At Australian Open, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal hear history’s call

Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal
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Serena Williams gets her 11th chance to tie Margaret Court‘s record. Rafael Nadal takes his first crack at breaking the one he now shares with Roger Federer.

But neither is favored at the Australian Open, which starts Monday (Sunday night in the U.S.).

Williams returns to the site of her 23rd and most recent major title, way back in 2017, when she was pregnant with daughter Olympia.

Since then, she has yearned to match the Australian Court for the most major singles titles, reaching four finals and leaving each one with the runner-up trophy. At 39, Williams’ chances to win No. 24 are decreasing with every passing Grand Slam tennis tournament.

“It’s definitely on my shoulders and on my mind,” she said of the record that Court holds, though most of Court’s wins came before the Open Era and, of those in Australia, before the world’s top women all played. “I think it’s good to be on my mind. I think it’s a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I’m used to it now. It’s more relaxing.”

PointsBet Sportsbook has three players with greater odds to lift the trophy in Melbourne in two weeks, led by defending champion Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Williams, seeded 10th, opens against German Laura Siegemund. She would not play a past major champion before the quarterfinals but is on the more accomplished half of the draw, along with Osaka, Simona Halep and Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza.

Some routine early matches would be beneficial. Williams said she probably would not have played the Australian Open if it was held on its usual dates, three weeks earlier, citing an Achilles injury that forced her to withdraw from the French Open on Sept. 30.

She’s also nursing a right shoulder.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to deal with for the fortnight,” she said. “I’m going to have to probably pick up some different therapy exercises after each match, etcetera.”

Nadal, too, must manage his body. The 34-year-old, who matched Federer’s male record 20 major titles with his 13th French Open in October, said on Sunday that a back injury hampered him the last 15 days.

“I tried little bit today to serve again,” he said, noting he is practicing while a muscle is still tight. “Is difficult to play with freedom of movements today.

“Of course, it worries me a little bit.”

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, is seeded second. He would not play top-ranked Novak Djokovic until a possible final and benefits from No. 3 Dominic Thiem landing in Djokovic’s half. Federer, 39, will miss a third consecutive major tournament following two knee surgeries.

Djokovic, eyeing an 18th major title, owns a record eight Australian Open crowns.

“I’ve been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I’ve been coming back,” the Serbian said. “It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis.”

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