Serena Williams Still Driven After So Many Years

Serena Williams (photo: Tennis Australia)

WASHINGTON, February 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Serena Williams has been coming to Melbourne since 1998, a long time back. She’s won the Australian Open title seven times, including most recently in 2017 when she was two months pregnant with her daughter Olympia.

When Williams was asked if she gets the same drive and same excitement coming back after so many years, following her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Australia’s Daria Gavrilova in the second round of the Yarra Valley Classic at Melbourne Park Monday, the fifth seed said, “Yeah, I definitely get a lot of the same drive.

“Definitely not the same excitement because there’s nothing like the first time going out there and just seeing everyone and just being around people and things. But it’s pretty close. It’s super exciting every time to come out and to be part of something special.”

The 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams, who has been idle since last year’s French Open, called her 2021 tour-level opening win over Gavrilova on Margaret Court Arena “a good match.” The victory extended her career head-to-head against the former Top 20 player to 4-0 without having lost a set.

Gavrilova is a former Top 20 player whose ranking has slipped to 451st and was given a wild card to play in the Yarra Valley Classic. The Aussie had four break points against the American, but Williams saved them all and built upon the first game throughout the remainder of the one hour and 34-minute match.

During her post-match press conference, the 39-year-old Williams said: “It wasn’t easy at all. It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she’s from here, so she obviously always plays hard. So, it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end.”

Williams admitted that the delayed start to this year’s Australia Open was to her benefit. “It was great for me because I needed the time, because I couldn’t practice because of my Achilles,” she said. “I needed every time – I don’t think I would have been here if it was during the regular season. So, whew, that was an unwanted blessing, I would say, but it was much needed for me.

“So, I definitely, took that time to recover and to just do the best that I can and so now it’s a lot better.”

In the third round, Williams will face unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, ranked 136th, who upset ninth seed Donna Vekic of Croatia, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. Williams and Pironkova opposed each other at last year’s US Open, won by Serena, 4-6,6-3, 6-2. “It’s important for me just to see what she did and what I did and what we can both do better,” said Williams of Pironkova, both moms. “I’m always rooting for her; she’s like such a great story. She’s just a good person.”

Elsewhere, No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-2 win over 20-year-old Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy, by striking seven aces and 30 winners during their one hour and 17-minute match. Pliskova converted 5 of 18 break-point opportunities.

“I feel like I need some matches, so I’m definitely happy that I’m through to the next round,” Pliskova said after her win. “I felt like I did a good job in the second set especially. … I just need to find the rhythm again of playing tournaments and I thought it was a good start.”

Next, Pliskova will play No. 13 seed Danielle Collins of the United States, who beat Nina Stojanovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-2 to reach the third round.

Other Yarra Valley Classic winners included No. 7 seed Petra Martic of Croatia, who advanced with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Vera Lapko of Bulgaria; No. 8 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who beat Varvara Gracheva of Russia, 6-4, 6-0; No. 11 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, who defeated Misaki Doi of Japan, 6-1, 6-4; and No. 14 seed Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, who beat Francesca Jones of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-3.

Top seed Halep advances in Gippsland Trophy

Meanwhile, in the Gippsland Trophy, top seed Simona Halep of Romania advanced to the round of 16 with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 101 Anastasia Potapova of Russia, in her first match of the 2021 season.

“I needed this victory, because I didn’t play an official match since October of last year,” Halep said during an interview on court after her victory. “So, it’s been a long time. I just wanted to feel the court, feel the game. I knew that it was going to be a difficult match; [Potapova] hits very strong.”

Halep finished with five aces and 23 winners overall during her 78-minute win against Potapova. “It was not easy, but I tried my best, and I’m happy to go through,” she said.

Also, third seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine advanced with a straight-set win over Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-1, 6-4, while 16-year-old Coco Gauff of the United States, seeded 14th, went the distance against Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann and needed a final-set tiebreak to pull out a 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5) victory.

Other seeds to advance in the Gippsland Trophy were: No. 8 seed Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, who beat Caty McNally of the United States, 6-1, 6-1; No. 9 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who advanced over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2; No. 13 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, who defeated Danika Kovinic of Montenegro, 6-4, 7-5; and No. 16 Laura Siegemund of Germany bested Monica Niculescu of Romania, 7-5, 6-4. There was one upset, with No. 10 seed Wang Qiang of China losing to No. 97 Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Yarra Valley Classic results

Gippsland Trophy results

News & noteworthy

• No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina and Andrea Petkovic, who met in a second-round match Monday in the Gippsland Trophy, have some shared history. The two competitors met in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, which Svitolina won in three sets. Like four years ago, this time Svitolina prevailed to move into the third round thanks in part to hitting 19 winners.

“It was exciting,” Svitolina said afterward. “I knew that [Petkovic] had already won a match here. So, I knew she would come and be really ready straight away, game-ready.”

Svitolina came to Australia after reaching the quarterfinals in last month’s Abu Dhabi season-opening WTA 500-series tournament.“I think a few matches in Abu Dhabi helped me get straight into the match and I started strong,” she said. “I was striking the ball good and moving quite good. In the end, I was playing quite solid throughout the match and I’m happy with a two-set win.”

• After her two hour and 42-minute first-round victory Monday, Coco Gauff was asked to describe the uncertainty of her 14-day mandatory quarantine after arriving safely in Melbourne.

“The first five days I was fine,” Gauff said during her post-match press conference. “The person who was taking it the most was my dad because he was very anxious, and we heard on the news that mother flight from Abu Dhabi tested positive. We didn’t know if it was our flight or not, and he was reading and I was fine. I was watching Netflix. I was just chilling.

“I’m the one who puts my mind ready for the worst situations. So, I already just assumed that it was us who had the hard quarantine, but luckily it was not.”