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A 'different' Serena Williams returns to U.S. Open

Serena Williams attends 2018 Lotte New York Palace

Serena Williams attends 2018 Lotte New York Palace Invitational on Thursday. Credit: Getty Images North America/Michael Loccisano

Serena Williams is the six-time U.S. Open champion and has pretty much ruled the courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center since she won her first title in 1999.

But when she walked onto the grounds in Flushing Meadows to begin her preparations for this year’s U.S. Open, she was a different person and likely a different player. First of all, she’s a mom. Second of all, she has only played in six tournaments this year since she returned from maternity leave in March after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia during the Open last year.

“I feel like everything is just different in terms of I'm living a different life, I'm playing the U.S. Open as a mom,” said Williams at the tennis center on Saturday. “It's just new and it's fresh.”

She returns to the Open as no less the ferocious competitor who has accumulated 23 Grand Slam titles, though she hasn’t won an Open since 2014. “If anything, I have more fire in my belly,” she said. “It's very hard to describe. I thought after having a child I would be more relaxed. I think I've said this before, but I'm not. I work just as hard if not harder actually. I just feel like I take it just as serious if not more. That's been really surprising for me.”

Williams plays unseeded Magda Linette in Ashe Stadium on Monday night in her opening match. She could potentially face sister Venus in the third round. Venus has a difficult opener against 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who while unseeded is a dangerous floater in the draw. And Serena finds herself in the same quarter of the draw as No. 1 seed Simona Halep.

It’s been a very light summer for Williams after a surprising run to the final at Wimbledon where she lost to Angelique Kerber. After falling 6-1, 6-0 to Johanna Konta at the end of July, the worst loss of her career, Williams then opened up on Instagram about her postpartum emotions.

"Last week was not easy for me. Not only was I accepting some tough personal stuff, but I just was in a funk," wrote Williams, who subsequently pulled out of the Rogers Cup tournament in Canada, citing "personal reasons. "Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom. I read several articles that said postpartum emotions can last up to 3 years if not dealt with. I like communication best. Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, my friends let me know that my feelings are totally normal. It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby.”

She returned to play at Cincinnati where she lost a tough three-set match in the second round to former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.  

That showing impressed ESPN commentator Chris Evert.

“She has a lot of confidence playing in front of the U.S. crowd,” said Evert. “To me, she played a very on-form Kvitova. I didn't really feel like that was a failure for her. I felt like at times like for a set, set and a half, she definitely had her "A" game going. Serena was to me the second or third best player still last week, and she is getting better every week.

“She needs to get a little bit quicker around the court, get a few good matches under her belt. If she gets into the second week of the U.S. Open with those matches under her belt, she's going to be a favorite for sure. I mean, I just feel, as I've seen her progress this summer and I hear her say that she can feel it and taste it and she's close and she needs to keep working harder— and you know she's working harder. She's got to be one of the top three.”

The highly emotional Williams, who turns 37 on Sept. 26, says she’ s working on alleviating the stress of her inner drive.  

“I definitely am more of a high-strung person where everything is dramatic for me,” she said. “But I've been working on just taking things more easy and being more light. Most of all, just being nicer to myself, trying to take moments where I can relax and I can just take different things and I can be easier.”

But she also sees that this new role as mom/competitor fits in with what her life has always been about.

“That's the message I've been preaching to women and people, that we face obstacles,” said Williams.  “You have to face those obstacles. Whether you get through them or not, there's always another chance to get through them. You have to continue to work hard and believe in yourself. Things don't always go your way, but continue to climb that mountain.”

Serena's catsuit is banned

The black catsuit that Serena Williams wore at the French Open this year has been banned, but she doesn’t seem at all upset about it.

French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said while announcing the ban on Friday that “It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.”

On Saturday Williams professed a close relationship with the French president.

“The president of the French Federation, he's been really amazing,” she said. “He's been so easy to talk to. My whole team is basically French, so, yeah, we have a wonderful relationship. So, yeah, I'm sure we would come to an understanding and everything will be okay. Yeah, so it wouldn't be a big deal.”

As for whether she would wear it at the U.S. Open, she replied: “When it comes to fashion, you don't want to be a repeat offender. It will be a while before this even has to come up again.”

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