By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - Serena Williams was in superb form as she began her U.S. Open buildup with an entertaining effort highlighted by a couple of cheeky returns and a few clear winners at a rainy Rogers Cup on Monday.
Williams will not actually launch her North American hard court campaign until Tuesday or Wednesday against Italy's Flavia Pennetta, so all of Monday's action took place in a posh VIP lounge where the world number one took questions from the media.
The media mob included good friend turned interloper reporter Caroline Wozniacki.
Well rested and relaxed after sitting out the Stanford event with a sore right elbow, Williams was asked by a playful Wozniacki, "obviously I am the coolest person you know, why is that?"
The answer came quickly, like a saucy drop shot: "Because we are just alike Caroline, just alike," chuckled Williams.
On court, however, Williams has no equals.
The 33-year-old American dominates tennis like few ever have and is on the brink of completing one of her sport's rarest feats - a calendar year grand slam.
With all four slam titles already in her possession for a second so-called Serena Slam, a successful defense of her U.S. Open crown next month in Flushing Meadows would put her in an exclusive club along with Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf as women who have swept all four in a season.
"It definitely feels different because I have never been in this position in my career," Williams said. "I just feel like winning the Serena Slam this year, it took some pressure off."
With tennis history dangling on the horizon, Williams could well find her oncourt buildup to the U.S. Open over the next three weeks less taxing than what awaits in the interview room.
The grand slam line of questioning that greeted her on Monday is sure to relentlessly follow her through every match leading up to the year's final grand slam, kicking off on Aug. 31 at Flushing Meadows.
"I'm not thinking ahead to the Open right now because I am here in Toronto and I haven't really played a hard court match in awhile," said Williams. "I'm thinking I want to get some of this under my belt and the Open will happen when the Open happens.
"For me it is really important to stay in the moment and stay focused."
A three-times winner of the Canadian hard court event, Williams has captured four titles this season including three slams (Australian, French and Wimbledon) and close to $10 million in prize money.
She comes to Toronto with a near perfect match record of 40-1, her only loss to Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals in Madrid.
Rather than bemoan Williams's domination, her pursuit of the calendar year milestone has generated surprising buzz inside the players' lounge.
World number two Simona Halep, who by virtue of her ranking must be viewed as a player capable of derailing the grand slam bid, has no fear of the muscular American but acknowledges she must bring her best to have any hope of delivering an upset.
"I think she can be beat but it's really tough," said Romania's Halep. "I have one victory against her in Singapore so it is my best match ever.
"I think she can win the U.S. Open, win all four this year. I admire her. She is still playing and still winning every tournament she plays.
"It is amazing."
(Editing by Larry Fine)