'At times when we won everything it was too boring'

A humbler Serena tells Clive White how the Williams are more valued after their absence
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The Independent Online

The second coming of the Williams sisters comes with a bonus.

Finally, we might see them fully appreciated for who they are and what they have achieved, because the truth is they are not loved as they should be. Serena seems to have returned to the game after her life-threatening injury a more humble and compassionate individual. Of course, she may have been always that but now she seems more than happy to reveal that side of her.

A year ago, when she was winning the Wimbledon singles title for a fourth time personally and a ninth time for the Williams family, it is inconceivable that she could have described her and her sister Venus's domination of the women's game as "too boring". Now after the foot injury that turned into a pulmonary embolism she won't even hear of words like "domination".

Lest anyone think she has lost all self-confidence one should add that she has not changed that much. Serena still believes she is the No 1 player in the world never mind what the WTA rankings may say – and they say she's No 26. But she couches it all differently now. The rise of Caroline Wozniacki – "I love her, she's a really good friend of mine" – and Victoria Azarenka, for example, was "a breath of fresh air". What a contrast to the old days when it was the Russians – loosely and a little discourteously sometimes referred to as "the Ovas" – who were posing the threat to the sisters' hegemony. The rivalry then was much more intense and far less friendly.

"It's definitely different now," she said. "Sometimes when I was winning everything and me and Venus were playing the finals it was too boring. And now we're not, they're like, 'We need them back' – you can't win for losing, you know. I still feel like I'm the No 1 even though I'm not and I'm not taking away anything from Caroline. Even if I had been playing for the past year and was No 50 I would still feel in my mind like I was No 1. If you don't feel that you're the best, you'll never be the best."

The girl who has come away from the All England Club clutching silverware in singles and doubles nine times admitted to a "love-hate relationship" with grass because of the inconsistent bounce. Even so she was "honoured" to go back there this year when her hair and nails, she revealed, will be streaked with the colour purple. She also hopes to be back there for the Olympics, when her goal will again be doubles rather than singles, providing she can play the requisite number of Fed Cup ties.

"Words can't describe how happy I am," she said. "When I think there was a time when I thought I would never be able to play a tournament, let alone Wimbledon, when I couldn't get out of bed or couldn't stop crying. I think, what doesn't 'break yer, make yer'." If she has any regrets about that evening in a German restaurant last July when she was out celebrating her Wimbledon victory and stepped on broken glass, seriously lacerating her foot, she does not show it. It was put to her that some people might have sued. Has she had an apology? "No, actually I haven't," she replied. "But what is an apology going to do for me? I'm not the type of person who holds grudges. If anything it can elongate my career and I can learn from the experience. It is what it is. If I could rewind time I'd probably go back to 2003."

That was the year the Williamses' half-sister Yetunde Price was murdered in a shooting in their home town of Compton. "I would just say [to her], 'Come with me' and maybe things would be different."