‘I know how to play’: Ser­ena says she’s ready for Wim­ble­don

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - AP Ten­nis Writer

By HOWARD FENDRICH WIM­BLE­DON, ENG­LAND (AP) >> It’s hard to know ex­actly what Ser­ena Wil­liams will be able to do over the next two weeks at the All Eng­land Club.

On the one hand, due at least in part to an injured left knee, Wil­liams is short on matches and train­ing time this sea­son, fac­tors she cited af­ter her third-round exit June 1 at the French Open, her most re­cent tour­na­ment.

She has only 12 tour-level matches so far in 2019. Just four of the other 127 women in the Wim­ble­don field have fewer; 105 have at least twice as many.

Even Satur­day — when she de­clared she’s “feel­ing bet­ter” and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglo­u, said the 37-year-old Amer­i­can “doesn’t have pain any­more” — Wil­liams let out a chuckle when she pro­claimed, “I’ve had a good week and a half.”

Hardly the ideal amount of prac­tice to try to get ready for Grand Slam com­pe­ti­tion.

And yet, on the other hand, as Wil­liams put it with a wry smile, “I know how to play ten­nis.” Yes. Yes, she does. This is, af­ter all, a sev­en­time cham­pion and three­time runner-up, in­clud­ing last year, on the grass at Wim­ble­don, where play be­gins Mon­day. She also is the owner of 23 Grand Slam sin­gles tro­phies in all, more than any­one else in the pro­fes­sional era and one shy of equal­ing Mar­garet Court’s record for the most in ten­nis his­tory.

“She didn’t do any­thing, re­ally, like what she usu­ally does, in terms of re­sults this year. Even in Aus­tralia, she lost quite early for her, the quar­ters. So she hasn’t played her best,” Mouratoglo­u said, be­fore ut­ter­ing a sin­gle sen­tence that speaks vol­umes: “But she’s Ser­ena.”

“And,” he added in an interview, “the weapons she has are prob­a­bly even more efficient on grass than on any other sur­face.”

Af­ter the French Open, and her ear­li­est loss at any ma­jor since 2014, Wil­liams stuck around in Paris to see doc­tors.

Then, as usual, she skipped all tuneup events on grass. Wil­liams started prac­tic­ing in the mid­dle of last week, start­ing with about a half-hour on court on Day 1 and work­ing her way up to a couple of hours, plus gym time, by Day 4.

“The great news is she’s pain-free now. In Roland Gar­ros, she was in a lot of pain. The prepa­ra­tion was dif­fi­cult be­cause of that rea­son. So we were more try­ing to deal with the pain, rather than pre­pare for a Grand Slam,” Mouratoglo­u said. “Here, it’s dif­fer­ent. We got rid of the pain 15 days af­ter Roland Gar­ros and we fi­nally pre­pared the way we want to pre­pare. It was a bit short, but she’s do­ing bet­ter ev­ery day. The sur­face is great for her. She doesn’t have pain any­more. It’s heaven.”

Wil­liams could get a chance to ease into things. Her first-round op­po­nent is qual­i­fier Gi­u­lia Gatto-Mon­ti­cone of Italy, who will be mak­ing her de­but in Wim­ble­don’s main draw. Next might come an­other qual­i­fier.

Then things should get more in­ter­est­ing. Quickly. In the third round, Wil­liams could face No. 18 seed Julie Go­erges, her semi­fi­nal op­po­nent a year ago. Get past her, and de­fend­ing cham­pion An­gelique Ker­ber might be wait­ing. Get through that test, and No. 1 Ash Barty could be next. And that would only be to make the quar­ter­fi­nals.

In­deed, that en­tire quar­ter is the bracket’s most challengin­g. Past Wim­ble­don cham­pi­ons Maria Shara­pova and Gar­bine Mugu­ruza are there, along with grass-court ta­lents such as No. 13 Belinda Ben­cic, No. 22 Donna Ve­kic and Ali­son Riske.

“Every­one called it the ‘Death Quar­ter,’ so I had to look,” Ve­kic said. “It’s def­i­nitely a tough part of the draw.” Mouratoglo­u’s take? “It’s tough for the oth­ers,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be in the part of the draw that Ser­ena’s in.”

For quite some time, that’s been the think­ing around ten­nis. Even in 2018, when Wil­liams re­turned af­ter more than a year off the tour while hav­ing a baby, she reached two Grand Slam fi­nals.

“It’s hard for me to bet against Ser­ena,” said 18time ma­jor cham­pion Chris Evert, now an ESPN com­men­ta­tor. “The one dif­fer­ence that I see in Ser­ena is, since she’s come back, she’s been one or two steps slower than nor­mal. I think that’s a lit­tle bit of fit­ness. I think it’s a lit­tle bit of match play. I think it’s a lit­tle bit of con­fi­dence. But on the grass, we also can’t for­get that’s her best sur­face. That’s a sur­face that her game, with the power, with the free points on the serves, she’s the most ef­fec­tive . ... I never think you can count her out.”

More AP Ten­nis: https:// www.ap­news.com/apf-Ten­nis and https://twit­ter.com/ AP—Sports

FLO­RIAN EISELE - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

United States’ Ser­ena Wil­liams gives a press con­fer­ence ahead of the Wim­ble­don Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don Satur­day, June 29, 2019. The Wim­ble­don Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships start on Mon­day, July 1 and run un­til Sun­day, July 14, 2019.

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