“It could have been the secret to my success or the secret to my demise,” a wistful Serena Williams says of her 2013 season.
The irresistible force in women’s tennis is talking about her record-breaking year, one in which she vowed to play more than she ever had done previously.
It was a decision that paid huge dividends.
Not only did her victories at the French Open and U.S. Open take her grand slam tally to 17, she also successfully defended her season-ending WTA Championships crown.
She claimed 11 titles in 2013 — the best return in the women’s game for 16 years — adding $12.3 million in prize money to what has become a very healthy bank balance over the years.
Far from slowing down, Williams has a new spring in her step at the age of 32.
Her 17 major titles mean she is just one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and within sight of Steffi Graf, out in front on 22 grand slam titles in the post-1968 Open era.
“It is getting exciting,” Williams told CNN. “I have four grand slams next year to try and at least catch up with Martina and Chrissy so it will be really exciting.
“Hopefully I can do it but really being here 17 is fun, obviously I want more and I never want to stop until I reach my goals.
“I’m excited about just looking forward to the possibilities of next year.
“I started with 15 and this year I’m starting with 17 (next year) so hopefully I can win a couple — one, two or three, who knows? Any would be good for me.”
Serena’s career has been transformed since she teamed up with coach Patrick Moratoglou after a demoralizing first round defeat at the 2012 French Open.
Having tumbled to 175 in the world after a series of injury-hit seasons, he helped Serena roar back to the top of the game; if and when Serena breaks 18, his pride will be immeasurable too.
“Martina and Chris, they are legends, so to have Serena part of this small group means a lot,” Frenchman Moratoglou said.
“It means a lot to her too that she’s only one grand slam away to reach them and then maybe to overtake them it’s an option that you can really think about it.
“There will be a lot of emotion when she’ll be close to winning the next grand slam and sitting next to those great champions, but she can make it.
“Steffi is a bit far away still. I think it’s too early to speak about Steffi — she has 22 — so (Serena) has to win five more and six more to overtake Steffi so that’s a long way.
“I think it’s important not to look at the mountain when you want to climb it, just the next step.”
Moratoglou is from the school of thought that a defeat, however painful, can provide an important reality check and provoke an elite athlete into a drive to ensure it isn’t repeated.
That pivotal reverse to Virginie Razzano at the French Open last year spurred Williams on to a spike in form and another shock grand slam exit — to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon this year — acted as a similar catalyst.
“It was definitely motivating — I definitely learnt a lot from that match,” Williams explains of her defeat to the German in round four.
“It wasn’t good that I lost but it was good that I was able to learn from that loss and I was able to do better and I won some matches because of that loss so I guess it helped me out.”
And though Serena is quick to pay tribute to her team from agent to coach, hitting partner to physio, she also revealed that she still leans on the support of her mum, who was with her during her triumphant WTA Championships campaign, and dad to help her game.
She said: “I called my dad every match at the U.S. Open from the third round on, he really helped me in that tournament, and he really helped me behind the scenes to win some matches.
“I was really happy to have the support and have his help and so yeah I definitely rely on my dad and my dad for a lot of coaching.”