Serena faces tricky ascent to seventh heaven

Fri Jan 15, 2016 7:06am EST
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By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Ailing knees, Father Time and even a resurgent Victoria Azarenka stand in the way of Serena Williams clinching her seventh Australian Open title and giving her one more shot at an achievement that would cap her storied career.

Williams, already considered one of the all time greats, has 21 grand slam singles titles, four Olympic gold medals and more than $74 million in career earnings but the 34-year-old is no doubt aiming to become the greatest of them all.

She had the opportunity last year to clinch the only feat missing from her resume and become the first female player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to capture a calendar grand slam at the U.S. Open.

Victory at Flushing Meadows would have moved her into a tie with Graf on 22 grand slam titles, the most in the Open era, and two behind the all-time leader, Australia's Margaret Court.

Instead, knees that were constantly causing her pain and a sore elbow that reduced the power on her serve and groundstrokes, ended her hopes in the semi-finals.

She skipped the remainder of the year to recuperate, also indicating the mental pressure to achieve the grand slam had taken a toll as she admitted her heart had been broken by the defeat to Italy's Roberta Vinci.

The rest, no doubt helped her refresh physically and mentally, but of greater concern is her propensity to self-destruct -- as she previously has done in Melbourne -- and the continued issues with her knees.

Coach Patrick Mouratoglou said last year she had 'very little' cartilage left in the joints and she was forced out of the Hopman Cup in Perth last week with more knee pain.   Continued...

Serena Williams of the U.S. runs to hit a ball thrown by a member of her training team during a practice session at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 14, 2016.  REUTERS/David Gray