DUBAI // Serena Williams was in mischievous mood yesterday as she prepared for her opening match in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships. The American maintained that she extended her triumphant stay in Melbourne for last month's Australian Open only because she did not want to return to 'boring' Florida. She also suggested that her right knee, which broke down on her and forced her premature departure from the Paris Open last week, was 'jealous' of the joint on her other leg which had captured most of the injury attention in recent years.
Fulfilling media duties at big tournaments like this one does not come easily to Serena, but at least she is on parade at the Aviation Club after missing the last two runnings of the UAE showpiece through fitness problems. Having taken her place at the top of the draw she is setting her sights on adding this title to the 33 she has accumulated on her global travels - the last of them becoming her 10th grand slam honour at Melbourne Park when she overcame the second-ranked Dinara Safina of Russia in the final.
Relishing the chance to pit her wits against all of the other leading lights in the game, Serena remarked: "This is a really exciting week. That's what this whole new [WTA Roadmap] schedule is all about, getting all the top players in one area. It's going to be good." Serena, who takes on the Italian Sara Errani today in the first of what she hopes will be a five-match programme, said: "I'm looking forward to it. I haven't played here in a while. This is a good week for me to play and I feel like I'm not going to lose. I like to play in the heat and I like conditions like this. It will be good for me." Those comments will scare those aspiring to depose the powerful American as world No 1, even big sister Venus who is a likely rival in Friday's semi-finals.
Serena claimed that she had not seen the draw but knew by instinct that she would be in the same half as Venus. "We are always in the same half," she said scathingly about Saturday's draw at which Venus was a WTA witness. "So I just assumed we would be again." Explaining why she prefers to avoid Venus, whom she has defeated in half of their 18 meetings, until the final, Serena commented: "I think she's my biggest competition and I think she's the only player that pushes me to new levels. I think our level of match play is really high. It's just how it is."
She revealed that Venus, a year elder at 28 but having won 'only' seven grand slams, occasionally bullies her into stepping up her training. "I know I have to work harder because I am lazy," she admitted. "Venus is always telling me what she has done but it is becoming a way of motivating me. "I used to practise for about 20 minutes and then go and sit by the pool but the older I'm getting the more I'm enjoying working hard. I've realised that my job is to stay fit - and that's pretty a good job to have. I'm not a natural-born person who wants to go out to the gym - that's just not me."