‘I’m all for good, clean tennis’

Serena Williams has wonderful memories of India and the Bangalore Open. “I would always love to come back,” she says in a chat with Kalyan Ashok.

After an action packed week, Serena Williams bounced back into the top 10 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ranking list (at No. 9). For the eight-time Grand Slam singles champion, the Bangalore Open — her title No. 29 — ended a Tour title drought since she last won in Miami in 2007. Sceptics almost wrote her off after illness and injuries forced her out of the game in 2006 and her ranking plummeted to 95. But Serena charged right back after the dramatic triumph at the Australian Open in 2007 and has stayed in the reckoning ever since.

After the Bangalore Open, a visibly relaxed Serena took a few questions from Sportstar on her career and her maiden trip to India.

The excerpts:

Victory at the Bangalore Open: It is great to come and win here. I missed out last year as I fell ill after the Australian Open and I was quite upset about it. I am glad I made it this time and won. Yes, it is special after the recent surgery (of the gum) and I was out of action for two weeks, so it’s always good to come back and win.

Best moments: Whenever you win a big one, it is a special moment. I treasure each of my big wins and especially the ones which came the hard way, like the Australian Open in 2007. I don’t reckon any one thought I was going to do it...

On her big rivals: This is a question everyone asks — is it Henin or Sharapova? Or anyone else? But it has got to be Venus, she is the one to beat and there can be no greater competitor than her.

On fewer Tour meetings with Venus: Oh, I would love to play her more often. It is not that we avoid playing each other. We have different managers and Tour schedules are pretty different and we don’t get to meet each other. That’s all. I loved playing her in Bangalore and all the good time that we had here together, we shopped, which we have not done for quite some time.

Match-fixing and drugs in tennis: You guys love to ask all these controversial stuff. Personally, not just in tennis, I am all for a drug-free world and I don’t think we indulge in gambling in the game. I am always for a good and clean tennis.

Changes that she would like to see in the game: We had this issue of equal prize money and that’s happening already with the French Open and Wimbledon taking the first step. I am glad Venus became the first Wimbledon winner to take an equal pay cheque. The Tour is being cut down to fewer Tier I and Tier II tournaments, it gives us a breather. There are hints of better prize money, which is good for all of us.

On her iconic status in the game: I don’t think I set out to be a role model or icon. I just wanted to play good tennis and enjoy doing that, and I will continue to do that.

On Sania Mirza: She has got to be the best thing that has happened for Indian tennis. She is a good player and we respect her for it. Off the court, she is nice and friendly and has got a lot of attitude.

On her Bangalore experience: It was just amazing and this is our first trip to India and we loved every bit of it. The hospitality has been wonderful and we received so much love and we would always love to come back.

Her advice to youngsters: Have fun on the court.

’I don’t think I set out to be a role model or icon. I just wanted to play good tennis and enjoy doing that, and I will continue to do that.’