LOS ANGELES — Serena Williams has not driven a car since July. Just the other day, she hopped on an exercise bike for the first time in weeks. "Now I'm going out for lunch today, so I'm excited," Williams said Tuesday.
Williams is taking baby steps — unfamiliar strides for a woman who boldly captured the 1999 U.S. Open at 17 and redefined power and athleticism in women's tennis.
In an interview at her two-story home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles, Williams spoke of her desire to resume her barrier-breaking tennis career following a series of bizarre physical setbacks.
Williams, a 13-time major winner, has not played a match since cutting her right foot on glass shortly after winning Wimbledon in July. She has had two operations on the foot, most recently in October, to repair a damaged tendon.
Last month she suffered a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot, that traveled from her leg to her lungs. She then was hospitalized to remove a hematoma from her stomach that grew to the size of a grapefruit.
"I don't know if I've had my share of drama, but I've definitely had my share of hard times," said Williams, who wore a white dress, leather Yves-Saint Laurent belt and a denim jacket. A large bejeweled necklace was strung across her neck.
"What's going to make me happy is going on the court and holding up trophies, singles and doubles," she said.
Since bursting on the scene more than a dozen years ago, Serena and her sister Venus have held up their share of hardware (20 combined majors in singles, plus 12 in doubles). Their Cinderella-like backstory, athleticism and no-holds-barred style made them must-see personalities not just for tennis fans but also for all sports followers.
They have had injuries, personal tragedies and controversy, too, such as the shooting death of their half-sister Yetunde Price in 2003 and their refusal to play at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., following what they believe was a racially tinged crowd reaction in 2001.
Williams, however, says this latest string of "unfortunate events" has almost been too much.
"I definitely have not been happy," said Williams, who has dropped to No. 11 in the women's rankings since her absence. "Especially when I had that second surgery (on my foot), I was definitely depressed. I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around."
Williams, 29, says she is taking it a day at a time.
While she says she hopes to return to the tour by summer, the former No. 1 isn't sure when she'll be back. A pulmonary embolism can, if untreated, be deadly. Some professional athletes have missed months with the condition.
Williams showed a few glimpses of the bubbly personality that has made her an international star. For the most part, she was subdued.
Some of her Grand Slam trophies were tucked in a corner hallway. Pictures with some of her celebrity friends such as Kim Kardashian and Selita Ebanks, plus blown-up posters of her cover appearances in ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated, dotted the living room bookcase.
Williams said she had grown tired of the isolation, doctors' visits and physical limitations since injuring her foot. She said she spent 10 weeks in a cast and almost 10 weeks in a walking boot and wore a tube and drainage bag for a week after her hematoma surgery.
"I called him Grover because he was like a grenade," she joked about the drainage bag. "I hated him."
To divert herself, she has become a karaoke addict — even staying up all night on a couple of occasions belting out tunes on her home equipment. "I've developed a karaoke habit," she smiled. "I've become a crooner."
Her favorite covers include Rihanna and Celine Dion. Bryan Adams' Everything I do is "one of my go-to songs," she smiled.
Williams, who remains on blood thinners, said that doctors told her a part of her lung had "died" from the pulmonary embolism. She will have another cat scan in about three weeks to see if the clots are melting.
Whether she will be the same ferocious player once she comes back from what could be a year or more layoff is one question on many minds. Age is not on her side. No player has been truly dominant past the age of 30 in the last two decades.
Williams says she banishes such thoughts.
"First of all mentally, I'm 15," she laughed. "As long as I stay on that level I'll be fine."
Williams has set no timetable but continues to say she could return as early as this summer.
"I don't know what's realistic," she said. "I really don't know. I haven't put a date on it yet."
Williams has endured other sizable absences in her career and continued to collect majors.
"I know how to play tennis," she said as one of her two dogs, a Maltese named Lorelei, jumped in to her arms. "I've been doing it for a long time — longer than I can say. So I figure that will work out."
She added: "I always think I'm going to play again and I'm going to be faster, I'm going to be better, I'm going to be smarter, wiser."
Williams says her many outside endeavors and activities away from the court — from features in lifestyle magazines to appearances at A-list parties to developing and selling her personal line of clothing — mean she's far from ready to recede into the sunset.
"I feel as a brand I'm here to be around for a long time," she said.
Now, however, health comes first. Her concern isn't how quickly her strokes will come back.
"I just want to make sure I can breathe when I'm out there," she said.
Love her or hate her, Williams' absence has created a major vacuum in the sport.
"I think Serena is the best player out there, and I think just as a tennis player and a tennis fan, I do miss her," said second-ranked Kim Clisters of Belgium, whose sore shoulder forced her to retire Tuesday to Marion Bartoli in the fourth round at the BNP Paribas Open.
Williams said she has leaned on her faith and her family, particularly her parents, during her difficult time. The outpouring of support from fellow players and fans has also overwhelmed her.
No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark paid her a visit last week on her way to Indian Wells. American player Mardy Fish also stopped by and even sang karaoke with Williams.
"I never thought that I had so many people that appreciated me as a player, as an athlete, as a human being," she said. She said the support would "put a new spark in her game" when she does does eventually resume playing.
Asked about returning to Indian Wells, Williams said she did not want to go into it. But as a visitor left her home, she called out: "At this point I would play Indian Wells — anything to get back!"