Serena Williams has revealed she probably would have missed the Australian Open – and another shot at tennis history – if the season’s first grand slam wasn’t postponed by three weeks.
Williams wasted no time finding her groove following a four-month layoff, dispatching free-swinging Australian Daria Gavrilova 6-1 6-4 in her 2021 season opener at the Yarra Valley Classic on Monday night.
While thrilled to be back at Melbourne Park for her 20th appearance at the Open, Williams confessed to being lucky to be in Australia, having taken longer than expected to recover from a foot injury.
The 39-year-old said rescheduling the Open from a January 19 to February 8 start – and having a longer pre-season – was “great” for her.
“I couldn’t practice because of my achilles. I needed every time – I don’t think I would have been here if it was during the regular season,” the American said.
“So whew, that was an unwanted blessing, I would say. It was much needed for me.
“So I definitely took that time to recover and to just do the best that I can and, yeah, so now it’s a lot better.”
Hoping to match Margaret Court’s record 24 grand slam singles titles this month, Williams remains as motivated in 2021 as she was as a teenager on her first visit to Melbourne in 1998.
“I definitely get a lot of the same drive,” she said.
“Definitely not the same excitement because there’s nothing like the first time going out there and just seeing everyone and just being around people and things.
“But it’s pretty close. It’s super exciting every time to come out and to be part of something so special.”
Six tournaments are running concurrently this week at Melbourne Park to allow the world’s elite tennis stars to gain some priceless court time after two weeks in quarantine
“It’s still good because all of us players need to get out here and get to play and get some matches,” Williams said after serving two aces and breaking Gavrilova three times.
“I was definitely composed and in the zone and I was just trying to do the things that I’ve been working on so it was good.”
Williams, who hasn’t won a slam since beating sister Venus in the 2017 Australian Open final while pregnant with her daughter Olympia, next plays Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova.
Olympia was in the stands on Monday, along with Williams’ husband Alexis and coach Patrick Mouratoglou, as the former world No.1 continues her obsessive pursuit of Court’s record at a time most players are long retired.
Williams has lost four straight grand slam finals since collecting her 23rd major title.
Turning 40 in September, the now-world No.11 will become tennis’s oldest grand slam singles winner if she manages to get the job done for an eighth time in the Victorian capital.