Abu Dhabi: Around this time last year, tennis world’s attention were cast on the Mubadala Tennis Championship. The women’s tennis diva Serena Williams was playing a one-off match against the then French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in a bid to comeback just 11 months after the birth of her child Alexis Olympia.

The American lost the contest to the Latvian 6-2, 3-6 and then 10-5 in a super tiebreaker but still impressed to take a set off Ostapenko.

She had not played since clinching the 23rd Grand Slam singles title in Australia and hence that showing was all the more significant.

It gave firm evidence that it wouldn’t take long for the champion to regain peak form.

Serena, who will be joining her sister Venus Williams in the women’s draw of the 11th edition of the Championship starting December 27, recalled how she amazed herself in that crucial moment of her career and personal life.

“Mubadala, I think was the best moment for me last year as just the fact that I really surprised myself. I realised, I still had a bit of work to do before playing in a Grand Slam but I knew I was going to be up for the task,” Serena told Gulf News in an email interview, adding that it will be special to be coming back to Abu Dhabi after the ‘surreal experience’ she had here in 2017.

I like to try to keep my goals to myself, I think it helps me work harder and reach them. Preseason has been going pretty well so far.

- Serena Williams, Former World No. 1

Serena was world No. 1 when she had to take that maternity break. By the time she returned, she had slipped to 491 in the rankings and was later unseeded at the 2018 French Open.

Regaining lost ground was like starting again from scratch and it had its share of challenges and even racked up a few controversies for the new mother.

She triggered a huge debate when French Tennis Federation judge Bernard Giudicelli called out after the grand slam for wearing a black bodysuit. The catsuit also had practical purpose as the leggings helped with circulation as Serena suffered blood clots after giving birth.

“It was truly better than any comeback I could have ever predicted. I always think I’m going to do well but honestly reaching two Grand Slam finals back-to-back was much more than anything I ever thought I could do,” said Serena, who also became a winner off the count as her comeback triggered WTA to announce groundbreaking rule changes earlier this week to reduce penalties for players who are taking maternity leaves. WTA’s new rules will make it easier for women to return after starting a family as the ranking will remain the same for deciding on seedings.

Serena is in no mood to rest on all the laurels though and is keen to achieve dizzying heights in 2019 but is keeping the cards close to her heart.

“I like to try to keep my goals to myself, I think it helps me work harder and reach them. Pre-season has been going pretty well so far. After so many years of playing tennis and so many pre-seasons, I have to say this one was one of the most enjoyable,” said Serena adding that, there are grey areas for improvement — ‘I always have a long list of things I like to work on but of course I never disclose them.’

The Australian Open in January would certainly top her priority list and she was confident that her sister Venus would test her enough to let her know where she stands at the beginning of the season.

“I surely hope so … (in the best of shape) it is always challenging to start the year so early with a grand slam but I’m excited for that challenge,” said Serena.

Asked about the challenge of playing her sister Venus at Mubadala, Serena said: “It really is not easy playing her. I have to say it also gets harder each time. She is hands down the toughest player I have ever faced in my career and I actually have never lost to anyone more times than I have to Venus. It will be an amazing match,” said Serena, who enjoys an 18-12 career head-to-head record against Venus.