Through the first three rounds of the Australian Open, Serena Williams has truly looked like the no. 1 player in the world and the greatest of all time. She had a tough first round match against Camila Giorgi (the highest ranked player Serena could face in the first round), who she took care off 6-4, 7-5. Serena’s last two matches have been a bit more routine, beating Su-Wei Hseish 6-1, 6-2, and Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-1.
Although you can argue Serena’s road to the round of 16 has been fairly easy, one can’t forget the amount of trouble Serena had early in the Grand Slams last year, albeit she won three out of the four. Serena’s serve is back to being consistent, and her groundstrokes are not only powerful as ever, but they aren’t missing.
Serena looks relaxed, which is a welcome sight as during much of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year she seemed to be full of nerves, explaining the amount of three set matches she played, ultimately leading to a loss in the semifinals of the U.S. Open to Roberta Vinci.
With Serena playing at the high level she is, who, if anyone, has the best chance to stop her from tying Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slams in the Open Era? Well, chances are she won’t get a true challenge until the semifinals, if then. Serena’s fourth round match will come against Margarita Gasparyan, a 21 year-old from Russia who is currently ranked 59th in the world. Margarita is playing in just her third Grand Slam, and chances are, she will not be able to handle the moment against Serena on Rod Laver Arena.
In the quarterfinals, Serena would face either the 12th seed in Belinda Bencic or the fifth seed in Maria Sharapova. Although many expect a Serena vs. Maria quarterfinal, don’t discount Belinda’s chances of beating Maria in their fourth round match. Whether Serena plays Bencic or Sharapova in the quarterfinals probably won’t matter. Serena has of course dominated Maria in their “rivalry,” winning 17 straight over her, and although Serena has only played Bencic twice, losing once last year in Canada, it’s not a matchup I can see Serena losing if she continues playing like she is.
A possible semifinal matchup against the fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska might bring some interest though. Radwanska came into the Australian Open on a hot streak, winning the most matches since the U.S. Open ended in last September, and she has continued that play into Melbourne. Even with Radwanska playing so well, Serena has won all eight of their matches. Serena has overpowered Radwanska every time they’ve played so far, and if they were to play again in the semifinals, expect Serena to overpower her once again.
When looking at possible matchups for Serena in the finals, it could be a number of players. Anyone from Angelique Kerber to Victoria Azarenka to Garbine Muguruza to fellow American Madison Keys. But, the favorite at this point has to be Azarenka. Although seeded 14th, Victoria is anything but that seeding, and she has proved that with her play so far, having no trouble so far. A possible fourth round matchup against third seed Garbine Muguruza will no doubt be interesting, but with Azarenka having won the Australian Open twice before, you have to give her the edge against anyone she plays, up until Serena that is.
Serena vs. Azarenka is no doubt the most possible final matchup at this point, and although Serena has seemingly dominated their head-to-head, leading 17-3, it hasn’t been easy for Serena. Victoria has consistently taken Serena to three sets, and she has the game to dethrone Serena, as Victoria has come close to doing in previous Slams. Azarenka seems to be back to full health after dealing with injuries the past couple of years and she’s playing the best she has since before her injuries. Still, the focus I’ve seen from Serena so far is showing me that she is content to make this Australian Open her 22nd Grand Slam title, and I’m not sure how much Victoria could have in changing that say.
So, will anyone be able to stop Serena from capturing Grand Slam singles title number 22? The short answer is no. Although she might meet some challenges in Radwanska and Azarenka, Serena is playing with a level of focus that we haven’t seen from her in quite some time, not even last year when she won three of the four Grand Slams.