Serena Williams is guiding her way through uncharted waters as the five-time champion enters her first Wimbledon campaign without big sister Venus on board.
The world No.1 admits it is a bit of a “lonely” path, but is determined to ensure a Williams name is etched on the Venus Rosewater Dish for the 11th time in 14 years at the end of the fortnight.
It comes as the defending champion has drawn a line under the maelstrom she sparked with comments published by Rolling Stone magazine.
"I'm going to keep my personal life personal. In the past, I've always done that and I want to continue to do so," she said in her pre-Championships news conference, adding that she had personally apologised to Russian rival, Maria Sharapova, at the player party on Thursday.
“There's one thing I'm really good at and that's hitting the ball over a net in a box. I'm excellent on that. And that's what I'm going to continue to do while I can.”
Serena begins her title defence against Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella on Tuesday and should she defend her title, she would surpass Venus’s five Wimbledon crowns.
She insists, though, Venus has given her blessing to clinch one of the few remaining records the older sibling holds in the family’s on-court rivalry.
“For me there is no family competition, but this is the first year I believe I've played Wimbledon and Venus hasn't been here,” she said.
“So I feel so lonely. I feel like something is missing, so I talk to her all the time, more than usual.”
In trying to keep her routine, Serena said she had even refused to take Venus’s superior bedroom in her absence.
“We stay together and I'm still staying in the small room because she always had the bigger room. I just can't imagine being in the bigger room,” she said.
In continuing her Wimbledon warm-up routine of recent years, Serena again skipped the grass-court lead-up events, instead focusing her practice on hard courts.
It would seem a less conventional way for a player to find their feet on grass, but with Serena Williams, nothing is terribly conventional. And with the family’s Wimbledon record, who would argue?
“Growing up, I saw how Andre Agassi always practised on hard court, so all my career I've done what he did: I practice on hard court. In preparation for the grass, I just play on hard,” she said.
“It's worked for me. Venus did the same thing. It's worked for her.”
Serena enters The Championships riding a 31-match streak and has dominated since her first-round flop to Virginie Razzano at Roland Garros last year.
It’s an impressive turnaround, one she attributes largely to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
“Well, Patrick, he means a lot to me,” she said. “I was just talking to him randomly a couple days ago, and I said, ‘Wow, in a year we've won three Grand Slams, two gold medals, a Championships’. And he said, ‘You've won 77/3’. I said, ‘Really?’ He's like, ‘That's pretty good’. I said, ‘No, it could be better’.”
Just how she manages to cast aside her sister’s absence and her recent off-court controversies will become clear over the coming fortnight.
Expect plenty of interest if the Sharapova v Williams final unfurls.
“As Billie Jean King said...‘Pressure's a privilege,' and I take it as a privilege.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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