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Serena to play fewer tournaments to aid grand slam quest

By Simon cambers

MELBOURNE, (Reuters) - Serena Williams plans to play fewer tournaments in the future to aid her quest to win more grand slam titles, according to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

The 35-year-old American won her 23rd grand slam title on Saturday at the Australian Open, breaking the open-era record she held jointly with Germany’s Steffi Graf.

Serena will now manage her schedule as she chases down the all-time leader Margaret Court, the Australian whose record of 24 grand slam titles straddled the amateur and professional eras.

"Mentally she has to stay fresh and mentally excited when the grand slams start, because they are the goal," Mouratoglou told a group of reporters after Serena’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over her sister Venus Williams gave her a seventh Australian Open title.

"So we have a lighter schedule – not lighter than last year, which would be difficult (when she played just eight events and did not play after September) - but lighter than the year before (11 events)."

At one stage in 2016, Serena held the world number one ranking based only on seven events over a 52-week period.

Germany’s Angelique Kerber overtook her when she won the U.S. Open last September but Serena will return to top spot when the rankings are updated on Monday.

Serena has traditionally played fewer tournaments than most top players, but since she usually reaches the final, she is able to pick and choose.

From the start of 2012 to the end of 2016, Serena won 288 matches, second only to Poland's Agnieska Radwanska, who won 289.

But while Radwanska lost 107 matches in that period, Serena lost just 29.

Mouratoglou said Indian Wells, in March, would be Serena's next stop but didn't expect to see her at too many events before the next grand slam, the French Open, which begins on May 29.

"We've already done the schedule for the whole year," Mouratoglou said. "It doesn’t mean that the schedule is not going to change, it's meant to adapt to situations. But generally speaking it’s already set for the whole season.”

Mouratoglou said numbers alone were not the main factor behind Serena's continuing hunger, even in her 20th year on tour.

"She was not motivated by 22, she was motivated to win grand slams," he said.

"That’s her motivation. This won’t change until she maybe one day wakes up and is not motivated to win grand slams, but for now she is. That’s enough. The record is not the thing that makes her play."

And Mouratoglou said Serena would not obsess over the record of 24 held by Court.

"With all the respect for Margaret Court, it was another era, the draws were like 16 players and they were not professionals," he said.

"Of course the record is here and we definitely want to beat it, but there was a professional era and the record was Steffi Graf."

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)