SYDNEY, Australia
Serena Williams can make history at the Australian Open as she pursues a 24th
Grand Slam singles title, which would equal Margaret Court’s all-time record.

But there are numerous threats to the American, especially
from the new generation headed by Australia’s world number one Ashleigh Barty
and defending champion Naomi Osaka.

AFP Sport picks out five women to watch in Melbourne.

– Serena Williams –

Will this be the moment when the American great finally
makes it a 24th Grand Slam title? 

The 38-year-old Williams, now a mother, has been stuck on 23
major triumphs since winning the Australian Open in 2017 when she beat her
sister Venus. 

Incredibly, Williams has lost her last four Slam finals, and
each time failed to even win a set. Nevertheless, she is still a formidable
presence and the woman to beat in Melbourne. 

Now in her fourth decade on the WTA Tour, Williams started
the season well when she won in Auckland last week — her 73rd tour victory,
and her first since the 2017 Australian Open.

– Naomi Osaka –

The 22-year-old hit the highs and the lows in 2019. 

When Osaka triumphed at last year’s Australian Open for her
second Grand Slam title, she looked set to reign over the women’s game. 

But the Japanese then endured a slump, exiting in the first
round of Wimbledon and seeing her US Open defence fall flat. 

With her father standing in as her coach, Osaka roared back
to the form that made her number one with back-to-back titles in Japan and

In December she hired Belgian Wim Fissette as her coach —
her fourth in less than a year. 

– Ashleigh Barty –

Australia’s world number one will enjoy strong backing from
the home crowd in Melbourne, but whether she thrives or shrinks in the
spotlight will be key to her chances.

The 23-year-old, who once had a break from tennis and played
professional cricket, won her maiden Grand Slam at the French Open in

Barty surged to the top of the rankings in June and has
stayed there ever since, and sealed a breakthrough year with victory at the
season-ending WTA Finals. 

However, she lost to American qualifier Jennifer Brady in
Brisbane last week in her first match of the year and the pressure to deliver
for Australian fans will be immense.

– Simona Halep – 

The 28-year-old Halep will have to dispel lingering doubts
about her troublesome back. 

She is a former number one and two-time Grand Slam champion
— at Roland Garros in 2018 and then last year at Wimbledon, where she
convincingly defeated Williams in the final, 6-2, 6-2. 

But Halep struggled towards the end of the year with her
back, which has troubled her for several years. In December was voted WTA Fan
Favorite for the third time in a row.  

– Coco Gauff –

Just 15, the American ploughed through qualifying and then
stunned five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon last
year, before going out in the fourth round to eventual champion Halep. 

It was no fluke. Gauff went on to make the US Open third
round and won her maiden title in Linz in her next tournament.

At the end of 2018 she was ranked 686th in the world, but 12
months later had rocketed up to 68th. Expectations are high for this star in
the making.


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