Serena Williams ready for comeback after 'ups and downs'
Serena Williams ready for comeback after 'ups and downs'
Speaking ahead of her comeback at the Fed Cup in Asheville, North Carolina, where the United States will begin the defence of its crown against an unfancied Netherlands team, the 36-year-old said she had the benefit of a new outlook following the birth of her baby daughter Alexis Olympia in September.
"There's been a lot of ups and downs in the practice," Williams told reporters. "It also gives me another view, it's almost relaxing for me as I have nothing to prove. Again, just fighting against all odds to be out there again, to be competing again."
Some of that struggle was apparent during an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi in December, where she lost to French Open Champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Williams was beaten in straight sets and appeared a little slow on her feet, even as she played some fine shots.
She had initially targeted last month's Australian Open crown for a defence of her 2017 crown, but abandoned that goal after declaring she was not "where I personally want to be."
Perhaps wary of setting another ambitious target, Williams refused to be drawn on whether she had set her sights on the year's remaining Grand Slams -- the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open.
For now, she appears to be easing her way in and was not named as the United States' first or second singles player in a powerful US team that includes elder sister, world number 17 CoCo Vandeweghe and world number 62 Lauren Davis.
That means she isn't scheduled to play in either of the singles matches on Saturday which are followed by reverse singles on Sunday -- though team captain Kathy Rinaldi did not rule out a change on the second day.
"As far as the lineup, we have the lineup set for tomorrow, then of course we'll wait and see how tomorrow goes, then we'll make our adjustments, if any," she said.
Williams' comeback run comes as another titan of the sport -- Roger Federer -- is enjoying a late-career resurgence, also aged 36.
With three singles Slam titles over the past two years, Federer is now intent on reclaiming his world number one ranking, and becoming the oldest man to do so.
"Roger Federer is a really great tennis player," Williams said of the Swiss great.
"I don't know any tennis player that has not been inspired by him. I definitely have. Yeah, just trekking on, we keep doing the same thing."
While Williams is bidding to emulate Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters in winning a Grand Slam title after having a child, she acknowledged the path had not been straightforward and credited her sister with making it possible.
"I have a great partner and relationship with Venus. She's been really, really positive," she said.
"There's moments that have just been hard, getting back out there doing it every day. You have to get used to that, get in the rhythm of that."
Also credited for a newfound sense of zen was her family life with baby Alexis and husband Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit whom she wed in November.
"It's probably been the most fun of my life," she said.
And though she insists she has nothing left to prove, one professional goal eludes her -- Margaret Court's all-time record for Slam singles titles of 24.
"It goes unsaid 25 is obviously something that I would love, but I'd hate to limit myself," she joked.
Praise from Sachin Tendulkar rubberstamps elevation of Rashid Khan to superstar status
- Afghan smashes four sixes and two fours off ten balls
- Leggie then snares wickets of Uthappa, Lynn and Russell,
A couple of days before what was effectively an Indian Premier League (IPL) semifinal against a Kolkata Knight Riders side backed by over 60,000 raucous fans, Rashid Khan told Michael Clarke, former captain of Australia, that he wanted to be known as an all-rounder.
When he came into bat on Friday night, the Hyderabad innings was going nowhere — 134 for 6, with just 13 balls remaining. Off the ten that he faced, Rashid smashed four sixes and two fours to finish with 34 as an under-par score became a competitive one.
In the defense of that total, Kane Williamson opted not to bowl Rashid in the Power Play. By the time he came on, Kolkata had raced to 67 from six overs. His first over went for just three, and gave his teammates time to breathe.
By the end of the night, he had the vital wickets of Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn and Andre Russell, a run-out and two catches as Kolkata, who needed 82 from 60 balls at one stage, fell 13 short. Afterwards, as the praise rained down, he didn’t forget to dedicate his man of the match award to those in his home town who were killed by a bomb blast at a cricket match a few days earlier.
“Always felt @rashidkhan_19 was a good spinner but now I wouldn’t hesitate in saying he is the best spinner in the world in this format,” tweeted Sachin Tendulkar. “Mind you, he’s got some batting skills as well. Great guy.”
It’s not even been three years since Rashid, who only turns 20 in October, made his debut for Afghanistan. He has already harvested 100 ODI wickets in just 42 innings, and has been the scourge of batsmen in Twenty20 leagues as far apart as Australia, the Caribbean and India.
His IPL numbers are outstanding. Last season, his first in the league, he took 17 wickets and was one of only two bowlers at the top of the charts to concede less than 7 an over. This year, his 21 wickets are second only to Andrew Tye (24), while his economy rate is the best of anyone in the top-10 wicket-takers’ list.
In the age of ultra-slow-mo video and extensive data crunching, Rashid’s bowling remains a mystery to many. He can not only rip his leg-breaks and googlies, but he bowls them at such a pace that playing him off the pitch is fraught with risk. In a league as frenetic as the IPL, where consistency is the biggest challenge for bowlers, this was the sixth time that Rashid had taken at least two wickets this season.
In every respect, Rashid is the first global superstar from an emerging cricket nation. The likes of Mohammad Nabi, his Hyderabad teammate, helped put Afghan cricket on the map, but it’s Rashid’s skill that has been instrumental in their acceptance at the top table.
By the time Sri Lanka got Test status in 1982, Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias were widely recognized as world-class batsmen. Zimbabwe’s promotion up the ranks was largely due to the all-round prowess of Duncan Fletcher at the World Cup in 1983 and a marvellous innings from Dave Houghton four years later. But none of them had millions watching their every move.
Rashid’s success will also inspire young men like Sandeep Lamichhane, who made a tremendous impact in the latter part of the season with Delhi Daredevils. Another gifted leggie with a beautiful action, Lamichhane knows that such displays can put Nepal cricket under the spotlight as he and the national team seek to mimic Afghanistan’s progress.
For a long time, Indian cricket board officials scoffed at the notion of players from such countries playing in the IPL. Now, after a season in which Rashid, Lamichhane and Mujeeb Zadran, the 17-year-old prodigy from Afghanistan, have all starred, it’s only a matter of time before the franchises spread their scouting nets even wider.
For Rashid, there’s the small matter of Afghanistan’s inaugural Test as well, a fortnight after the end of the IPL. India will be without Virat Kohli, and it’s probably safe to say that they won’t be dishing out a square turner to greet the new boys. Rashid’s prowess should see to that.