Serena Williams hopes to conquer Flushing Meadows without the tears or the tantrums
Serena Williams was doing her best to convince herself that there is no extra pressure playing at her home Grand Slam event.
The 30-year-old American has blown her lid in spectacular fashion at her last two US Opens, but as she looked ahead to the tournament beginning here today she insisted: "I don't feel pressure. My Dad said the only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself, so I don't really feel any pressure or anything. I don't put any pressure on myself. If I win, that would be great. If I lose, I realise I'm going to go home and be devastated. But there's always tomorrow."
Williams has won three Wimbledon and two Australian Open titles since her last victory at Flushing Meadows in 2008. In 2009 she lost in the semi-finals to Kim Clijsters after a foul-mouthed tirade against a line judge, upon which she was deducted a point which cost her the match.
Having missed 2010 through injury, Williams returned last year and lost to Sam Stosur in the final after another controversial run-in with an official. Eva Asderaki, the umpire, deducted a point from Williams at a crucial moment in the second set after the American screamed "Come on!" during a rally. During a subsequent tirade against Asderaki, Williams said the umpire was "a hater, unattractive inside" and "out of control".
Given everything that she has had to put up with over the years – she has been booed at the French Open and has not played at Indian Wells since a racist incident there 11 years ago –Williams usually copes with pressure better than anyone, but she has come to expect the worst here.
"Every year at the Open something happens," Williams said in a recent interview with The New York Times. "Last year I got a point penalty because of a grunt. Meanwhile, I can name five girls who grunt way louder than I do, and the umpire didn't even give them a warning. And then I had the ball called out that was this far in. It's always something.
"I'm thinking, already, something's gonna happen [at] this year at the Open. I'm just thinking: 'Serena, say your prayers, fall on your knees.' It's frustrating, because it's my home country, you're playing for the home, but it's like, the way the umpires have been makes me not want to play there. I'd rather play in Australia, or I'd rather play at Wimbledon."
Williams, nevertheless, is the clear favourite to win her 15th Grand Slam title here in 12 days' time. Since her stunning defeat by Virginie Razzano, the world No 111, in the first round of the French Open, Williams has lost only once and won the singles and doubles titles (with her sister Venus) at both Wimbledon and the Olympics.
Clijsters, who says she will be playing the last tournament of her career here, believes that Williams is the greatest player in history. "Serena is the best ever just because I think physically she just stands out," the Belgian said. "She's fast, she's strong, she has a very good eye, as well. I think the combination of that and what we have seen over the last few months [makes her] the best player ever."
When Clijsters' comments were put to Williams the Wimbledon champion said: "I never think about that. I can't sit here and say I'm the best ever. I'm not. I'm not worthy of that title. I'm just Serena. I love playing tennis and I'm good at it. Just because I'm good at it doesn't make me the best."
As for the next fortnight, Williams said: "I'm excited about this, to be on a hard court. It's my favourite surface. I have the opportunity to play on hard courts until March. I'm looking forward to this, almost like a launching pad for what I want to do for the rest of the hard-court season."
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