ASB CLASSIC DIRECTOR KARL BUDGE TALKS WITH TIM DOWER ABOVE ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE TOURNAMENT
Whatever happens over the next week, Serena Williams will always have special memories of Auckland, as the place "where it all began".
The American superstar revealed that she had to come back to the ASB Classic, because her visit here three years ago was a pivotal time in her life.
She announced her engagement soon after touching down in New Zealand in 2017, and was also six weeks pregnant with her daughter (Alexis Olympia), though she was unaware of that fact at the time.
"I always knew I would have to come back, for sure," said Williams. "I felt like the last time so many things were happening in my life, it was just crazy kinda looking back.
"I didn't even realise what was happening and now I'm here with my daughter and it's such a special moment, this is kinda where it all began."
Williams didn't have a happy stay at the 2017 ASB Classic. Though she enjoyed the city, and the friendly tournament atmosphere, she suffered a shock second round defeat to unheralded compatriot Madison Brengle, on a particularly blustery day at Stanley Street, making more than 70 unforced errors.
Afterwards she vented, infamously describing the windy conditions as the worst she had faced in her career, and said she "couldn't wait to get to Melbourne".
Looking back now, she can laugh about it, admitting it was a trying time in her life, as she was unwittingly affected by the hormonal changes in her body.
"It was windy, I was angry, I remember hating my now husband," laughed Williams. "I was like 'I can't stand you and I don't know why'. Obviously at the time I didn't know why either. I was like 'it's something about your smell, I don't like your smell, I don't know'."
"I was six weeks pregnant and had no idea. Looking back it is just so surreal and crazy. Now that I am here I have all these funny memories of me being miserable in the first trimester of pregnancy. For a woman the first trimester is tough and to not know is even tougher. We joke about it but I am so happy to be here now."
The 37-year-old says motherhood — Olympia was born in September 2017 — has changed her focus.
"I want to do everything for her, make sure I am a good mother for her, a good role model, a good person, a good wife."
It's also meant a change to her routine, as Williams is no longer confined to her hotel or practice courts.
"It's great because I stay busy now, I actually get out and do things with her."
Williams plans to visit the Auckland Zoo, and turned a few heads on Saturday as she wandered through Kelly Tarltons.
"[There were a] a lot of surprised looks," admitted Williams. "But you know, I am there for my daughter, it's all for her now."
Williams was in good spirits, but she also left no doubts about her mission this week; gain the best possible preparation as she eyes a record equalling 24th grand slam title at the Australian Open.
"It's meant a lot to me for a while and now it is just about getting over that one hump," said Williams of drawing level with Australian legend Margaret Court. "I'm almost there and I am confident that I will get there."
Her most recent major success came at the 2017 Australian Open, two weeks after playing in Auckland.
Williams has reached the last two grand slam finals, but lost in straight sets to Simona Halep at Wimbledon and 2019 ASB Classic runner-up Bianca Andreescu in New York.
"It was tough for me," said Williams. "I really felt like I was close but I didn't really show up in those matches. I have to figure out a better way to compete in those."
That preparation starts this week, where she faces two time grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in a tough first round.