Serena Williams at the 2019 Australian Open: Preview and Prediction
Serena Williams, the winner of twenty-three Grand Slam singles titles, comes to the 2019 Australian Open trying to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of twenty-four Grand Slam singles titles. The last time she played at the Australian Open, she went away with the title in 2017. When the world came to know she was pregnant while playing the finals, that only added to the awe and wonder to the already significant achievement.
That 2017 Australian open triumph was to be her last tournament for a long time and she came back from a fourteen-month maternity leave in March last year. Though she played only seven tournaments in 2018, she still managed to reach two grand slam finals, only to falter at the last hurdle.
She has not played at all after her controversy-ridden US Open finals loss, and all eyes will be on her. Will she be third-time lucky this time around and go all the way? Here is a look at her draw and what may be in store for her at the year’s first grand slam tournament.
Serena’s first round opponent will be the unseeded German veteran, Tatjana Maria. Maria was once a top fifty player and has won a WTA title. But her ranking has slipped over the years and she is now ranked 73 in the world. Her one-handed backhand makes her game extremely vulnerable to the power play of Serena. An easy win for Serena is almost a certainty.
Her second-round opponent could be either the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard or the Chinese Peng Shuai. The Canadian is now unrecognizable from the one who was once touted as the next best thing in women’s tennis. Though in the last few months, there is a semblance of resurgence, she is still ranked as low as world number 79 and is unlikely to pose a challenge to Serena.
However, before posing a challenge to Serena, Bouchard has to first get past the Chinese veteran Peng Shuai. Though Peng has made her mark as primarily a doubles player, she was once ranked as high as world number 14 and is a former US Open semi-finalist. It is not beyond her to get it past the Canadian, but to follow it up with a victory over the American seems beyond her at this moment. So, Serena will have another easy match in the second round as well.
The probable third-round opponent for Serena is the twenty-third seed Carla Suarez Navaro. She has been one of the top players in the WTA circuit for a long time, without ever reaching the summit. She has an exquisite one-handed backhand, a rarity in modern tennis. But it is this single-handed backhand which will come under severe pressure from the heavy serve and groundstrokes of Serena. Navaro may at best make the match a competitive one.
It is in the fourth round that Serena is likely to face her sternest test in the tournament till then. She may play either the top seed Simona Halep or her sister Venus. At the moment, it is more likely that she will face the latter. Halep has hardly set foot on court in the last few months and is making a tentative return. To compound her worries, she is drawn to meet her 2018 US Open first round nemesis, Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. She is the prime candidate for a shock first-round exit here. Even if she manages to get past Kanepi, it is difficult to see her getting past Venus in the third round.
So, in all likelihood, it will be Venus Williams who will play Serena in the fourth round. If that comes to pass, then the fans are in for a classic contest. In the last decade, it has been Serena who has been dominant in their clashes. Venus had managed to defeat Serena last year at Indian Wells masters, but at the time, Serena was coming back from the long layoff and was trying to find her groove. The Serena she will face here is a different beast altogether. Venus may at best take a set off Serena in this match.
The likely quarterfinal opponent for Serena could be Karolina Pliskova, who is coming off a confidence-boosting win at Brisbane International. Like Serena, she has a big serve and can match her shot for shot. But she hits flat and fast, which means despite looking breathtaking, they are low percentage shots. Under pressure, she is likely to miss many of those, and against an experienced campaigner like Serena, that could be her Achilles heel.
If Serena reaches the semis, we could be in for an explosive match as the Japanese youngster Naomi Osaka could be waiting for her there. This will be their first meeting after their controversial 2018 US Open finals. Despite what she may say in public, Serena will be out for revenge and that extra motivation should be more than enough to avenge her loss against Osaka who has not had the best of times after her maiden grand slam title.
In the final, Serena could meet either the defending champion Caroline Wozniacki or the former champion Angelique Kerber. Both of them have similar styles. They are primarily defensive players but are capable of counter-punching. Unlike in the earlier rounds, Serena will have to be involved in long and exhausting rallies.
She will be made to work very hard, as she may not be able to finish off points easily as even her supposed winners are likely to be returned to her side of the court. The lack of match practice and the pressure to win after two heart-breaking losses in grand slam finals last year could further erode her chances. She may not be third time lucky this time as well.
Prediction: A Runner-Up finish for Serena Williams