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Tennis-Serena working to reduce mental stress, expectation

PARIS, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Serena Williams says she has been working on reducing her mental stress and making herself understand that she cannot possibly win every point on court as her chase of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title continues at the French Open.

The American won her 23rd major title at the Australian Open in 2017 before taking a break to give birth to her daughter.

She has reached four Slam finals since returning to the circuit in 2018 but has been denied every time as she remains one major title behind Australian Margaret Court.

“You don’t play that many perfect matches. That’s one thing I’ve been working on in this off-season loosely,” the 39-year-old told reporters on Monday after her opening 7-6(2) 6-0 win over fellow American Kristie Ahn at Roland Garros.

“But it’s just understanding that I have to let go of expectation. That doesn’t mean I’m lowering my expectations. It just means I’m having realistic expectations of not winning every point, every game, every shot.

“It sounds crazy, but that’s me and that’s what makes me me. I’m Serena. At some point I’m always going to have some level of perfection, but I just need to have a more reasonable level so I cannot put so much stress on me mentally.”

Williams feels she puts more pressure on herself by striving for perfection in everything she does.

She did not play a lead-up event on clay before Roland Garros and her last match before the French Open was a semi-final defeat by Victoria Azarenka on the U.S. Open hardcourts.

Williams also had an Achilles injury in that match which forced her to withdraw from the Italian Open in Rome.

Asked what she was doing to manage the injury, Williams said: “A ton of prayer. I’m doing so much for it.

“I did so much for it at Patrick’s (coach Mouratoglou’s) academy, like I went straight from New York directly to his academy and started rehabbing it.

“One of the reasons I came into (speak to the) press a little bit earlier than normal (is) because I need to get back and start the protocol all over again. So just kind of rehab that, laser, ice, just a lot... of stuff on it.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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