Six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams worked her way through the pre-Grand Slam rituals on Saturday, practicing on the center court at Melbourne Park, and fielding questions about the inflammation in her left knee that restricted her preparations, and about a tough road to another title.
After a tough opener against Camila Giorgi, the highest ranked of the unseeded players in the women’s draw, Williams may have to face former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova in a quarterfinal match that would feature last year’s finalists.
“I don’t really ever look at the draw, so I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention it. Thank you,” she said, shutting down talk of another showdown with Sharapova.
Both players withdrew from tournaments in the first week of the season, with Williams playing just one set in the Hopman Cup — her first competitive outing since her pursuit of the calendar-year Grand Slam ended in a semifinal loss at the U.S. Open — and Sharapova withdrawing before her opening match at the Brisbane International because of a sore left forearm.
On Saturday, two days before her opening match, Williams said she felt “a little tired” because she’d been doing so much work, hosing down speculation that she was struggling during her hitting session earlier in the morning. In terms of training, she’s not just working at 100 percent, she said, “I’m at 120, 130 percent right now.”
“I’ve had a really good preparation,” she said. “I didn’t have the match play that I’ve wanted to have but after playing for so many years on tour, I should be able to focus on that and the fact that I have played a lot of matches.”
She has won 21 major titles, including the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon in 2015. She doesn’t expect injury to be a problem.
“It’s actually really fine. I don’t have any inflammation anymore,” she said. “It’s just that I just needed some time to get over that little hump.”
Sharapova has a first-round match Nao Hibino of Japan. Unlike Williams, she does look further ahead in the draw —even if she doesn’t mention names.
“I know who’s here,” she said. “It’s no secret who you’re going to be playing.”
Despite feeling good in practice, Sharapova said, it’s a lack of matches rather than any kind of superstition which prevents her looking too far ahead.
“I have to keep my expectations quite low and just work my way, work my game, work my mindset through this draw,” she said. “I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like, but I’m ready to go. ”
No. 2-ranked Simona Halep and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza are on the other half of the draw, along with two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka — who won her first title since 2013 at the Brisbane International last week — and No. 8 Venus Williams, meaning they couldn’t meet Serena Williams until the final — if she gets that far.
Muguruza, who shot up the rankings in 2015 with a run to the Wimbledon final, isn’t among those who think the swathe of injuries to leading players this month — most of the top 10 skipped matches with various ailments — will necessarily make it easier for somebody to sneak up on No. 1-ranked Williams.
“She’s still there. She’s still dominating,” Muguruza said. “I have no idea what her plans are. I’ll keep fighting to stay there.”
Local hope Sam Stosur, who beat Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final, is convinced the leading ladies are just taking a cautious approach to the season’s first major and “I have no doubt they’re all going to step on court and be ready for the first round.”
“I don’t think because of what’s happened the last couple weeks that there’s anything wide open or anything like that at this stage.”