Tennis: Serena Williams glad to be back in New Zealand, says she can 'only do good now'

Serena Williams was way below par when she played in Auckland in 2017.
Serena Williams was way below par when she played in Auckland in 2017.PHOTO: AP

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Serena Williams returned to the Auckland WTA Classic on Monday (Jan 6) for the first time since her "miserable" debut appearance two years ago, determined to put the record straight.

"I'm in a really different frame of mind," she said ahead of her opening match on day one - a marquee doubles appearance partnering Caroline Wozniacki - with her first-round singles match against Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi expected on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old Williams is banking on Auckland setting her up for an unprecedented 24th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open later in the month.

She was way below par when she played in Auckland in 2017, complaining about the windy conditions, being abrupt in interviews and could not wait to get out of the country as soon as she lost in the second round to Madison Brengle.

But she says the anger she felt then has gone.

"I'm not pregnant, as a start, so that works, so I can only do good now," the tournament top seed and world No. 10 joked with journalists as she reflected on how she was unaware at the time that she was six weeks pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia.

"I just remember it was windy and being angry, hating my now husband (Alexis Ohanian). I was like, 'I can't stand you and I don't know why,'" she said.

"Obviously at the time I didn't know why either ... I was six weeks pregnant and I had no idea. So looking back it's so surreal and crazy and now that I'm here, I have all of these funny memories of being miserable.

"I always knew that I would have to come back, for sure. I didn't even realise what was happening, and now I'm here with my daughter.

"This is kind of where it all began. It's amazing. It's so exciting to be here with her, and to know that this is literally where it started."

Despite her quick exit in 2017, Williams went on to win the Australian Open for her 23rd Grand Slam title, but has not won a tournament since.

Williams, who has a 10-3 record against Kuznetsova in a 16-year rivalry, said she was pleased to be playing her "really good friend" first up.

"I like to play really tough opponents in the first round, and there's no better way to start than to start serious. I really love her and adore her, and I wish it could've been a little bit later, for both of us," she said.

She was also looking forward to playing with former world No. 1 Wozniacki in the doubles, calling the Dane "one of my best friends".

Williams had a chance to get used to the windy conditions when she and her partner cruised to a 6-2, 6-4 win over Japanese pair Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya.

She had been drawn in the singles against long-time rival Svetlana Kuznetsova but the Russian pulled out on Monday with a viral illness.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, was also a late cancellation, citing "personal reasons".

The 22-year-old Latvian, who won the French Open in 2017, is the second high-profile withdrawal with Canadian Bianca Andreescu pulling out last month owing to her ongoing knee problems.

The 19-year-old defeated Williams to claim the US Open title in September last year.