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People Magazine
September 07, 2018 6:50 am

Serena Williams is just one match away from achieving her record 24th Grand Slam singles title. The 36-year-old tennis champ advanced to the U.S. Open finals on Thursday, September 6th, beating Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-0 in a tense semi-finals match on the grounds of the USTA National Tennis Center in Queens, New York City.

She’ll now play in the Saturday, August 8th, women’s final. A win there will see her name listed in the history books, tied with Margaret Court for the all-time record of the most Grand Slam singles titles ever. The feat—already outstanding—is even more remarkable, as Williams’ life was in serious jeopardy just one year ago.

After giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia on September 1st, 2017, via emergency cesarean section, the athlete had a near-death experience involving pulmonary embolism—forcing her to spend the next six weeks in bed.

Williams has also struggled with postpartum depression, and previously opened up about the pain she felt leaving her daughter’s side to return to the tennis court. “I didn’t think I’d be this attached,” Williams told TIME in August. “It’s difficult to leave her.”

When she did get back to work, victory wasn’t immediate.

Prior to the Open, Williams played in five tournaments. In August, there was a crushing loss in the opening round of a U.S. Open tune-up tournament in San Jose, California. One month earlier, Williams made it to the final women’s singles round of Wimbledon, but was defeated.

“It’s obviously disappointing, but I can’t be disappointed,” she said in an emotional speech after the Wimbledon loss. “I have so much to look forward to. I’m literally just getting started.”

“I dedicated that to all the moms out there who’ve been through a lot,” she added. “If I can do it, you guys can do it too.”

Tennis still, though, has remained the one thing Williams points to as something she can do for herself, she told TIME.

Throughout it all, husband Alexis Ohanian has been nothing but supportive, cheering her on from the sidelines.

Williams has also had a little cheerleader in daughter Alexis Olympia, who — in a sweet photo posted to Instagram on Thursday night — adorably modeled a tiny version of the black tulle dress created for her by Off-White designer Virgil Abloh for the athlete’s first match at the U.S. Open last week.

Minutes after her win on Thursday night, Williams told ESPN, “A year ago, I was fighting for literally my life at the hospital after I had the baby. Every day I step on this court, I am grateful that I have an opportunity to play this sport.”

“No matter what happens in any match—semis, finals—I just feel like I’ve already won,” she said.

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