Serena out to kick butt
By JACKIE EPSTEIN
THE butt of criticism this week, Serena Williams dispelled doubts yesterday over her fitness and endorsed her chances of defending her Australian Open crown.
The 13th seed said she was "absolutely" spot on despite being surprised by the size of her "hamstring muscle" in newspaper pictures this week.
"If I didn't like my chances of winning, I wouldn't be here," Williams said.
"It would be better for me to be on the beach, St Barts, jet skis. It would be much easier.
"I've had more time to prepare this year because I just took off since October. I've had more time to prepare mentally and much more physically.
"Honestly, I've never read any comments about my fitness. I don't read the papers. I saw (a picture) of me running. And I was like, 'wow, my hamstring muscle is that big?' I had no idea my muscle was like that. But that's about it."
Williams has suffered from a combination of ankle and knee injuries, and has not played a tournament since losing her opening match at the Beijing Open in September.
Keen to jump back up the rankings, she has welcomed the challenge of proving critics wrong.
"I like that," she said.
"It would be like, 'oh, she's not fit'. That's cool with me. Like I said, that's fine because then people will be like, 'OK, well, she won't be able to run'. That's a great position to be in."
Williams, 24, said she learned several valuable lessons while on the sidelines, particularly her game was too defensive last year.
She has worked on the technical side of her game with her Dad and coach Richard, in the hope of it leading to an eighth grand slam title.
"I've always criticised Pete Sampras for saying he wanted to win lots and lots of grand slams," she said.
"It was like, 'don't you want to be the best?' I definitely want to be No.1 in the world. I can kind of understand what he's saying because there's nothing like winning a grand slam. Both the goals are definitely what I want to do, but it all starts with winning the slams first."
Williams faces a tricky first-up match against China's Na Li, ranked just outside the top 50, but she struggled to remember if she had played her previously.
"I've always said, everyone talks about the Russians and I always thought the Chinese have a great (lot) of players coming up," she said.
"I think there's many Chinese players right now. Not only are they in the draw, but they're actually doing well.
"I'm going to have to really be ready for the match, definitely not underestimating my opponent at all."
Older sister Venus also has an unpredictable first match against Bulgarian Tzvetana Pironkova, 18, who is playing in her first grand slam.
The rankings have Venus listed at No.10 in the world, but she believes she is the best player in the world.
"I'd like to say I finished one, but there's a zero behind it," Venus said.
"In my head, I'm always a champ. Right now I'm going to work on my ranking and not say what number I am. You guys all know what number I feel like I am."
Well prepared and looking fit, Williams is clearly focused on winning in Melbourne. Her aim is to claim all the grand slam titles that have eluded her -- the Australian and French Opens and the Wimbledon and US Open mixed doubles titles.
"In my career, I'm missing like four titles, so to hold all the slams, in each event possible, is my goal," she said.
"Obviously, I have to win the singles here to kind of get it down to three titles. I think it's important not to be over-confident.
"I think that can be a big flaw, a big downfall. I'm just looking to show up healthy and get my game on."