Serena Williams warms up for record-equalling grand slam attempt

Caroline Wozniacki

The legacy of Serena Williams, who next week will compete in her first Grand Slam since her fiery clash with a US Open umpire, will not be harmed by the infamous feud that tarnished the NY final, American great Chris Evert said on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old went into a bewildering slump in mid-2016 that only ended when he won Wimbledon last year, before he went on to claim his third US Open crown and move to 14 grand slam titles, three behind Rafa Nadal. Williams is also playing in her first Australian Open since winning it in 2017.

Williams trails only Margaret Court in that category, and she came painfully close to tying her record previous year in at Wimbledon and the US Open, losing in the final of both events to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka, respectively. "Coming back as defending champion, it's something I always dreamed of", she said. Two-time major champion and former number one Garbine Muguruza was another who had an injury-blighted 2018 which saw her drop out of the top 10.

Serb Djokovic could then play a rematch of his 2008 final triumph over Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round, with a possible quarter-final against Kei Nishikori to follow. Among those looking to halt Serena's charge: world number one Simona Halep, defending champion Caroline Wozniacki and US Open victor Naomi Osaka.

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Williams, who is seeded 16 for the tournament in Melbourne after reaching the past two grand slam finals, will play her first tour match since the defeat by Osaka when she takes on Maria on Tuesday having prepared for the Australian Open with three successive singles victories in the Hopman Cup.

Defending champion Wozniacki, who broke through for her maiden Grand Slam title with victory over Halep in last year's final, is in line to face former victor Maria Sharapova in a mouth-watering third round showdown. Bookmakers in Australia have installed Williams as a short-priced favourite for the title with her US Open conqueror Osaka - the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam - next in the betting. "I'm enjoying every minute", said the Dane at Thursday's draw, while paying tribute to Williams. To finally get that [major victory] here was very special - it's the Happy Slam, it's the first slam of the year, and it just made my year so much more enjoyable.

Second seed and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, bidding for a fourth Grand Slam title, will open against Slovenian Polona Hercog, with a possible quarter-final against 2017 U.S. Open victor Sloane Stephens in the second week.

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