She looked serious and more fit than recent months as she took the court at Sportime Randall’s Island in New York for a World Team Tennis match against Martina Hingis, and Serena Williams made her intentions for the summer clear.
“Yeah I’ll be ready to play at the Open, God willing,” she told the assembled media. “I have to make sure I am fit and will be ready to go.”
Williams was using the World Team Tennis short season to prep for the long summer grind ahead, getting valuable match play in before a five event run-up to the Open. It will be a return to the event, which she missed last year after suffering a cut in her ankle during a freak accident early in the summer.
The ankle cut led to a series of other setbacks that cost Williams the chance to make up for her finals meltdown at Flushing Meadows in 2009, where she defaulted on match point and gave Kim Clijsters an unexpected U.S. Open title.
Williams is using what the U.S. Tennis Assn. deems an “injury-protected No. 1 ranking” option to become part of the field at the 2011 Open. She is ranked 172, and only the top 105-ranked players have direct entry. But the USTA allows players who have been off the tour for more than six months due to injury and previously were ranked No. 1 to play in eight tournaments, including a Grand Slam.
All that, Williams said, is behind her. She has been left to focus on both her tennis and her off-court projects, which include scholarships for young people in the U.S. and Africa and contemplating a Jamba Juice business like her sister, Venus. She admitted to still having to be careful with pressure not on the tennis court, but in airplanes, as a result of the embolism she had last year as well.
“I want to go out and play and have nothing to lose, and if I return and have a chance to get back to the top great, right now I need to go at it one match at a time. It was awful missing the Open last year,” she added. “I need to concentrate and use every match to get ready.”
The Wednesday night singles matchup with Hingis showed flashes of brilliance and athleticism by both players, with Hingis, playing well and looking tan and athletic at 31, winning the set from Williams 5-3. Williams rebounded to team with Leander Paes to win mixed doubles, and also won in doubles with Rennae Stubbs to help lead the Washington Kastles over the hometown Sportimes before a near capacity crowd of over 2,300.
All in all it was a good New York return for Serena, a prelude to an even bigger one at the end of the summer just a river and a few miles away in Flushing Meadows.