Nino Severino: Serena Williams is a living legend, but also a great human being
- Credit: AP
In his latest column, Nino Severino discusses his memories of the Australian Open, plus the impending return of tennis legend Serena Williams.
We are now well and truly on the run-in to the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open.
This week sees the ladies playing in Sydney and Hobart, and the men in Sydney and Auckland. Sydney is graded as one of the biggest events after a Grand Slam, and the winner of the ladies’ event will bank £100,000.
All the biggest tennis stars across the world will all be now preparing for Melbourne with these run-in tournaments, all hoping to peak for the Open, where the big ranking points and the big money are up for grabs for the winners.
Thinking about all the players travelling from each corner of the world towards New Zealand and Australia reminds me of some of the feelings and memories I have of when my wife Elena and I made our long journey from Ipswich.
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It always reminded me of the Bruce Lee martial arts film Enter the Dragon, arguably the best martial arts film ever made.
The early scenes feature all the best fighters in the world travelling vast distances to a private island to fight in a prestigious tournament. I could not help thinking that this film and the four Grand Slams were very similar!
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As we travelled across the world, relaxed in the lounges, queued to get on the plane and waited for transport to take us to our hotel, the feeling was exactly the same – tennis warriors from all around the world converging on one place to do battle in the biggest arenas on earth.
While travelling, you would bump into different players, at different stages of the journey, depending on where they travelled from.
And our paths would cross with some of the biggest players in the world – sometimes it would be just a nod of the head and a smile if you did not know them well, and other times it would be a long conversation about their last match, or their experiences travelling in or maybe an injury they may have just recovered from.
One thing both Elena and I were very aware of was the fact that the player we had just seen might be our first opponent when the tournament begun.
And this really reminded me of the fighting world, nods, smiles and conversation maybe, but when the match began it was all out war to the very last point.
I always remember feeling that we were part of something global, something very, very special and it was something we should never take for granted.
The big story of this run into the Australian Open 2018 was Serena Williams and her planned return to high level tennis.
I was watching this unfold with great interest, as Serena decided to return in Abu Dhabi for an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko.
That was a massive ask, given Serena had just given birth to her baby daughter last September and just four months later she was going into battle with one of the best players in the world.
Any ladies reading this I’m sure would be thinking, how on earth could she recover that quickly from child birth and be ready for tennis at the highest level? And I’m sure their partners would be thinking the same thing!
For me this is a reflection of Serena’s mental and physical strength, which have helped make her a living legend in the tennis world.
Elena became close with Serena, sharing conversation that I know Elena valued highly.
We were both always impressed with how tender and caring Serena could be in her private moments, and one such moment was at Wimbledon – arguably the biggest tennis tournament in the world, so much at stake for every player and so much pressure.
Elena organised for one of her foundation supported players to travel with us during the first day of preparation at Wimbledon.
It so happened that as we were walking towards the practice courts, we bumped into Serena. Of course, the young player got very excited, so Elena arranged for her to approach her for a chat and a photo.
Serena was incredible – caring, interested and very gentle.
It was very disappointing to hear that, in the end, Serena decided to pull out of the Australian Open.
I’m sure she was not far off being ready, and took the safe and sensible decision.
I’m also sure she will be back very soon to show millions of tennis fans across the world exactly what they have been missing.