Tennis: Serena Williams not letting wedding plans derail Grand Slam chase

Serena Williams. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Serena Williams. Photo / Jason Oxenham

It would be fair to say that Serena Williams did not appear overwhelmed with excitement when asked on Friday about her recent engagement.

But then the superstar-in-chief of women's tennis was quick to explain that it is a fear of letting herself become comfortable that is holding her back from gushing about her forthcoming nuptials.

'I don't want to get too happy because I want to stay focused,' said the world number two ahead of the Australian Open, which will see her try and move ahead of Steffi Graf's total of 22 Grand Slam wins.

So perhaps her fiancee, founder of the Reddit social media website Alexis Ohanian, should not get too concerned that he does not appear to be her top priority over the next fortnight.

The pair became engaged in Rome before Christmas, but Williams is trying to postpone any feelings of euphoria. Ohanian, two years her junior, is probably aware that being married to a world famous athlete comes with its complications.

Marital bliss will clearly have to wait.

'I don't think I've had an opportunity to, like, let everything sink in,' said Williams. 'I won't allow it to sink in because I'm so focused. It (the engagement) was right in the middle of pre-season. I'm really focused training, cardio, all kinds of stuff.

'Now I'm on the road, I'm already back at work. I don't want to get too happy.

'It's been really great but I've said from the beginning, I just didn't want to think about it until after Australia because Grand Slams mean a lot to me. It's almost a little unreal right now because I haven't taken it in. I'm being rather selfish and focused on my career.'

Like many extremely competitive people in sport, Williams is best served by having something to push back against, and she accepted that point.

'I wouldn't call it anger, but I would definitely say it's drive and focus. What's the word? Sacrifice? Yeah, sacrifices that you definitely have to make.'

A sacrifice that Williams has been unwilling to commit to is playing a full schedule in recent seasons. She featured in only eight tournaments last year and, although injuries got in the way, she says she has no plans to up her workload in 2017.

Last year brought only one Grand Slam title, and at 35 time is surely running out for her to equal Margaret Court's 24 Major titles.

' For me, it wasn't a great season. I think for other people it would have been wonderful. For me, it wasn't. I was injured a lot last year, especially after Wimbledon. My year basically ended after that,' she said.

There is far more uncertainty these days about what version of Williams is going to turn up, added to now by a horrendous showing in the Auckland Open in the first week of the season.

Her official unforced error count was 88 as she went down to unheralded compatriot Madison Brengle.

'Hopefully I can improve on that. Well, I can't get worse,' she said.

The suspense is only bolstered by her first round opponent being outstanding Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, who already has a win over her, and who reached the fourth round her last year.

'I didn't come here to lose in the first round, or the second round, or at all. If I can play the way I've been practising, it will be fine,' assured Williams.

She remains the outstanding player if at her best, but it is almost becoming a cliché to say that the women's field is incredibly open. It could be argued that 'open' is a euphemism for 'weak' with the women's game in a relative state of flux.

Angelique Kerber contributed hugely to the state of upheaval last year when she upset Williams in the final, but she has had a poor start to the year and may be feeling the pressure.

Williams could regain the world number one position from the German under several scenarios, but if Kerber makes the final she is sure to hold onto it.

The 28 year-old only won three tournaments to take over at the top last year, although her sense of the big occasion meant that two of those titles came in the Grand Slams.

- Daily Mail

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