Wil­liams en­gaged in record bat­tle

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

MEL­BOURNE: Ser­ena Wil­liams’ drive to reach the over­all record for Grand Slam ti­tles was never more ev­i­dent at Mel­bourne Park on Satur­day when she re­vealed that her en­gage­ment to fi­ancee Alexis Oha­nian was be­ing forced to take a back seat.

The world No 2 an­nounced her com­mit­ment to the so­cial me­dia en­tre­pre­neur shortly be­fore the New Year and while it was “great”, she was push­ing it to the back of her mind, at least un­til af­ter Mel­bourne Park.

“I’ve said from the be­gin­ning, I just didn’t want to think about it un­til af­ter Aus­tralia be­cause ... Grand Slams mean a lot to me,” she said ahead of her first round clash with Switzer­land’s Belinda Ben­cic.

“I was, ‘well, I’m not go­ing to think about it’.

“It’s al­most a lit­tle un­real right now be­cause I haven’t taken it in. I won’t al­low it to sink in be­cause I’m so fo­cused ... (on) train­ing, car­dio, all kinds of stuff.”

Wil­liams equalled St­effi Graf ’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam ti­tles last year when she clinched her sev­enth Wim­ble­don crown and sits just two away from the all-time record held by Aus­tralia’s Mar­garet Court.

Fol­low­ing her Lon­don vic­tory, she played in just two more tour­na­ments, los­ing to Ukraine’s Elina Svi­tolina in the third round at the Rio Olympics be­fore be­ing up­set by Karolina Pliskova in the US Open semi-fi­nals.

Wil­liams then promptly shut down her sea­son to have treat­ment on a trou­ble­some shoul­der in­jury.

The 35-year-old Wil­liams re­turned to the court in Auck­land last week but was up­set by fel­low Amer­i­can Madi­son Bren­gle in the sec­ond round, then cre­ated a mi­nor con­tro­versy when she said she could not get to Mel­bourne fast enough.

Her quest for her sev­enth Daphne Akhurst Me­mo­rial Cup be­gins to­mor­row against Ben­cic, who could be her most dan­ger­ous first round op­po­nent in years.

Ben­cic was ranked as high as world No 7 last Fe­bru­ary but strug­gled with in­jury and poor form over the re­main­der of 2016, lead­ing her to drop down to 48th ahead of the sea­son’s open­ing Grand Slam.

The 19-year-old, how­ever, made the fourth round at Mel­bourne Park last year and beat the Amer­i­can the last time they met, in the Toronto semi-fi­nals in 2015.

“She’s done well here be­fore. She’s had a good win over me. It’s never easy for me,” Wil­liams said.

“So I al­ways go out there, and all I can do is do my best. I didn’t come here to lose in the first round, or the sec­ond round, or at all.

“If I can play the way I’ve been prac­tis­ing, it will be fine.”

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