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Coming into the recently concluded Australian Open as an overwhelming favorite, World No.2 Serena Williams was upset by up-coming superstar Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals. One couldn’t help but wonder, whether the 31 year-old is slowly but surely fading away with newer stars ready to pounce.
It was definitely a disappointing tournament for Serena, but it was more down to fortune than her playing badly this time. Serena was sublime in her opening matches and displayed immense strength in character when she defeated 6-0,6-0 in her opening match, this despite twisting her ankle. The World No.2 then continued to play ‘Serena’ tennis all through the tournament, serving big and returning bigger. She looked impenetrable all through her run till the quarters.
In the quarters however, it all changed as an inspired performance from teenage sensation Stephens coupled with a back injury cost her big time. What worries more is not her defeat to the talented youngster on the other hand, it is these injuries. Other than the ankle and the bad back, one must remember that Serena also had surgery on her big toes at the start of the year.
Another major factor that works against the American is her age, at 31 years of age Serena isn’t getting any younger and that physical style of play is demanding. Her ankle’s are constantly under pressure and every time any opponent starts to control rallies from the back of the court, Serena struggles. The biggest danger for Serena is that sometimes when she is being moved from side to side, she tends to not realize her obvious limitation when it comes to movement on the court. Such is her domination from the baseline that every-time Serena is forced into a couple of testing rallies where her opponent takes control Serena tends to look a bit off balance.
Often touted as the next big thing, World No.1 Victoria Azarenka has definitely come of age with that second triumph in Melbourne. This year’s win would have meant a lot more to the Belarusian considering all the controversies related to her, and would hence inspire a lot of confidence in her. Most believe Azarenka’s final hurdle is that psychological win over Serena that would perhaps completely alter her career trajectory. And 2013 will surely be a battle between these two, and if the American comes out second best in even two matches it will represent a shift in power.
And while the Belarusian is definitely the biggest threat to Serena’s reign in the WTA circuit, the American will be under tremendous pressure from World No.3 Maria Sharapova too. Sharapova and Williams have had a major rivalry ever since the 25 year-old beat the Palm Beach resident at Wimbledon in 2004. Every single time these two clash, there is an obvious animosity in the air and even though Sharapova hasn’t beaten Williams after that match one knows that the Russian would love to get one over her.
Apart from the above mentioned two, the competition in women’s game keeps getting tougher especially as 23 year-old Pole Agnieszka Radwanska grows with leaps and bounds with every passing tournament and Li Na also accelerating especially after hiring Carlos Rodriguez as her new coach. Not to mention young talents like Sloane coming up themselves, Serena finds herself in quite a spot of bother.
Over the past few years, experts seem to write Serena off almost at will and Serena has always responded well and come out stronger every time.
Starting in 2011, where Serena failed to win a Slam losing to Sam Stosur in an incredible finale at the event experts started to predict her downfall. Her poor form had continued at the Australian Open last year, where a wounded Serena was knocked out by Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round and then at the French Open Serena suffered a first round shock defeat for the first time in her career.
Written off completely at Wimbledon, Serena came back stronger and went on an amazing run enduring just one defeat till the end of the season. Her resolve and determination was something out of the ordinary and being written off, seems to spur her on the most.
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