TENNIS ICONS Serena Williams and Venus Williams, both previous Australian Open champions, start this season’s first major against teenage opponents next Monday (January 20).
US legend Serena, fresh from winning her first WTA Tour title since becoming a mother to daughter Olympia in 2017, will face Russian Anastasia Potapova while her sister opens against compatriot Coco Gauff.
Record-chasing Serena, who has clinched seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at Melbourne Park, last won a major when she was eight weeks pregnant in 2017 by lifting the Australian Open.
Her quest to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles crowns since that success has resulted in four major finals, each ending in disaster and disappointment without winning a set.
Yet her confidence-boosting victory at this month’s Auckland Classic in New Zealand, her first WTA Tour title since 2017, should have instilled some belief in the 38-year-old that she can finally scoop this seemingly elusive 24th major.
Russian 18-year-old Potapova, a former junior world no.1, is her opening round opponent on Monday. Although Potapova lies at a lowly world no.90, and only reached the 2nd round at last year’s Australian Open, she was a Junior Wimbledon singles champion four years ago.
Venus, 24 years older than Gauff, has the opportunity to avenge her straight set Wimbledon upset and deliver the knockout blow to the latest sensation on the circuit.
Since last summer’s All England Club reversal the pair have become great friends, with the 15-year-old having always citied Venus as her inspiration for taking up the sport.
It was Gauff who became the darling of last year’s Wimbledon, by fearlessly reaching the last 16 and making an instant impact on the circuit as a lucky loser. She was propelled under the spotlight following her opening round shock success over her idol Venus at SW19.
Yet this will just be Gauff’s third Grand Slam and Venus should be more prepared for this rematch. But all eyes at the Australian Open will surely be on Serena’s assault through the draw, something that she thrives on at the big four tournaments, and whether she has the ability and mental strength to claim her record-equalling major.