18 time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova says Serena Williams will be the favourite to win the Australian Open Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne, in a column for the WTA Tour website. Ranked No. 9 in the world, Serena is aiming to win her 24th Grand Slam title in Melbourne after losing in the last four finals that she has reached at the Slams.
Navratilova says, "The emotional pressure has been growing for Serena Williams as she seeks a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title. She knows, at the age of 38, that time is running out for her to tie and then beat that record.
And she has lost her last four major finals. That's why I think Williams winning a tournament in Auckland last weekend - for her first title in three years, as well as her first since becoming a mother - was such an important moment.
Taking that title would have been an emotional release that should help her at the Australian Open, and it's why she's the favorite at Melbourne Park. That title should rub out some of the doubt that has been building in her mind about whether she could perform in finals.
When you get to several finals, and then don't perform in those matches, that scar tissue starts to build up in your mind. Just landing the Auckland title, even though she didn't beat anyone at the truly elite level, will help Williams to feel like a winner again.
While I would still like Williams to play a little bit more - she has had just five matches since last September's US Open final, all of them in Auckland last week - she's healthy, she's fit, and she's as motivated as she's ever been."
Speaking on the other top players in the women's field, Navratilova says she does not expect Ash Barty to win the Australian Open as the court surface maybe a little too fast for her liking. "It looks to me as though Ashleigh Barty should be able to handle the pressure of playing at her home Grand Slam as the WTA World No.1.
People are going to be looking at the WTA Rankings and saying that it means that Barty should win the tournament. I am not sure what Ash is feeling but I think that's going to be a tricky proposition for her. Not necessarily because of the expectations from the Australian public, but because of the faster surface at Melbourne Park.
Her game is better suited to slower surfaces - such as the French Open clay, where she won her first major last year - and I think she is more vulnerable on the fast hard courts in Melbourne." The 63 year old Navratilova also hopes that former World No.
1 Caroline Wozniacki would go out of the tournament on a high, by reaching the second week even if she may not be a title contender. "It's Caroline Wozniacki's last tournament before she retires and there will be lots of support from the crowd for the 2018 champion.
Aussies really love her and what’s not to love? But it's going to be a mixed bag of emotions for her and that might be the biggest challenge. How can she control that? It's going to be hard for Wozniacki not to get nostalgic while she's on court; she will have a hard time keeping her mind from wandering off the path of trying to win a match.
I don't think Wozniacki's got any ideas of winning the tournament but, for sure, she would like to do well, at least get into the second week and go out on a high. Here's hoping that happens!