Shannon Russell reports:
Fourteen-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams has won so many tennis tournaments that she can’t keep track of her titles.
She thought for a moment that she’d won the Western & Southern Open before.
“I’ve won this tournament, by the way. I have. When it wasn’t big. But it counts. I did win this tournament, didn’t I?” Williams said Monday, entertaining a packed media room in a press conference at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
Nope. Not once.
Williams reached the semifinals of the 2006 W&S Open when it was a Tier III tournament. Although Williams incorrectly thought she won that title, it went to Vera Zvonareva, the Russian that beat her en route to the Rookwood Cup.
Williams lost in the Round of 16 in the 2009 W&S Open and withdrew from her 2011 second-round match after aggravating a right toe injury. So for the record, if she won Sunday’s singles championship, it would be her first here.
Williams sheepishly corrected herself.
“Maybe I didn’t. I can’t keep up. I don’t think I did,” Williams said, smiling. “OK, whoops.”
Williams, the second-seeded player in this week’s WTA Premier 5 tournament, has been on a ferocious tear since Wimbledon. She beat Agnieszka Radwanska for the title, returned to the U.S. to win a second straight Bank of the West Classic, and then won Olympic gold in singles and doubles.
Williams said a doubles medal with her sister, Venus Williams, was the only thing on her mind in London.
“Honestly, I went there to win doubles. I said, ‘No pressure,’ because there was so much pressure from the media like, ‘She doesn’t have a gold and blah, blah, blah.’ I was like, ‘Serena, don’t, don’t. Just focus. Just know that you can get this in doubles,’” Williams said. “That was my main goal. I could not and still can’t believe I won singles gold. It was a great opportunity for me.”
Williams thrashed Russian Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in the gold-medal match and completed a rare career Golden Slam in the process. The 30-year-old American has won all four Grand Slams in addition to the singles gold.
During her stay in England, Williams also met the U.S. men’s basketball team in the lunchroom at the Olympic Village, took in some track and field events, and met other athletes. Then she headed to Paris to train.
Her main goal in Mason is improving on last year’s finish. With the U.S. Open looming large, this marks Williams’ first hard court tournament since the Stanford final in mid-July.
“(I) went right back to grass (at the Olympics),” Williams said. “For me to come back and play Cincinnati on hard will be good because it’s such a change. So I think it’ll be good for me to see where I am on the hard court. It’s a different game. Not nearly as fast, so I have to get my mind frame back into hard court tennis.”
Coming off her first-round bye, Williams faces qualifier Eleni Daniilidou – who edged qualifier Vania King in a 2-hour, 44-minute thriller – at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Center Court. She could face another qualifier in the Round of 16.
And though she hasn’t won a tourney here, Williams is glad she’s back.
“I have so much support here in Cincinnati. I’m practicing and, oh my God, today it was so frustrating. Someone was like, ‘It’s OK, Serena, keep your head up.’ One person said, ‘Get under the ball.’ I’m thinking…’” Williams said, indicating skepticism. “But they were totally right, and that’s why I love this place. You have such great fans here and great people.”