Serena Williams ends foreign exile in pursuit of singles gold triumph


KHARKIV, Ukraine — Serena Williams’ bid to win a first Olympic Games gold medal in singles has brought her to this European outpost of world tennis for her first Fed Cup assignment on foreign soil in 13 years. The 13-time Grand Slam champion already owns doubles gold achieved with sister Venus at the 2000 Sydney Games and 2008 in Beijing. A singles title has eluded her and left her with a sense of unfinished business since losing to eventual Olympic champion Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals in Beijing. In normal circumstances, Williams would be an automatic selection for the London Olympics, but rules state that a player must make themselves available for at least two Fed Cup ties in a four-year spell to be eligible. Until this year, however, Williams hadn’t played Fed Cup since 1997. So, after making her comeback in February’s win over Belarus, the 31-year-old now finds herself spearheading the United States team in their World Group play-off against Ukraine on Saturday and Sunday. “I think it is more huge for the media for me to win singles (at the Olympics),” Williams told the USTA website. “For me, any medal is great. If I win singles, it would be awesome. If I win doubles, it would be awesome, or if I win mixed.” Williams, whose last Fed Cup tie outside the United States was in 1999 when she was just 17, has a perfect 9-0 singles record in the tournament, a mark boosted by winning both her matches in the win over Belarus. The United States can send six men and six women to the London Olympics, but just four on each team can be singles players. From those six, the U.S. can have a maximum of two men’s and women’s doubles teams and two mixed doubles teams. Serena could play all three events and despite her last mixed doubles title coming back in 1998, John Isner and Andy Roddick have both said they would be happy to partner her in the Olympic tennis event being played at Wimbledon. “I love John. He is a great player. You can’t break the guy,” she said. “Andy is probably my closest friend on the tour, and he is just a great person. The Bryans are awesome, too. They are No. 1, and you can’t beat playing with the Bryan brothers.

“It is a really tough choice. I would have to get with the captain and, if I played mixed, see who they would want me to play with and not make the decision for me.” Whether or not sister Venus makes it to the Olympics is still in doubt. She only returned to the tour in March after battling the fatigue-causing Sjogren’s Syndrome. The sisters haven’t played doubles at a Grand Slam since 2010, when they won the Australian Open and French Open. “Venus and I are excellent at playing doubles. It is like riding a bike. It is unbelievable playing with her, but we’ll see. We play really well together. We haven’t played in a while, but we do practice a lot,” said Serena.