"I definitely want to go out in my peak, that's my goal," Serena Williams said on Saturday after beating Maria Sharapova for her second French Open crown. "But have I peaked yet?"
Opponents will shudder at the thought, but has she peaked yet? It would be an odd question to ask of a 31 year old, who has spent 18 years of her life on the tour, especially someone who has 16 grand slam singles trophies on her shelf. That list could have been higher if she had not missed 11 grand slams.
Her contemporaries are long gone ... from Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters to Elena Dementieva. But Serena is still here and playing the tennis of her life, and she is the oldest No 1 since the introduction of computerised rankings.
Hingis, 32 now, announced her retirement at the age of 22 in 2003 after winning five majors. She came back two years later, but retired for a second time in 2007 following a positive drug test.
Henin, Serena's elder by four months, first retired from the game in 2008 at the age of 25 with seven grand slam singles crown. She was back in 2010 before calling quits a year later due to an elbow injury.
Clijsters, younger to Serena by six months, retired in 2007 at the age 24 due to injuries. She was back in 2009, a year after the birth of her daughter, but left the game for good last December. Dementieva, a few days younger than Serena, quit in 2010.
Both Hingis and Dementieva were playing in the Legends tournament at Roland Garros.
And yet Serena goes on, still talking about reaching the peaks of her potential and disappointed that she does not many years ahead.
"I always said that I felt like I have never played my best tennis," she said on Saturday. "I have said that for years, that I feel like I can always do better and play better and I have always wanted to reach that level. Maybe I'm just trying to get there."
Again, a frightening thought for her opponents. If she continues in the same vein, she might join Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the list of all-time grand slam winners with 18 each before the end of this year. And then she can set her sights on overhauling Helen Wills Moody (19), Steffi Graf (22) and Margaret Court (24).
Right now, though, her focus is on the equalling Roger Federer's men's record of 17.
"It's so funny, I thought Roger had 16, but he has 17," said Serena. "How awesome would it be if I could do it at Wimbledon?"
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