The third set against Karolina Pliskova at the 2019 Australian Open quarter-final would perhaps be haunting Serena Williams more than her results at the 2018 Wimbledon and US Open finals. Then, respectively against Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka, Williams faced opponents who were fresher than her, from an athletic point of view, while Serena, after giving birth, was looking for the best athletic form.
In Melbourne, especially after the victory over Simona Halep in the fourth round, the road seemed open towards the third consecutive final of a Major. In the previous rounds, the American dominated Tatjana Maria, Eugenie Bouchard and Dayana Yastremska.
Then the resounding, inexplicable collapse in the third set against Pliskova, who denied her the chance to play the semi-final against another Czech, Petra Kvitova. Margaret Smith Court's record of 24 Slams still eludes Serena.
On the score of 5-1, after twisting her ankle while reaching for a return, Serena's composure gave way and she was not able to find a way back into the match. But as big a factor as that ankle injury was, pressure, too, had raised its head against Serena.
That result was proof that pressure management can put anyone in trouble: even if the player's name is Serena Williams. Even if you are considered the greatest tennis player of all time. Despite all the experience. Now, with the approach of the clay season, Serena will be one of the main protagonists at Roland Garros, despite the playing surface is not her favorite.
On clay courts, there are opponents who can put her in difficulty. On grass, at Wimbledon, she will have her chances yet again despite there being many competitors. Serena could be the favorite, if she maintains her form shown at the Australian Open.
She will have her occasion in front of home crowd of the US Open, even if the title has proved to be elusive for her in recent years. The long-dreamed-of record will come, sooner or later, but to get it, even a big star like Serena needs to work hard and sweat a lot.