Serena Williams knows better than most what it takes to win a Grand Slam title without the smoothest of preparation.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion approaches the Australian Open beginning tomorrow still troubled by a sprained left ankle that needs regular ice treatment. It means she has played two competitive matches — at the Brisbane International — since losing the US Open final in September last year.
“Two is plenty for me, for sure,” she said with a knowing smile yesterday.
In 2007, Williams won the third of her five Australian Open titles after a similar lead-up. She missed the end of the previous season following the US Open and managed three matches at the start of the year before heading to Melbourne. Her overall fitness was under severe scrutiny as she toiled early on, but she went on to beat an in-form Maria Sharapova in the final.
Williams, who has twice won the Australian Open without playing any warmup tournaments, doesn’t plan on letting injury stop her contending this time around.
“I really tested my moving today for the first time [since Brisbane] so I feel a lot better with it,” she said. “I’ll kind of know more tonight, you know, because today is the first day I really like really, really, really pushed it, but overall I feel really good.”
Williams is not the only one of the expected title contenders in Melbourne to be managing an injury, even though the season has hardly begun.
Defending champion Kim Clijsters of Belgium retired in the semi-finals of the Brisbane tournament with muscle spasms in her left hip. Before that, she had not played since August because of an abdominal injury.
Pronouncing herself fully recovered from the hip problem, Clijsters said injuries were inevitable with the type of game that she and Williams play.
“I think we’re both very strong girls,” she said. “The way we move and play, every shot that we hit is with our full body. That puts a lot of pressure on certain body parts.”
“So I’m not going to sit here and say: ‘Look, tennis is a perfectly healthy sport when you do it on a top level,’ because it’s not. The movements are not always that natural,” Clijsters added.
Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki is not renowned for a game based on power, but she too is one of the walking wounded. As she targets a first Grand Slam title, the Danish player is hoping her left-wrist injury will have recovered in time for her opening match.
“It makes you a bit scared,” said Wozniacki, who was injured in a semi-final loss at the Sydney International. “I had some pain, but it’s going away. I’m confident that on Monday it will be 100 percent ready.”
Williams dismissed the idea of using a hyperbaric chamber to hasten her recovery because she is “extremely claustrophobic.” She hopes the prospect of adding to her Grand Slam haul will be a good enough painkiller as she prepares for her first Australian Open since 2010.
“When I stepped out on Rod Laver Arena for the first time, I just love that court,” she said. “I love the way it feels and the way I move on it, and the way, I don’t know, I just hit on that court. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
“It kind of pumped me up more just to be like, OK, I’m definitely going to get through this injury,” Williams added.