If Serena Williams is in fact struggling physically the American world No1 is definitely not admitting it ahead of her Australian Open first round.
If she is feeling any doubts about her match form having played just one competitive set since her US Open shock semi-final loss to Roberta Vinci last September, Williams is also not willing to reveal that.
Seeking a historic 22nd grand slam that would tie her with Steffi Graf’s Open Era record, and a seventh crown at Melbourne Park, Williams says she does not even know who her first round opponent is – it is Italian Camila Giorgi – and claims she has nothing to lose.
The 34-year-old showed up to her pre-event press conference yesterday in no mood for much chatter about any real tennis-related topics but was keen to discuss the daring Nike outfit she plans to wear this fortnight in Melbourne which includes a yellow crop top that exposes part of her stomach.
“Hence the extreme training for the last three months,” Williams said laughing when asked to discuss her kit. “It’s been like ‘got to be able to fit into that without being embarrassed’.”
Minutes before Williams came to the interview room at Rod Laver Arena, pictures had appeared online from her practice session in which the top seed was grimacing like she were in pain and another showed her sat in a chair, her back to the baseline, with someone attending to her with coach Patrick Mouratoglou looking over.
The American, who withdrew from the Hopman Cup two weeks ago, citing a knee problem, was asked to elaborate on what she was struggling with on the practice court Saturday.
“No, I’m a little tired today. I’ve been working so hard and doing so much work, so… Maybe I had a bad attitude out there,” she said.
Has she been able to train at 100 per cent leading up to Melbourne?
“I’m at 120, 130 percent right now,” she quickly corrected her inquisitor. “You know, this week, the weeks leading up, has been a lot of work. I actually wanted to have an easy day today. But to me in my mind ‘easy’ is just two hours of really intense working out.
“(My knee) is actually really fine. I don’t have any inflammation anymore. It’s just that I needed some time to get over that little hump.”
Williams is 2-0 in previous meetings with Giorgi – the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw – and the pair will face-off tomorrow (around 06:00 UAE time) on Rod Laver Arena.
Insisting she has got nothing to prove, the 21-major winner is not worried about her lack of match play and looked almost insulted when someone asked her what she was hoping to get out of Melbourne – implying it was a given she wanted to win the tournament but not compelled to spell it out.
“I’ve had a really good preparation. I didn’t have the match play that I’ve wanted to have. But after playing for so many years on tour, I should be able to focus on that and the fact that I have played a lot of matches. So that’s what I’m trying to focus on now,” she explained.
Lying ahead in the draw, Williams refuses to look at the woman she conquered in the final last year, Maria Sharapova, who is a potential quarter-final opponent for the American.
Sharapova, an Australian Open winner herself in 2008, also comes to Melbourne with no matches under her belt in 2016 as the Russian skipped defending her title in Brisbane with a left forearm injury.
The No5 seed, who opens against Japan’s Nao Hibino Sunday, assured she is feeling fit and ready, and is not too concerned about being rusty.
“I believe in myself knowing, okay, I may not have played five matches in Brisbane, but if I commit myself, train well, get some practice sets in, I know with that mindset I’ll be able to take it that, yes, I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like, but I’m ready to go,” she said.
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