Serena still a force on return to Melbourne
Serena Williams was eight weeks’ pregnant during her 2017 Australian Open triumph and while she has failed to add to her tally of 23 Grand Slam titles, the American is still regarded as the dominant force in women’s tennis on her return to Melbourne.
The 37-year-old took a year off after the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia, in September of that year, before returning to action last season, when she reached the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Her quest for another major fell at the final hurdle on both occasions, however, with defeats to Germany’s Angelique Kerber in London and rising Japanese star Naomi Osaka in New York. The losses left Williams still seeking a 24th Grand Slam singles title to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record and she will have another tilt at that milestone during the January 14-27 event, despite entering the tournament ranked 16th in the world.
Williams achieved victory over sister Venus in the final two years ago, but the chal- lenge in 2019 is likely to come from a vast array of players.
Chris Evert has described trying to pick a women’s singles champion in Melbourne as a “crapshoot”, with the last eight Grand Slam titles having been won by different players.
World number one Simona Halep has had a fractured leadup to the tournament, with a back injury cutting short her 2018 season in September.
She will be without a coach for the first few months of the season after Darren Cahill left for “family reasons”, and if that setback was not enough, she was outplayed by unseeded Australian Ashleigh Barty in the second round of the Sydney International.
The Romanian, who lost the 2018 Australian Open final to Caroline Wozniacki, could rue her lack of competitive matches but remained upbeat, while saying she had low expectations for the year’s first Grand Slam.
“I think I played a good level of tennis ... No pain at all. “I’m happy about that. “It’s a great sign,” Halep told reporters after her loss to Barty.