No-Frills Serena Feeling No Pressure in Cincy

World No.1 Serena Williams takes the court at the W&S Open in Cincinnati.

By: Nick McCarvel

Believe it or not, Serena Williams has never walked away from the Lindner Family Tennis Center as the Western & Southern Open champion.

Her record here is respectable – though below the Serena standard – at 11-5, having made the final here a year ago for the first time in five career appearances.

But for the world No. 1 and arguably one of the best athletes to ever play the sport of tennis, that’s all OK. Because in 2014, for Serena, she’s still learning how to enjoy the game while finding a way to win.

“It's always fun to be defending champion, but it's always even more fun if you're not because you can only go forward and only move up,” Williams said Wednesday after a hard-fought win over Sam Stosur, the same player who beat her in the final of the 2011 US Open.

2014 has been less than remarkable for one of the more remarkable individuals to play this sport. Serena hasn’t made it past the fourth round of any Grand Slam this year and enters the US Open in danger of going major-less in a season for just the third time in the last 12 years.

But none of that is phasing the 32 year old, who was chatty and upbeat after her victory against the big-serving Stosur, a match that didn’t include any breaks of serve.

“It's been really great to play such close matches and then come out on top even though I'm defeated and then down. To be able to actually win those are really good.”

Williams opened her US Open Series campaign with a title at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford before losing to big sister Venus in the semifinals in Montreal, her first defeat at the hands of her sibling in five years.

Williams is relaxed, though. Her so-so season (again, by the Serena standard) has left her feeling refreshed, which often times produced the most intense and high-quality brand of her tennis. A hungry Serena is a dangerous one.

“I feel pretty good about going into the rest of the year,” the 17-time major champion said. “You know, I'm excited about next year too. It's like it's going to be kind of fun to, you know, go to a tournament and not be defending champion.”

As for this week, Williams isn’t the defending champion either. Thursday she faces Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta, a fellow 32 year old who she’s 4-0 against.

Does Serena enjoy the aspect of being No. 1 still? The player everyone is going after week in and week out?

“It's kind of hard to say,” she responded. “Obviously I love the chase, so to say. In tennis, that is [laughing]. Yeah, but at the same time I also love being on top. I love it.”

She certainly would love a first Cincinnati title, as well, a win that which would mark her 62nd career crown, the most among active players.

If Serena had the choice of capturing the title alongside any men’s player, it might be Andy Murray, the Briton who already has two victories (2008 and 2011) in Cincinnati.

“My favorite [men’s player] to watch hands down is Murray,” Serena told reporters. Then, adding with laughter: “Because he acts like me on the court.”