AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Serena Williams expects her second career appearance at the ASB Classic to be much different than her first -- both on and off the court.
"I'm not pregnant, as a start, so that works, so I can only do good now," the World No.10 joked in her pre-tournament press conference on Sunday.
In an ebullient mood as she met the media prior to the start of main draw play, the 23-time Grand Slam champion reflected on just how much has changed since her last visit to New Zealand two years ago.
"I'm in a really different frame of mind," she continued. "It's just so surreal and so crazy, looking back - I have all of these funny memories of me just being miserable in the first trimester of pregnancy, being six weeks pregnant and not knowing...so now, we joke about it and I'm so happy to be here."
What played out following Williams' first-ever appearance in Auckland is well-known: after a second round exit at the hands of compatriot Madison Brengle at the 2017 tournament, Williams went on to win the Australian Open for her 23rd major title, and announced her pregnancy a short time later.
After giving birth to daughter Olympia in September of that year, Williams now returns for the first time since then, with her toddler in tow, to play an official WTA event prior to the Australian Open for just the fifth time since 2010.
"I always knew that I would have to come back [to Auckland], for sure," she said. "I didn't even realize what was happening, and now I'm here with my daughter. This is kind of where it all began. It's amazing. It's so exciting to be here with her, and to know that this is literally where it started."
Appearing in Auckland for the second time, Williams will see a familiar face on the other side of the net in her opening round in Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, whom she will face for the 14th time.
"First of all, she's a really good friend of mine, and second of all, she's a really great player," Williams said of the Russian. "It's good. I like to play really tough opponents in the first round, and there's no better way to start than to start serious. I really love her and adore her, and I wish it could've been a little bit later, for both of us."
Williams will also see a familiar face on the same side of the net over the course of the week in Auckland: she'll partner former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the doubles draw as the latter gets set to end her professional career at the Australian Open, and called the Dane "one of my best friends" as she gave her thoughts on competing alongside her.
After a 24th major title again eluded her in 2019, as she finished runner-up to Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu at Wimbledon and the US Open, respectively, the American hopes that a successful showing in New Zealand will give her a springboard towards major success at Melbourne Park once more.
"[Reaching 24 Slams has] meant a lot to me for a while, and now it's just about getting over that one hump," she said.
"I'm almost there, and I'm confident that I'll get there. It was tough for me. I really felt like I was close, but I didn't really 'show up' in those matches, and so I have to figure out how to compete in those.
"I haven't won [in Auckland] yet, and I don't like to go places and not have that opportunity, but I have a new opportunity to try and do that."