Australian Open: Williams and Djokovic target record-breaking titles

By Peter Thompson 13 January 2017 92
Australian Open: Williams and Djokovic target record-breaking titles

Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic will not be top seeds when they go in search of record-breaking Australian Open titles but the two greats are set to start as favourites in Melbourne.

Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray head into a major at the top of the rankings and as top seeds for the first time after their outstanding exploits in 2016.

While Djokovic and Williams ran out of steam last year, Murray and Kerber went from strength to strength to take over as the world number ones.

Yet Djokovic can still look back on last season with great pride, having ended his wait for an elusive first French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam after winning a sixth Australian Open title.

It is fair to say Williams has not been at the peak of her powers over the last 12 months, but the legendary American matched Steffi Graf's record of 22 grand slam titles in the Open era by winning Wimbledon.

With a new order established it will be intriguing to see which of the leading lights are able to make a statement in the first grand slam of the year.

Djokovic struck the first blow in his battle with Murray by ending the Brit's 28-match winning run in the final of Qatar Open last weekend.

The Serbian looked drained in the second half of last season, but warned he is "very pumped" and feeling "phenomenal" as he attempts to surpass Roy Emerson's tally and become the only man to win seven Australian Open titles.

Murray has never lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, having finished runner-up five times - including in each of the last two years - and the recently-knighted 29-year-old will have to show the sort of form he produced for much of last year to set that record straight.

This time last year Kerber had not won a grand slam, but a victory over Williams in the final at Rod Laver Arena gave her a first major and a second followed at the US Open.

The German has made an unconvincing start to this season, making early exits at the Brisbane International and Sydney International, but has proved she can raise her game for the big occasions.

Williams was shocked by Pauline Parmentier at her first competitive event of the year in Auckland and has given herself plenty of time to prepare for the Melbourne showpiece, which she has won six times.

While they are the main four contenders to take the titles at the end of this month, fit-again greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are looking to make their presence felt along with the likes of Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza.

US Open champion Stan Wawrinka can never be ruled out, and Kei Nishikori is aiming to make big strides this year. Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska are among the other contenders for the women's title.

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Peter Thompson