Tennis: Serena relishes Wimbledon return after year to forget

LONDON, June 19, 2011 (AFP) - Serena Williams insists she doesn't care if she completes a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles because she is just happy to be playing again after a nightmare year marred by life-threatening health problems.

Serena will make an emotional return to Grand Slam action for the first time in a year on Tuesday when the four-time Wimbledon champion begins the defence of her women's singles' crown against France's Aravane Rezai.

The American has been through a traumatic time since defeating Vera Zvonareva in straight sets at the All England Club to clinch the 13th Grand Slam title of her magnificent career.

That victory proved to be her last for 12 months as she battled to overcome life-threatening blood clots that needed emergency surgery and a serious foot injury when she stepped on broken glass at a party.

Serena is finally back in action after playing at Eastbourne last week and, despite her long lay-off, is regarded as favourite to win a third successive Wimbledon title.

But the 29-year-old refuses to contemplate lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish awarded to the women's champion because she is simply relishing the chance to have a normal life again.

"It would be awesome and amazing to win, but that's not my thought process. My thought process is just to play the best I can and to be positive," Serena said on Sunday.

"I'm happy to have been here. Like we were saying, six or seven weeks of just trying to get myself together isn't a tremendous amount of time, but the fact that I can even compete and be in a position I wasn't sure I'd have a chance to be at again is more than enough."

At times, Serena felt lower than she had ever been in her life as she struggled to recover from the hematoma.

Yet she never considered the possibility that she might have to quit tennis to protect her health and the moment she was finally given the all-clear to return to the practice courts was one of the great joys of her life.

"I'd say the lowest moment was probably just the disaster, the hematoma that I suffered," Serena said.

"After I had the lung problem, it was like, 'Okay, I got through that'. Then having to have a surgery, removing the hematoma, was just my low point. I felt it was never gonna end.

"Physically I was obviously not excellent. But mentally I was just down. I think that's normal.

"At that point, I was just pretty upset and just wondering when this string of things would stop happening.

"I always thought I would want to continue to play. I thought I would play a lot sooner but things didn't work out.

"I'm never the type to stop. I'll stop when I'm ready and I'm just not ready.

"I really thoroughly enjoy being out here. It was great when I got on the practice court and hit that first serve."

Serena's fierce competitive instincts suggest her return to action is likely to prove successful and, while there were some understandable signs of rust at Eastbourne where she lost her second match, it would be little surprise if the seventh seed carved her way through the draw at Wimbledon in typically forceful fashion.

"My mom was so worried about me at Eastbourne. I keep telling her I'm okay. I felt fine. I ran a lot and I felt good," Serena said.

"I just had to get my lungs into better shape. I'm probably actually in better shape running wise than I was before.

"It's fun. I feel like I'm young again. I have goals that I set for myself and goals that I want to achieve."

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