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Will Maria or Victoria stop Serena?

Updated: 2014-01-12 15:14
( Agencies)

MELBOURNE - World No.1 Serena Williams went 78-4 and won 11 titles in 2013. She also beat Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka back-to-back last week to win in Brisbane without dropping a single set.

The oldest player to ever rank No.1 is clearly still the favorite in this year's Australian Open. And according to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams can win all 2014 Grand Slams.

The Frenchman believes that the 32-year-old is capable of pulling off a clean sweep in 2014, which has not been achieved after Steffi Graf managed it in 1988.

"She has beaten all the top players many times, so you can aim that high," said Mouratoglou.

Williams will match former world No. 1s Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova by winning an 18th Grand Slam title to open her 2014.

The problem is who will stop the American from her sixth title in Melbourne Park?

Williams will start her campaign against host wildcard Ashleigh Barty and would also likely go through No.31 seed Daniela Hantuchova, then No.14 Ana Ivanovic or No.17 Sam Stosur, and possibly No.7 Sara Errani in quarterfinals.

No.4 seed and last year's runner-up Li Na of China will be Williams's biggest barricade before the final. Li heads the second quarter, joined by No.6 seed Petra Kvitova, No.9 Angelique Kerber of Germany and unseeded former No.1 Venus Williams.

Li started 2013 with setting up against Azarenka in the Melbourne final before rolling her left ankle twice but ended the year at a career-high No.3 following her runner-up finish to Williams at the season-ending WTA Championships.

The Chinese started the year with victory at the Shenzhen Open to approach the Australian Open in good form.

The bottom half will be all about 2008 champion Maria Sharapova and two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Sharapova, who has been to eight Grand Slam finals, was disappointing in 2013 due to her shoulder problem. She lost in the second round at Wimbledon, dropped out of the U.S. Open and won no other match the rest of the year, but still finished 37-7 and is ranked No.3 into the Australian Open.

The Russian opens against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who was struggling with injury entering Melbourne. After that Sharapova's likely path of opponents would be Karin Knapp of Italy, No.25 Alize Cornet, No.20 Dominika Cibulkova, and either former No. 1 Jelena Jankoivc or No.11 Simona Halep of Romania in quarterfinals.

Azarenka defended the Australian Open, reached the final of U.S. Open, finished No.2 for 2013 and could be the only threat to Williams. The Belarusssian starts against Swedish Johanna Larsson, with a road to semifinals likely including Hsieh Su-Wei, No.27 seeded Jamie Hampton, No.13 Sloane Stephens or No.19 Svetlana Kuznetsova, and then No.5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in quarterfinals.

Only injury, illness or misfortune can stop Williams netting her sixth Australian Open crown as the 32-year-old holds a decisive mental and physical edge over her two supposed closest challengers. She lead Azarenka 14-3 head-to-head, 15-2 in a 10- year unbeaten run against Sharapova, and 10-1 against Li Na.

"I'm happy I was able to play both Maria and Victoria because they brought their A games against me," said Williams.