Ser­ena still a force on re­turn to Mel­bourne

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Sport - Sudipto Gan­guly

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.

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