When the organisers of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event in Bangalore were trying to get Serena Williams for the event starting on February 12, she was ranked in the nineties.
An against-all-odds victory against Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final, and the black beauty is once again the hottest property in women’s tennis. In an exclusive interview from her residence in Florida, Serena talks about her comeback, and how she views her visit to India. And she has nice words to say about our own Sania Mirza.
Serena, how would you rate your comeback at the start of this season. Did you enjoy the Australian Open?
Oh!!! Yes, I have really enjoyed the Australian Open and it doesn’t get much better than winning the first Grand Slam of the year, so I’m very excited. I’m glad that I played in the Hobart tournament; it was a good practice tournament before the Australian Open.
Making a comeback after a long layoff is very tough. How would you put it in perspective now that Martina Hingis is also back strongly?
I always knew I could comeback if healthy and fit. Martina has done great, she has also worked hard to get back. Hopefully, we won’t get hurt again, so that we don’t have to make a comeback.
You have achieved near perfection, won all the Grand Slam titles, been No. 1 and were almost unbeatable. How do you see yourself out there in the presence of the new generation?
Well, there are so many young players who have immense talent. I looked up to senior players when I was beginning my career. I hope some from the new generation players look up to me as well.
How would you rate your chances of winning a Grand Slam title again, and which place is it most likely to be?
I would definitely like to win because I have just won one! I am confident I can win any of the three remaining Grand Slams this year and plan on winning more even in future.
Being away from tennis, how did you spend your time, and what went through your mind during the layoff?
I was mostly spending time with my family. I was doing the normal things that people do like hanging out and relaxing. It was great to be with the family. I was also practicing and did my training routines.
In fact, I practiced and trained more than what people think. I basically had a great time. But believe me, I have worked hard too!
You have dabbled with fashion and movies. Which gives you the biggest high?
It’s definitely movies. I’ve really enjoyed movies. I do like the fashion experience as well. The challenge of playing as someone else has always fascinated me. I love working with different kinds of people. I like the challenge and it excites me to take-on those challenges. That’s really exciting.
Modern day women's tennis has a lot of new faces. If you were to pick the best from this generation, who would it be?
There are many young players on the tour today with a lot of potential. It’s always good to see new faces on the tour and play new players, (A smile from the corner of her mouth) Serena and Venus Williams, of course!!!
You have never minced words airing your opinions, be it at post-match conferences or other media interactions. Is women's tennis actually now more popular than men's tennis and should there be same prize money for both?
Men’s and women’s — they both seem to be popular when certain players play. I know some of my matches have had huge ratings but depending on where in the world you are and depends on your popularity there.
The WTA is restructuring the Tour from 2010. How is it going to benefit the players?
It’s definitely interesting. It will benefit the players, no doubt. The chances of getting hurt and stress will be lower. Players will be mentally fit for the games. They won’t get worn down mentally, which is very important to keep their spirits high and it will help them to be more motivated.
How did you decide to come to Bangalore and how important is it in your calendar for 2007?
I’ve always been very fascinated with India. I’ve heard so much about Bangalore. It’s going to be a good tournament after the Australian Open. I’m sure this will be an important tournament in 2007. I want to take it step by step. I have Bangalore as an important destination for my comeback.
Winning a Grand Slam title again or becoming No.1 again, what is your goal now and the future?
Both are equally important for me. I’ve accomplished one goal for 2007 – winning the Australian Open. I’ve set my eyes on the No.1 slot. But in order to reach there I probably need to win another Grand Slam or two.
When people from the West come to India, they have weird notions of the country. Your take?
Actually, I really don’t know what to expect. That itself excites me. I’m keen on this visit and the expectations have really excited me. I have certainly heard great things about India. I’m looking forward to the visit.
Where do you Sania Mirza progressing as a professional, since you have seen her in 2005 on court as well?
Sania is a great player. And somehow she seems to play her best against me. She’s a brave player and is a fighter. She doesn’t give up very easily and Sania continues to hit well and is in good form now.
Is Asia gaining in prominence in tennis, especially the women's events?
Without doubt Asia is gaining prominence. Earlier, they had a lot of players in the top 300, then it came down to top 200 and now Asian players are in the top 100. I’m sure that soon they will have more in the top 25.