Serena Williams of the US celebrates a winner against Roberta Vinci of Italy in the 3rd set on day twelve of the 2015 US Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie
|Jean King National Tennis Center, in New York, NY, Sep 11, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]|
MELBOURNE - While world No 1 Serena Williams continues to chase the title of being women's tennis' most successful player ever, the luck of the draw was noticeably not on her side on Friday, when Australian Open organizers handed her one of the most disappointing outlooks for a No 1 seed the tournament has ever seen.
Williams, with 21 Grand Slam titles to her name, is just one major win behind Steffi Graf who holds the most Grand Slam titles in the Open era with 22. The American can, however brag about a number of impressive records that she holds, for example, the most of Grand Slam wins on hard court -- something that will play in her favor in Melbourne.
Though, as the draw was slowly pieced together on Friday morning, it became abundantly clear that matching Graf would not be a walk in the park for the No 1 seed.
Camila Giorgi is the highest ranked player not to be seeded at the Australian Open at 35 in the world, and Williams managed to draw the Italian in the first round. Adding to the early dramas, Williams could face either the 17th seed Sara Errani or 16th seed Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.
Win that, and 2008 Australian Open winner Maria Sharapova looms. Then possibly 4th seed Agnieszka Radwanska or the 6th seed Petra Kvitova - who finally looks to be playing consistent hard court tennis.
Never mind the talent on the other half of the table, where feisty No 2 seed Simona Halep has a considerably easier draw.
And though no sane tennis writer would dare to say that Serena's form has slumped with age, she turns 35 this year. Coming off the back of arguable her best year on the tour, however, there's a hint of expectation around her as she ramps up her preparation for Melbourne.
For all the talk about her breaking the record, there were whispers last week when Williams pulled out of a lead-up tournament in Brisbane, citing a knee issue; but she clarified on Friday that she would prefer to prepare herself for Melbourne instead of risk injury or a form slump so soon before the first Grand Slam of the year.
Minutes before the draw was announced on Friday, tournament director Craig Tiley told the press a similar story - that her decision not to play before the Open was purely "precautionary".
Williams herself reiterated the news not long after, saying that she had been training non-stop despite choosing not to compete in Brisbane.
"Everything is going really well, I'm feeling really good. I've been training every day for so long, so (my knee) is good. I'm ready," Williams said on Friday.
The Australian Open is a happy hunting ground of six Slam wins for her, and a hard-fought win here would give her a shot at eclipsing Graf's 21 Slam wins at any of the three remaining tournaments in 2016.
Lose in Melbourne and the pressure mounts, as Paris is statistically her worst Slam despite winning in 2015, while facing the pressure of a home crowd in New York in September will only exacerbate the importance of the feat.
Currently at 34 years of age, no one but Williams herself can be sure that she will be fit enough, or injury-free enough to go around again in 2017 should she still require one Grand Slam win to take the mantle as the greatest ever.
Win in Melbourne, however, and Williams may well be the best ever by the time 2016 draws to a close.