Serena confident of a good year

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The former and maybe future queen of her sport is about to play the newest world No. 1 in a high-stakes match that could determine the future of US women’s team tennis. And it’s no big deal. Serena Williams, the career prize-money leader among female athletes (in all sports), rolled into town this week in advance of the weekend’s Fed Cup matches at the DCU Center against Belarus and world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. “I played a lot of No. 1’s,’’ Williams said at a news conference. “It doesn’t change anything.’’
Despite her confidence, the 13-time Grand Slam champion and undefeated Fed Cup competitor is limping into the best-of-five series after a meek and thoroughly uncharacteristic loss to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova, 6-2, 6-3, in the fourth round of the Australian Open. On the other hand, Azarenka, who likely will be Williams’s opponent in reverse singles Sunday, soars into this World Group II first-round match as the Australian champion. At 30, Serena Williams, like sister and Fed Cup teammate Venus, 31, is at a critical junction of her long career. Her participation in this Fed Cup is critical – indeed, required – for joining the US Olympic team for the Summer Games in London. And the United States has to beat Belarus to avoid relegation to zonal play. Serena Williams has also battled persistent injuries, most recently a badly sprained ankle that caused her to withdraw from the Australian Open tuneup, the Brisbane International, in early January.
Before that, she was struck in February 2011 by a life-threatening blood clot in her lung, a complication from cutting her foot. Williams said that although the ankle isn’t fully healed, she is ready for Azarenka and the Belarusians. While US captain Mary Joe Fernandez won’t announce the final lineup until today, Williams, as the US No. 1, will likely face off first against the Belarus No. 2, Anastasia Yakimova, ranked 61st in the world. “The ankle is better,’’ said Williams. “Every day it’s feeling better. It’s not 100 percent. But it’s better than it was last week and two weeks ago. It just needs time to heal.’’ Williams wasn’t happy about her early exit from Australia, where she has won five titles, but it gave her extra time to recover before the Fed Cup.
“It was good to take a few days off because it was such an acute injury,’’ she said. “I trained a little bit. I’ve been doing more than I would have done with an injury like this because I knew I had Fed Cup coming up.’’