It'll be good when we Kiwis develop a thicker skin to criticism like that handed out by Serena Williams after the ASB tennis tournament.

Okay, Williams certainly dished it out after losing limply - never a good look nor a boost to credibility. But perspective is important.

The New Zealand media understandably headed up coverage of Serena's exit with "Serena blasts tournament" angles.

Opinion columns decrying Williams' remarks followed, noting her aloofness compared with sister Venus, a big fan of the tournament.


But it can all depend on how you write these things. ESPN's coverage of the Williams press conference which so offended many drew a subtly different picture.

They began with Serena beating up on herself - remarks reported in New Zealand but secondary to "Serena slams tournament".

ESPN: "Top seed Serena Williams hasn't held back in assessing her error-strewn performance during a shock defeat at the ASB Classic, describing it as 'unprofessional'.

"The world No 2 and winner of 22 grand slam singles titles lost her second-round match to fellow American Madison Brengle 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-4. 'You really have to go back to the drawing board, because it's quite frankly unprofessional,' she said. 'Eighty-eight is way too many unforced errors. You can't expect to win hitting that many.'

"She said she 'abhorred' the conditions, which were 'just way too much for me' but acknowledged Brengle had had to put up with them as well. 'I can take solace in the fact the conditions won't be like this in Melbourne [for the Australian Open]. This is almost not a great opportunity to assess your game, to be honest'," concluded the ESPN report.

So "I was awful", followed by "conditions were awful" - probably the most accurate expression of Serena's struggles. Still, any major sportsperson who bites the hand that feeds will cop some flak. She did.

Williams' form in Auckland strongly suggested she will not win the Australian Open, beginning tomorrow. I expected to find her at least at $5 or longer odds. Nah. She was paying $3, a clear favourite. So the TAB weren't fooled.

She looked lethargic, rusty and maybe a little overweight in Auckland. But it pays to look a little deeper and, leaving aside the over-sensitivity over Williams' comments, Auckland may prove to be a better warm-up for Melbourne than even she thought.

Last week, former tennis star Chris Evert told Sports Illustrated she thought Williams had lost her hunger and was mentally and physically burning out. Evert considers Williams the best there has ever been and says she is, notwithstanding burn-out, capable of at least two more majors (taking her past Steffi Graf's total of 22 grand slam titles to equal Margaret Court's record of 24).

Williams, now 35, is newly engaged and has a "meh" relationship with tennis that once saw her admit she preferred shopping and sitting down. She must, at this stage of her life, be thinking of other things but her frustration after Auckland, the prodding from Evert and the records within reach should focus her immensely in Melbourne.

And let's face it - she's right. A windy tournament in Auckland is not usually a good warm-up for Melbourne, which often nudges the mercury up over 40 degrees. The stadium has a roof sheltering players from elements such as wind.

Was she here only for the appearance fee, as the naysayers would have it? She may have looked uninterested but you don't get to be Serena Williams by tanking matches.

She should not have allowed the wind to bother her so much - and anyone thinking she chucked it away only has to look at her comments afterwards.

They were the words of a competitive spirit who knew she blew it embarrassingly and was searching for a convenient reason; the tournament happened to be it. Some tissue-paper-skinned Kiwis hoped out loud she never comes back ... Hell, no. I would love her to come back now, especially after this.

When Serena was introduced to the crowd at Auckland, the tournament MC exhorted everyone to applaud tennis "royalty". So we shouldn't go all squiffy and lose our judgement when said royalty behaves a bit like a princess.