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Setbacks added fuel to Serena's desire to equal Graf

By Paul Newman

Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, knew that the World No.1 had put her disappointments of the last 10 months behind her well before the start of Wimbledon.

After last month's French Open, where she lost in the final to Garbine Muguruza, Williams returned to her home in Florida while Mouratoglou stayed in France.

For the third tournament in a row, the 34-year-old American had failed to secure the victory she needed to equal Steffi Graf's Open era record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles.

However, as thoughts turned to the challenges ahead, Mouratoglou and Williams remained in regular telephone contact.

"I was just talking through things, and how I was disappointed that I lost the French, and what I needed to do, to do better at Wimbledon," Williams recalled on Saturday evening in the wake of her 7-5 6-3 victory over Angelique Kerber, which secured her seventh Wimbledon title and finally brought her level with Graf's record.

"It wasn't one conversation. We talked so many times, almost every day, just to try to feel what I needed to do and what was going to be done."

As they talked, Mouratoglou sensed a change in her mindset. "I felt like the Serena I know was back - back to thinking the way she thinks," he said.

Williams recalled the day when Mouratoglou told her he had noticed the change.

"One day I woke up and I just felt different," she said. "I felt like: I can do better. I can do this. Not only can I do this, I'm going to do this and there's nothing in this world that's going to stop me."

She added: "I felt a relief. Maybe it was like: I'm not going to worry about anyone or anything. I'm just going to worry about tennis. I'm not going to worry about what people say or what people don't say. I'm just going to worry about tennis. I just felt good."

Williams needed four attempts to claim her 22nd Grand Slam title. After winning title No.21 at Wimbledon last summer, she was beaten by Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals of the US Open in September, after which she stayed off court for the rest of the year.

She then lost this year to Kerber and Muguruza in the finals of the Australian and French Opens respectively.

In the wake of those defeats, Williams had some sleepless nights. "I really go over things and try to meditate and see what I can do better," she said.

"I'm really someone who is always looking to do better, no matter what. So I'm obviously thinking: 'OK, what did I do wrong? Where did I go wrong?'"

Williams said it had been particularly difficult for her in the period after the US Open, where she had been on course to win a calendar-year Grand Slam of the sport's four Major trophies.

"I was going for something really historic and it didn't quite work out," she said. "What really was impressive was being able to come back and be so consistent time in and time out.

"With the finals of Australia, France, even the final of Indian Wells and winning Rome, it was really consistent tennis. I didn't get the results I wanted in the end, but it was really good to continue to do that and that obviously helped me with this win."

She added: "For me it has been a tough year but I think only I would classify it like that. I had a lot of good wins and played really well.

"There were moments where I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I was able to learn from that and have that help me out."

Asked if she had learned anything about herself in the last year, Williams said: "I have always known that I was a big fighter and never gave up, but I think I've really put it on display the last 12 months.

"Just really not letting anything stop me or get me down, or letting a loss prevent me from continuing on. It just shows a lot of tenacity."

Now that Graf's record has been matched, the next goal in Williams' sights could be Margaret Court's all-time mark of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. While Williams insists that she has learned not to get obsessed by the pursuit of records, she said it was not in her nature to take things easy on the court.

"I think the pressure can be off when I decide to put away my rackets," she said. "I think the pressure I put on myself is more than anyone.

"I put so much expectation on myself. I expect to win every time I step out on the court. Anything less is unacceptable for me. I think that's just rare and it's different. It's me and it's why I have 22 titles."

What of the immediate future?

"I'm just thinking that obviously the Olympics is next, then the US Open," she said. "But that's as far as I'm thinking. I don't know.

"When I go out there I just enjoy it. I'm obviously looking forward to going back to Australia. It's one of my favourite places to go. Just enjoy the moment."

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