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.
Mohamed Salah viewing Champions League final against Real Madrid as ‘just another match’
- The Egyptian ace has been the key man in Liverpool’s march to Saturday’s showdown in Kiev against Real Madrid
- “Every match is different, this is my first Champions League final so I am very excited. It is of course a very important game”
He may be about to play in the biggest match of his life, but Mohamed Salah is going to approach the Champions League final as if it is just another game.
The Egyptian ace has been the key man in Liverpool’s march to Saturday’s showdown in Kiev against Real Madrid, scoring 11 goals and setting up a further four. Added to that has been his dynamic domestic form with the 25-year-old’s 32 LePremier ague strikes setting a new record and helping him land a host of awards, among them the coveted PFA Player of the Year gong.
All that has piled the pressure on Salah ahead of the final. But if you thought that would get to him then think again, with the Liverpool talisman claiming he is going into the clash as he would any other match.
“I cannot put more pressure on myself so I just play a normal game for me,” Salah said at a press conference announcing he is the new DHL brand ambassador for the MENA region.
“Of course, it is different, it’s the final of the Champions League, but you have to take it easy, relax and enjoy the game.
“Every match is different, this is my first Champions League final so I am very excited. It is of course a very important game.
“But I am trying not to take it too seriously and not put myself under too much pressure, both for me as an individual and the team as a whole.”
It should perhaps come as no surprise to hear the Liverpool and Egypt star talk about the biggest game in club football in such understated terms. Salah’s 44 goals have all come with the kind of smile on his face which suggests he is playing with a freedom normally associated with a kid having a kickabout with his mates in the park. Added to that, Liverpool’s progression to the final has come virtue of a devil-may-care attitude that hints that passion rather than pressure is what has been on their mind every time they walk onto the pitch.
That philosophy has been instilled to them by their coach Jurgen Klopp. The German is revered as much by the players as by Liverpool’s fans and Salah is in no doubt as to how important he has been to his form and the team’s remarkable Champions League run.
“From day one we are friends, he treats me like a friend,” Salah said of Klopp.
“We are very close to each other but still he’s the coach and I am a player. He is a great man and as a coach you can see everyone loves him.”
Standing in the way of Salah and Co. from lifting Liverpool’s sixth European Cup are Real Madrid. While the Spanish giants have not hit the heights of previous campaigns, they stand on the verge of a third Champions League crown in a row, and, with Cristiano Ronaldo in fine form, will provide the Reds’ toughest test yet.
Such has been the heights he has hit this season that Salah has often been compared to Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, and touted to become the first player since 2007 other than that duo to win the Ballon d’Or. It is a comparison he has sought to distance himself from and once again he downplayed any idea that the final was a case of him verses the Portuguese star.
“He is a top-level player, but as he said he plays with his right foot and I play with my left,” Salah said.
“We are both focused on playing well in the final and trying to win it for our teams. All I can do is try hard and focus on doing well for Liverpool.
“I want to get to a higher and higher level, I am hoping to do well in the final and we are going to go there to do well in the final and to try and claim the trophy.”