TEN­NIS

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

Ser­ena guns for Slam his­tory:

MEL­BOURNE. — Ser­ena Wil­liams has adopted a low pro­file ahead of the Aus­tralian Open, but ri­val play­ers ad­mit the Amer­i­can’s shadow looms large in Mel­bourne as she eyes a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam ten­nis crown.

Wil­liams won her 23rd ti­tle and sev­enth at Mel­bourne Park while eight weeks preg­nant two years ago, and now at­tempts to match Mar­garet Court’s mark of 24 sin­gles ma­jors on the Aus­tralian’s home soil.

The 37-year-old’s last out­ing on tour was her melt­down in los­ing the US Open fi­nal to Naomi Osaka in Septem­ber and she en­ters the sea­son-open­ing Slam as the 16th seed. Yet she has proved in the past that such num­bers mean lit­tle to her and Osaka said most in the locker room be­lieved the vet­eran re­mains the one to beat in Mel­bourne.

“I’m pretty sure (that’s the case),” said the Ja­panese star.

“But there’s a group of play­ers that I think ev­ery­one thinks is very dif­fi­cult to play against, es­pe­cially in Grand Slams,” Osaka added.

Ser­ena’s 2017 tri­umph Down Un­der gave her the out­right Open-era record for sin­gles ma­jors ahead of St­effi Graf’s 22, leav­ing only Court’s tally of 24 ti­tles — 13 of which were earned in the am­a­teur era be­fore 1968 — for her to chase.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Caro­line Woz­ni­acki ad­mit­ted Ser­ena, al­ready hailed by many as the great­est of all time, was an un­known quan­tity in Mel­bourne af­ter sit­ting out the end of the 2018 sea­son fol­low­ing the US Open blow-up.

“I haven’t seen her play a match, so I don’t re­ally know,” Woz­ni­acki re­sponded when quizzed about the Amer­i­can’s form.

The Dan­ish third seed pre­ferred to con­cen­trate on her own prospects, dis­miss­ing con­cerns health prob­lems were af­fect­ing her game.

She achieved a ca­reer mile­stone last year to claim her maiden Grand Slam at Mel­bourne Park, but also re­vealed she was suf­fer­ing the de­bil­i­tat­ing auto-im­mune con­di­tion rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

But the 28-year-old in­sisted she was manag­ing her ill­ness and was rel­ish­ing the prospect of de­fend­ing her crown.

“All I can say is that I feel good. I feel like I’m hit­ting the ball well,” she said. — AFP

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