Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Sofia Kenin, and Iga Swiatek met with reporters on Saturday afternoon at Melbourne Park to discuss their pre-tournament health concerns, expectations, and mindset as the first Grand Slam event of the season is set to begin on Monday at the Australian Open. Here are some highlights from a busy day in the main interview room.
Serena Williams withdrew from the semifinals at the Yarra Valley Classic citing a shoulder injury, but she reassured the press that she's feeling more than confident after a strong performance in the lead-up:
"I feel pretty good. I've gotten a lot of treatment already on my shoulder. But I'm super confident it's going to be great.
"I'm feeling very confident, I think is a better word, and getting ready for hopefully the next two weeks."
How much does the Quest for No.24 weigh on Serena as she readies to play her 78th Grand Slam main draw:
"It's definitely on my shoulders and on my mind. I think it's good to be on my mind. I think it's a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I'm used to it now. It's more relaxing I would like to say, yeah."
Simona Halep looked sharp at the Gippsland Trophy but appeared to be bothered by a lower back issue in her quarterfinal loss to Ekaterina Alexandrova.
"Yesterday I struggled a little bit from the air-conditioning with my low back. The muscle got a little bit blocked. But I did some treatment last night, this morning, so I'm getting better now.
"It's nothing dangerous. I'm used to it because it happens when it's that cold. I had it also last year in French Open because it was cold outside. So I'm not very worried, but I'm taking care of it."
Naomi Osaka isn't here to prove anything to anyone. She's here to win as many matches as she can for as long as she can.
Q. How important is the world No. 1 ranking to you? Is No.1, becoming a dominant No.1, is that driving you?
NAOMI OSAKA: I would say yes, but it doesn't bother me as much as it used to because I remember when I first got to No.1, I think nobody really acknowledged me as No. 1. I remember I was in Indian Wells, and I was talking to someone. They were like, What side of the draw are you on? And the No.1 is always on the top side. It just made me think like, wow, people don't really see me as No.1.
I feel like since that point, two years ago or was it last year? No, two years ago. I just kept trying to prove myself. I felt like that wasn't really a good mindset to have.
I feel like right now I'm at a really good place, like I just want to play every match as hard as I can. If it comes to the point where I'm able to be No.1 again, I'll embrace it, but I'm not really chasing it like that anymore.
Q. You said you're not chasing No. 1. Simona Halep has been in the Top 10 in an unbroken streak for like seven years, hasn't dropped out of it since she made it. What is your thought on that sort of streak, and if that is something that you would like to be able to match?
NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, definitely. I think that's something that's incredible. For me, I feel like I want to have that sort of consistency.
I don't know. My career, it's been kind of up and down a lot, and people don't really know when I'm going to do well in a tournament or when I'm not. I think my ultimate goal is just to at least reach the quarterfinals or better at every tournament I play, and hopefully win most of them. If not, then just to give a really good performance.
But I think being in the Top 10 for seven years is something really good. I don't know why my mind immediately went to I hope I don't get injured. Like imagine you get injured and you drop out of the Top 10. But, yeah, I think that's something I definitely want to strive towards.
Defending champion Sofia Kenin is superstitious and one of her superstitions is to actually look at the draw at Slams.
"I obviously look quite far ahead, I think till four rounds. After that it's obviously I know who I'll play. I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but see who I'd rather play or not play.
"We'll see what's going to happen. I still got to play my game, worry about my results. Off court I'm going to be watching the matches, hoping that I'm not going to play some opponents. Not going to say who (smiling).
"Last year I looked at the draw till the fourth round. Paris I looked at the fourth round. US Open. Why change the rhythm (smiling)?"
The key to Kenin's title defense? Handling her nerves and taking care of her body.
"Obviously I would love to defend it. But, yeah, just preparing physically and mentally, knowing that I got to be physically there in my game, my movement, everything. Mentally I got to handle my emotions and understand whoever I'm going to play, they're obviously going to play with no pressure, which is expected. They're probably going to play better against me, so I have to somehow try to handle my nerves and try to stick to my game plan, yeah, hope that I win."
It's not easy to make a name for yourself in American tennis when you're playing alongside two all-time greats. And Kenin wouldn't have it any other way.
"Trying to be special next to Venus Williams and Serena Williams, they've done so much for the game. Really want them to keep playing because it makes me want to push and be like them. They really inspired me. Fingers crossed they'll keep playing. They're playing some really good tennis now."
Iga Swiatek is as human as the rest of us:
"I would say I was always imagining that when I'm going to win a Grand Slam, I'm going to, I don't know, just enjoy it for the rest of my life, it's going to be rainbows everywhere, I'm going to be some kind of at peace in myself that I already won a Grand Slam and I reached my goal.
"The truth is that humans are like that: they just want more. I feel expectations even though I did something great on a French Open. I want more basically.
"I feel more pressure and expectations. I also feel that it's hard to prepare for that moment. I have to kind of look back on what happened since French Open and work with that right now, kind of try to go back to my roots and just enjoy playing tennis, not thinking about other stuff that came along."
"The thing is that before French Open, if I would be practicing with, for example, Elina Svitolina, because we practiced in Rome and we practiced here. I remember when I was playing against her in Rome, we played a sparring. We had 6-6.
"That was kind of a thing in my mind. I thought, Whoa, I'm playing with such a player and we were playing like on the same level. Wow, that's great. I felt really good about myself.
"Right now I feel that after French Open my expectations got a little bit higher. When I play good tennis I expect from myself that I'm going to win with even more advantage.
"But actually, it was just two weeks. My practice with her in Rome was just a few months ago. Physically nothing changed, only my attitude. It's hard also to deal with that because at the French Open I won against some of the great players. That can really mess with the head sometimes."