Serena Williams “absolutely” intends to surpass Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles and believes being a new mother can help her achieve that goal.
The 36-year-old, who gave birth to her first daughter Alexis Olympia in September, decided to pull out of the Australian Open following concerns over her ability to make an impact in Melbourne.
Williams won the last of her 23 Grand Slams Down Under in 2017, defeating her sister Venus in the final when, it would later emerge, she was in the early stages of her pregnancy.
The American former world number one had returned to the court on December 30 at the Mubadala World tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, where she lost an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion.
Despite admitting she was “not where I personally want to be” in announcing her withdrawal from the Australian Open, which starts on January 15, Williams told Vogue she was determined to return to a competitive level sooner rather than later.
“Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams. I’m well aware of the record books, unfortunately. It’s not a secret that I have my sights on 25, and actually, I think having a baby might help,” Williams told the February edition of the magazine.
“When I’m too anxious I lose matches, and I feel like a lot of that anxiety disappeared when Olympia was born.
“Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”
Williams feels her life off the court with all the challenges of a new mother will only bring a positive influence to her game.
“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, ‘Man, I can’t do this’, it is that same negative attitude I have on the court sometimes,” the American added.
“I guess that’s just who I am. No one talks about the low moments — the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry.
“I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times, or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’. The emotions are insane.”
Novak Djokovic made a resounding return on Wednesday after six months out with an elbow injury, declaring he felt “great” after beating world number five Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-4 at the Kooyong Classic.
The Serbian 12-time Grand Slam winner was in good form, and full of optimism, after his first competitive outing since losing a Wimbledon quarter-final to Tomas Berdych last July.
“I feel great, I was eager to get onto the court,” he said after playing with a flesh-coloured sleeve on his right arm.
“I had a great opponent, it was a test for me to see where I am, how the work we did pays off on court. It worked pretty well.”
The former world number one, who will be chasing a record seventh Australian Open crown next week, had pulled out of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, raising concerns over whether he would be fit enough to play at Melbourne Park.
“There was a doubt, especially after I pulled out of the first week of the year,” he admitted.
“I personally didn’t know what’s going to happen. We did some treatment and obviously gave it a lot of thought. Luckily for me I’m here and so I’m hoping in the next four, five days everything will go well and I’ll be ready for the Open.”
While pleased at his progress, Djokovic, who has dropped to 14 in the world, admitted he still had work to do ahead of the opening Grand Slam of the year.
“I don’t want to be over-confident, but I’m very, very happy with how it went today,” added the 30-year-old.
“I don’t say I’m at 100 per cent, I can only say that when I get the feel of a tournament. Ideally I would have had another tournament before the start of the Open, but it was not meant to be.
“I’ll take whatever I can — one or two matches here will be good preparation.”
Thiem, who only arrived in Melbourne on Monday night from Doha after four days in bed with a virus, presented only a minimal challenge to the recharged Serb.
“I’m free of fever and healthy again,” the Austrian said. “I’m still jet-lagged and was slow at the beginning of the match. I’ll sleep, eat and train and not do too much. I’ll be fine for the Open.”
Australian Matthew Ebden, back on court after an injury-marred 2017, defeated Marin Cilic 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5 in another match at the exhibition tournament.
World number six Cilic won the opener but found his game not quite up to competitive level as Ebden sneaked out the second set and then won a tight third.
Cilic, last year’s losing Wimbledon finalist against Roger Federer, heads into his final practice days for the Australian Open content with his form.
“The most important thing is to feel the conditions, to get comfortable,” he said. “It’s important to find a good rhythm.
“Overall, I’m quite happy with my level. I was feeling the ball well and hitting cleanly from both sides.”
Djokovic with new service reduced motion: 2018 vs. before pic.twitter.com/MtRIAoEfjN
— BreakPointBR (@BreakPointBR) January 10, 2018
The Russian is climbing back up the rankings following her ban, with her semi-final run in Shenzhen last week taking her up to No. 47 in the world.
Sharapova, a champion in Melbourne in 2008, will be unseeded at the Australian Open and is a dangerous floater in the draw.
At last year's US Open, which was her first Grand Slam back from suspension, Sharapova drew Simona Halep in the opening round and defeated the second-seeded Romanian in three close sets.
In the absence of defending champion Serena Williams, Sharapova has been chosen to join Roger Federer at the Australian Open draw on Thursday (19:00 local time, noon Dubai time). The draw will be streamed live on www.ausopen.com.