Serena: ‘I just felt like my story wasn’t over’

(Last Updated On: March 9, 2018)

March 08, 2018: Serena Williams (USA) hits a backhand in her match against Zarina Diyas (KAZ) at the BNP Paribas Open played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. ©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

INDIAN WELLS – It felt like forever that Serena Williams couldn’t play last year when she stopped because she was going to have a child. She did, her first baby, in September,  and she was having a great time being a first-time mother.

When it was time, she started to practice again, but in January, she knew that her legs wasn’t ready to compete, so she didn’t play at the Australian Open. So she waited and as she said, she practiced all the time. “The timing was so hard, but I wanted to get back,” she said.

On Thursday night she beat Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-3.  It has been 14 months, the last time that she has played on court. She looked pretty good, moving fairly well, her serve was strong and she hustled. As she said,  she is trying to be very calm and not push herself.  When she was not playing last year, she actually watched a ton of matches on TV.

“I was really surprised, and I watched it a lot, the women and the men, but when I started practicing a lot, I stopped,” Serena said. “The minute I realized that I was going to take some time off, I just wanted to stay fit and stay ready the best I could. It just wasn’t my time to retire yet, even though it would have been a great way to retire. I just felt like my story wasn’t over. … I am going to go with the flow.”

Azarenka emerges
Vika Azarenka finally played again at Indian Wells. The former two-time champion is living in Los Angeles; she has a new child, and with that, she feels pretty happy. She hadn’t played inthe past eight months, which was a pretty long time. Off court, she is still battling with her ex-boyfriend, and the lawyers, so she may not be able to leave the U.S. until they can settle it. When will that  happen? It is very hard to say. At least she is playing Indian Wells, and then she will play Miami, and very likely, at Charleston.

On Thursday night,  Azarenka looked very decent, beating Heather Watson  6-4, 6-2. The 28-year-old wants to be there as much as she can, but as she said, there are days when she cannot play, having to do with her body and other things. Really important things. 

“Unfortunately, this situation is a little bit out of my control, so I have to go with the flow and continue to be positive, continue to be optimistic and continue to just fight, because that’s what I’m best at — fighting,” Azarenka said. “One day, I’ll write a book about this because it’s Hollywood-worthy for sure. It truly means the world to me just to be here, and to play, and enjoy myself and do what I love to do.”

The men
The top men players aren’t playing yet, but it will happen very soon. However, there are a number of young competitors who are here, like Taylor Fritz, who overcame Reilly Opelka 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. He thought he was going to lose, but he hung in there. But, he wasn’t sure why.

“I’m pretty lucky,” said Fritz. “I could have lost the first set 6-0. He almost broke me in the first three games I served. There wasn’t much I could do. I felt I was hitting my spots, but he was lasering returns back. I told myself, ‘Just play your game. If he keeps doing this, it’s too good. He’ll beat anybody playing like that.’ I was down a set and a match point in the second-set tiebreaker and I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. When somebody is playing like that, you just have to weather the storm … When someone like [Opelka] is on, someone who plays a big game, you just have to weather the storm as best as you can.” And he did, and then he won.

The 20-year-old from nearby San Diego is picking up his game. He won Newport Beach (an ATP Challenger Tour event), he reached the quarters at Delray Beach, upsetting Sam Querrey before he lost against Denis Shapovalov. Last week, he reached the semis at the Oracle Challenge Series in Indian Wells. Now he is ranked No 74. He believes that he is getting better all the time, as he can really listen when he is practicing with the coaches, Paul Annacona.  

When Fritz is playing, he says he can adapt his different styles. “Now, when I play somebody, if they hear that [I made that change], I can use reverse psychology and just go down the line on every one. It is mind games,” said Fritz. Fritz will face another very good young player, Andrey Rublev, on Saturday. 

Short shots
The Canadian Shapovalov won here and he will face Pablo Cuevas, which should be some long, tough rallies. … Borna Coric blew out Donald Young, which is a fine by Coric, but the American is way down mentally. Maybe he should take a break. He has been playing for a decade, all the time, and his body is breaking down. …Ryan Harrison went down, losing to Federico Delbonis 7-5 in the third. So close, but so far. … Props to Jared Donaldson, who overcame Evan King 6-4 in the third.

Throw in some other victories by the WTA players like: the vet Sorana Cirstea upseting Monica Niculescu, and it looks like Cirstea is getting quicker. … I keep thinking that the former No. 2 Vera Zvonareva was ready to rise, but Natalia Vikhlyantseva tooled her. Who knows why by the Russian decided to return. Ekaterina Makarova also won, and the former top-10-er will be back in the top 20 this season. She hopes. … Three good wins by the Americans such as the 18-year-old Catherine Bellis, who is ranked No. 45, as well as Jennifer Brady and Danielle Collins.

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