ROME — Serena Williams has won three consecutive tournaments and 19 matches in a row after defeating Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open on Sunday to claim her first red clay title since 2002. Last year, Williams rode a 17-match winning streak into the Italian Open semifinals before withdrawing from her match against Li Na because of a back injury. She went on to lose to Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open.
“I feel definitely different this year,” Williams told reporters here Monday as she prepares to try to win the Italian Open for the first time in 11 years. “I feel more calm. Last year I was really happy and feeling really good about it. I just feel more calm and poised [this year].”
I caught up with Williams after her practice session Monday. Looking relaxed, if not slightly weary from the quick turnaround, she was quick to laugh about the popularity of the “Serena Friday” Twitter Q&A sessions she started for fans.
“One day I was like, I answer questions [on Twitter] so I should just have a day to answer questions,” Williams told SI.com. “I don’t know why I chose Friday, but it became a huge hit. That’s what I like about social media. I can connect directly with fans.”
That kind of access can lead to some wacky questions. Williams said she loves them, though. That was my cue to ask her more offbeat questions Monday, when the 31-year-old world No. 1 discussed one painful loss from 15 years ago, her reluctance to dine with fellow players and her television obsession.
SI.com: When did you first realize you were good at tennis?
Williams: Not until late. Maybe when I started winning tournaments in 1999 [as a 17-year-old]. I never really thought I was good like that until I started winning. I remember I was on a win streak. I won Paris, I won Indian Wells and I lost the finals to Venus at the Lipton. Even though I lost the match, I went on to win the U.S. Open that year [for her first Grand Slam title]. I feel like it gave me confidence.
SI.com: If you could go back and replay any match in your career, which would it be?
Williams: The 1998 French Open fourth round. I played Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and I was [two points from winning the match twice]. And I tell you, I would have won the French Open that year [if she had beaten Sanchez Vicario]. I know I would have won the French Open that year. Unfortunately, she won.
SI.com: What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Williams: Playing with my sisters. I’m really girly so I always had to be the princess. I was the princess, Venus was the wizard and Lyn was like the evil person. She was the villain. But I always had to be the good guy.
SI.com: You’re at a tournament and you’re about to go to dinner. Whom do you call to come out with you?
Williams: I don’t eat dinner with players. Only because, I get along with a lot of players, but I get too emotionally involved. I start liking people too much and it gets too hard to beat them. I feel sorry for them and then when I play them, I get depressed. As much as I would want to — I could name a lot of players, like Caroline [Wozniacki], Jamie [Hampton]. But I would feel so bad. I even lost to Caroline [at the Sony Open in 2012]. I can’t. I get too close to people.
SI.com: Describe your last meal on earth.
Williams: Anything soul food. You know it. Preferably fried chicken.
SI.com: iPhone or Blackberry?
Williams: iPhone. Have you not seen my iPhone 5 commercial? We only go iPhone now. We don’t do BlackBerry.
SI.com: What’s the first thing you think of when you step off a plane?
Williams: That’s a good question. That’s a really good question. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.
SI.com: What’s your favorite TV show right now?
Williams: Oh, my God. Arrow. I’m obsessed with Arrow. I like The Good Wife, but I’m really disappointed she [Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick] is with that guy [cheating husband Peter, played by Chris Noth]. It’s upsetting!
SI.com: What’s your favorite candy bar?
Williams: Whatchamacallit. I used to always love the name. So when I was younger, I loved it.
SI.com: What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
Williams: Definitely ‘N Sync’s It’s Gonna Be Me.