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Australian Open Women’s Final preview: Serena looks to tie Graf with 22nd Slam title

1.16K   //    29 Jan 2016, 21:11 IST
Serena Williams 2016 Australian Open
Williams will look to equal Steffi Graf’s record with a win here

Just one more win separates the World No. 1 Serena Williams from equalling Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 singles Slam titles. The American missed this grand opportunity at the US Open last year and she is all set to make amends at this Slam.

Only the seventh seed Angelique Kerber stands in her way.

The German defeated Great Britain’s Johanna Konta to get a chance to play in a Slam final for the very first time. Can she upset the apple cart on Saturday? We take a look:

(1) Serena Williams vs (7) Angelique Kerber

Head-to-head: Serena leads 5-1

There was a time at the beginning of last year when Angelique Kerber struggled to win back-to-back matches. She saw herself tumbling out of the top 10 and her confidence level was zilch.

After bowing out of Indian Wells in the first round, the German headed straight to Las Vegas to consult with her idol, the legendary 22-time Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf.

The former World No. 1 infused the self-belief that was so far missing in Kerber and she came back on the Tour to win four titles for the rest of the year and reclaim her position inside the top 10.

Months later, in an interesting twist of fate, Kerber is the one who will try to stop Serena from tying Graf’s Open Era record off 22 Slam titles when they meet in the final on Saturday.

Does the left-handed Kerber stand any chance against the mighty American? It goes without saying that this is an uphill task for the German No. 1. However, one cannot deny that she has come a long way from the defensive player we were familiar with who would crumble under the slightest pressure.

Both game-wise and mentally, this is an improvised version of the German. At 28 years, she has refurbished her game, adding more juice and aggression.

At this Australian Open, she has shown that she is not afraid to take risks and that has paid rich dividends. Her winners count through the six rounds has swelled to 147 and that stands testimony to her much improved attacking skills.

Kerber, who had succumbed to a first-round defeat last year, was one point away from being ousted in the opening round this year too. But she remarkably turned around the match and survived the barrage from Japan’s Misaki Doi and made it all the way to the final, without dropping a single more set. That in itself proves that she has worked a lot to overcome her mental frailties.

But perhaps what stands out is her performance against the two-time champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals. Having lost the Brisbane final to the Belarusian just days back, she stormed out of the blocks and refused to be intimidated even when Azarenka was ahead in the second set.

Kerber would need all that confidence if she is to thwart Serena on Saturday. The 21-time Major winner, who has won at Melbourne Park six times, hasn’t shown any weakness in her game so far after enduring a tough opener against Camila Giorgi.

If anyone had hoped for a dip in her level and ferocity, then they were left truly disappointed after Serena’s ruthless display against the fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-final on Thursday. She played a first set which was close to perfection as she conceded only seven points, registering a 6-0 score.  

Her vanquished opponent later on had to admit,”I don’t think anyone can really play on that level.” If one goes back a round earlier, Serena put up another mind-blowing exhibition of power and pace against the far more accomplished Maria Sharapova and emerged a 6-4, 6-1 winner.

That certainly doesn’t present any optimistic picture to her rival.

The only inspiration that Kerber can draw from is her sole win over the American in the quarter-finals of Cincinnati in 2012. She had last faced off with Williams in the 2014 Stanford final and managed to stretch the first set to a tie-break.

She would need to bring more of that fighting spirit and courage in the final to make the defending champion work hard. It would all boil down to a test of nerves for the German. She has never been in this situation before and even though she has said she wouldn’t let nerves come in her way, a maiden Grand Slam final can evoke the worst of emotions.

If she lets that happen, Serena, with her admirable mental fortitude will not hesitate to capitalize on it.

You can stream the match live on, and catch highlights from some of the World No. 1’s most dominant moments at the Australian Open on their app.

Prediction: Serena Williams in straight sets

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A freelance journalist based in Kolkata who is a diehard Rafael Nadal fan. She is also extremely passionate about India’s progress in sports and hopes to throw light on India’s unsung sports heroes through her articles. When not screaming her lungs out in support of her favourite sports stars, she can be seen reading, watching movies or immersed in planning her next travel destination!
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