American Serena Williams is sizzling entering the Australian Open, the year's first major tennis tournament. She has won 35 of her last 36 matches.
MELBOURNE, Australia — No woman has come close to rivaling Serena Williams since she finished off her self-titled Serena Slam — capturing four consecutive major championships — by winning at Melbourne Park in 2003.
After winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, Williams appears to be poised for another dominant run, one that has her entertaining thoughts of a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2013, starting with the Australian Open, which begins Sunday.
“I think for me, absolutely,” Williams replied when asked if a Grand Slam is possible this year.
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Williams cites one stinging loss in Paris as the motivation behind her recent success.
After a shocking setback to Virginie Razzano, then ranked No. 111, at the French Open in May — her only first-round defeat in a Grand Slam event in 14 seasons on the Tour — Williams rebounded to win titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the season-ending WTA Championships.
She finished 2012 with a 58-4 record, losing once after June.
With a title at the Brisbane International last weekend, she has extended her run to 35 victories in her last 36 matches.
In that time, the American has beaten No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus four times, including in the U.S. Open final. She was 5-0 against Azarenka in 2012 and is 11-1 against her overall.
“Yeah, but I also lost in the first round of a Grand Slam and she didn’t,” Williams said. “I think that’s what really affected me.”
Azarenka is the defending Australian Open champion and Williams said the 23-year-old deserves to have the top ranking because she was the most consistent player last year.
Azarenka withdrew from their semifinal in Brisbane after having part of the nail on her big toe removed after a less-than-perfect pedicure.
No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova of Russia was entered in the Brisbane International but withdrew because of a sore right collarbone.
Sharapova reached the final here last year, also after pulling out of the tuneup event in Brisbane, and then went on to win the French Open, her first major title in four years.
The pinnacle of Sharapova’s 2012 season coincided with the lowest point for Williams, who followed her surprising fourth-round loss to Russian Ekaterina Makarova at Melbourne Park with the loss to Razzano in Paris. That is when she went on the roll that has her confidently looking ahead to this year’s majors.
“I think maybe whoever wins the Australian Open will have that same thought (about a calendar-year Grand Slam),” said the 31-year-old Williams, who has won five titles in Melbourne. “There is no way that Victoria or Maria or maybe some other players don’t feel the same way.
“So I think I definitely feel that way.”
Sharapova has won each of the majors once, giving her a career Grand Slam spread across nine years. She thinks the depth in women’s tennis makes it difficult for anyone to win them all in one season, but not impossible for somebody such as Williams.
“Well, she has the last two, so she’s a couple steps closer than we are, that’s for sure,” she said. “Yeah, she had an incredible season. You know, the reason we still go out and play these matches is because we have to start from scratch and from the first round and from the first point. We have to do it again.”
In the men’s bracket, top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia will be seeking to win the championship for the third year in a row.