Serena 'can't wait' to return

Marion Bartoli congratulating Serena Williams after the latter won their opening Tie Break Tens match at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Williams, who lost in the next round to China's Zhang Shuai, is making her return to the WTA Tour at Indian Well
Marion Bartoli congratulating Serena Williams after the latter won their opening Tie Break Tens match at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Williams, who lost in the next round to China's Zhang Shuai, is making her return to the WTA Tour at Indian Wells this week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

American aiming to be back to her best as she makes Tour comeback at Indian Wells

NEW YORK • Serena Williams said on Monday that she has "high expectations" as she warmed up for her return to the WTA Tour at the Tie Break Tens at Madison Square Garden.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion is competing at the elite Indian Wells hardcourt tournament this week, her first Tour action since her 2017 Australian Open triumph.

Williams was pregnant when she lifted the trophy in Melbourne last year, and missed the rest of the year awaiting the birth of her daughter in September.

Monday's Tie Break Tens, which featured eight players facing off in 10-point "super tiebreaks" as they vied for the US$250,000 (S$330,000) prize, was a chance for the American to sharpen her skills. Williams bowed out in the second round, gaining a 9-7 lead over China's Zhang Shuai but eventually falling 11-13.

World No. 4 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine won the competition after decisive wins over Williams' sister Venus (10-3), CoCo Vandeweghe (10-0) and Zhang (10-3).

"It was good," the 36-year-old Williams said of the experience.

"I wish I would have made a few more shots."

Williams opened the laid-back event with a 10-5 victory over Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion who announced in December that she was planning to return to the court more than four years after retiring in the wake of her only Grand Slam triumph.

"It's been fun (getting back to work), I've been having so much fun being a mother, and having time off is good too," added Williams, who returned to competition with a Fed Cup doubles loss alongside Venus last month.

The birth of Williams' daughter, Alexis Olympia, was followed by complications that scuppered the player's plans to defend her title in Melbourne this year.

But Williams says she is aiming to be back to her best - apparently more than comfortable with coach Patrick Mouratoglou's comments to wtatennis.com that her goal for this season "will be to win Grand Slams".

"This is a good sign for me, now I'm ready for the future. I have high expectations, and I think everyone should set high expectations for themselves. That's the message that I'm sending," said the American, who will be unseeded at Indian Wells. She opens her campaign against 53rd-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.

After more than a year away from the Tour, Williams has no official ranking. If she defeats the 53rd-ranked Diyas, she would face No. 29 seed Kiki Bertens in the second round, with Venus a possible third-round opponent.

Bartoli, who was forced to pull out of an exhibition event at Wimbledon last year because of a mystery virus and dramatic weight loss, has said she was targeting a return to the WTA Tour at the Miami Open later this month.

However, the 33-year-old said her timetable would depend on how her body holds up to training.

"I do not know if my shoulder and my knees are going to hold, there are so many question marks," she said. "What is certain is that I will not return to the court until I consider myself 100 per cent. I stopped the competition for five years - and I'll be back when I'm 100 per cent."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

INDIAN WELLS
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2018, with the headline 'Serena 'can't wait' to return'. Print Edition | Subscribe