By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even the best players have their ups and downs, and crises of confidence, says tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who believes Serena Williams has now regained her way in pursuit of a third U.S. Open title in a row.
Williams who failed to reach the quarter-finals in the first three majors of 2014, has reached the semi-finals of the U.S. Open, closing in on an 18th grand slam singles crown that would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth place on the all-time list.
The French coach, who has also been linked romantically to world number one Williams, said hard work and some soul searching helped the 32-year-old American.
"The first six months of the season were really tough. She kind of lost her way, in a way," Mouratoglou told Reuters. "This is tennis. You cannot perform all the time. You have ups and downs."
Williams failed in the fourth round at the Australian Open, was ousted in the second round of the French and in the third round at Wimbledon.
The American has regained momentum since turning her focus on the hard court season.
"I think she reacted really well. She worked even harder," the Frenchman said. "She entered in a smaller tournament when she was not playing well and she fought, and in a way got her confidence back by winning Stanford.
"And she’s playing better and better. I think she’s back to her level."
Williams has reached the last four at Flushing Meadows without losing a set.
"She did her job, she was focused, she worked hard, she fought hard. Now it’s time to step up the level because the matches will be tougher and she has to play at a better level. That’s what we have to do now," the coach said.
Mouratoglou, whose pupils included Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, a 2006 Australian Open finalist, said Williams was not alone in the struggle to maintain a competitive edge.
"I think the line between confidence and doubt ... it is the same for every player," he remarked. "If you look at Roger (Federer) he had the same thing for two years, he didn’t play with the same confidence.
"And Rafa is the same. Rafa needs to win a lot of matches to come back to his best. We have seen Rafa first week at Roland Garros several times playing really bad, winning by fighting but playing really bad and being able to raise his level.
"It is the same for every player. Of course, maybe the top ones they know the way to get their confidence back but it takes time and it takes wins for everyone."
Serena told reporters that she began her turnaround by looking at the big picture of her career, all she had already achieved, and that relaxed her.
"Serena has had a lot of pressure all her career and there is always someone to put a bit more with another record to beat," said Mouratoglou.
"It’s tough for all the really, really top ones like Roger or her or maybe Rafa or Novak (Djokovic) but they know how to deal with it. They don't always find a way because they are humans but most of the time, they do."
Mouratoglou, who has worked with Williams for two years, was asked about her approach to getting herself in the right place, psychologically.
"She’s right, looking at the big picture," he replied. "But I don’t know. It’s something really personal. She does her own thing to find her way.
"What I do as a coach, I will have her focus on what she needs to do on the court, rather than the win or what she wants to complete.
"Every day you put one foot in front of the other one. We’re on a tennis court, there is one match to win, and one match to win is one point to win, and then another one."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)