Australian Open 2017: Angelique Kerber Has Serena Williams in Sights
Angelique Kerber. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Melbourne: World number one Angelique Kerber spearheads a host of dangerous players looking to halt Serena Williams' bid for an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open next week.
The German left-hander stunned the American powerhouse at Melbourne Park last year, upsetting her in the final and ultimately dethroning her as the top ranked player in the world.
That win sparked a memorable season for Kerber, who followed it up by claiming the US Open, where Williams crashed in the semi-finals and has barely played since.
Despite this, she remains upbeat as she prepares to mount her first Grand Slam title defence.
"I think Grand Slams are always completely different," Kerber said. "It doesn't matter how you play before."
She goes into the tournament as top seed with Williams second, meaning they are scheduled to meet in the final on January 28.
Having won Wimbledon last year to match Steffi Graf's Open era-record 22 Grand Slam singles titles, two shy of Margaret Court's all-time mark, she didn't play again after Flushing Meadows in September.
She opted for the Auckland Classic as her comeback tournament last week but she was bundled out in just the second round, complaining loudly about the windy conditions.
Ahead of the defeat, the 35-year-old made clear that Grand Slams were what mattered at this stage of her career.
- 'Anything is possible' -
Despite her recent lack of time on court, nobody will be writing off a veteran who is renowned for her fighting qualities.
Williams entered the Australian Open last year under an injury cloud having played few matches, yet went on to make the final.
Melbourne Park has been a happy hunting ground for her. She claimed her first Australian Open title way back in 2003, beating elder sister Venus in the final, and has since won five more.
Also keen to make her mark is Czech star Karolina Pliskova, who stamped herself as a major contender by winning the Brisbane International.
Pliskova had a breakthrough 2016, finishing runner-up to Kerber at the US Open and will start at Melbourne Park as world number five after leapfrogging Dominika Cibulkova in the rankings this week.
"The important thing is the draw. I need to have some players which I like, which is also important in a Grand Slam, to just have a little bit of luck with the draw," Pliskova said.
"But, I mean, anything is possible. So let's see."
Also out is pregnant two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka, along with five-time major champion Maria Sharapova, who is suspended until April after failing a drugs test at last year's tournament.
World number eight Madison Keys is another absentee after minor wrist surgery.