Serena Williams prepared to wait until Wimbledon to break Margaret Court's grand-slam record

Simon Briggs
Williams won a title in the build-up to this year's Australian Open but was beaten by Wang Qiang in the third round - AFP

It has become one of the great twisting plotlines in modern sport: Serena Williams’s pursuit of Margaret Court’s tantalising yet elusive tally of 24 major titles.

After Williams’s shock defeat at the hands of China’s Wang Qiang on Friday, we now know that Court – who is due to attend the Australian Open next week, much to the dismay of LGBT groups – will retain sole charge of the grand-slam winners’ table until June at the earliest.

But Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, believes that this latest reverse will act as motivation. As Mouratoglou put it on Sunday: “I completely get that she is angry, I’m disappointed too – it’s normal. But this is going to help, because for sure she is going to go back to work even harder. She wants to win a grand slam again, she wants to win several if possible. She will work very hard for that and will work hard every single match.”

Williams makes no secret of the fact that her central motivation is to equal – and overtake – Court’s record. Asked on Sunday whether she still felt confident of success, she replied: “I definitely do believe or I wouldn’t be on tour. I don’t play just to have fun.”

Neither did she shy away from self-criticism. “I made far too many errors to be a professional athlete today,” she said, before adding that “I’m definitely going to be training tomorrow … to make sure I don’t do this again”.

And yet, even after this unexpected setback, Williams was surprisingly upbeat. She smiled regularly and went so far as to crack a few jokes. This represents a notable shift from last year, when she seemed haunted by the scale of her task. Perhaps we can credit her unorthodox winter training block – which featured karaoke, group dancing and a visit from Mike Tyson – for lifting her mood.

The impression Williams is giving this season – after the title she won in Auckland a fortnight ago to end a three-year drought – is that she is prepared to go the long way round. On Sunday, she was asked where she might have her best chance of finally ticking that 24th box. Her reply – “I seem to do well the last two slams of the year” – made clear that her primary focus would be on winning Wimbledon or the US Open.

Before that, though, expect her to be a more regular participant on the WTA Tour. She played only eight events in 2018, including the majors, which is not enough to achieve optimal rhythm.

“We’re not worried,” Mouratoglou said. “We just need to understand, find solutions, go back to work – which we will do soon because Serena wants it and we will do everything we can to get it.”