MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams has not played a meaningful match since losing in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in September.
Williams has professed that she is healthy despite pulling out of two matches and failing to complete a third at the Hopman Cup exhibition event this month, citing knee problems.
At one point Saturday during a morning training session as she prepared to defend her Australian Open title, Williams sat in a chair grimacing, facing a fence, as her physiotherapist, Anne-Marie Montgomery, attended to her.
Williams, addressing the media hours later, rejected the suggestion of a nagging injury.
"No, I'm a little tired today," she said, referring to when she was seated during practice. "I've been working so hard and doing so much work, so maybe I had a bad attitude out there."
When asked if she was physically 100 percent for the tournament, which begins Monday, Williams said: "No, I'm at 120, 130 percent right now. You know, this week, the weeks leading up, has been a lot of work. I actually wanted to have an easy day today. But to me … 'easy' is just two hours of really intense working out."
Despite her competitive rust, the No. 1-seeded Williams said she would rely on her experience and rigorous training.
"I've had a really good preparation," she said. "I mean, I didn't have the match play that I've wanted to have. But after playing for so many years on tour, I should be able to, you know, focus on that and the fact that I have played a lot of matches. So that's what I'm trying to focus on now."
Though she could equal Steffi Graf's total of 22 Grand Slam singles titles with a victory, her intensity in this tournament could pale in comparison with her quest to win the Grand Slam last year, when she was stunned in the U.S. Open semifinals by unseeded Roberta Vinci. Williams said a Grand Slam this year is not a goal.
"I never thought about it, really," Williams said. "It was in front of me last year. But it still wasn't there, so I don't really think about it. I just think about each tournament as it comes, each player as it comes. Everyone here wants to win the tournament. I mean, I do probably more than anyone else."
Williams tried to strike a balance between confidence and managing expectations. "Honestly, I don't have anything to prove," she said. "I have nothing to lose. I can only gain. That's kind of how I look at it right now."
When asked what result would make for a satisfying trip to Melbourne, Williams glared at the questioner and replied: "I mean, we all know the answer to that. So no need to even say it."
Williams, in typical fashion, said she did not want to know the identity of her first-round opponent (it is Camila Giorgi, the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw). "I don't really ever look at the draw, so I would appreciate it if you didn't mention it," she said. "Thank you."