It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship, tying her with legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth on the all-time women's list.
As the No. 1 seed and two-time defending champion, Williams remains the favorite to win her third straight U.S. Open and sixth overall. Yet 2014 has hardly been a banner year for the 32-year-old, who meets Vania King at about 1 p.m. Thursday in a second-round match.
Williams hasn't advanced past the fourth round at any of the three previous majors, and if she fails to win the Open it will mark the first time in the last four years she hasn't won a grand slam event. Only twice since 2006 has Serena gone a full year without winning at least one grand slam.
She also suffered through a bizarre incident at Wimbledon in which she appeared disoriented and withdrew from a doubles match with her sister Venus. She later explained to Sports Illustrated that she wasn't pregnant or under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
"I've decided I'm not going to overthink it," Williams said of her struggles this year. "I think I've overthought every grand slam so far this year. It didn't really work out great for me. So worst-case scenario, I'm just going to stay positive and do the best I can. That's all I can do."
Serena could also lose her hold on the No. 1 world ranking if she doesn’t reach the quarterfinals here, and either Simona Halep or Petra Kvitova clinch the title — in which case one of those players would move to No. 1.
While the American men continue to struggle, a slew of young American women who have followed in Williams' wake has advanced to the second round, including 15-year-old sensation CiCi Bellis, the youngest girl to win a match at the U.S. Open since 1996.
In her first-round match Tuesday night, Williams dispatched 18-year-old Taylor Townsend of Chicago in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.
Townsend, like many of the other young American women, African-American and otherwise, grew up idolizing Serena.
"I think that I've learned, number one, that I can play until I'm 30-something years old," Townsend said. "Number two, that just anything is possible. I mean, she's an African-American woman from Compton, California, who has won 17 grand slam titles. Like who would have thought? Anything is possible. She's paved the way for me and not only African-American girls but girls in general, people in general. Just has changed the game of tennis. I think I've just learned from her story that anything is possible."
Now Williams faces another younger American in the 25-year-old King.
"She's another American," Serena said. "So it's a shame that Americans have to keep playing each other. But, hey, at least an American can go to the third round."
For Williams, the goals are obviously much bigger than the third round. She is chasing history.
"Hopefully I can just build from this," she said. "I think in the early rounds, if I can get through them in this grand slam, I just want to continue to build on that."
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for coverage throughout the U.S. Open.