Home Sport Serena back to chase Slam No 24

Serena back to chase Slam No 24

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The former world No 1 kicked off 2020 by reaching the semi-finals at the Brisbane International, where she was then defeated in three sets by Karolina Pliskova

When the Australian Open gets under way today, Serena Williams will kick off her latest campaign to capture an elusive 24th Grand Slam and equal Margaret Court’s stubborn record.

The 38-year-old is fresh from her fist title since winning in Melbourne in 2017, while 20 weeks pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia.

Her Auckland Classic victory breaks a title drought since her return from maternity which has seen the American failing to capitalise on five finals – including four at Slams.

“It’s pretty satisfying just to get a win in the final,” Williams said. “That was really important for me – and I just want to build on it. It’s just a step towards the next goal.”

Among the players likely to stand in the way of that goal are rising stars Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty, who share the top half of the draw with the American. Defending champion Osaka will try to go past disappointing first-week exits at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open – where as the reigning champion she exited in the round of 16 – and a withdrawal from the WTA Finals in Shenzen with a right shoulder injury.

The former world No 1 kicked off 2020 by reaching the semi-finals at the Brisbane International, where she was then defeated in three sets by Karolina Pliskova. The Japanese star feels positive about her mental preparation, her level of play and her shoulder.

“I think I’m definitely more relaxed now compared to the US Open. I think I learned a lot there, just in a way of handling my nerves and what to expect. Definitely I’m glad I was able to experience everything that I experienced. I think heading into this tournament, I’ll be more prepared,” Osaka said.

Current world No 1 Barty fresh from winning her first WTA title on home soil on Saturday will attempt to become the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open’s singles crown since Christine O’Neil in 1978.

“For me and my team it was nice to get the ball rolling a little bit this week, get better and better with each match” Barty said after her win over Ukrainian world No 24 Dayana Yastremska at the Adelaide International. “I can’t wait to get started in Melbourne.”

The local star, who last year exited the tournament after a straight-sets defeat to Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals, is seeded to potentially face the Czech again in the last eight.

Two-time major winner Kvitova, seeded seventh, reached the final last year in her best result since returning from a career-threatening hand injury in 2017.

“(It) took me a while to get over the loss,” the Czech said. “After so many years being in the final, it’s a great achievement.”

On the other side of the draw, fellow Czech and second seed Karolina Pliskova will try to better last year’s performance, when she reached the semis of the Australian Open for the first time before losing to Osaka in three sets. The 27-year-old is fresh from a historic third title in four years in Brisbane, but after the win she clarified that now it’s “back to zero.”

“It was a great way to start the year. But of course, Grand Slam or any other tournament, it always starts on zero there’s nobody really thinking that ‘oh, she won a tournament two weeks ago’.”

Former champions Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki will also be in action in Melbourne.

The German, who won at Melbourne Park in 2016, is dealing with a hamstring injury, which forced her to retire in Adelaide.

Since winning Wimbledon in 2018, Kerber has been struggling to get into the second week of Grand Slams, her best effort being a fourth round exit in Melbourne last year.

Meanwhile, fellow former world No 1 Wozniacki will make her final career appearance in Melbourne before retiring at 29.

Fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff will also be in action in Melbourne, where she will start by facing her idol Venus Williams in a replay of last year’s Wimbledon match that saw the teen sensation prevail in straight sets.

Reuters