Serena Williams ready for comeback after 'ups and downs'

Serena Williams of the US returns the ball to Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship 2017 match in Abu Dhabi, on December 30, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Serena Williams ready for comeback after 'ups and downs'

ASHEVILLE, USA: Serena Williams has spoken out about the "ups and downs" she faced during her year away from competitive tennis but insists she's now focused and ready for her quest to once more dominate her sport.
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.


Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Updated 17 February 2019
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Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Tennis fans in Dubai are in for a treat this week as nine of the world’s top 10 women players do battle in the city to claim the Duty Free Championship crown, which starts today. Arab News picks out likely winners and glamor ties to keep an eye on during the tournament.

NAOMI OSAKA

The Japanese superstar, fresh from winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, is playing her first event as world No. 1 and her first since her shock split with her coach Sascha Bajin.

The German had helped guide Osaka to back-to-back Grand Slam triumphs, with her win at the US Open last year. Osaka is yet to reveal why she decided to part ways with Bajin.

Regardless of events off-court, the Japanese will be the woman to beat and she will be playing the winner of the first-round tie between Kristina Mladenovic and Omani wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani.

The last 12 months have seen a meteoric rise for Osaka. She started 2018 at number 68 in the WTA rankings. Going into the first Grand Slam of 2019, she was ranked 4th in the world, and thanks to Indian Wells now finds herself at the summit of women’s tennis. Expect her to go deep into the tournament in Dubai.

SIMONA HALEP

The Romanian could well face Osaka if she makes it to the semifinals, but will fancy her chances of reaching her first final in Dubai since she claimed the trophy in 2015. 

She will also be delighted that Serena Williams is not in Dubai, having been stopped in her tracks in Melbourne earlier this year by the American, her ninth defeat in 10 games to her nemesis.

She will also be buoyed by the fact that by virtue of reaching yesterday’s final in Doha, she is guaranteed to move up to world No. 2 before even serving a ball.

Halep will open her tournament against either a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard or Vera Lapko, with a tricky potential Doha rematch against Elize Mertens to come by the third round, which should she win would set up a blockbuster showdown against either Aryna Sabalenka or Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. She comes into Dubai with the weight of expectation on her shoulders, but Halep should cope.

ELINA SVITOLINA

The two-time defending champion is part of an exclusive club as one of only three women to win back-to-back Dubai titles (Justine Henin and Venus Williams also accomplished the feat), and this week the No. 7 seed will be looking to go one better and win a third straight Dubai crown.

Svitolina will be disappointed she could not turn a commanding 4-1 lead over Halep in her Doha semifinal into a win, but will have put that loss behind her.

The Ukrainian will have to be at her best as she has been given a tough route to a potential final in Dubai. She opens against either Donna Vekic or Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the best-ranked Arab on the tour. A third-round battle with Garbine Muguruza looks likely, while Halep and Osaka could be waiting for her in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. It would be a remarkable achievement if Svitolina made it three in a row in Dubai.

PETRA KVITOVA

Having made the Australian Open final, Kvitova had to take a short break from the game to testify against the man who attacked her in 2016, reliving the traumatic life-threatening ordeal that left her with nerve damage in all five fingers of her left hand. Her courageous comeback on the tour was hailed by both players and fans.

“I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad that this one’s over,” she said in Dubai on Saturday, referring to her testimony in court.

Kvitova knows what it takes to win in Dubai, having claimed the trophy in 2013, and opens her campaign against either Petra Martic or Katerina Siniakova in the second round.