Tired, frustrated, patchy Serena still favorite

Fri Jan 16, 2015 7:12am EST
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By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Serena Williams' Australian Open preparations included smashing a racquet in frustration, complaining of fatigue and losing to players she had never lost to before, yet she is still the favorite to claim her sixth title at Melbourne Park.

The 33-year-old had a terrible buildup to the season-opening grand slam while playing in the Hopman Cup in Perth, losing to Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska for the first time.

Her standard of play at the event, essentially an exhibition within a tournament format, was also far below her best.

Pundits, however, are loathe to begin writing about the decline of the 18-times grand slam champion as Father Time catches up with her.

With age comes wisdom. Or craftiness, at least.

And when all else fails, when she really needs to, the American unleashes a cannon of a serve or a blistering forehand that few can handle on the Melbourne hardcourts.

Her biggest challenge, apart from stopping her own game self destructing as it has done in Melbourne from time to time, is likely to come from Maria Sharapova, one of the few players who can go toe-to-toe with the American.

The 27-year-old Russian won her fifth grand slam on the clay at Roland Garros last year and said she was pleased with the mental toughness she had shown in getting out of situations she may have struggled with in previous years.   Continued...

Serena Williams of the U.S. hits a shot during a practice session on Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park January 16, 2015.  REUTERS/David Gray