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No longer angry Serena glad to be back in New Zealand

Down but not out: Serena Williams after losing to Bianca Andreescu in the US Open final in September
© AFP/File TIMOTHY A. CLARY

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Jan 6 – Serena Williams returns to the Auckland WTA Classic on Monday for the first time since her “miserable” debut appearance three years ago, determined to put the record straight.

“I’m in a really different frame of mind,” she said ahead of her opening match on day one — a marquee doubles appearance partnering Caroline Wozniacki — with her first round singles against long-time rival Svetlana Kuznetsova expected on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old Williams is banking on Auckland setting her up for an unprecedented 24th major title at the Australian Open later in the month.

Williams was way below par when she played in Auckland in 2017, complaining about the windy conditions, being abrupt in interviews and could not wait to get out of the country as soon as she lost in the second round to Madison Brengle.

But she says the anger she felt then has gone.

“I’m not pregnant, as a start, so that works, so I can only do good now,” the tournament top seed and world number 10 joked with journalists as she reflected on how she was unaware at the time that she was six weeks pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia.

“I just remember it was windy and being angry, hating my now husband (Alexis Ohanian). I was like ‘I can’t stand you and I don’t know why,’” she said.

“Obviously at the time I didn’t know why either … I was six weeks pregnant and I had no idea. So looking back it’s so surreal and crazy and now that I’m here, I have all of these funny memories of being miserable.

“I always knew that I would have to come back, for sure. I didn’t even realize what was happening, and now I’m here with my daughter.

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“This is kind of where it all began. It’s amazing. It’s so exciting to be here with her, and to know that this is literally where it started.”

Despite her quick exit in 2017, Williams went on to win the Australian Open for her 23rd major title, but has not won a tournament since.

Williams, who has a 10-3 record against Kuznetsova in a 16-year rivalry, said she was pleased to be playing her “really good friend” first up.

“I like to play really tough opponents in the first round, and there’s no better way to start than to start serious. I really love her and adore her, and I wish it could’ve been a little bit later, for both of us,” she said.

She was also looking forward to playing with former world number one Wozniacki in the doubles, calling the Dane “one of my best friends”.

Meanwhile, the Auckland tournament has been hit with the late withdrawal of seventh seed Jelena Ostapenko who pulled out for “personal reasons”.

The 22-year-old Latvian, who won the French Open in 2017, is the second high-profile withdrawal with Canadian Bianca Andreescu pulling out last month due to her ongoing knee problems.

Andreescu defeated Williams to claim the US Open title in September last year.

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