Serena to return to Auckland for Aussie Open warm-up

Serena Williams is battling back problems ahead of the US Open that forced her to retire from warm-up tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati. (Reuters Pic)

WELLINGTON: Serena Williams announced Tuesday she will warm-up for January’s Australian Open at the Auckland Classic, a tournament that has mixed memories for the American superstar.

Williams slumped to a shock second-round loss in her only previous appearance in New Zealand in 2017, lashing out at windy conditions she described as some of the “least favourite” she had ever experienced.

But she went on to win the Australian Open later that month, claiming the most recent of her 23 majors to pass Steffi Graf’s Open-era benchmark of 22.

She also announced her engagement to Alexis Ohanian while in New Zealand and it later emerged she was pregnant with her first child while competing at the tournament.

Currently ranked eighth in the world, the 37-year-old said she wanted to show New Zealanders what she could do on the court.

“Oh man, I want to win that title so bad,” she said in a statement.

“Last time I was there I had so much going on and although I fought through to win my first match, I know I didn’t play to my level.”

Since her 2017 triumph at Melbourne Park, Williams has been chasing a 24th Grand Slam to match Australian Margaret Court’s record.

She is battling back problems ahead of the US Open that forced her to retire from warm-up tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati.