On a sunny day in Rome, the atmosphere in the press conference room was just as relaxed and all the big names that alternated on the seat showed a great mood. Serena Williams returned to the tour for the first time since the Australian Open and her feelings were mixed about the lack of match-play, but the great work she has done during these months. On the contrary, Ashleigh Barty and Aryna Sabalenka have played a great deal in the past few weeks and only arrived in the past 24 hours in Rome. Novak Djokovic, instead, has been seen practicing in Rome with a number of different players, including Andy Murray today.
Nole focusing on slams
“I have managed to achieve the milestone of the historic ranking No. 1, and that was the focus up to recently. Now it’s more about really trying to peak at Grand Slams and make those count for my career”, said the world number 1 ahead of his debut in Rome where he is also defending champion. Despite some off-court activities taking some of his time, including a documentary being filmed on him, ‘Nole’ is fully focused on peaking at the right time.
“It is a different schedule from what I had for so many years. Of course it does feel different. I don’t want to say strange because it’s not strange. I’m actually looking forward to take that next step in my career and my life where I’m gonna spend more time with my family and just do other things that interest me. But at the same time, I do play specific amount of tournaments that would prepare me as best as possible for the Grand Slams. So I did play two tournaments on clay. I didn’t have too many matches. I didn’t play so great in Monaco and Belgrade, but I’m hopefully going to change that here in Rome and then another week in Belgrade before the French”.
Serena and “one of my best cities”
“Everything has been going pretty good. I feel pretty good. Had a good time training and getting ready for the clay court, so it’s good”, announced Serena Williams to the press who were interested about her long break from tournaments. Unsurprisingly, her return came in Rome, a city that has a special place in her heart: “I love Rome. It’s really one of my best cities in the world. You know, I was asking my daughter, I was, like, Okay, what’s your favorite place? Mommy’s favorite place is Italy. She copies me, so she says, Italy. So it’s kind of funny. I love this city. I have some really good friends here that I have had since I was a teenager, so it’s always cool to come to a place where you have friends. It’s like an experience to bond, even though we can’t bond right now, which is unfortunate, but it’s really, really, really, really, really amazing, and I love it here”.
Barty and shipping trophies
If Serena might be looking for a few matches to put under her belt, those are not missing for WTA World Number 1 Ashleigh Barty. The Australian has reached the final in three of the last four tournaments she has played and arrived in Rome almost straight from the Madrid final.
“We left the courts, we went down to the lobby and had a burger and a beer, and then we slept and we flew here. That was about it. Yeah, pretty crazy one”, joked the Aussie: “Just packed up our bags and off we went. Certainly nothing fancy from our point of view. We just arrived here into Rome yesterday afternoon. Had yesterday off. We will hit a few balls tomorrow and work from there. But not yet. Just being able to acclimatize to the beautiful weather. It’s been bright sunshine. Certainly no complaints”.
One thing that is also becoming a habit for the 25-year-old is dealing with the trophies she is winning: “I’m very lucky to be in a position in the last few weeks where we have been playing for titles and it’s been really exciting. Thankfully we are able to ship those home, which are a nice surprise on mum and dad’s doorstep”.
Despite having not hit the courts yet, Barty is ready for the challenge of the changing conditions of the Roman clay: “Here in Rome it can be quick as well. Typically the clay feels a little bit thicker. Obviously sea level changes that a little bit. But each and every year the conditions are a bit different. Depends on the weather, as well. If it’s warm, it’s different to when it’s cold or rainy. I think we just prepare as best we can for the conditions that we think we will play in, and then whatever those conditions are on the day that we play, we adapt and try and do the best we can”.
Sabalenka&Kvitova, food and ambitions
Coming from her first ever clay title in the WTA 1000 of Madrid, Aryna Sabalenka looked radiant and confident about her chances this week: “It feels amazing. I’m really happy to be back in Rome. I like this tournament. It’s so beautiful here, and great food (smiling). Amazing courts. Amazing atmosphere here. Yeah, I’m really happy to be here. I just expect the great level, and I expect that I’ll be there 100%. I will play my best and I’ll keep moving forward”.
Petra Kvitova, on the other hands, doesn’t rate her chances so high despite winning her debut against Magda Linette. On an interview with Tennis Channel, she joked: “The city is unbelievable. It’s beautiful. I love the food, I love the gelato, I love everything what’s happening here. But just courts, I don’t know, something it’s bad there” ending on a big laugh.