KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) — Defending champion Serena Williams is a six-time winner at the Sony Open, collecting more trophies than she’s won at any other tournament.
That surpasses the five titles won at three of four Grand Slam events — the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
The Florida event provides a comfort zone, held not far from where the top-ranked player has lived since she was a preteen. While she also spends many weeks training in Paris, nearby Palm Beach County remains close to her heart.
“I’ve been waiting on this and it feels good to be back here,” Williams said Tuesday. “It is home. It feels home.”
Williams opens the defense of her title Thursday when she plays the winner of the first-round match between Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan and Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
“I love my fans and love the opportunity to be able to play for them,” Williams said of the South Florida crowds.
She’s entering her fourth tournament of the year after winning the Brisbane title in January against Victoria Azarenka.
However, a bad back has taken its toll. She lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Ana Ivanovic and in Dubai, she lost in the semifinals to 23rd-ranked Alize Cornet. Williams had insisted the back was better, but she clearly had trouble reaching up for her serve against the Frenchwoman.
“The back is good,” she said, smiling. “It’s much better. It’s really good, actually. I’ve been doing tons of treatment to make sure it stays loose, so I don’t have any problems.”
The 32-year-old Williams, a winner of 58 career titles, is considered the best of her generation, if not of all time.
Her achievements tend to lead to the assumption that whenever she plays, she’s going to win. While it’s not a given, she doesn’t mind having that kind of burden.
“There is a tremendous amount of pressure when you step on the court,” Williams said. “It’s bigger news for me to lose than it is to win. Usually it’s big, front cover news if I lose.
“But I don’t look at it as pressure. Billie Jean King always told me, ‘pressure is a privilege.’”