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

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.

The Pick, March 28, Miami: Dimitrov vs. Pospisil, Monfils vs. Krajinovic

Dimitrov IW 15 TR MALT5209

Grigor Dimitrov has admitted that he is slumping a bit because he is changing his game. That is unusual for the 23-year-old during the
season, but he is, which means that he is getting frustrated because he isn’t sure where to go. However, he is super talented and soon, he will be hitting the right shots.

The No. 11 will play Vasek Pospisil, who bested Juan Martin Del Potro in the first round. The big se
rver stuck in there, didn’t panic and was able to strike his forehand. Yes, he can out hit Dimitrov, but the Bulgarian will confuse him when he chops his one-handed backhand low. Dimitrov will win in three sets but it will be very tight.

Is Gael Monfils ready to rumble again? It’s hard to stay: some days he is on fire, and there are other days when his knees creek and he can’t bend low. The Frenchman reached the final of Marseille and nearly beat Gilles Simon, which is fine either way, but then he got hurt again after Davis Cup he had to skip at Indian Wells.

We will soon how good he feels against the Serbian Filip Krajinovic, who has been respectable this year, qualifying for Memphis, IW and now Miami. He may not be as relentless like his boss Novak Djokovic, but on occasion he will find the lines. However, Monfils will get through in three sets, even though he has never played Miami before. This time, one time, for sure? Perhaps.

Angie Kerber vs. Heather Watson is on Court 9? Wow, the German is almost forgotten. Yes, Kerber has had a very difficult year, but she has reached a semifinal at a Grand Slam once, she became No. 5 in 2012, and won the Paris Indoors. Yes, this season she let go her coach go and brought in an old one whom she trusts, but still, she isn’t winning, and was crushed by Vika Azarenka at IW. However, the super-steady, very strong Kerber will come back. At the very least, she is very interesting on court. Given that many of the fans will go to watch her, and the British will cheer for Watson, it should be a terrific contest. Both like to grind, get into the points and rally.

Watson has improved this year, hitting hard and moving inside the baseline on occasion. Watson must be salivating against the No. 15. However, Kerber is way over due and will out hit Heather using her ferocious forehand and win in three sets.

Carla Suarez-Navvaro faces Alize Cornet in what should be a long contest, as both know each other well. They are around of the same age (Suarez is 26 and Cornet is 25), they both are not very tall and the Frenchwoman is 3-2 head to head against the Spaniard. The last time they played, Cornet beat Suarez 6-7(4) 7-5 6-3 at 2014 Indian Wells. Cornet also won at Dubai.

Yes, Suarez looks better this year, who is now ranked No. 12 and could actually make it into the top 10. She mixes her one-handed backhand beautifully and she crunches some heavy topspin on her forehand. However, when she is happy and confident, Cornet focuses and knows exactly what she should do. But this year, she has looked unsure of herself. Suarez will win in straight sets.


Jack Sock won his first big Challenger title.

Novak Djokovic

The Serbian seems very gung-ho on seizing the No. 1 ranking back from Roger Federer and played with a lot of confidence with his back against the wall in his 5-7 7-6 6-3 win over Andy Murray in the Shanghai final. Of the five match points he faced, Djokovic ripped forehand winners on three and forced two errors off the Scot