Serena Williams said she enjoys being at the National Tennis Center, but she is living in a rented house in order to insulate herself even further from exposure to the coronavirus because of her history of significant lung complications.
“I want to be here, but I have genuine health issues,” Williams said Friday in a Zoom meeting with reporters covering the Western & Southern Open, which begins in earnest on Saturday. The tournament is a prelude to the Aug. 31 start of the US Open.
“I didn’t want to be in the [official player] hotel because I have lung issues and felt it was a big risk for me personally,” she said. “In a house, I can control more, there’s no housekeeping [staff], none of that stuff. I needed to put my mind at rest so that I could perform in New York.”
Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism during labor before giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in September 2017, and another, life-threatening one shortly after giving birth, setbacks that left Williams bedridden for six weeks and delayed her return to training.
Williams said that she has been “super careful” during the pandemic, adding that while the extra testing required by the USTA as it prepares for the US Open is a big adjustment for the players, she is all for it. At 38, Williams remains one Grand Slam singles title short of equaling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. Williams already is the most prolific major title winner of the Open era.
The USTA decided to allow players to stay with their families or entourages in private houses instead of one of the two approved tournament hotels if the players agreed to certain conditions. Those include a mandate to provide security to monitor the behavior and activities of those in the home during the three-plus-week period in which the tournament is being played inside a bio-secure bubble at the traditional home of the US Open.
“They have to guide you, make sure people aren’t leaving, going to nightclubs and restaurants,” Williams said of the mandate. “I think that’s good, because people might get antsy and might want to go places. I want to know where people are going. I want to make sure we are all keeping ourselves in this giant bubble. There are more people now, with 128 draws. That’s a lot of people, so I like to know that everybody is staying to their word and being honest about it.”
A handful of top players, including WTA No.1 Ashleigh Barty and No. 2 Simona Halep, decided to skip the US Open due to concerns about the coronavirus. Had all the eligible players chosen to compete, Williams, ranked No. 9, would have missed out on the safe harbor of a top-eight seeding. Because of the withdrawals, Williams will be one of the top four seeds.