Wednesday, 03 June, 2020

Serena Williams handed tough draw in quest for record 24th Slam

Serena Williams handed tough draw in quest for record 24th Slam Serena Williams handed tough draw in quest for record 24th Slam
Cary Erickson | 10 January, 2019, 14:40

Second-seed Rafael Nadal of Spain, who won his sole Australian Open title ten years ago, will begin his journey in Melbourne playing in the opening round against home wildcard James Duckworth. An indication of the steel that lies beneath her humble demeanour came in her outing after the US Open, the Pan-Pacific Open in Tokyo, when she breezed into the final without conceding a set.

Williams trails only Margaret Court in that category, and she came painfully close to tying her record past year in at Wimbledon and the US Open, losing in the final of both events to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka, respectively. But the 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus has zoomed up the rankings from 73rd at the start of 2018 to number 11 on the back of tournament wins in New Haven and Wuhan, and is a dark horse to emulate Osaka and achieve a maiden Grand Slam.

"I'm surprised that I'm still at this level, that I'm still in the top 10". He faces tough opposition from defending champion Roger Federer, while Rafa Nadal aims for his first triumph Down Under since 2009.

The 37-year-old enters the tournament ranked 16 in the world but has proved in the past that such numbers mean little to her, despite fresh memories of her meltdown in losing the US Open final to Naomi Osaka in September.

Halep, however, may be reluctant to look beyond the first round, having drawn her U.S. Open nemesis Kaia Kanepi.

Venus Williams, defeated by younger sister Serena in the 2017 Melbourne final, also looms as a possible third round opponent for Halep.

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That loss left Williams, who also lost in the Wimbledon final past year, short of matching Margaret Court's marker of 24 grand slam titles, a record the American has another chance of equalling in Melbourne over the next fortnight.

Williams missed her first chance to match Court when losing last year´s Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber, and said ahead of the Australian Open that she was taking nothing for granted.

Defending champion and third seed Caroline Wozniacki starts against Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium and could meet 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in round three.

Fourth seed Osaka faces Poland's Magda Linette first up and may need to battle past twice champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round.

At the draw ceremony, Woznaicki spoke of her anticipation at returning to Melbourne Park, before paying tribute to Williams.

The 2016 victor Angelique Kerber, seeded two, begins her draw against Slovenia's Polona Hercog and could meet fifth seed Wozniacki in the semis.