Serena Williams, the newly anointed No. 1 player, recently took part in the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York to celebrate tennis during the inaugural World Tennis Day, defeating No. 2 Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3 at Madison Square Garden in a rematch of their 2012 US Open final.
During the match, a rejuvenated Serena, who was forced to bow out of her opening round match in Dubai two weeks ago, appeared calm and confident as she struck her shots and repeatedly forced errors from her Belarusian opponent.
In their last meeting, which took place this year at the Qatar Open, Azarenka defeated Williams in three sets for just the second time in 14 tries in a budding rivalry between the top two WTA players.
Serena, too, seemed to be genuinely happy for having the chance to play at Madison Square Garden once again and to promote the sport that has given her numerous opportunities throughout her life as part of the World Tennis Day celebration. In 2009, she beat older sister Venus to win the Billie Jean King Cup at the Garden.
In a post-match press conference with Azarenka, Serena told reporters about her love of playing exhibition matches and especially for competing at Madison Square Garden. “Usually there are exhibitions in places that I don’t normally play, so it’s always fun to go to different cities where I never go, good to see the fans that support me and all the players around the world,” she said. “And so this is special.”
She added, “Who would turn down the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden?”
Williams also spoke about having the opportunity to take part in the first World Tennis Day. Along with the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York City, there was an event at the AsiaWorld-Arena in Hong Kong for the first time.
When asked about whether she was rooting for Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, who Serena beat at Wimbledon last year for her 15th major title, or former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, she spoke candidly. “I think it’s great for World Tennis Day to have another exhibition in Hong Kong and one here in New York and so it doesn’t matter really who wins.”
She continued, “It’s just that we’re all here to promote the game of tennis, which has made our lives very happy and just fun. I’m so glad that tennis lessons are becoming more popular, it’s such a great sport!”
For more on Monday night’s match, read Sports Illustrated’s report here.
Benjamin Snyder is a sports contributor to The Burton Wire. You can follow him on Twitter @WriterSnyder.