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TENNIS > Serena seeks sixth crown down under

MELBOURNE - Agence France-Presse

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Serena Williams goes into the Australian Open a red-hot favorite in her quest for a sixth title with even world number one Victoria Azarenka admitting the American is the player to beat.

Williams gets her 13th Melbourne campaign underway tomorrow against Romania’s Edina Gallovits-Hall, fresh from claiming her 47th career title in Brisbane and with a rare calendar-year Grand Slam in her sights. But she is doing her best to play down soaring expectations.

“That’s an incredible goal,” she said of the Grand Slam of winning the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in the same year, a feat last achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988. “It hasn’t been done since the Eighties. I don’t know if I can do it. Maybe someone else can. But it’s tough to say.”

Williams, who won Wimbledon, the US Open and Olympic gold last year, is also halfway to holding all the major titles at once for the second time, after first completing the “Serena Slam” in 2002-2003.

“I feel like I’m just in the moment right now. For this moment, I’m playing well. I really hope I can keep it up and continue to play well,” she added.

Azarenka, who withdrew from her Brisbane semifinal against Williams after failing to recover from a big toe infection, said she felt relaxed going into the opening major of the year and fully recovered from her injury.

“I don’t feel any pain when I play. I still have to tape it (the toe), but there is no problem,” she said.
Reigning French Open champion Sharapova, who was beaten by Azarenka in last year’s final, is one of the players wanting to topple Azarenka but her preparations have been hampered by a collarbone injury.

“Yes, I might be a little bit rusty, but I’ll work my way through it. I’m experienced enough to know the adjustments I have to make in those types of circumstances,” she said.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki could also be in contention, along with the in-form Agnieszka Radwanska, who has already won twice this year, and China’s Li Na, the runner-up in 2011.

Home fans’ hopes rest with former US Open winner Sam Stosur, who is yet to win a match this year.

January/14/2013

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