Serena Chasing History Again At Australian Open; Osaka, Barty, Muguruza Top Contenders
by Jeremy Davis | February 6th, 2021, 5:30 pm
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Serena Williams will have another go at catching Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 career Grand Slam titles when the Australian Open gets underway Monday in Melbourne.

The 39-year-old Serena is 0-4 in Grand Slam finals since coming back to the tour as a mother at the 2018 French Open. This week, though, she did look good at the lead-up event in Melbourne where she beat Danielle Collins before withdrawing ahead of a showdown with World No. 1 Ash Barty.

“I definitely get a lot of the same drive,” said Serena when looking back to her 1998 debut in Melbourne. “Definitely not the same excitement because there’s nothing like the first time going out there and just seeing everyone and just being around people and things. But it’s pretty close. It’s super exciting every time to come out and to be part of something so special.”

The draw did Serena no favors with potentially Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round, Simona Halep in the quarters and Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals.

Here’s a look at the four quarters of the draw:

TOP QUARTER
Seeds: (1) Barty, (2) Pliskova, (11) Bencic, (16) Martic
Notes: Australian home hero Ash Barty is back in her first Grand Slam event in a year. The 24-year-old has a big test tonight against Muguruza in a tune-up final, but she has a great draw with many of the lesser seeds in her section… Karolina Pliskova is her projected quarterfinal, but the Czech hasn’t made a Slam quarter since her 2019 Australian semifinal trip… Ekatarina Alexandrova was hot this week with convincing wins over French Open champions Iga Swiatek and Simona Halep, and could loom for Barty in the third round… Former semifinalists Elise Mertens and Danielle Collins could also await the Australian in the quarters. Mertens opens against young Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

SECOND QUARTER
Seeds: (4) Kenin, (5) Svitolina, (12) Azarenka, (13) Konta
Notes: It’s easy to dismiss Sofia Kenin as a one-slam wonder, but the American did reach the French Open final as well, and had proven to be a big match player before her stunning Australian run a year ago. Kenin’s draw is good early until what looks to be a big showdown against countrywoman Jen Brady in the fourth round… Brady brokethrough in Melbourne a few years ago and then was hot in New York where she made the US Open semis. That winner likely gets either 2-time champion Victoria Azarenka or Elina Svitolina…. The struggling Coco Gauff could also be a factor. The 16-year-old meets Swiss Jill Teichmann for a second straight week… Former semifinalist Sloane Stephens returns against Yulia Putintseva… Maria Sakkari could meet Azarenka in the third round. Azarenka, though, begins against the tricky American Jessica Pegula.

THIRD QUARTER
Seeds: (3) Osaka, (8) Andreescu, (9) Kvitova, (14) Muguruza
Notes: By far the toughest quarter with six Grand Slam winners including Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams… While Venus likely won’t factor the final weekend, Kerber remains a threat but the German lefty sees a path that would take her through Muguruza, Osaka and then Andreescu/Kvitova just to make the last four. Osaka is the rightful favorite after having won this title two years ago and she won the last hardcourt Slam (and her last 14 matches). But she’s looking at a tough fourth round with Muguruza/Kerber and then Andreescu/Kvitova…. Andreescu is playing her first event since late October 2019 when he injured her knee. The 20-year-old Canadian won her last Slam, but getting that magic back after the long layoff remains to be seen.

BOTTOM QUARTER
Seeds: (2) Halep, (7) Sabalenka, (10) Serena, (15) Swiatek
Notes: Of the 32 players in this section, Serena is the only one to have won a hardcourt Slam. That’s a positive. But, at 39 can she get through Riske (who likes fast surfaces), the streaking Sabalenka in the fourth round and Halep in the quarters? And then in the semis she’s more than likely going to face a stern challenge from the third quarter winner. Serena also has a tough opener against Laura Siegemund on Monday. Sabalenka had her 15-match win streak stopped earlier this week, and she’s had a lot of trouble playing up to her level in Slams.

A year ago it was Sofia Kenin coming out on top in Melbourne, then Iga Swiatek ended the season with her stunning title in Paris. The trend is young and new as we saw last year. Will that continue in Melbourne or can a vet retain the reins?


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