Yes, the bigger WTA tournament of the week, just before the Australian Open, was in Brisbane. Nevertheless, Serena Williams needed match play in Auckland — a tournament much more likely to give her exactly that.
Serena wisely scheduled that tournament.
We can say that not only because Serena won Auckland on Sunday by beating Jessica Pegula in the final, but because it always made conceptual sense to start with a less imposing tournament in which Serena could more easily get into the flow of the 2020 season.
In other words, when I say that playing Auckland instead of Brisbane was the right call for Serena to make, I am making the specific point that this isn’t entirely a results-based calculus. Serena didn’t need a title. (She needs a major, yes, but she didn’t NEED Auckland.) She needed matches.
Brisbane might not have given her a significant amount of match play. Auckland was always more likely to deliver that. Serena knows what she is doing.
Serena will now travel to Melbourne for the Australian Open, KNOWING she has enough match play to be ready for this tournament. Knowing is different from hoping or believing. That matters. Serena’s chances are actually better in Melbourne than they were at last September’s U.S. Open, because Serena carries no questions about her fitness.
You will recall that she had to retire from the 2019 Toronto final against Bianca Andreescu and then didn’t play Cincinnati. Right now, Serena has no doubts swirling around her.
Serena has reached the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals in each of the past two years. The Australian Open was skipped in 2018 due to maternity, and in 2019 came the agonizing (psychologically, not just physically) ankle roll late in her quarterfinal loss to Karolina Pliskova. Roland Garros — in 2018 and 2019 — has been a tournament in which Serena was merely trying to regain physical strength and on-court rhythm.
Maybe 2020 will be a year in which Serena’s body cooperates at all four majors, not just Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Auckland provided an auspicious start before Australia.
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