Serena Williams joked that she has been training all offseason just to be ready for her mixed doubles showdown against Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup in Perth next week as the American returns to Western Australia for the first time since 2016.
Williams, who lost an exhibition match to her sister Venus at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, is teaming with her compatriot Frances Tiafoe to represent USA in the mixed team competition.
The highly-anticipated clash between USA and Switzerland that will pit Williams and Federer against one another will take place on New Year’s Day.
“I’m excited to go to Perth, it’s been a while since I’ve been there. I’m excited to be able to get back. You know I’ve been training offseason to be ready for Roger, so not sure how I’m going to do but we’ll see,” said Williams with a laugh.
Federer and his team-mate Belinda Bencic won last January’s Hopman Cup and will be back in Perth to try and defend their title. Federer admits squaring off against Williams is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of match.
“We’ll probably play it down a little bit and say it’s not that big of a deal for us, it’s just another tennis match, but it really isn’t because it’s probably going to happen once and never again,” he said.
“That’s why I hope we’re both going to be injury-free when that day comes around.”
December 27, 2018 is a date that will never be forgotten in Abu Dhabi’s sporting history as a sell-out crowd at Zayed Sports City got to witness tennis’ greatest sister act: Venus v Serena.
The Williams sisters faced off at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Thursday night and put on a high-quality, entertaining show for the 5,000 spectators in attendance.
It’s just the second year that women have been included in the MWTC lineup and what better way to introduce Abu Dhabi to the women’s game than to invite the legendary Williams duo?
In a clever move from the organisers, kids were allowed to enter the stadium for free on Thursday, and the venue was indeed buzzing several hours before the highly-anticipated showdown.
People were screaming ‘I love you Venus’ and ‘I love you Serena’ throughout the whole match, some asking for their shoes, others admiring Serena’s 15-month-old daughter Olympia, who quietly sat on her father Alexis’ lap the entire time, applauding every single point, whether it was won by her mother or auntie.
After a long rally that went Venus’ way, Serena was at the baseline near Olympia and spotted her daughter clapping. She immediately cracked up and told Venus on the other side: “She’s clapping for you”.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 27, 2018
Cutiee clapping for mommy pic.twitter.com/lQDj6FIsFo
— LorenaPopa🕵️♀️ 🏆🥖👑 (@popalorena) December 27, 2018
Serena later said in her press conference that moment was the highlight of the match for her.
“That’s a classy baby you know, she applauds both mommy and my opponent who happened to be her auntie. That was the highlight, seeing her clap, it was so cute,” gushed Serena.
Venus added: “She was so cute in the stands, such a little person, she was so good, it was so cute, I tried not to get distracted, it was really hard.”
Cuties ❤️ pic.twitter.com/J6Z2P8cSbQ
— LorenaPopa🕵️♀️ 🏆🥖👑 (@popalorena) December 27, 2018
It was Venus who edged past her sister in a third-set match tiebreak and the seven-time Grand Slam champion is hoping the MWTC would soon introduce a tournament for the women, instead of it just being a stand-alone exhibition match.
“It was a lot of fun. They told us before it was a sold out crowd so then you’re like ‘okay I want to play well for these people’ and it’s your first match back and you never quite know how that’s going to go. So we both went out there and tested our games and it was pretty close ‘til the end,” said Venus.
“I wish I had a few matches here to be honest, maybe next year there’ll be kind of a women’s tournament format just to have more matches and more matches against the best players in the world, that’s really the best way to start the season.”
Serena Williams would not discuss the incidents that unfolded during the US Open final she lost to Naomi Osaka in September and is choosing to “move on to bigger and better things”, the American told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
In her first on-court appearance since that controversial final in New York, Williams lost an exhibition match to her sister Venus 4-6, 6-3, 10-8 in the UAE capital and will now head straight to Perth to compete in the Hopman Cup alongside her countryman Frances Tiafoe.
Asked if the US Open final is a topic she’d like to avoid as the new season kicks off, Serena said: “I don’t avoid anything. I just don’t have time to talk about that. I talked about it, everyone talked about it for months and months and months and it’s best to move on to bigger and better things.”
Bigger and better things are definitely on Serena’s mind as she admitted earlier in the day the significance of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles when it comes to her goals for 2019.
Williams twice missed out on a chance to tie Court’s mark in 2018, losing both the Wimbledon and US Open finals in the span of the last six months.
The 23-time major champion, who has played just seven events since her return from maternity leave in March, will be chasing history once again at the Australian Open in January.
“[The number 24] has always been significant since I got 22, then 23. It’s something that I clearly want but I have to be able to get there and beat a lot of good players to get it,” said Serena.
The 37-year-old looked in good shape in her tight defeat to Venus on Thursday and can take confidence from the high level they both showcased.
“My fitness, I feel like I’m pretty fit,” Serena said. “I was running and running and never got tired except for one point but then I got over it in 20 seconds, so I think that was really the highlight for me.”
Venus will begin her 2019 season at the WTA event in Auckland but will be without a coach having ended her 11-year collaboration with David Witt last month.
“I love everyone that I work with, and I still love them, so it’s just all love. I haven’t brought on anyone yet, so we’ll see what happens,” said Venus.
The 38-year-old wasn’t specific when describing what she’s looking for in a coach but said it was important “that they’re as easy as going as I am, that’s all that matters”.
*Provided by AFP