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Serena Williams says time off from competition won't hurt her game

NEW YORK -- Serena Williams says she's ready to win tournaments even if she hasn't played in many recently.

"There's nothing that can stop me right now besides me," she said Thursday.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion has played in just one tournament since mid-September. She sat out the rest of the fall season to rest various injuries after her stunning loss in the U.S. Open semifinals. And she recently pulled out of two events, citing illness.

But the top-ranked Williams looked plenty sharp for most of that one tournament, the Australian Open. She was dominant in her run to the final before she was upset by seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber.

"I was ready to go in Australia," Williams said on a conference call previewing her return to the court next week in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden against good friend Caroline Wozniacki.

"I'll be ready to go today. I'll be ready to go tomorrow. And I'll definitely be ready to go Tuesday."

Williams joked that her temperature reached "120 degrees" during a recent bout with the flu. She missed some practice time, but not a significant amount, she said. Later next week, she's scheduled to return to competition at Indian Wells.

"I feel like this is a great opportunity for me to see how I'm feeling physically," Williams said of the exhibition. "I've been doing pretty good."

She'll cut down on parts of her competition schedule this year to stay fresh for the Rio Olympics, which take place between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She plans to go for more gold medals in singles and doubles, and she reiterated that it's "definitely not impossible" she could play mixed doubles too, though she hasn't given much thought to a potential partner.

Of concerns about the Zika virus in Brazil, Williams said it's something "you want to be careful about" but "I'm going to have to read a little bit more."

Stan Wawrinka will face Gael Monfils in the opening match at the BNP Paribas Showdown on Tuesday night, followed by Williams-Wozniacki.