Serena Williams says she is a long way off her highest playing level, despite dropping just one set en route to another US Open final.
The 36-year-old, just seven tournaments into her comeback from maternity leave, dispatched Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-0 to reach an astonishing 31st major final.
She will aim for a 24th Grand Slam singles title when she lines up against Naomi Osaka on Saturday.
Yet when asked how far off her highest level she thought she was, in percentage terms, Williams rated herself conservatively.
“Its a very difficult question. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Fifty, sixty? I don’t know,” she said.
Just two months ago Williams advanced to the Wimbledon final.
Yet this is a far superior version of the player who fell in that final to Angelique Kerber in straight sets.
Firstly, she has come through a far tougher path, with opponents including sister Venus, former world No.15 Kaia Kanepi (who beat top seed Simona Halep in the first round) and top-10 star Karolina Pliskova.
And she has been moving better, hitting more cleanly and serving more effectively than during her fortnight of play at the All England Club.
Still, Williams discussed the fact that one year on from giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, her body had not returned to “normal”
“I definitely don’t feel myself yet. I’m definitely not there. I don’t feel like me,” she admitted.
“I think it takes time. My mom said it takes like a full year to kinda get back. And I’m at a full year now. But I’m also playing sport professionally and the emotions and the expectations and all the other stuff that you add on top of it, it’s a lot.
“Even my body is different – I actually weigh less than I did before I got pregnant, but it’s distributed differently now (laughter). My stomach is a little bigger. It’s just so different.
“I’m still waiting to get to be the Serena that I was, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be that physically, emotionally, mentally. But I’m on my way and I feel like I still have a ways to go.
“And once I get there, I’ll be able to play hopefully even better.”
One thing is for certain – Williams is a vastly improved physical state to when she last faced Osaka.
Back in March, she fell in straight sets to the Japanese rising star in the first round of the Miami Open at a time she was still breastfeeding.
“I definitely wasn’t at my best,” said Williams.
“It was good that I played her because I kind of know how she plays now.
“It was a totally different situation. It was what it was. I mean, hopefully I won’t play like that again. I can only go up from that match.”
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