Serena Williams is the world number one and a hot favourite for the Australian Open, first Grand Slam of the season in Melbourne. She’s won 140 of her last 148 matches and there is talk that this year could be the one in which she underlines her dominance by winning the Australian, French and US Opens as well as Wimbledon. But four of her eight defeats over the last two years have come in Grand Slams and the 32-year-old American certainly isn’t immune to the odd blemish. She was an early casualty at Wimbledon last year and hasn’t been at her best in Melbourne since 2010, though has won the title six times in the past. At the current odds (Williams is only a best 8/11 with Ladbrokes and Paddy Power), I’d rather have a few pounds on Victoria Azarenka.
The Belarussian doesn’t have the raw power of Williams but is undoubtedly more accurate. With the courts at Melbourne Park said to be playing faster than ever this year, maybe that consistency from the base line will stand Azarenka in good stead again if she can rush her opponents into strokes. Williams holds a 14-3 career head-to-head advantage over Azarenka, a record enhanced by a straight sets victory in the final of the recent Brisbane International. But the defending champion, who also won in 2012 and is chasing a hat-trick in the season’s first Grand Slam, is unfazed. The 24-year-old looks to have a relatively straightforward passage to the semi-finals and Coral‘s 11/2 is a decent price and one that can be laid if the seedings are realised. An Azarenka/Williams final is 6/4 with bet365.
Maria Sharapova is 13/1 with Unibet and 888sport but just as likely to exit in the first week as reach the last four and Li Na (14/1 with Boylesports, bwin and sportingbet) doesn’t look the same player she was a couple of years ago. Home favourite Sam Stosur is 125/1 with sportingbet while, of the up-and-coming youngsters, American Sloane Stephens (85/1 on betfair), a semi-finalist 12 months ago, and Canadian Eugenie Bouchard (250/1 with Boylesports, Paddy Power and sportingbet) make most appeal but Azarenka looks the only alternative to Serena on past and recent form.