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Philip Oliver Philip Oliver is offline
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Ball in Azarenka’s court as Sharapova earns luck of the draw

Posted 01-15-2013 at 08:40 AM by Philip Oliver
The Australian Open women’s draw at a glitzy ceremony in Melbourne on Friday had one major talking point before the names were announced: which half would Serena go into?

Heading into the tournament as third seed, Serena Williams, though the Betfair Australian Open odds have her ranked as favourite, she would either fall in the top half with world number one Victoria Azarenka, or in the bottom half alongside Maria Sharapova. And, although the top seeds don’t meet until the semi-final stage, there is nevertheless always hope that you don’t get drawn in Serena’s half.

For, despite being ranked third in the world, Serena is the one woman every player on the circuit wants to avoid – a status that even threatens those ranked higher than the American. Indeed, over the past year this status has risen to new heights after Serena won Wimbledon, the US Open and Olympic gold. She has won her last three major finals, took the WTA Championships in Istanbul by storm and – crucially – took down both Azarenka and Sharapova with ease over the latter months of 2012.

Serena is the form player heading into Melbourne after claiming the Brisbane trophy earlier this month and her name was rightly the main point of conversation before the draw was made – even if some sports writers think Williams may not win the Australian Open.

Sadly for Azarenka, Serena fell in the top half and will now seriously threaten the defending champion’s crown come the semi-finals later this January. Serena has a 12-1 record over Azarenka and recently beat her 6-4 6-4 in Istanbul.

Sharapova must be delighted to have avoided such a major threat until the final, with fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska her main concern heading into week two. If Sharapova can pick up good form over the next fortnight she may even have a chance of scalping Serena in the final, although it is highly unlikely the American will lose sight of this Melbourne crown on her favoured hard court surface.
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