WTA Rome 2014: Now is not the time for precautions for Serena Williams
"I don’t do anything out of precaution anymore. You live once and anything can happen tomorrow," says Serena Williams
The ‘will she, won’t she’ buzz around Rome since Serena Williams pulled out of the Madrid quarter-finals has been halted, certainly for the time being.
At the allotted time—well a little after it, if truth be told—she sat before the press to affirm that she has already hit some balls, would hit some more later today, “and see later tonight how it feels… we’ll see as the week goes on.”
Still a touch of ‘will she, won’t she’, then.
She revealed something of how else she has spent her spare time since she arrived in Rome, too, and it was not shopping. She professed to be an expert window shopper, unlike sister Venus—before adding with a wry smile: “She’s thinner, so she has more opportunity to fit the clothes!”
I don’t do anything out of precaution anymore. You live once and anything can happen tomorrow
No, what Serena chose to do last night was see the big football match at the soaring white Stadio Olimpico adjacent to the Foro Italico.
“It was fun to see the soccer game, to see the excitement of the crowd. As an American, we don’t get to see that very often. It was really nice to get out there.”
Unfortunately Roma lost.
But to business, and while the issue of injury was covered in just a couple of sentences, she had plenty to say about herself and how the 32-year-old world No1 views her career from here. She admitted that, much as she still loves the sport, her ride atop the elite of the game cannot last forever.
“I am nearing the end of my career, I guess. Who knows when it’s going to end?”
Hence her pleasure in seeing a rising number of American women in the draw this week. There are eight of them, from 19-year-old Madison Keys to the 33-year-old Venus Williams, and both won their first-round matches.
“I love seeing other Americans around. I think people from each country always have a sort of connection to their particular country. So, it’s always good to see the Americans and say ‘hi’.”
But when she was asked about whether she had pulled out of Madrid as a precautionary measure, she showed just what almost 19 years on the tour—she turned professional as a 14-year-old in 1995—has taught her, though no doubt injuries, and a life-threatening pulmonary embolism in 2011, also had their impact.
“I don’t do anything out of precaution anymore. You live once and anything can happen tomorrow. [In Madrid], I physically couldn’t play, had a lot of pain and was unable to continue. When I am playing, I want to give 100 per cent, I want to go out there and give the fans everything they deserve and everything they came to see, and I wasn’t even close to being able to be there.”
She went on to reminisce about winning her first Wimbledon, and how the pressure she once felt has now lifted. Essentially, she has nothing to prove—and that seems to have become quite a liberating thing.
“It’s weird in different stages of your career. I remember winning Wimbledon for the first time—and I think I defended it? [She did, winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003, and going on to win it three more times.] But I don’t remember feeling pressure, or feeling nervous.
“And it’s funny, throughout my career I’ve felt like I have to defend, I have to defend. But now I’m at a point in my career when I don’t have to do anything.
“Obviously I wanted to win Madrid, I would love to win Rome, obviously I would love to do well in Paris. But I don’t feel that pressure any more.”
Now, it’s all in the pleasure of playing. In truth, to hit the tour in your 30s and win 11 titles, as she did in 2013—and not any old titles but two Grand Slams, the WTA Championships and a clutch of Premiers—shows not just physical prowess and huge talent but a real lust for the game. And that shone through as she talked about Rome—whether she manages to defend her title here or not.
“It’s so funny. I love coming here to play on the clay—the challenge of having to be more consistent and having to be that much better, and for me, it’s a great challenge. I really, really thoroughly enjoy it and look forward to doing it often.”
Not a lot of room yet for those young Americans keen to make their own mark.
Incidentally, while Serena was holding court with the press, another even more mature former Grand Slam champion, Francesca Schiavone, was teaching the young 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard a thing or two about clay-court tennis. She left the Canadian No17 seed in her wake with her wonderful angled slice, volleying and wiry attack.
It was a treat, and the Roman fans lapped up all 90 minutes of it.