Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
For the first time in more than eight months the great Serena Williams will perform, when she makes her long-awaited return to the WTA Tour in Miami this week.
The former world No. 1 star is currently sixth in the women's rankings by virtue of an extended hiatus, which started with a knee problem that required surgery, but seemed to be prolonged by reasons other than injury.
At the time of her surgery, doctors believed that Serena could return to action in two months. But obviously eight weeks turned into eight months.
"My knee feels great, but my rehab took a little bit longer than I expected," Serena said.
Her eagerness to return to the courts was slowed mightily in September when her older half-sister Yetunde Price was shot and killed in Compton, California, about a mile from the public tennis courts where Serena and her big sister Venus learned to play the game.
"Tennis was so much in my life, but you begin to realize there are so many things more important than hitting a tennis ball over the net," she said.
Serena now heads into the NASDAQ-100 Open as its two-time defending champion and can't wait to get back into the swing of things.
Serena will play her first tennis since conquering Wimbledon for a second straight year last July.
"All day long I think about it," she said. "I'm really excited to get out there and play. I'm more excited than everyone else. As excited as everyone else is, I'm ten times more excited."
The key word here is excited.
Serena, who hasn't played since beating Venus in last July's all-sibling Wimbledon final, underwent left knee surgery in early August and was surprisingly sidelined for the rest of the season.
Prior to the injury, Serena was clearly the dominant player on tour, starting with her reign at the 2002 French Open. But since her exit last summer, Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne has ruled the roost, as evidenced by her ownership of three of the four Grand Slam titles and a sizzling 22-1 start to this season.
Serena won four straight Slams before J H-H slowed her down in the French Open semifinals last year. Serena, however, bounced back to capture Wimbledon a few weeks after giving way to Henin-Hardenne in Paris, beating the diminutive Belgian in the semis at the All England Club on her way to a brilliant 38-3 record and four titles in her injury-shortened '03 campaign.
The 22-year-old American is now ready to resume her juicy rivalry with Henin- Hardenne.
"I think Justine is a great player," Serena said. "She's doing awesome -- amazing."
Somehow I think Serena wants to do somethin' about that. Call it a hunch.
The powerful Serena won back-to-back Miami titles by beating fellow former world No. 1 Jennifer Capriati in the '02 and '03 finals (while Venus bested Capriati in the 2001 championship match). Only Venus and Steffi Graf (among the women) have won three titles in Miami, which is what Serena will be shooting for over the next two weeks in south Florida.
While recovering from her surgery, Serena spent time working on some of her fashion designs and acting in several different roles. But make no mistake, tennis is still a passion for the young star.
"I did enjoy doing a lot of stuff like acting and my fashion, but at the end of the day my true love has been and will always be tennis," she said.
For the past few weeks, the six-time Grand Slam champion has been on the court making all the necessary preparations for her comeback, doing everything possible to ensure her return to the top of the rankings, a post she once held for 57 weeks.
"I feel that I'm at that point that I am definitely ready, willing and able and I've been feeling the hunger for some time."
Watch out J H-H, the sheriff's in town, and she's now donning Nike apparel ($60 million later), having made the jump from Puma.
The always-busy Serena also plans on playing Fed Cup and Olympic tennis this year, with fellow African-American Zina Garrison serving as her captain.