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Six-time champion Serena Williams feels at home at Sony Open

Serena Williams is as comfortable at the Sony Open as she is in a pair of worn-out blue jeans. She lives an hour away in Palm Beach Gardens, is unfazed by the heat and humidity and has won the Key Biscayne tournament six times.

No woman has won more trophies here, and if Williams wins a seventh title, she will surpass Andre Agassi for the all-time record.

The 32-year-old defending champion and world No. 1 looked at home and calm Tuesday afternoon doing a series of beachside interviews at the Ritz-Carlton Resort.

“I have been waiting on this for a while, it feels good to be back here,” she said. “It is home, it feels like home, I drive just an hour, it feels great. I train here so it is easier to anticipate the wind and the heat and all the extra elements.”

But don’t think for a minute that Williams doesn’t feel pressure as the best player of her era — maybe ever. She said she will feel it Thursday afternoon when she opens defense of her title against No. 59 Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan.

“There is a tremendous amount of pressure when you step on the court,” Williams said. “It’s bigger news for me to lose than it is to win. Usually it’s big, front-cover news if I lose.

“But I don’t look at it as pressure. Billie Jean King always told me, ‘pressure is a privilege.’”

This will be the fourth tournament of the season for Williams, who won at Brisbane, Australia, in January but has been slowed some by back pain. She lost to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open and lost in the semifinals in Dubai to No. 23 Alize Cornet.

“The back is good,” she said Tuesday. “It’s much better. It’s really good, actually. I’ve been doing tons of treatment to make sure it stays loose so I don’t have any problems.”

Last year, Williams won the Sony Open final in three sets over Maria Sharapova. The Williams vs. Sharapova matches have been among the most anticipated in the women’s game, but Sharapova, said she is not ready to call it a true rivalry because she has lost 15 of their 17 meetings.

“I think in order to make it a proper rivalry, I’ll have to win in the future,” said Sharapova, who is ranked No. 7.

Sharapova has not beaten Williams since 2004.

“The last few times we’ve played I think the level of tennis has been a lot better than maybe two or three years ago when we played. We had a really tough match here last year in three sets,” Sharapova said. She is coming off a third-round loss at Indian Wells to 79th-ranked Camila Giorgi.

Her shoulder, which gave her trouble last year, is healthy again, but she said she is still working on regaining her strength.

“Missing five or six months of the season last year, it takes a lot to build up the strength in it again,” Sharapova said. “It’s one thing to come off and heal the injury, it’s another building that stamina in the shoulder to play a three-set match. That’s something I’m still working on, and it’s not at the level I want it to be.”

She had a non-tennis sports thrill in February when she carried the torch during the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics and worked as an NBC reporter. Sharapova lived in Sochi as a child before moving to Florida when she was 7.

“It was a really huge honor for me,” she said of carrying the torch. But, it made her nervous because she worried her long hair might burst into flames.

“In rehearsal I had my hair in a bun,” she said. “For the ceremony, I had my hair nicely done, and then like two seconds before I went on I realized that maybe that’s a mistake because my hair is down. I saw some pictures afterwards and … the torch is quite close to my hair. It could have been an accident very quickly.”

This story was originally published March 19, 2014 12:00 AM.

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