Who will stop Serena at Australian Open?

Melbourne, Jan 12: World No.1 Serena Williams went 78-4 and won 11 titles in 2013. She also beat Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka back-to-back last week to win in Brisbane without dropping a single set.

The oldest woman No.1 is clearly the favourite at the Australian Open and according to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams can win all the 2014 Grand Slams. The Frenchman believes that the 32-year-old is capable of pulling off a cleansweep in 2014, which has not been achieved after Steffi Graf managed it in 1988, reports Xinhua.

“She has beaten all the top players many times, so you can aim that high,” said Mouratoglou.

If Williams wins, she will match former No.1s Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova by winning an 18th Major. The problem is who will stop the American from her sixth title at Melbourne Park?

Williams will start her campaign against host wildcard Ashleigh Barty and will likely go through No.31 seed Daniela Hantuchova, No.14 Ana Ivanovic or No.17 Sam Stosur, and possibly No.7 Sara Errani in quarterfinals.

Chinese No.4 seed and last year’s runner-up Li Na will be Williams’ biggest barricade before the final. Li heads the second quarter joined by No.6 seed Petra Kvitova, No.9 Angelique Kerber of Germany and unseeded former No.1 Venus Williams.

The bottom half of the draw will be all about 2008 champion Sharapova and two-time defending champion Azarenka of Belarus.

Sharapova, who has been to eight Grand Slam finals, was disappointing in 2013 due to her shoulder problem. She lost in the Wimbledon second round, dropped out of the US Open and won no other match the rest of the year but still finished 37-7 and is seeded No.3 here.

The Russian opens against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is struggling with an injury. After that Sharapova’s likely path of opponents would be Italian Karin Knapp, No.25 Alize Cornet, No.20 Dominika Cibulkova and either former No.1 Jelena Jankoivc or No.11 Simona Halep of Romania in quarterfinals.

On the other hand, Azarenka defended the Australian Open, reached the final of US Open, finished No.2 for 2013 and could be the biggest threat to Williams. The Belarusssian starts against Swedish Johanna Larsson, with a road to semifinals likely including Hsieh Su-Wei, No.27 seeded Jamie Hampton, No.13 Sloane Stephens or No.19 Svetlana Kuznetsova, and then No.5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in quarterfinals.

Only injury, illness or misfortune can stop Williams netting her sixth Australian Open as she holds a decisive mental and physical edge over her two closest challengers. She leads Azarenka 14-3 head-to-head and 15-2 in a 10-year unbeaten run against Sharapova.

“I’m happy I was able to play both Maria and Victoria because they brought their A games against me,” said Williams.

IANS