After missing a year of tennis because of a badly cut foot and a blood clot, Williams couldn't make it past the round of 16 at Wimbledon and was ranked 80th in the world even after winning the Bank of the West Classic in California. She won the Rogers Cup, vaulted up the rankings some more and has remained at the top of her game for the past two years.
"That win propelled me to get to the finals of the U.S. Open," Williams said. "Being able to capitalize in Toronto at that time was just really exciting and good for me."
Two years later Williams goes into next week's Rogers Cup with different priorities. Ranked No. 1 in the world, she doesn't need to prove anything, but that doesn't mean she considers this tournament just another stop on the tour.
"My mindset nowadays is to always have fun but still do the best that I can," Williams said on a conference call Monday. "I feel like I've had a decent year for me, I guess. The year's not over. I honestly would have preferred to do better in some tournaments. So for me I need to do well in a tournament like Toronto to get ready for the last grand slam of the year and do really well there, as well."
It's reasonable that Williams' sights are set on the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 26 in Flushing, N.Y. As the top seed at Wimbledon, she was upset by Sabine Lisicki but worked hard to bounce back from that grand-slam defeat.
"I had a tournament fairly soon after Wimbledon, so you can't lick your wounds for too long," she said. "The good thing about tennis is there's always next week."
Williams rebounded by winning a clay-court tournament in Sweden earlier this month. The Rogers Cup will be her first hard-court singles tournament since beating Maria Sharapova to win the Sony Open in March.
Sharapova, the second-ranked player in the world, recently withdrew from the Rogers Cup because of a hip injury. But it's not as if Williams has a clear path to his third career title in Toronto. World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka, No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 5 Li Na are all entered.
Instead it's another test as Williams tries to maintain her status atop the sport.
"It's some of the best tennis I've played in my career at age 31," she said. "I don't know if I've peaked yet. I just definitely want to keep trying to get to the top of the mountain, and if I'm there I want to stay there."
Williams said she didn't know if she's reached her pinnacle. She only insists she's not thinking about being the best female player in history.
"For me, I feel honoured that it's even in the conversation," Williams said. "I feel really good physically, I feel really good mentally. But for me, the reason I started playing tennis wasn't to be the best female tennis player ever or even to be in that conversation. It's just to be the best that Serena Williams can be, the best that I can be, and to motivate as many people as I could. That has been my only goal."