As the Aus­tralian Open starts to­mor­row, Sil­ver Sibiya writes that Ser­ena Wil­liams and South African Kevin An­der­son are in good stead to steal the thun­der at the first grand slam of the year

CityPress - - Sport -

At 37 Ser­ena Wil­liams stands a bet­ter chance of win­ning her record-equalling 24th grand slam this year than last year when she missed the Aus­tralian Open.

The for­mer world num­ber one missed out in the first grand slam of the year four months after she gave birth to daugh­ter Alexis Olympia Oha­nian.

The ten­nis leg­end said she was not ready to com­pete.

But Wil­liams aims to win a record 24th grand slam sin­gles ti­tle to equal Aus­tralian Mar­garet Court’s record.

Age is no longer on her side and it will be a tough task. Last year she came close twice but it didn’t hap­pened.

The seven-time Aus­tralian Open cham­pion first lost to Ger­man An­gelique Ker­ber at the Wim­ble­don fi­nal, then to Naomi Osaka (20) at the US Open.

De­spite her great re­turn to the pin­na­cle of her game, her come­back was over­shad­owed by her ver­bal ex­change with um­pire Car­los Ramos.

Now she will fight for the record at the Aus­tralian Open start­ing to­mor­row.

This is where she fa­mously won her last grand slam, de­feat­ing her sis­ter Venus in the fi­nal two years ago while eight weeks preg­nant. In the process she sur­passed Ger­man St­effi Graf’s record of 22 ti­tles.

Last week Wil­liams and Frances Ti­afoe rep­re­sented the US and lost 4-2, 4-3 to Roger Fed­erer and Belinda Ben­cic, who were rep­re­sent­ing Switzer­land in a mixed dou­bles match in the Hop­man Cup.

It was the first time Fed­erer had shared a court with Wil­liams.

Wil­liams won her sin­gles match against Ben­cic and Frances Ti­afoe lost to Fed­erer.

In the end the score was 2-1 to the Swiss team that went on to beat Ger­many in the fi­nal.

As with many sport­ing leg­ends, Wil­liams has ac­com­plished many records win­ning three French Opens, seven Wim­ble­dons and six US Opens in her re­mark­able ca­reer.

She is con­sid­ered by pun­dits as one of the great­est ten­nis play­ers of all time.

But equalling Court’s record will ce­ment her leg­endary sta­tus in the his­tory books.

Pun­dits who City Press spoke to agree that As­so­ci­a­tion Ten­nis Pro­fes­sional (ATP) sixth-ranked Kevin An­der­son has a chance to win his first grand slam this year.

“If any­one in the top six is ca­pa­ble of win­ning the Grand Slam, Kevin is,” said prom­i­nent ten­nis an­a­lyst Bruce David­son.

He con­cedes it is go­ing to be a tough task for him but it is “doable”.

“It will be tough for him. The only ones that can beat him are the big boys and it will de­pend on how they play.”

An­der­son has reached two grand slam fi­nals in the past two years.

First the US Open when he lost to 17time grand slam win­ner Rafael Nadal and at Wim­ble­don to 14-time cham­pion No­vak Djokovic.

David­son said the 2.03m gi­ant is prob­a­bly the “in form player” be­hind Djokovic in the world right now.

“I think he is go­ing to be a strong con­tender for the ti­tle.”

The lanky South African’s im­pres­sive run at the grand slams im­proved his rank­ing to a ca­reer high of num­ber five.

Ten­nis SA chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Richard Glover con­curred with David­son: “I have seen great progress in his game.

“He started the year well in In­dia, I don’t think [Roger] Fed­erer and Djokovic would like to play against him early in the tour­na­ment.”

The Flor­ida-based star has not gone past the fourth round be­fore at Mel­bourne Park.

The New York Open cham­pion lost his first match at the Aus­tralian Open last year to the UK’s Kyle Ed­mund who later lost in the semi­fi­nals.

“He has a good chance at the Aus­tralian Open and he has shown he can de­liver at the grass courts of Wim­ble­don and hard courts at US Open,” Glover said.

The 32-year-old will face 41st ranked Adrian Man­nar­ino of France in the first round.

It could be an easy win for An­der­son but the tough bat­tle comes at the quar­ter­fi­nals when he faces Nadal – if they both win their open­ing matches.

Then, if he makes the semi­fi­nals, he could again face Fed­erer.

For­mer TSA pres­i­dent Bongani “Wire” Zondi agreed that An­der­son now stands a bet­ter chance of win­ning a grand slam than be­fore.

“To be hon­est, he is do­ing very well,” he said.

“Un­like be­fore when he had in­juries now he has the po­ten­tial to win a grand slam.

“He can even sur­prise ev­ery­one at the Aus­tralian Open.

“The two grand slam fi­nals gave him great ex­pe­ri­ence and the first one could be his pro­vided luck is on his side.”

Lo­cal coach Oupa Nthup­ing said he was proud to see him do well.

“As a Dun­lop brand am­bas­sador, Kevin’s rack­ets spon­sor, I am proud to see him rise up and his chances of win­ning a grand slam are high.

“His dis­ci­pline on and off the court has made him a player to watch.”

After los­ing in the fi­nal of the In­dian Ma­ha­rash­tra Open last year to Gilles Si­mon of France, the Jo­han­nes­burg­born started this year with a bang beat­ing Ivo Karlović of Croa­tia 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 to clinch his sixth ca­reer ti­tle in Pune last week­end.

Should An­der­son win a grand slam, he will be the first South African since Jo­han Kriek won back-to-back Aus­tralian Opens in 1981 and 1982.


LEG­END For­mer world num­ber one Ser­ena Wil­liams could level Aus­tralian Mar­garet Court’s 24 grand slam ti­tles


FIRST GRAND SLAM? Kevin An­der­son could win his first grand slam this year

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