Predicting Serena’s future success a difficult challenge

11:55 AM ET

Serena Williams turned 35 this past Monday.

As a belated birthday present for her legion of fans, we offer these fun facts:

Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Margaret Court, Pete Sampras and Chris Evert — who combined to win 101 Grand Slam singles titles — took home a total of one after their 32nd birthdays. That late-in-life breakthrough belonged to Navratilova, who was 34 when she won Wimbledon in 1990.

For the record, Williams, who for years has been defying the laws of nature that usually ground 30-something tennis players, has won five majors since turning 32.

After her second consecutive surprising exit in the US Open semifinals, when Serena failed to win her 23rd Slam, which would have broken a tie with Steffi Graf and set an Open-era record, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was already looking ahead.

“I know people are going to be very much focused on the 23rd,” he recently told CNN International’s Ravi Ubha at the grand opening of his new tennis academy in France. “I’m more focused on the 30th.

“Why not set up a record that will never be beaten in history? I think she can do it.”

Why not? Clearly, this was a slice of bravado from a coach seeking to take pressure off his athlete as the 2017 season looms.

Shriver feels strongly that she should play.

“Sure, there will be a focus on the Slams, but you need a couple of tournaments to tee you up,” Shriver said. “You can’t just rock up to the Slams and be your best — not even Serena. I think Singapore is really important to play because it guarantees her three matches at minimum — and probably four to five.

“If she shuts it down like last year, I’m not going to pick her to win the Australian Open.”

Mary Carillo, a broadcaster for Tennis Channel and NBC, agrees with the concept.

“When Serena returned to the tour this January, she still didn’t seem as fit and refreshed as she needed to be,” Carillo wrote in an email. “Fitness/focus/motivation is now on the Compulsory Serena Checklist.

“More important than the physical fitness of the 35-year-old is her mental fitness, and nothing wears down the fortitude of athletes more than the ravages of time and injury. The supreme effort and commitment it takes to want it all over again? Only Serena knows how much she is willing to continue to give.”

Carillo wonders if she might find motivation in the continuing success of her older sister Venus, who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon at age 36.

“Her big sister seems to find much more joy in the journey,” Carillo wrote. “Maybe Serena draws inspiration from Venus. It could help her surpass Graf and add a few more major titles.

“I would guess that Serena still has a better chance to add to her count than Roger, Rafa, Maria or Vika. But this spinning planet slows for no one.”

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