarian has put together an impressive run in New York, where she had only reached the fourth round once previously – in 2012.

Serena Williams is hopeful there will be no problems with allowing fans at the French Open but conceded she has questions for organisers about their plans.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) announced on Monday that 11,500 fans would be allowed into Roland Garros for the rescheduled clay-court grand slam, though the grounds would split into three separate sites.

Pushed back from May 24 to September 27, players will be required to stay in one of the two designated hotels to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

Williams, speaking after beating Maria Sakkari to reach the quarter-finals of the US Open, expressed some bemusement at the restrictions being placed on players amid fans being allowed into the facility.

"I was hoping to stay at my apartment in Paris, but, you know, I'm just taking it a day at a time," she told a media conference. 

"I feel the French, they are doing the best that they can. You know, it's hard. Every organisation, every country is trying to do the best that they can in this pandemic, so I can't point fingers and tell them what to do, because I'm not running the tournament.

"If there are fans, then we should be able to stay elsewhere. Yeah, that's interesting, because there is no private housing but there's fans.

"But I kind of knew that. It's just for me I'm super conservative because I do have some serious health issues, so I try to stay away from public places, because I have been in a really bad position in the hospital a few times.

"I don't want to end up in that position again, so I don't know. I'll just do my best to continue to keep – for me, I try to keep a 12-foot distance instead of six."

Asked if she is definitely planning to play in Paris, Williams replied: "I'm honestly taking it one day at a time. I'm going to have to make the best decision for my health.

"Obviously maybe it will be good for me to talk to the organisers just to see how that works with the crowd and how we will be protected.

"They have to make the best decision for them, and I have to do what's best for me. But I think it should be okay.

"I don't know what the number will be and how close they will be. I think there is a lot of factors that hopefully they are thinking about, and I'm sure that they are, as this is a global pandemic.

"I still have some questions, but I'm really kind of, ironically, focused on New York but it's kind of hard because these grand slams are so close to each other this year."

Serena Williams recovered from a poor start to defeat a game Sloane Stephens 2-6 6-2 6-2 and book her spot in the fourth round of the US Open on Saturday.

It took time for Williams to get going on Arthur Ashe Stadium as a mixture of poor timing, particularly on the backhand, and fantastic variety from Stephens saw the 2017 champion take a deserved lead.

But Williams, once again attempting to level Margaret Court's overall record of 24 grand slams, remained calm, upped the ante and, by the time she broke for a 4-2 lead in the second, Stephens never looked like recovering.

The third seed, a six-time champion in New York, won 10 of the final 12 games and can now look ahead to for a fourth-round tie with Maria Sakkari.

Early doors it appeared more likely Williams would be preparing her suitcase as the American great's timing on her groundstrokes was left wanting.

Stephens consistently stretched the play wide with Williams' movement nowhere near its peak and a couple of poor backhands set up a double-break 5-2 lead before the opening set was ruthlessly served out to love.

As has so often been the case, though, Williams shook it off and found another gear, triumphing in a 16-shot rally to break for 4-2 before the errors crept into Stephens' game, which had previously been so clean.

In no time the match was level at a set apiece as the momentum shifted wildly into Williams' favour and, although Stephens valiantly fought off three break points, she made the breakthrough when her opponent went long to open up a 3-1 lead in the decider.

From there it was little more than a training exercise for Williams, who wrapped proceedings up in one hour and 43 minutes when Stephens went long from the baseline.



Williams [3] bt Stephens [26] 2-6 6-2 6-2


Williams – 29/23
Stephens – 25/18


Williams – 12/3
Stephens – 0/1


Williams – 4/10
Stephens – 2/5


Williams – 60
Stephens – 79


Williams – 78/39
Stephens – 60/53


Williams – 81
Stephens – 72

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