AFP/Key Biscayne, Florida
World number one Serena Williams, who lost finals at the Australian Open and last week at Indian Wells, is counting on the Miami Open to revamp her title-winning form.
The 34-year-old American is top seed for the WTA and ATP hardcourt event as well as the three-time defending champion with eight wins overall. “This is a tournament I’ve grown up with. This is my home,” Williams said. “Things click for me here.”
The 21-time Grand Slam singles champion failed to add another major title to her haul in January, falling to Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final. And she lost to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus at the Indian Wells final, dropping back-to-back finals for the first time since 2004.
“Feeling positive and really good,” Williams said. “You have to keep going. You can’t stop. That’s kind of my attitude. At this point in my career, I’m just having a lot of fun.”
Watching Azarenka show top form after battles the past two seasons with nagging foot injuries helped motivate Williams in more ways than one. “We all know I hate losing more than anything,” Williams said. “Seeing someone else do well motivates me. It’s a rivalry. It’s a friendly rivalry but it’s an intense rivalry. It was really impressive. She has been through a lot. She has always been a really good player.”
While seeing a star fall short of the crown could offer encouragement to sharks circling ever closer, none of Williams’ top-rated rivals saw a drop in form coming in an event she has dominated for years.
“Always when she’s in the tournament, she’s the favourite,” said Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro. “She’s not like a machine or a robot. She can’t win every tournament she plays. She’s always the best because she always wants more.”
No one realizes that more than Kerber, who imposed a fifth career Grand Slam singles final loss upon Williams. “She is still the best player,” Kerber said. “She’s still the number one. She is still a champion.”
But Kerber, who like Azarenka could see Williams in the Miami final, has a big confidence boost after her Melbourne breakthrough. “I recognize I am a Grand Slam champion. I have a lot more things to do,” Kerber said. “It’s a different pressure than I had before. I have much more confidence inside of me. It feels different but I know I need to go with what worked because this is why I had the highlight of my career.”
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova says there is less shock in Williams losing but she is still the player to beat.
“She’s always the target,” Kvitova said. “But I’m not surprised. Women’s tennis is always open and the level is really close. Vika just played very good.”
Azarenka’s return impressed Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, who was stunned by both Williams defeats. “I didn’t expect her to lose in Australia,” she said. “And back here Vika played great tennis. She was on fire. You could see she was back.”
Djokovic backs off remarks after Serena, Murray fire
World number one Novak Djokovic has backed off comments that men’s tennis players should make more than women as Serena Williams and Andy Murray led a stinging chorus of criticism at the remarks.
A furious row over the gender pay gap in tennis erupted at the weekend, when Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore said women should get “on their knees” to thank male players for money in the sport. Moore was forced to apologize before resigning late on Monday.
Djokovic fueled the controversy however after stating that he believed the pay gap was justified, adding that women go through “hormones and different stuff”.
Williams condemned the Serbian star’s remarks. “It has been disappointing,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t say my son deserved more money than my daughter because he’s a man. It would be shocking.”
“I think there should be equal pay 100 percent,” Murray said.
Djokovic later issued a statement on Facebook, offering a qualified apology: “I’ve made some comments that are not the best articulation of my view, and I would like to clarify them,” Djokovic said. “We all have to fight for what we deserve. This was never meant to be made into a fight between genders and differences in pay, but in the way all players are rewarded for their play and effort. This was my view all along and I want to apologize to anyone who has taken this the wrong way.”
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