Serena ready for what's next

Serena Williams looks set to step gingerly back on court for her second-round match Thursday, two days after going down and hurting her ankle in her opening match.

Despite the injury, she closed out that match 6-0, 6-0 -- a score so dominant that when Victoria Azarenka was told Williams had hurt herself, she joked, "I heard she won 0 and 0, so what kind of injury are we talking about?"

But there was always the question of whether the injury might worsen in the next few days, which meant there was intense interest in Williams' scheduled hitting session Wednesday, her first since the mid-match fall. The cameras were already trained down the hallway by 3 p.m., when the 15-time Grand Slam champ was supposed to arrive on Court 17. Anticipating the attention, however, Williams chose to practice at the indoor courts nearby, out of the public eye.

Hidden from view (almost), she practiced for about an hour. There was no apparent swelling in her right ankle but thin strips of physio tape rose about a third of the way up her calf, and both ankles were tightly wrapped as usual. Williams appeared to be moving adequately and wound up practicing her serve and returns, but she did not attempt to test the ankle in match-like conditions.

"She was hitting well, but obviously I didn't move her as much as I would normally do on the court," hitting partner Sascha Bajin said.
"In between days we never go hard on the practice. We just go out and hit and try to get a feel for the ball and keep the level of play that we have. And today was the same. We just tried a normal hit. She was moving fine.

"She said she was feeling OK, but at the same time I know she always [tries] to underplay everything."

Even if less than 100 percent, Williams will still be expected to roll through her second-round opponent, Garbine Muguruza, a 19-year-old Spaniard playing in only her second Grand Slam main draw.

What's not clear is whether the problem will linger and affect Williams later in the tournament. Details of the injury have not been released, and it's possible that Williams herself has not asked too many questions.

"I would really rather not know. I know one year I won this tournament and had two bone bruises in both knees," she said after her opening match. "I had no idea. I just knew I was in pain."

"You never know with Serena if it's something really serious or not because she really plays through everything," Bajin said. "She played with two torn ligaments last year."

That ended with a quarterfinal loss in Melbourne to Ekaterina Makarova, which followed an injury in Brisbane two weeks earlier that was similar to Tuesday's incident.

"It reminded me a lot of Brisbane," Williams said. "I thought, 'Oh, not again.' But you know, I've had such a good year that I don't think it's anything negative. I just think that I was definitely a little bit in shock and I was thinking, 'I hope it's not as serious,' because it was really serious last year."

However serious this latest tumble turns out to be, Williams' fighting qualities are legendary and she remains a title threat even if physically struggling. Though movement is one of her strengths, her fearsome serve and big returns allow her to get on top of points quickly and limit her opponents' ability to expose any mobility problems.

One key indication of Williams' state will be whether she continues in the doubles tournament with older sister Venus. The two are scheduled to play Thursday after Serena's singles match. "I guess she has to see how she feels," said Venus, adding that a decision would probably be made after the Muguruza match. "I was like, 'How are you feeling?' She was like, 'Yeah, I'm good.'

"She's obviously a fighter, and she doesn't complain."

Mentally, the injury may serve to sharpen Serena's focus and create more urgency to win matches quickly.

Either way, the injury does add a little more intrigue to the 31-year-old's quest for yet another Australian Open and a return to No. 1. Coming into the tournament, she was such a prohibitive favorite that the title seemed to have been conceded to her without a ball being struck.

Now it looks like it will be more of a battle, even if it's largely against herself. But battle is something Serena is prepared to do.

"This is a big Grand Slam and she's close to be being No. 1 again," Bajin said. "She's not going to go down unless she has to."