PERTH, Australia (AFP) - American superstar Serena Williams finally arrived in Australia on Sunday, tired and several days late, but confident she was on track to defend her Australian Open title.
The world No.7 arrived here early Sunday morning to compete in the mixed teams Hopman Cup, having taken a circuitous route from her US base in Miami via New York and Dubai.
Williams cited a stomach flu as the reason for her late arrival, with Meghann Shaughnessy successfully substituting as Mardy Fish's partner in the USA's opening tie victory over India on Saturday. "I was so glad when I heard that she won and Mardy won yesterday. I was really excited. I owe her a big thank-you," Williams said.
Having caught a few hours sleep after flying in at 3:00 am, Williams yawned her way through a practice session, but hit the ball crisply and looked in good shape.
The 26-year-old said she believed the guaranteed match practice of the Hopman Cup was the ideal preparation for 2008's first Grand Slam.
Williams warmed up for this year's Australian Open by playing in Hobart, where she was eliminated in the quarter finals.
However, she then went to Melbourne ranked 86th in the world and stunned the tennis world by fighting her way through to the final, where she thrashed Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-2 to claim her eighth Grand Slam title.
The Australian Open starts on January 14 and Williams explained she wanted a break between her warm-up tournament and the Grand Slam.
She used the same preparation in 2003, when she won both the Hopman Cup and Australian Open.
"Last year was cutting it close, I never like to play the week before a Grand Slam," she said. "Especially as defending champion, I really wanted to make sure I was here trying to get ready."
Despite the illness setback and also missing the season ending tournament in Madrid in November with a knee problem, Williams said she was satisfied with her preparation for the Australian Open.
Williams said she barely rested at the end of the season.
"I had a whole week (off), so that was not long at all," she said. "I am definitely feeling fully prepared. "It has been really good, I have been trying to train a little bit and have some fun."
The Hopman Cup will also offer Williams invaluable practice on the controversial new Plexicushion surface that is also being used for the Australian Open.
(I love you Serena!) : )