DUBAI (AFP) - Serena Williams, who has been unable to play for a month since hurting her back at the Australian Open, denied on Monday that age is catching up with her.
The 32-year-old world number one is making an earlier than expected comeback from the injury at the Dubai Open here this week, stating she is "taking a wild card to see how her body is doing". The contrast is so great between this and the pre-season ebullience, in which coach Patrick Mouratoglou suggested Williams might win all four Grand Slams in 2014, that it provoked questions about whether the years are taking a toll.
"No, not at all," she said, because the meaning of age has changed, she thought, with fewer younger players appearing in the world's top ten now. "Maybe this particular generation plays longer than the previous one. Maybe the next one will be shorter. You never know, you know.
"The technology is better, the shoes are better, the rackets are better, the equipment is better. There are different things to do in the gym, so you can have a longer career.
"You don't just go out and play tennis and go to the bar afterwards.
"I don't know if previous generations did that. It's just different. It's more of a job and more of a life-style, instead of something that is in fashion."
Williams nevertheless suggested that this tournament was a journey of exploration as to what her standard and level of health might actually be right now.
"It's just (a case of) getting back out there and going from there," she said.
"I never try to make excuses, regardless.
"I will really just do the best that I can do this week, and whether it is a win or not, I will just go out there. I don't really feel pressure here so I will just go out there and do the best I can."
Another motivation for being here this week is she will be re-united with sister Venus.
Compared with the ailments of her elder sister - who suffers from intermittent effects from Sjogrens syndrome, an immune deficiency - her own feel minimal.
"She's living with something every day. Whereas I had to get through that, and then I could heal," Serena said, referring to the pulmonary embolism from which she recovered.
"Just watching her every day, whether she wins, loses, or just plays, is incredibly inspiring for someone like me. It's great knowing that she can even be here and play and do her best.
"It took her a while to get into a different position.
"Now that she's there she's feeling better. She's practising more, she's practising better. And it just keeps getting better. It's still baby steps. She's not at her best yet but she's getting there."
Serena also claimed that she has got over her Australian Open fourth round defeat to Ana Ivanovic, the last time she competed.
"I was OK. Obviously I hate to lose but I got over it. I don't want to stop. I want to accomplish until the day I stop," she said.
How accurate these observations on her physical and mental state actually are will become clearer on Wednesday when she restarts her year with a second round match against Ekaterina Makarova, the world number 24 from Russia.
Makarova came through with a 2-hour and 52-minute marathon first round success against her compatriot Alisa Kleybanova, by 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4.
If Williams wins she could progress to a quarter-final with Jelena Jankovic, the former world number one from Serbia, with whom she had a fraught showdown at the WTA Championships 2013 season-end tournament in Istanbul.