Justine Henin admits she is “starting to have to be convinced” that Serena Williams will win a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Williams, 40, has been bidding to match Margaret Court’s all-time record for the last five years, losing in four major finals since her 2017 Australian Open win.
She has not played since suffering an injury in the first round at Wimbledon in the summer and will not feature at the first Grand Slam of 2022 as she strives to get back to full fitness.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Henin thinks Williams has lost some of her fear factor and is unsure if she will lift another major trophy.
“The young players are starting to fear Serena Williams less,” Henin told Eurosport.
“We were afraid of Serena in my era. And a lot of girls continued to be afraid of her for years. Now it’s just not the case anymore and certainly she feels it.
“And frankly, we are allowed to answer ‘no’. That does not take anything from her and she remains someone exceptional in all that she has accomplished. That will never change.
“And maybe she’s at that point. Maybe she’s in that phase of her life where maybe it’s potentially time to move on.”
Williams has not given any indication that she is going to retire soon as she continues to try to equal Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
She said after announcing her withdrawal from the Australian Open that she is “excited to return and compete at my highest level”. But Henin thinks it is very unlikely that Williams will now add to her major collection.
“I’m starting to have to be convinced, that the quest that she had set herself to go and win more Grand Slams, at least one Grand Slam, won’t happen. But it’s always hard to answer ‘100 per cent it’s not going to happen’.
“And because all the time, I want to say that I remember Serena Williams is from my generation, my time and she’s still here.
“She gave me so much trouble that I still want to believe that Serena is capable of anything. But you have to be realistic. Maybe she’s also discovering a new life today. Life can be wonderful after tennis.
“So it will depend on her physical condition, obviously, and on her will to do what it takes. She’s getting older and there are young players who are very physical. I think it’s going to get harder and harder, if not impossible.”
With Williams not playing at the Australian Open, her likely next opportunity to win a 24th major will be at Wimbledon.
Two-time Grand Slam finalist Alex Corretja thinks this summer could be the last chance for Williams.
“There are fewer and fewer options, less margin and less time, so it’s going to be very difficult. Wimbledon is sure to be her last shot. The chances at Roland Garros are almost nil and at the US Open she could have chances depending on how she arrived there.
“But I think where she has the most options is at Wimbledon, but she needs to compete earlier, because she can’t come without competing for a long time and try to win, that would be very difficult.
“I think Serena has been making such a big effort for so long in every way, after being a mother, after injuries… she has had opportunities that she has not been able to take advantage of, and every time she tries to win another Grand Slam, she probably feels like the effort she has to make to win a Grand Slam is huge.
“I am still surprised that she still feels like doing it knowing that she has been fighting for a long time and it is difficult sometimes to find the energy.”
Williams bid an emotional exit the last time she played the Australian Open after being asked if she would return to the tournament again after her semi-final loss to Naomi Osaka.
“That moment was hard for her,” added Corretja. “She surely thought that if she has not achieved it, it is because she can no longer do it.
“Hopefully it is not so, and she has some more opportunities to finish her career in a big way. And I think that for her to win one more Grand Slam, she has to give everything and she has to think that she, Serena Williams, is a special woman, a super woman.”